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Labor Action, 27 February 1950


A Former German Communist

The Story Behind The News

An American Stalinist Spy in Wartime Europe –

The Strange Case of Noel Field

(November 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 9, 27 February 1950, pp. 6–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The public first heard about the Field case at the time of the trial of Rajk, the ex-minister of foreign affairs in Hungary who was condemned to death in September 1949 and hanged at the end of October.

Noel Field was formally accused by the Hungarian prosecutor of being an American agent, working for the FBI. There was no immediate reaction from the American side. It was not until three weeks later that the American embassy in Prague took official notice of the disappearance of the three American nationals: Noel Field, his wife Hertha Field, and his son Herman Field.

At the same time it was learned in Washington that the Fields had long been suspected of anti-American activities and were even accused of working far Russia. The Fields had disappeared since July 1949. Last trace of them had been picked up in Prague, then in Warsaw.

In spite of the official protests of the American embassy at Prague, it was plain that the American government was in no hurry to throw light on these strange disappearances. Precise orders from the State Department were even given to the U.S. papers, enjoining silence on the affair.

Was Field really an American agent? Was he, an the contrary, a Russian agent? Was he a double agent, caught at the game by one of his two bosses?

The document which we present maintains the second theory. Noel Field was a long-time convinced Stalinists who worked for the interests of Russia.

It is here translated from the November–December issue of Confrontation Internationale. For personal reasons which may be surmised, the writer signs himself only “A Former German Communist.”Ed.


To start off this testimony, I have to introduce myself. The reader will thus better understand how I made the acquaintance of Noel and Hertha Field and how it is I can today affirm that, on orders from their accusers, Rajk and Szalai lied in the Budapest trial.

Before Hitler came to power, I worked in the German Communist Party, later in an opposition group. In 1933 I was condemned to two years’ forced labor. In 1935 I profited by my release to make my way into France.

In 1939 I signed up as a foreign volunteer in the French army and the following year found myself a prisoner in Germany. Strange return! I did not, however, give the Germans time to discover my identity (I had torn up my papers at the time of the debacle). I escaped, made my way to the southern zone and wound up in Lyon. My wife Martha was waiting for me there. A difficult mode of life began. I had as much to fear from Vichy as from Hitler.

In September 1942 we were warned that a clean-up of Jews was going to start in Lyon. We decided to go to Switzerland.

How we got to Annemasse, then to the other side of the border, could make a novel. But we got there. Behind us: danger to our lives. Before us: a little village whose very name I have forgotten; the house of an Italian couple. We were humanely received: courtesy, hot coffee ... and the police, who soon arrived (we had asked that they be notified).

Meets Hertha Field

Two hours later, in the middle of the night, we were taken to Geneva where we spent the night in a military camp for refugees. The next morning we were free, sent to the Jewish aid committee, and installed in a hotel.

Liberty was not long mine. Switzerland, which every day was getting numerous refugees, had special camps set up, at first under military control. Four weeks after my arrival, I had to go to the one at Buren (in the canton of Berne). Martha was left at liberty with the child; as for myself, during the fall of 1943 I obtained a residence permit as a student at the University of Geneva.

Naturally we remained in contact with the refugees. We were affiliated with the workers’ aid organization, run by the Swiss Socialist Party, which came to the assistance of foreign socialist militants. Together with several German refugees we had formed a little group.

It was in one of these refugee groups that Martha made the acquaintance of Hertha Field. The latter was of German extraction. Martha told me about her the same evening: she was very sympathique, even fascinating. In fact, when I saw her several days later, Hertha Field answered my wife’s description. She was about 40 or 45, her hair was getting gray, but she was still pretty. Her blue eyes gave an impression of great kindness. “My husband and I,” she told my wife, “are busy with an American refugee aid society, the Unitarian Service Committee. Come up and see us some time, with your husband.”

