A quarter century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the intellectual guns of the Cold War have finally silenced. Journalists and historians are free to recount tales of Soviet espionage, safe from the salvos of the right and the left.
In True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy (Simon and Schuster), Kati Marton has done an excellent job in telling the sad story of Noel Field, a American State Department officer, international relief worker, and intelligence operative for both the Soviet Union and the United States. I commend Marton for her crisp, clear and direct writing.
Field was a man on the margins. The son of an American scientist, Field grew up in Switzerland, where he met his soul mate and wife, Herta, the daughter of a German Civil Servant.
Herta and Noel Field
Early on, Field was a pacifist–but a pacifist willing to support “the Revolution” (the Soviet kind). After graduating from Harvard, Field joined the State Department. During this time, he and his friend Alger Hiss were recruited into separate branches of Soviet intelligence.
Conflicted between loyalty to his job in the State Department and his commitment to the Soviet Union, Field changed careers, signing on as an international relief executive in Spain during the Civil War, and afterwards in France and Switzerland.
While helping Communist refugees and supplying information to Soviet intelligence, Field was a source for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland. In essence he helped two allies—the United States and the Soviet Union—before they became enemies.
After the end of World War II, America was hit with the Red Scare. Having lost his job with a Unitarian relief agency over his leftist ties, and fearing persecution in the United States, Field traveled to Czechoslovakia to begin a new life as a journalist.
He was abducted to Hungary, where he became a central figure in the show trials which purged Hungary of supposedly anti-Stalinist elements. Field’s coerced but false testimony led to the imprisonment and execution of dedicated Communists. Field and his wife were tortured and imprisoned.
After being released from prison, the Hungarian authorities rehabilitated Noel and Herta Field. They were given luxurious housing. Noel was given a high paying job with a publishing house.
Even after the failure of Communism was acknowledged through out Hungary, Field went to his death in 1970, unrepentant for his views.
The worst side of Field’s life, was the ideological abuse of his foster daughter, Erika. As a result of the Spanish Civil War, Erika Glaser, then a teenager, had been separated from her German exile parents. Noel and Herta cared for her as a daughter. Erika already was a leftist, but the Fields pushed their rigid politics on her.
After World War II, Erika ceased her leftist activities, married an American soldier, and had children.
After Noel and Herta disappeared behind the Iron Curtain, Erika went looking for them. She crossed into East Berlin. Suspect because of her ties to Noel Field, Erika was jailed in the German Democratic Republic. After her release, American consular officials denied her entry into the United States because of her former Communist affiliations.
Ironically, it was an official with the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, who persuaded the State Department that Erika, having spent time in Communist prison, was safe to admit to the United States and join her husband and children.
A superb book from Kati Marton.