Hede Massing (Hedwig Gumperz, “Redhead” [“Ryzhaya”]) was …
In fact, it is difficult to say in a single, succinct phrase what this woman, who is often referred to by American Cold War scholars and espionage writers as “a particularly convincing witness against Alger Hiss,” really was. The best definition I have found seems to be “Woman with a Past” – the title of a Time magazine report from December 1949 on Hede Massing’s testimony in Hiss’s second perjury trial, at which she appeared as the only government witness to corroborate Whittaker Chambers‘s story that Hiss had once been a member of the Communist underground. 1
In fact, whatever is known in the United States about Massing’s illustrious past comes from what she herself first told the FBI “in many long interviews over the course of the winter of 1946-47″ (which she would later term “a terrific ordeal … like a psychoanalysis without reward”) 2 and later described in her 1951 autobiography. 3 There, as she herself admitted to the FBI, she changed the facts to improve her stories. 4
Hede Massing was born Hedwig Thune 5 in Vienna, Austria on January 6, 1900. This is one of the few documented facts of her biography. 6 She is sometimes said to have spent several childhood years in America, but there is no documentary proof of this.
Next, we come to Hede Thune’s belle epoch as a “vampish Viennese actress” (to quote the 1949 Time story) in bohemian, post-World War I Vienna. “Hede was an actress, tall, slim, with reddish-blond braids, all of seventeen and on a scholarship at the theater conservatory.” 7 However, in this romantic description only the part about Hede’s charms withstands checking. First, by simple math, at the end of the war Hede would have been 18. Second, and more noteworthy, the “vampish actress” fades into a modest “pedagogue by profession,” as she described herself in Moscow in 1930. 8 Hede’s 1930 description of her occupation checks with various documentary evidence about her career as a “pedagogue” and a publishing house employee from the 1920s until 1930.
Then, with Comintern personnel files at hand, we seem to have to say goodbye to the story of Hede’s “whirlwind” Viennese romance with Gerhard Eisler, the young ex-Lieutenant in the Austrian Army turned “playwright” whom she claimed to have moved to Berlin with in 1920 – and subsequently married. First, at their earliest possible meeting in late 1918 (according to his Comintern personnel file, Eisler “served in the Austrian (Osterreichien) Army, 1915 – 1918″), Hede would have been almost 19, and not a romantic “seventeen.” Second, Eisler himself never mentioned his “playwright” background: in his Comintern forms and references, he described his occupation “since 1918″ as “propagandist.” 9
But establishing a more mundane relationship between a “pedagogue” and a “propagandist” does not end the trouble. In several Comintern personnel forms filled in during the 1920s and 1930s, Eisler described the companion of his 1920 move from Vienna to Berlin as his sister, Elfriede/Ruth Fischer. A skeptic could say that this still leaves room for a Berlin marriage – particularly important for establishing Hede’s veracity as a witness – since the first of the popular definitions of Hede Massing was that she was the first wife of Gerhard Eisler. But when questioned by the security officers in East Germany (the GDR) in July 1951, Eisler said that he “had never been married” to Hede and that they simply “lived together in 1921-22 and then split.” 10
We will leave Hede Massing at the time of her fictitious marriage to Gerhard Eisler – but will come back soon to revisit this fascinating woman and her life-story in greater detail.
Watch for alerts on this website to learn more about the two men Massing did subsequently marry, as well as the many other prominent men in her life – and their stories.
Read documentary crosschecking of Hede Massing’s testimony in Alger Hiss’ second perjury trial:
- The “Dinner Party” at the Fields’ I: Whittaker Chambers’s and Hede Massing’s Accounts (1939-1948)
- The “Dinner Party” at the Fields’ II: Noel Field’s Account, Comments by Massing and others (1948-1954)
- The “Dinner Party” at the Fields’ III: Skeletons in the Closet (1990s-2009)
Soon to Come:
- Stories of the main participants as they appear in the Russian and Comintern files;
- Other untold, fascinating episodes from Hede Massing-Gumperz’s life story.
- “Woman with a Past.” – Time, December 19, 1949. ↩
- The FBI-KGB War. A Special Agent’s Story, by Robert J. Lamphere and Tom Shachtman. New York: Random House, 1986, p. 50. Hede Massing’s life story is recounted in brief on pp. 50-57. ↩
- This Deception, by Hede Massing. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1951. ↩
- Presentation by Jeff Kisseloff (independent scholar) at the New York University Center for the United States and the Cold War’s Inaugural Conference on “Alger Hiss and History,” April 5, 2007 (transcript). ↩
- We can see in Comintern records that the correct spelling of Massing’s maiden name was Thune, not Tune, as it appears in American texts. This is particularly clear from a late 1920s Comintern personnel form filled out by the German Communist Gerhard Eisler, who was applying to become a Comintern functionary – and who spelled the maiden name of his wife Elli (Hede Massing’s younger sister) as Thune. – Gerhard Eisler [Gross] personnel file, fond 495, op. 205, file 154, p. 213 (also in other forms and references in the same file), RGASPI. ↩
- “Gumperz, Hedwig” reference for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany, Moscow, September 7, 1930; original in German. – “Gumperz, Hedwig” Comintern personnel file, fond 495, op. 205, file 1632, p. 5, RGASPI. ↩
- The FBI-KGB War, Op. Cit., p. 50. ↩
- “Gumperz, Hedwig” reference for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany, Moscow, September 7, 1930. – “Gumperz, Hedwig” Comintern personnel file, Op. cit. ↩
- Gerhard Eisler Comintern personnel file, Op. cit., p. 26. ↩
- “Protokoll, 23.7.1951,” in Gerhard Eisler personnel file, Op. Cit., p. 82. ↩