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

No. 884

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegrams Nos. 1418 and 2766 of April 24, 2 p.m. and July 26, 7 p.m., respectively,41 and to other communications from this Mission concerning marriages of members of United States Government personnel to Soviet citizens.

There are at present six cases of American-Soviet marriages of this sort, in which the wives, although they wish to leave the Soviet Union and have applied for permission to do so, have not been permitted to leave. In three of these cases, the husbands have already left the country. These were all men connected with the Military Mission, which required them to leave Russia after their marriages to local citizens. In the three other cases, the husbands are members of the staff of the State Department establishment and in consequence of their marriage to aliens their resignations from the Foreign Service are to be accepted; but the Embassy has not pressed their departure from Moscow because it is reluctant to force their separation from their wives.

These cases present a most troublesome problem for the Chief of Mission at this post. It is not the practice of the Soviet Government to give direct refusals to requests for exit permits on the part of these wives. Instead of this, they indicate their unwillingness to permit the women to leave by simply failing to answer communications on this subject. This leaves the cases formally open, and permits the persons involved to hope against hope that somehow and some day a favorable reply may be received. This hope has been further stimulated by the fact that on past occasions various chiefs of mission, American and otherwise, have brought political pressure to bear in high circles to induce the Soviet Government to take favorable action in individual instances. These efforts have been successful, and despite the obvious fact that the effectiveness of this approach would not last long if used in every instance, each of the married couples is firmly convinced that the only reason that the desired exit permit [Page 915] is not forthcoming is that the Ambassador, presumably out of hardness of heart, is unwilling to go to Stalin and make the necessary request. This shifts the moral stigma of a harsh practice from the Soviet Government to the Ambassador.

In addition to this, the human appeal of these cases is often very great. In one case, the woman is American by birth and is recognized by our authorities as an American citizen. She acquired Soviet citizenship involuntarily while she was a minor, through the naturalization of her mother. Her husband and her father are both in the United States. She herself is expecting a child, and has no adequate housing in Moscow for the winter. In several, if not all, of the cases where the husbands have left there is good reason to believe that if the Embassy were to cease to exhibit interest in the case the women would be immediately picked up by the secret police and deported or imprisoned, or both, as punishment for their act in marrying the servant of a foreign government, which is regarded as little less than traitorous. This means that the Embassy cannot simply disclaim interest in the cases without subjecting the wives to personal danger and the husbands to much mental anguish. The Embassy is therefore put in the awkward position of having to keep both husbands and wives under its wing indefinitely or of taking moral responsibility for separations and personal catastrophes.

In order that the Embassy might be protected as far as possible from this dilemma, identic letters setting forth the Embassy’s position have been addressed to the last two members of the staff to state their intentions of marrying Soviet women.42 The text of these letters is submitted in Enclosure No. 1.43

But to take this step at a time when the persons concerned are already emotionally involved and when the women are already compromised in the eyes of the Soviet authorities by their association with Americans amounts to locking the stable door after the horse is stolen, and it will not essentially alter the present situation. It would be much preferable if all men coming to this post in the service of the Government, whether civil or military, were to sign statements either before departure or immediately upon arrival here, making it clear that they are aware of the situation prevailing in Russia in this respect and assuming the responsibility for the probable consequences in the event that they marry Soviet citizens. I enclose a copy of a suggested wording of such a statement.43

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I would appreciate learning the Department’s reactions to this proposal, or any other suggestions it may have for the handling of this problem.45

Respectfully yours,

W. A. Harriman
  1. Neither printed.
  2. These were Foreign Service clerks at the Embassy, James A. Collins and William E. Wallace.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. In despatch No. 1117 October 19, from Moscow, the Chargé George F. Kennan, recommended in view of wartime circumstances and the “mental anguish” of any forced separation, that the separation of employees from the service be held in abeyance “until the question of the release of their wives from Russia can be given adequate and normal attention.” The Chargé expressed the hope that the Department would accept this position, and he proposed, in the absence of further instructions, “to allow these men to postpone departure until the release of their wives is effected or until such time as the Embassy is able to take these cases up with the Soviet authorities in circumstances which would permit them to be given fair and normal consideration.” (124.61/10–1944)