John Lowenthal Papers
Language of Materials
John Lowenthal (1925-2003) was an attorney and filmmaker. While in law school Lowenthal had a brief stint as a volunteer assistant to the defense during Alger Hiss's two perjury trials in 1949 and 1950. In the 1970s, after the release of suppressed FBI documents about the case, Lowenthal, by then a Rutgers University law professor, published an analysis of what this new evidence revealed. Several years later, Lowenthal took a leave from Rutgers to make "The Trials of Alger Hiss," a feature-length documentary film about the case. The John Lowenthal Papers consists primarily of materials gathered for Lowenthal's film, "The Trials of Alger Hiss" (Los Angeles, California: Direct Cinema, Ltd., 1981). The collection includes research files and transcripts of the interviews conducted for the film, correspondence, court records, photographs, and rough drafts and typescripts of articles and commentary written by Lowenthal.
John Lowenthal (1925-2003) was an attorney and filmmaker. He was born in Manhattan on May 14, 1925. He served in the Navy and attended Columbia College and Columbia University School of Law (class of 1950). While in law school, Lowenthal spent some time as a volunteer assistant to the defense during Alger Hiss's two perjury trials in 1949 and 1950.
In the 1970s, after the release of suppressed FBI documents about the case, Lowenthal, by then a Rutgers University law professor, published an analysis of what this new evidence revealed. Several years later, Lowenthal took a leave from Rutgers to make "The Trials of Alger Hiss," a feature-length documentary film about the case, released in 1980. Lowenthal worked closely with Hiss on the film, which used a series of new interviews and presented evidence that had been withheld from the jury that found Hiss guilty of perjury.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lowenthal, on Hiss's behalf, asked Russian General Dimitry Antonovich Volkogonov, a biographer of Stalin and at the time military advisor to President Boris Yeltsin, to search Soviet files for any evidence that Alger Hiss had been either a Communist or a spy. In the mid-1990s, Lowenthal was one of the first legal scholars to challenge the assertion that the National Security Agency's then just-released "Venona" cables -- coded wartime messages sent home from the United States by Soviet operatives and then intercepted and decrypted -- supported the allegation that Hiss had been engaged in espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. In 2003, Lowenthal successfully defended a Hiss-related libel action brought against him in London by Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB agent and co-author (with Allen Weinstein) of The Haunted Wood, a study of Soviet espionage in the U.S. Vassiliev sued Frank Cass and Company, publishers of Lowenthal's article, "Venona and Alger Hiss" in the journal Intelligence and National Security. The libel action asserted that Lowenthal, in his article, had called Vassiliev an "unreliable author whose identification of persons who worked for the KGB is in part wrong, in part based on out-of-context information, and in part mere guesswork." On June 13, 2003, the jury threw out the case.
In the years after the release of his film, Lowenthal taught at the New School for Social Research and at the CUNY Law School at Queens College. He was also a classical cellist who performed widely. John Lowenthal died of cancer in London, where he had made his home for some years, on September 9, 2003.
Folders arranged alphabetically by topic in Series I through Series IV. Series V and VI have not been arranged by an archivist.
