Operation Splinter Factor
Noel Field was an amiable and naïve fellow-traveler who, while working with the OSS during World War II, made friends with a number of communists who later became leaders in Eastern Europe. In 1949 he was lured to Prague by the Czechoslovak authorities and arrested. His wife Herta, his brother Hermann, and his “foster daughter” Erica Glaser all went to look for him; Erica was arrested in East Germany, Hermann in Warsaw. They were each of them tortured, and Noel Field “confessed” that as an American agent he had recruited many Party leaders to serve Washington. This “confession” was one of the main pieces of evidence in the European show trials between 1949 and 1953 in which so many communist leaders were destroyed.
During the thaw that followed Stalin’s death Field and the rest of his family were released. Noel and Herta chose to stay in Budapest, where he died, honored by the Party press, in 1970, and where Herta still lives. Hermann teaches at Tufts University in Boston, and Erica teaches in a school in Virginia. She has written an excellent account of her experiences in first East German and then Soviet prison camps. *
The man who arrested Hermann Field in Warsaw was Jozef Swiatlo, a Polish intelligence officer who also helped to stage many of the Polish trials, and who defected to the West in 1953. Stewart Steven has never talked to Swiatlo, who is now said to live in the United States; but the principal claim he makes in this book is that Swiatlo played a far greater part than has hitherto been suspected in all the main East European trials and that he did so as an American agent.
In 1948, says Steven, when Swiatlo was one of the most powerful men in Poland’s secret police, he told the British Secret Intelligence Service in Warsaw that he wanted to defect. (Steven describes the scene of this encounter in very remarkable detail.) The British turned the suggestion over to Allen Dulles, who persuaded Swiatlo to stay on in Warsaw and work for him.
Dulles, according to Steven, had a theory, as nasty as it was foolish, that the peoples of Eastern Europe would rise up and “roll back” the iron curtain if only they were subjected to the worst sort of Stalinist tyranny. Although the West was then backing Tito, Dulles determined, according to Steven, to destroy all those so-called “liberal,” “nationalist,” and “home” communists who could conceivably become popular leaders and to promote instead those who would be hated by the East Europeans.
Dulles, in Steven’s account, also detested Field who he believed had betrayed and embarrassed the OSS by helping to install communists in East European countries during the closing days of the war. When Swiatlo suggested in 1949 that he denounce Field as an American agent, Dulles happily agreed and ordered Swiatlo to “find spies everywhere. He would denounce top party leaders as American agents, and the evidence … would be…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.