361.1121 Hrinkevich, Frank/56

Memorandum by Mr. Edward Page, Jr., of the Division of European Affairs

It will be recalled that in October, 1937, the Embassy in Moscow was informed of the arrest, three months previously, of a naturalized American citizen, one Frank Hrinkevich, and his detention at Minsk. After another months delay, members of the Embassy staff were permitted to interview Hrinkevich and establish his American citizenship. The case, complicated by Hrinkevich’s refusal, except under force majeure, to leave the Soviet Union unaccompanied by his Soviet wife and child, was the subject of repeated representations, and finally in the later part of October, 1938, exit visas were issued to Mrs. Hrinkevich and child and Hrinkevich was deported from the Soviet Union. He was rejoined in Riga several days later by his family.55

The case might have been the subject of a formal protest on the grounds that the Embassy was not informed of Hrinkevich’s arrest for three months and not permitted to interview him for another month. It will be recalled that in the exchange of notes between the President and Litvinov on November 16, 1933, Litvinov assured the President that the American Consul should be notified within 3 days whenever an American was arrested and should be granted permission to visit a national under arrest without delay. The Embassy, however, felt that any such action would seriously prejudice the chances of obtaining an exit visa for Hrinkevich’s family and so it concentrated its efforts on effecting the release of the family and the deportation of Hrinkevich. After about a year, the Embassy’s efforts were crowned with success.

Since the Embassy had interviewed Hrinkevich only in the presence of Soviet officials, it requested the Legation at Riga to execute an affidavit regarding the conditions of Hrinkevich’s imprisonment. According to this affidavit, which is attached herewith:56 [Page 725]

1.
Hrinkevich was first kept in solitary confinement for 65 days.
2.
He was then accused of being “in contact with American officials and American rich people” who use him as a spy; of terrorizing the chairman of the village soviet (who was his brother in law); of being the head and a member of “an organization engaged in the overthrow of the Soviet Government and furthermore a spreader of false money.” He agreed to sign a statement (in which he presumably confessed his guilt) as he “had been told in jail how people were beaten if they did not do so.”
3.
He was returned to his cell for a second period of solitary confinement and after a month was placed in a better cell and allowed to see his family. On November 12 he was transferred to the Minsk jail and “warned not to say a word about the conditions in jail” to the American Consul. He remained in the Minsk jail from then until June 2, incommunicado from January 2. “For a year I was never taken outside, except when taken to the different authorities, never spoke to anybody.”
4.
On June 2, he was taken to the “foreign cell” (at times referred to as the “Amerikanka”) in which there were 15 German and Czech prisoners. Conditions here were better.
5.
On August 22 he was transferred to the Butyrka jail in Moscow, given several medical examinations and treated reasonably well. Here he was interviewed by Mr. Ward. On October 3 he was again transferred to Minsk and on October 15 to Bigosovo (Latvian-Soviet frontier) and conducted across the border several days later.

Note by E. Page

I interviewed Hrinkevich with Mr. Durbrow at Minsk57 and was very favorably impressed by the man. He appeared to be a simple farmer or industrial worker and had a straight forward and honest manner that inspired confidence in him and pity in his plight. I cannot consider the charges brought against him as anything but fantastic. It would not appear however that, with the exception of the first two months of solitary confinement, Hrinkevich was treated badly in jail. This undoubtedly was due to the interest in him manifested by the Embassy.

I believe that the Embassy, and especially Mr. Ward, has handled this case extremely well and that recognition should be given to its unremitting zeal in protecting American citizens and interests in unusually difficult circumstances.

[In despatch No. 1958, December 21, 1938, the Chief of Consular Section of the Embassy, A. I. Ward, transmitted précis of eighteen cases of American citizens of dual nationality believed or known to be under arrest in the Soviet Union. These précis revealed that a large number of the original and follow-up notes sent from the Embassy remained unanswered by the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs or, [Page 726]after long delay, received only perfunctory replies. These notes frequently declared that the competent internal authorities did not possess information regarding the person about whom inquiry had been made, or declined to furnish such information to the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to transmit to the Embassy, on the ground that the person was considered to be a Soviet citizen. (361.1121/8)]

  1. Frank Hrinkevich, with his wife and son, sailed November 1, 1938, on the S. S. Washington from Hamburg.
  2. Not attached to file copy.
  3. See Embassy’s telegram No. 293, November 16, 1937, 11 a.m., p. 495.