Category Archives: Saul Moskoff

Incestuous Relationships ?

Someone at the Board of Education, likely one of the early investigators, had a busy 2 days in Washington on January 24-25, 1951. A copy of the January 26, 1951 draft report on the visit in New York City’s Municipal Archives has a lot of detail and was “Respectfully submitted,” but there is no indication who “respectfully submitted” it or to whom it was addressed. Even so, it drops a bunch of names while describing visits to a who’s who of federal agencies and congressional committees engaged in the ever-expanding hunt for communists. It gives more than a hint of the incestuous relationships among local, state, and federal investigators as Cold War politics ginned up the New York investigations.

Saul Moskoff entered the picture a half-year later, over the summer. Records in the city’s archives make it clear that he wasted no time in building relationships with congressional committees, state troopers, New York police undercovers, and of course the FBI. I recently got almost 1,000 pages of FBI records via the National Archives some 4 or 5 years after I put in a FOIA request for them to the FBI. References to Moskoff, and working with him, are scattered through the pages.

Also in the Municipal Archives, there’s a “Dear Saul” letter from FBI agent Leo Conroy in August 1953, when he’d been assigned to FBI headquarters after working on anti-communist and security cases in New York. “I am sorry I didn’t get to see you before I left, however I do want to say it was a pleasure to work with you and John,” Conroy wrote. (“John” is likely John A. Dunne, Moskoff’s main investigator for most of his time at the Board.)

Conroy was 103 on the investigators’ Source Code list of police undercovers, FBI agents, and assorted informers, including teachers. Other specific FBI agents had source codes 101,102, 104, 105, and 106; 100 was labeled “genl,” and perhaps used to reference FBI information that didn’t come from specific agents the New York investigators worked with.(The Source Code list is in the Municipal Archives.)


Setting the Stage for Rapp-Coudert and the ‘50s

Heading into the 1920s and the Lusk Laws, the Board of Education’s demands for loyalty, patriotism, and adherence to democracy were matched by Teachers Union assertions that teachers were loyal, patriotic, and democratic. Some New York Times headlines in 1922 could almost provide an outline of the conflicts between the union and the board:

  • “Teachers Decry Secret Reports”
  • “Teachers Secretly Quizzed on Loyalty”
  • “Demands Justice For Two Teachers”

Those 2 teachers were Eugene Jackson and Austin M. Works, and the board was withholding the required certificates as to their loyalty and character that would enable them to continue teaching under the Lusk Laws. Both had served in the army during the war, and both were then teaching at De Witt Clinton. They were among several teachers caught up in the same bind.

Jackson, a modern languages teacher, kept his job, as did Wood. Both are mentioned in school news coverage in subsequent years. Jackson played an active and public role in the Teachers Union through the 1930s and 1940s. He was among the teachers caught in the mid-century probe, retired in 1952 soon after Saul Moskoff took over the investigation.

But the hunt for radical teachers in the schools continued through the 1920s and beyond; in effect it didn’t stop. Governor Al Smith signed the bill repealing the Lusk Laws in the spring of 1923. Even before he did, as the conflict over the repeal escalated, a Times headline proclaimed “Red Outbreak Tale Told to Governor.” And, after the repeal, in 1925: “Radicalism Taints Schools, Says Doty.” (Doty was dean of De Witt Clinton.)

With both communism and fascism ramping up overseas, the following decades saw the board and the news coverage far more concerned about the red menace, even as fascist forces grew more powerful in Germany.

Jansen, Moskoff – and Herbert Romerstein

Herbert Romerstein’s death this past May seems to have drawn little attention outside conservative publications, including American Spectator and Commentary.  But his contacts with the teacher investigations are just one example of how widely the Board of Education reached in its search for potential subversives in its classrooms.

It’s behind Commentary’s paywall, so I haven’t had a chance yet to read Joshua Muravchik’s tribute to Romerstein, headlined “The Man Who Knew Everything.” But when it came to communism and communists, he apparently pretty much did. And Romerstein was, indeed, quite a precocious anti-communist: he had joined the Communist Youth League, then the CP, in high school, and studied at the Jefferson School, but the Korean War disillusioned him with communism. By the time he was 20, in 1951, he was working at Kenby Associates, the “research and editorial”outfit run by ex-FBI agent Kenneth M. Bierly. Bierly, with 2 other ex-agents, was the founder of Counterattack. In False Witness, Harvey Matusow recalled a 1952 SISS adventure that included “a Brooklyn youth named Herbert Romerstein, who had been an undercover informer for Counterattack.”