The First Surprise

Martha talked to me of Hertha Field with such enthusiasm that I decided one day to go see the American couple at their office, which was in Geneva opposite the Palais Wilson.

My first surprise awaited me there. I had hesitated before going to see the Fields since their organization had a religious character: it was run by the Quakers. [The writer here and elsewhere in the article apparently uses Quaker interchangeably with Unitarian. Field did indeed work for the Unitarian Service Committee and, as far as we have checked, was not connected with the Quaker organization. – Ed.]

But I had scarcely entered Field’s office when I saw his secretary, Mme. Tampi, who was well known among the German refugees. German herself, married to a Frenchman, she was an admitted Communist militant – by “Communist” I mean Stalinist.

I was surprised but not too much so. So the Fields could aid all refugees without political discrimination.

Noel Field was very tall, spare. He had an aristocratic face. I learned that he was born in London of American parents. His hair also was getting gray and he seemed to be in his fifties.

My conversation with Hertha and Noel Field remained within the circle of generalities: when had I arrived in Switzerland, what was I doing, etc. Finally I was won over to Martha’s view: they were an attractive couple; Noel as well as Hertha could not fail to make a very favorable impression.

I would never have gotten interested in Noel and Hertha Field in any other way if a surprise encounter had not again, as they say, put a flea in my ear.

Often Met CP Functionaries

In 1944 I had a meeting with a Swiss comrade who was a member of the Communist Party (which perhaps at that time already called itself the Workers Party, I no longer remember) but at the same time was a left oppositionist. In the Swiss CP the terror of the leadership does not play the same role as in France – or as in Russia. This comrade had succeeded in forming a little group in the CP itself. We met in a cafe in the Eaux-Vives section, some distance from the center of Geneva. We had been discussing for a short time when I saw Noel Field come in accompanied by a man I did not know. My companion took me by the arm:

“Let’s get away from here,” he told me. “The chap who just came in is Pierre Nicole, the son of Leon Nicole. He knows me well.”

Leon Nicole is the leader of the Communist Party of Latin Switzerland and is the Swiss leader who is best known internationally. We left without being seen by Field and Nicole. But my attention had decidedly been awakened. How was it that the head of a Quaker organization employed a Communist secretary and palled around with the son of the Communist leader Nicole, who was accused by the press of being a “Soviet agent”? I placed this question before various refugees. Some new facts were pulled together by us.

A little later chance led me to meet a Zurich lady, a member of the Socialist Party, whose son, a sympathizer with extreme-left ideas, had one day talked with Noel Field.

She promised me some information and kept her word. Here is what I learned, and I confess that this time I was more than surprised. The “Quaker” Field, my Zurich lady told me, was in constant touch with Anton Ackermann and Walter Frisch, at that time known functionaries of the German Communist Party in emigration. Today Anton Ackermann is a member of the political bureau of the SED, the Socialist Unity [Stalinist] Party which is all-powerful in the Eastern Zone of Germany. He is secretary of state for foreign affairs – that is, he is entrusted with exercising benevolent surveillance over the acts of the Christian-Democratic minister, Georg Dertinger. As for Walter Frisch, he is, with Max Reimann, the big Communist leader in the bizonal area.

Noel Field saw these two men frequently. It was a new pointer. Ackermann was the very prototype of a Stalinist. At that time he lived at the Gordola camp, in the Tessin, but it was possible for him to leave very often and go to Zurich where the majority of the German refugees lived. One of my Italian friends – an anti-fascist militant, intimate friend of the writer Ignazio Silone – was also interned at Gordola. The Stalinists made his existence miserable, to the extent that the Swiss police had to take a hand.

For what reasons was Field in contact with Frisch and Ackermann? Naturally I can affirm nothing positively, but other facts can give one an idea of what constituted the three men’s conversations.