The files are grouped into six series:
Series I: Alger Hiss Research Files, 1934-2003
Series II: Subject Files, 1942-2003
Series III: Alger Hiss Production Files, 1938-1991
Series IV: Addendum, 1949-1993
Series V: 2020 Accretion, 1978-2009
Series VI: Unprocessed Materials, Undated
Scope and Contents
This collection consists primarily of materials gathered for Lowenthal's film, "The Trials of Alger Hiss" (Los Angeles, California: Direct Cinema, Ltd.). Included are transcripts of the interviews conducted for the film with Alger Hiss, Donald Hiss and his wife, Mike, Pat and Raymond Catlett, Ramos Feehan, Gussie Feinstein, Vincent Shaw, Margaret Halsey, Harold Rosenwald, Edward Murtagh, Malcolm Cowley, Isaac Don Levine, Nathan Witt, Ralph de Toledano, Robert Stripling, Sam Krieger, Harold Shapero, Ordman Clubb, John Francis Cronin, and David Zalodowski, among others, and a campaign speech on the Hiss Case by President Richard Nixon. Also included is correspondence between Lowenthal and the Hiss family -- Alger, Anna, Donald, Isabel, Priscilla, and Tony - as well as Alger Hiss biographical information, interviews, notices of lectures and seminars, a typescript on the New Deal, letters of support and materials relating to Hiss's reinstatement to the Massachusetts State Bar. Materials directly pertaining to the Hiss Case include the Baltimore Exhibits and evaluation by Edward H. Fearon, FBI interviews, government exhibits, trial notes and samples from five Woodstock typewriters, and three original letters from Whittaker Chambers to Mark Van Doren. Materials pertaining to Russian Archives, Soviet Intelligence and the Venona Documents include files on Georgi Abratov, Boris Bykov, Alexander Vassiliev, Vitali Pavlov and Dmitri Volkogonov.
This collection also included research and background materials gathered during the making of the film, "The Trials of Alger Hiss." Included are copies of court records from the first Hiss trial and legal files concerning Hiss's appeal; correspondence between John Lowenthal and Bruce Craig, Agnese Nelms Haury, Victor Navasky, and others; comments and criticism regarding Lowenthal's writings; materials documenting discussions with potential funding sources and distributors of the film; reviews of the film and publicity material. Other materials include John's father Max Lowenthal's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) file, a typescript of William A. Reuben's unpublished study of the Hiss Case; and Hugh Whitemore's typescripts for various television productions on Whittaker Chambers and Hiss. Materials pertaining to Soviet/Russian archives, Soviet Intelligence and the Venona Documents include files on Boris Bykov and Alexander Vassiliev.
Approximately six hundred photographs, two hundred reference photocopies of photographs, over one hundred negatives and fifteen contact sheets are included in the Production Files for "The Trails of Alger Hiss" film. The materials capture moments from Alger Hiss' life and trials, and also include family photographs.
Finally, there is a small processed addendum that contains correspondence of John Lowenthal, including letters to his family from a trip to Paris in the summer of 1949, as well as correspondence relating to Alger Hiss. There also a file on the Agnese Helms Naury trust, several letters by Anne Lowenthal, an article on Whittaker Chambers' employment by, and dismissal from, the New York Public Library, a brochure for the film "The Trials of Alger Hiss," and a 1992 newspaper clipping, "Vindication for Alger Hiss."
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by John Lowenthal were transferred to New York University in 2003 by John Lowenthal. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from repository. Please contact [repository], email@example.com, 212-998-2596.
Identification of item, date; John Lowenthal Papers; TAM 190; box number; folder number or item identifier; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Purchased from John Lowenthal in 2003; additional materials may have been donated in 2010 and 2011. In 2020 Mary Alice Lowenthal, the wife of John's brother David, sent an accretion of materials to Tony Hiss, which were later transferred to New York University in October 2020.The accession numbers associated with these materials are 2003.004, 2003.014, NPA.2007.014, 2010.001, 2011.061, 2021.001.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Series I, Boxes 1-5 of the collection are available on microfilm (Film R-7771C) for use in this repository only. Researchers must use microfilm for this portion of the collection.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.
Born-Digital Access Policies and Procedures
An access terminal for born-digital materials in the collection is available by appointment for reading room viewing and listening only. Researchers may view an item's original container and/or carrier, but the physical carriers themselves are not available for use because of preservation concerns.
About this Guide
Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2014 are unknown. Photographs separated from this collection during processing were established as a separate collection, the John Lowenthal "Trials of Alger Hiss" Photographs Collection (PHOTOS 244). In 2014, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the John Lowenthal Papers (TAM 190). In 2020, an accretion to the collection was rehoused in archival boxes and folders, and intellectually incorporated into the collection as a separate series.
New York University Libraries follow professional standards and best practices when imaging, ingesting, and processing born-digital material in order to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the content.