Copyright © 2012 Lisa Harbatkin
“Dear Mr. Moskoff,” M.F. Fargione, acting head of the Investigations Branch of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, started his February 10, 1954 letter. He continued: “This Service is conducting investigation regarding persons who may be deportable or whose citizenship may be amenable to cancellation because of their connections with the Communist Party.” The letter goes on to request Board of Education records on “foreign born or naturalized United States citizens, who resigned during the past two years while under investigation…with particular reference concerning their place of birth and citizenship status.” *
Kinda scary, right? Moskoff sent a memo to schools superintendent William Jansen asking if he was authorized to provide the requested information. Jansen aide David J. Swartz wrote Moskoff that Jansen approved, but with a caveat: “that you be very careful to make sure that the names of those who resigned are kept extremely confidential. He asked this because in some instances we had little data and, therefore, a very poor case.” *
We’ll leave aside the question of whether the poor information refers just to that on citizenship status or the broader range of material collected on each teacher. We’ll be back to that in future posts, although it’s worth noting for now that, as dedicated to rooting communists out of the schools as he was, Moskoff did, sort of, make an effort to be accurate — at least to the extent possible given some of the sources of that information.
In any case, on February 16, Moskoff responded to Fargione, noting the need for complete confidentiality. “If you will communicate with Mr. John A. Dunne, Chief Investigator assigned to this unit, he will arrange a conference to discuss the details.” *
Additional contacts took place as late as 1959, after Moskoff had left and under a new schools chancellor. It’s not clear exactly when from the archival materials, but at some point lists of teachers’ names were assembled. They first included most of those forced out, and were then winnowed down to include just those born overseas, with data on them including places of birth, naturalization details, their addresses, marital status, and, of course, their known years of association with the Communist Party. Those born overseas came from Russia, Eastern Europe, and England, and most were naturalized on their fathers’ papers.
* Accessed at New York City Municipal Archives.