Romerstein went on to testify before congressional committees and other bodies as an expert witness. He was an investigator for HUAC, worked for the US Information agency, wrote many books, and in general built  a career focused on investigating and rooting out communism.

In 1951, he was already in touch with superintendent Jansen and his aide John Fenety, and then with Moskoff when he arrived. His code name on the Board’s informant list was Italy. Writing to “Mr. Saul Moscov” on the letterhead of Bierly’s Kenby Associates (he’s listed as a staff member) on August 25, Romerstein enclosed “the throwaway titled Mass Youth Rally To Stop Police Terror Against Negro Youth.” Moskoff returned the item via an August 28 letter. Fenety didn’t think Romerstein had much information on teachers, but by 1952-53, when he was in the Army, Romerstein was spelling Moskoff’s name correctly, and writing youthfully quaint letters to him, and apparently receiving answers. Teachers’ names found their way into some of the missives.

And in 1954, Jansen okayed Moskoff’s request to retain Romerstein for 10 days at a day rate of $25 “in connection with the trial of the above named (Paul Seligman, a CRMD teacher) to present proof that the Young Communist League endorses the policies of the Communist Party. To obtain such proof would necessitate extensive inquiry and research into documentation.” Romerstein, Moskoff told Dr. Jansen, “has had considerable experience” in the subject, especially the YCL, and had testified before a congressional committee and helped prepare charges on the Labor Youth League, “which is actually the Young Communist League under a different name.” Romerstein provided his evidence, from May 17 to May 28, 1954, and got his $250.

On June 18, the day set for his departmental trial, reported the New York Times, Seligman resigned. The article didn’t say whether Moskoff was annoyed at not getting to present his evidence or pleased at getting rid of yet another politically annoying teacher.

On June 18, the day set for his departmental trial, reported the New York Times, Seligman resigned. The article didn’t say whether Moskoff was annoyed at not getting to present his evidence or pleased at getting rid of yet another politically annoying teacher.

Seligman explained his reasons for resigning, the Times reported, in a letter to Jansen. “It has become apparent in this age of McCarthy witch-hunting that no one who is smeared with the Red label can ever fully defend himself,” he said, noting the potential consequences for those who would testify for him: “If a person who was a member of the Young Communist League thirteen or fourteen years ago would take the stand and testify I was not a member, that person would run the risk of reprisal and loss of his job due to the frenzy of the witch hunt.”

Contacts with Romerstein apparently continued. In a July 16th, 1956 letter, Moskoff recommended Romerstein to Michael J. Murphy, then chairman of the Waterfront Commission (and later New York’s police commissioner).

Sources: Municipal Archives, NY Times and False Witness, Harvey Matusow

On the Road In the Good Old Days

Saul Moskoff traveled quite a bit during his 1951-1958 years investigating the TU and the teachers. His expense vouchers were every bit as detailed as the records he kept on the investigations, whether they were for his subway fares (30 cents) or for out of town trips to Albany, Washington, D.C., and other places. He would also put in for dinner on late nights. Looked at overall, they indicate the range of his contacts and what was happening in the investigations.

Just an example or two: Moskoff advanced the expenses for a February 8, 1955 trip he and his investigator John Dunne made to Albany in connection with the appeal of four teachers to the commissioner of education. Total costs for both were $29.34, including the train, taxi in Albany, and lunch and dinner.

Expenses were a bit higher when Moskoff and Dunne went to Washington on November 19-20, 1956, “at the request of Dr. Jansen in connection with official business of the Board of Education of the City of New York,” the expense voucher said. Fares, meals hotel, and taxi totaled $97.98. He noted that he was returning $2.22 from the $100 advance he’d gotten. I don’t (yet) know what the “official business” was, but a lot was going on in the city’s hunt for classroom communists. New York State’s education commissioner, James E. Allen, Jr. had handed down his decision against forced informing in August. Moskoff’s to-do list also included also included dealing with the appeals of  the 4 teachers and a principal who had been suspended for refusing to cooperate with his investigation by providing names. As for the reason for the D.C. trip, Moskoff made no secret of his frustrations with the impact of the Allen ruling. His own October 29th deposition in the appealed case of the 5 educators noted that his sources were drying up for a number of reasons, with the Allen ruling being one. Another was that “national security regulations and requirements have made such sources unavailable.”

The Manipulative Confidentiality “Promise”

By asserting third-party privacy for the teachers investigated by the Board of Education, the Municipal Archives succeeded in making the issue, and my court case, about names. And New York’s Court of Appeals fell for it, ruling that records of teachers promised “confidentiality” when they were questioned by investigators can remain hidden. Indefinitely, apparently.

