800.01B11 Registration—Bookniga Corporation/35: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

1117. Potemkin requested me to call at the Foreign Office yesterday afternoon and said that he wished to speak to me concerning a report he had received regarding the institution of criminal proceedings against the members of the board of directors of the Bookniga Corporation.73 He told me that the Soviet Government was concerned with the growth of anti-Soviet feeling in the United States, of which the proceedings against Bookniga was the latest evidence. I told Potemkin that I had no knowledge of the proceedings to which he referred but that I would report his observations to my Government, whereupon he promised to send me a memorandum setting forth the facts in the case and the position of the Soviet Government with respect thereto.

The memorandum which has now been delivered may be summarized [Page 932]as follows: That on December 16 the Soviet citizens Nikolski and Ilyin,74 who are members of the board of directors of Bookniga, were questioned by the United States Attorney General on charges of violating the law concerning the registration of foreign agencies, and the carrying on of foreign propaganda in the United States. According to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, Bookniga was properly registered in May 1939 with the appropriate authorities in the United States, and had furnished all pertinent data concerning its board of directors and connection with the international book store in Moscow.75 The memorandum continues that “the instigation of criminal proceedings against the members of the board of directors constitutes a fact difficult of explanation”. The memorandum then charges that as there exist in the United States many organizations which, although registered as American, operate with foreign capital whose activities have not been obstructed, the institution of criminal proceedings against the employees of Bookniga creates the impression that because of the connection between this organization and the Soviet Union discrimination is being practiced, the political character of which is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that in the present case accusations of propaganda against the United States, conspiracy, falsification of passports, etc., have been made. The memorandum concludes:

“In connection with the foregoing, the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs makes representations to the Embassy of the United States in Moscow with respect to the following: (1) The entirely unfounded nature of the charges brought against the members of the board of directors of Bookniga, Incorporated; (2) the discrimination noted above which is inadmissible; and (3) the necessity of protecting Soviet citizens in the territory of the United States from persecution instigated for tendentious anti-Soviet purposes.[”]

During our conversation Potemkin remarked that he was unable to understand why such tactics as are reported above were resorted to when, if the Government of the United States really found the presence of Bookniga or Amkino,76 or any other Soviet organization undesirable, it would be preferable to say so frankly and take the matter up with the Soviet Government. In discussing the general subject he observed that in view of the nature of the charges against Bookniga as set forth above his Government was apprehensive lest charges of a similar character might be made against Amtorg next.

  1. Morris Iiskin, Norman Weinberg, and Raphael Rush (Rusz) were indicted on December 16, 1939.
  2. Boris Nikolsky and I. A. Ilyin later (December 27, 1939) admitted willful omission of material information in registry, and were fined.
  3. Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga, International Book Company, the central distributor for Soviet publications, in Moscow.
  4. Amkino Corporation, New York, N. Y., the Soviet motion picture film organization in the United States, distributors.