Picked Stalinists Only

When the end of the war was in sight, at the beginning of 1944, the refugee organizations in Switzerland decided to get prepared for the future. Refugee problems, destroyed cities, displaced persons, abandoned children – such were the concerns preoccupying all of them. They got together to jointly train capable personnel and pool their resources. Where could they recruit this personnel except among the refugees of all the European countries, almost all of them able intellectuals and convinced anti-Nazis? Each organization set itself on the lookout for “candidates” for “post-war work” among their protégés in the camps. Among the candidates of the workers’ aid organization, for example, was Martha and some socialist militants. But among the candidates of the Unitarian Service Committee there were only – Communists, known as such. One of them, a German Communist, I knew’ personally; his name was Herz. All the non-Communist refugees at that time were astounded by this choice.

That is what Field, Frisch and Ackermann were discussing. They were getting ready for “post-war work.”

I will add another detail which sounded a note of alarm for all the refugees. Not only were: Field’s candidates known as Communists, but they were also known as propagandists for the “Free Germany Committee” whose founder had been Marshal Von Paulus, Moscow’s prisoner. Thus it was that Field’s friends came individually to solicit adherents to this movement among the German refugees.

Humbert-Droz Confirms

I again heard of Field after the war when I was at Paris. Through some refugees I knew that he had arrived in Paris, where he was organizing an office of the Unitarians. A new confirmation of Field’s Communist activity: the office was loaded with Communists. I knew that at the beginning of 1949 Field was in Switzerland. I heard of his presence later in Prague. Martha saw him again that year at the Gare de l’Est in Paris – with his wife, waiting – she thought – to take the Orient Express. I don’t know where Noel and Hertha Field were going: stillsympathique, smiling, the couple passed Martha without seeing her.

Since then ... Since then I have read the proceedings of the Budapest trial. What a shock it was for me when I found Field’s name, labeled as American agent No. 1 together with Allen Dulles!But Field was not an American agent. He was a Communist. Rajk and Szonyi lied. I resolved to get my conscience clear on it. Evidence came to reassure my conviction. It came from Jules Humbert-Droz, the secretary of the Swiss Socialist Party.

Jules Humbert-Droz was one of the founders of the Third International and his name can be found at all of the Congresses of the Comintern. But after the beginning of the war he was no longer in agreement with the line. Disillusioned, the old Swiss militant returned to his original party, the Socialist Party. I met him recently, and here is what he told me:

“When I made Field’s acquaintance, I was still in the CP. I had been notified that an American named Field was in Switzerland. I was to stay in contact with him. Field told me about his stay in France for the Unitarians. His offices were at Marseille. He had been in touch with the internees of the camp at Vernet.

“In Switzerland, I believe, I made contact with Michael Foot (not to be confused with the Labor Party member of parliament), an Englishman in the service of Russia who recently published a complete account of his activity in the Volksrecht, the organ of the Swiss Socialist Party.”

Humbert-Droz then handed me an issue of the Swiss weeklyTravail in which, condemning the Budapest trial, he had written the following lines on Field:

“Another name is cited by the indictment: it is that of Noel Field, designated as the head of the American spy system in Switzerland, who had given out instructions to American spies among the Yugoslav and Hungarian internees in the camps of Southern France.

“I knew Noel Field very well at that time. He was a member of the Swiss Communist Party and an agent of the American churches to aid refugees in the south of France. He intervened, as an American and as a church representative, with the Vichy government to save a great number of German and Italian Communists who were under the threat of being given up to the Gestapo by the Pétain government. He helped hundreds of militants in the camps, distributing food and transmitting messages. He helped a large number to hide or to flee to the United States or elsewhere. He did this work in close connection with the Swiss Communist Party and the German and Italian émigrés. Field had previously rendered great services to the Soviet Union.

“It is amazing now to see those people denounced as American spies who in all good faith utilized the services of the Communist Noel Field at that time.

“Certain high functionaries of the German and Italian Communist Parties who owe their life to Noel Field could have a bad quarter of an hour in that case.”

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