Now, unlike today’s researchers, investigators back then were really just after names, after more teachers they could toss out of the schools. “Promising” not to name those called in encouraged alleged or actual communists to resign, getting them out of the schools. An added bonus was saving the city the costs of departmental trials.

Confidentiality was a tactic, not a long-term promise.

The proof is in the Municipal Archives records – those that contain no names or the names of teachers whose names were all over the newspapers during the investigations. These records are open. Let’s take a look.

Saul Moskoff jotted down a few notes to himself, likely in the spring of 1955 as HUAC was preparing to hear testimony from New York undercover detective Mildred Blauvelt. He was especially concerned that committee members not ask Blauvelt to publically reveal any teachers’ names. His handwritten notes were essentially an outline for two memos that preceded Blauvelt’s HUAC appearance. Point by point:
“Success of invest. thus far has been due to secrecy.
Encourage resignations.
Won’t resign if they know names are to be made public.
Difficulty of presenting legal proof.” *

The follow-on memos, in April and May, and other items in the Municipal Archives and the National Archives follow the script. So in an April 21, 1955 memo to the corporation counsel, Moskoff wrote:  “We have found that if Communist teachers know that they will be the subject of publicity they will use every device to thwart dismissal but will resign if no publicity is given. We encourage resignation because it dispenses with the expense and difficulties of trials and at the same time protects the identities of other teachers who, while once Party members, have since demonstrated their complete loyalty to our democratic institutions and spares them from the smear and pillory of the Communists who would denounce them as rats, stool pigeons, and spies.” * He concluded by asking that the CC urge the committee not to require Blauvelt to name “teachers either now under investigation or who have resigned while under investigation. Of course, we would be willing to reveal the names of those who stood trial and were dismissed.” * This, of course, this was a spectacularly meaningless offer, since the names of the teachers subjected to the departmental trials were regularly in the newspapers.

A long May 2, 1955 memo summarizing a conversation he had with HUAC chief clerk Thomas W. Beale, Sr. about the need to withhold names during  Blauvelt’s planned appearance (apparently written by Moskoff but referring to himself as SM), contained another little gem: “…and in some of the cases the legal proof sufficient to sustain the charges was not present although for all practical purposes membership in the Communist Party was apparent.” *

We can also go back further. In a November 30, 1953 letter,  Moskoff wrote to New York Daily Mirror columnist Edward Zeltner thanking him for something he’d written about Moskoff and the teacher  investigations:  “I am particularly appreciative …that you as a newspaper man recognize the effectiveness of the policy of my investigation to retain in confidence the names of those under investigation. It might interest you to know that this policy has led to a financial saving to the city in that teachers who might otherwise face charges and trial with the accompanying expense have instead resigned to avoid the publicity.” *

Confidentiality was a tactic, not a long-term promise.

* Accessed at New York City’s Municipal Archives

I Sympathize With Moskoff

Sending the missive via special delivery, Saul Moskoff wrote to New York Herald Tribune education editor Fred Hechinger on December 9, 1953, apparently in conjunction with a planned article. He noted that he was enclosing the only photo he had available of himself, and then made a request: “If it is possible for your photographers to touch it up so as to remove the ‘bags’ from under my eyes, it might result in eliminating the possibility of frightening children who may happen to look at the page.”

Accessed at the New York City Municipal Archives.

A Question of Trust? Rabinowitz on Moskoff

You could trust Roy Cohn to come after you, Victor Rabinowitz told researcher Linda Cirino in the late 1970s. Dealing with Saul Moskoff was different. He could be just as trusted to come after you — just more insidiously. “Roy Cohn and Dick Arens working in Washington were killers. They came out ready to kill. Moskoff was not a killer,” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz, one of the lawyers who defended the teachers, worked with Louis Boudin, representing a wide range of the people caught up in the mid-20th-century anti-communist investigations.

Moskoff “was always your friend. There was never any question about Cohn. He was your enemy. But Moskoff — I’m not sure which is better — he was always polite, he was always interested in protecting the rights of the teachers and everybody else. He had this law he had to enforce. … The brutality of the congressional committee approach was not ever present here. The result of course was exactly the same. …It all resulted in exactly the same thing. It made no difference. After a very short period everybody was aware that the interview with Moskoff would turn out to be exactly the same thing. I think we went there because we were all thinking in terms of preparing some kind of legal case, and legal cases did come out of this.”

Excerpted from taped interview by Linda Cirino of Victor Rabinowitz.

