A time my mother was fired.

ATT_1441819150959_IMG_20141022_164617 Dorothy Loeb, labor columnist at the Daily Worker

Many employers listened closely to the FBI and anti-red advisers. They fired people who were identified as communists.

After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, in June, 1941, my mother got a job in NYC as a labor columnist on the Daily Worker. This photo was used to make the thumb nail that went at the top of her column. She’s 34 or 35 years old in this photo. Because she was a public communist and journalist, she was the organizer of the communist section in the Newspaper Guild — the union of writers, editors and ad workers. After I was born, in 1945, she took a job as a publicist for the American Social Hygiene Association (the anti-venereal disease non profit). Because she worked under her married name of Dorothy Millstone, it took the FBI and its allies a while to put things together.

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This is a report from the files of the Church League of America a rabidly anti-communist group closely associated with the FBI and with the publisher of “Counterattack” and “Red Channels” I don’t know if you’ll be able to read it. It says “July 8, 1947. A highly confidential source of information [this usually means an FBI agent,] advised me ovr the weekend that Dorothy Loeb was formerly a columnist for the Daily Worker and was at present a section organizer for one of the local CP groups was working full time the [as it happens nonexistent] National Health Association [My mother was actually employed by the ASHA, see above] Dorothy L. Milestone [sic]”   The letter goes on relate all this a left-wing plot to promote the non-profit Health Insurance Plan over for-profit insurers. It took them a while to get their facts straighter but in 1949 my mother had been fired.

Were your parents or other people you know targeted for firing by blacklisting groups like this one? The files, by the way, of the Church League, make for fascinating reading.

The FBI in Peace and War at our house.

46 West 95th Street, where I and my parents lived beginning in the summer of 1952.

My parents and I lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor left; the windows are visible in the photo. In the same 36 unit apartment building were four other lefty/red families. We were each and all under steady surveillance by the FBI. And , trust me, this surveillance was not surreptitious. They really wanted us the know they were there. Every morning, for years, separate FBI teams would wait outside the apartment building waiting to follow my parents and other grown ups to work. Of course, because everyone took the subway, the idling automobiles were really designed to remind us that we were being watched.

There were odd, harassing phone calls too. “You can win the contest if you guess the color of the day” — was one steady call. “Red” my mother would say and the the guys on the other end would hang up laughing. Now I’ve had some experience with telephone tapping on behalf of the government and I realize what a huge investment of people power was made in keeping watch on us. At least five teams of agents to follow five red families. Telephone tappers who must have been bored silly as these were days before voice activated taping came into its own.

In our apartment building we had a live-in Super. Mr. Stuart, a beer drunk. His wife kept the purse strings tight to deny him beer money.  Whenever he got money, he’d become falling down drunk and (when I got home from school) he’d apologize. “I’m so sorry” he’d say over and over again. What was he sorry about? Letting the FBI in to search the apartment, they’d give him a few dollars (that his wife didn’t know about)  which he’d promptly convert to beer at the corner bar.

I was, in part, jealous of the children whose parents were jailed or hauled before the House Un-american Activities Committee. I was disappointed that my parents were not important enough. Finally though, the subpoena came for my mother. She was public relations director for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on West 68th Street  (its now on 4th Street near NYU.) She’d been hiding her politics from the people at the college and now she had to tell them that she planned to take the 5th and that there might be some publicity. “Oh we know you’re a red, Dottie” said Nelson Glueck, the president. “The FBI was here trying to get us to fire you the week you were hired.”

Since then, I’ve met, worked with and liked FBI agents. I’ve always expected that they knew a little about me.

Negro History Week 1953

Growing up as a communist child in the 1940s and ’50s had terrors, The anti communist witch hunts made me feel unsafe. This is one story about danger:

I was 7 years old during the school year 1952-53. Stalin died in March of ’53 and the Rosenbergs were executed in June. My parents had moved us to Manahttan’s Upper West Side and I started 2nd grade in a new school, PS 75. I knew no one.

I was in class 2-1 (the smart class). Kids could count by tens, delivered the milk for the school and read the New York Times (which is where I fell into trouble). Though I was told to keep the fact of our communist faith secret, I couldn’t. Current events discussion had me daily discussing the party line (which got me a special seat in the back of the class where I chewed pencils). For Negro History Week, I had just the thing to bring to class. Everyone would love it: Paul Robeson singing Ballad for Americans. I went to school that morning with my heart singing and returned with it shattered because (of course) the teacher, Miss Gincher, would not allow such commie claptrap in her class.

The teacher called in my parents. Perhaps the nanny had been talking politics to me (she speculated). Going to school became a terror and for years afterwards I was terrified those children would expose and denounce me. At the end of the school year, I switched to another school (PS 93) where the Red parents sent their kids and was signed up for the Cub Scouts (for lessons in Americanism, I assume). When I met that cohort again in Junior High, the terror returned but (mostly) they didn’t remember me. 

How I met your mother (CP style).

scan.jpg5My mother and father met each other for the first time in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. My father (born Isidor), self-named George Millstone, volunteered as a soldier in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He left Spain in the fall of 1938 when the International Brigades were withdrawn. The Spanish Republic, with its back almost to the wall, pulled its foreign fighters out. They were responding to a demand of the League of Nations that all sides withdraw foreign troops. The Republic hoped (in vain) that Franco’s fascists would also withdraw the regular Nazi and Italian troops and mercenaries which made up the bulk of their fighters. Ha! .

As Lincoln Brigaders, US citizens, crossed the border into France they were disarmed, detained and mostly sent home right away. Not my father. He and a few others were placed in what my father described as a concentration camp (and what my mother called a villa in the south of France).

In the winter of 1939, my mother, Dorothy Loeb, had just returned from Spain herself and was working with anti-fascist groups in Paris as a representative of the US Communist Party. When the people in Paris heard about the US citizens being detained, my mother was sent to sort it out. On the way, she stopped at the US Consulate in Marseilles and asked why the Veterans had not been sent home. They’d refused to identify themselves, said the officer in the consulate.

“Why haven’t you told the US government who you are” she asked the Vets (in her version of the story). “We’re waiting for instructions from the Party”. So she said “I’m the responsible person from the CP — tell them your names.” They did and were given travel documents home.

Of course, every story has textures and complications.Long after my parents died, I was telling this story to Moe Fishman, of blessed memory, the long time executive of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He said that the US folk who were detained in France were suspected by French & US governments of being agents of the Communist International, not merely party militants.

Were they? My father rarely spoke about his experience in the Spanish Civil War and I never really asked him searching questions about it.