Building on Rapp-Coudert

The 1940-1942 Rapp-Coudert hearings in New York’s state legislature ended as the United States entered World War II with the Soviet Union as an ally. But they provided the model for the anti-communist investigations of the post-war period, and in the long term for investigations being carried out today by different government agencies.

Picking up again later in the 1940s, the investigations went local, carried out by city agencies and educational institutions around New York state – and for that matter in cities across the country. The Board of Education and the Board of Higher Education dismissed some teachers and professors in the late 1940s, while congressional hearings helped drum up public concerns over communism, setting the stage for the Cold War fears that dominated the next decade. Some teachers and college professors were caught up in both the Rapp-Coudert hearings and in those from the late 1940s-early 1960s that are the main focus here at Snoops & Secrets.

Superintendent William Jansen testified in some of these late 1940s congressional hearings. So did Board of Ed member George Timone, who was a key figure in driving the New York investigations. Jansen, some of his aides, and Board investigators handled things at first, with Saul Moskoff taking over as the legal issues became more complex. (For additional background on this time frame, see ).

The investigations followed a perhaps more legally rigorous, and more carefully planned, pattern once Moskoff took over in mid-1951. His files now held by New York’s Municipal Archives provide a clear record of his organizational prowess and his determination to root communists out of the school system. (It would be interesting – and useful – to know if any such detailed records exist in the other cities where these investigations took place.)

These sessions took place in an office suite Moskoff designed (specs are in the Municipal Archives), and according to procedures he laid out. In some cases, different assistant superintendents conducted follow-up questioning of uncooperative teachers in their offices in further efforts to get them to provide information.

Future posts will continue to draw on the teachers’ words and archive records in describing the investigations in more detail.


“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.

Democrats, Republicans, and Fighting Communism

New York’s 1950s mix of the usual left-wingers, right-wingers, and assorted bigots intersected with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish groups, clergy, and individual citizens. Professional red hunters made their own contributions to the overall frenzy and to the teacher investigations.

No surprise that the motives and opinions of those running the investigations covered the same range and more. As the Cold War intensified from the late 1940s on, so did the concerns and opinions of many over the perceived and/or real dangers of communism.

Saul Moskoff, the assistant corporation counsel assigned to run the investigations for most of the decade, was a four-letter word to the teachers caught up in the investigations, along with superintendent of schools William Jansen, Board of Education member George Timone, and others who played roles in the search for teachers considered unfit to teach because of their political leanings.

So it would’ve been a surprise to my parents and their friends to learn that Moskoff was a pretty conventional liberal democrat (note the small “d”) and that Jansen was a pretty conventional bureaucrat who was more interested in, well, being a bureaucrat than in chasing communists. More than once, Moskoff expressed his frustration in trying to raise Jansen’s enthusiasm level.

For his part, Moskoff was also a capital “D” Democrat, and, it seems, a pretty partisan one. Along with other Democrats, Socialists, and a varied assortment of political moderates, he consistently asserted that communism was inherently incompatible with democracy. To a good extent, they all felt this justified the teacher investigations: communists, they argued, would inevitably slant their lessons and damage the children in their classes. Communism, Moskoff said, aimed for world domination.

But a steady stream of self-justifying internal memos, letters, speeches, press releases, newspaper interviews, and articles in Strengthening Democracy, a Board of Education magazine, made it just as clear that Moskoff and at least some Board members and officials were not all that sure that what they were doing was all that compatible with democracy either.

But things were complicated. It’s more than likely that Moskoff would not have welcomed being associated with McCarthyism or with Republican anti-communism. In October 1954, he tossed off a memo to Michael A. Castaldi, another assistant corporation counsel involved in the investigations, arguing that the Democrats were more effective than Republicans in fighting communism:

“Communists know they have more to fear from a Democratic Administration than from a Republican Administration,” Moskoff wrote. “They know that the wild, rushing, bull-dozing, inaccurate and indiscriminate tactics of publicity seeking Republicans have gained adherents and sympathizers to the ranks of Communists. On the other hand, they dread the plodding, judicious, honest, fair, effective and determined efforts of the Democrats to dislodge Communist Party members from positions of sensitivity in industry and public employment. They are aware that the decimating of their ranks has occurred not through the ravings and rantings of ambitious Republican politicians but rather through statesmanlike, legal and constitutional processes employed by Democrats in performing the duties of public office.” *

In news interviews, Moskoff expanded on this point by asserting that the best way to fight communism was to insure good living standards and economic security for all citizens.

* Accessed at New York City Municipal Archives.