Samuel Dickstein (congressman)

Samuel Dickstein (congressman)

Samuel Dickstein (February 5, 1885 – April 22, 1954) was a Democratic Congressional Representative from New York, and a New York State Supreme Court Justice. He played a key role in establishing the committee that would become the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which he used to attack fascists, including Nazi sympathizers, and suspected communists. Unbeknownst to his contemporaries, he was on the payroll of the Soviet Union's spy agency in 1937-40.

Early life and career

Dickstein was born into a Jewish family living near Vilnius in present-day Lithuania. He immigrated to the United States in 1887 with his parents, who settled in New York City. There he attended public and private schools in New York City, the College of the City of New York, and graduated from the New York City Law School in 1906. He was admitted to the bar in 1908 and commenced law practice in New York City. He served as special deputy attorney general of the State of New York from 1911–1914, member of the board of aldermen in 1917, member of the State Assembly 1919–1922. He served as a member of the Democratic County Committee and was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-eighth Congress and was reelected eleven times. He resigned from Congress on December 30, 1945. He served as Chairman on the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization (Seventy-second through Seventy-ninth Congresses).

During his tenure as Chairman of the Committee on Naturalization and Immigration, Dickstein became aware of the substantial number of foreigners legally and illegally entering and residing in the US, and the growing Anti-Semitism along with vast amounts of anti-Semitic literature being distributed in the country. This led him to investigate independently the activities of Nazi and other fascist groups in the U.S. This investigation proved to be of such significance that on January 3, 1934, the opening day of the second session of the 73rd Congress, Dickstein introduced a resolution calling for the formation of a special committee to probe un-American activities in the United States. The "Dickstein Resolution" (H.R. #198) was passed in March 1934, with John William McCormack named Chairman and Samuel Dickstein Vice-Chairman. Dickstein had refused the chairmanship of the Committee, feeling that his Jewish ancestry might have an adverse effect on the proceedings.

Throughout the rest of 1934, the Special Committee on Un-American Activities conducted hearings, bringing before it most of the major figures in the U.S. fascist movement. Dickstein, who proclaimed as his aim the eradication of all traces of Nazism in the U.S. [cite book
author = Chip Berlet, Matthew Nemiroff Lyons
authorlink =
title = Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort
year = 2000
publisher = Guilford Press
isbn = 9781572305625
] , personally questioned each witness. His flair for dramatics and sensationalism, along with his sometimes exaggerated claims, continually captured headlines across the nation and won him much public recognition.

He was instrumental in establishing the temporary Select Committee on Un-American Activities (the 'Dies Committee') with Martin Dies, Jr. as chairman, in 1938 to investigate fascist and Communist groups in the United States.

Later the same committee was renamed the House Committee on Un-American Activities when it shifted attention to Communist organizations and was made a standing committee in 1945.

In the 1990s scholars discovered documents in the Moscow archives showing Dickstein was paid $1250 a month from 1937 to early 1940 by the NKVD, the Soviet spy agency, which hoped to get secret Congressional information of anti-Communist and pro-fascist forces. When Dickstein left the Committee the Soviets dropped him from the payroll. [cite book | last=Weinstein | first=Allen | coauthors=Vassiliev, Alexander | authorlink=Allen Weinstein |title=The Haunted Wood : Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era | publisher=Modern Library | date= 2000-03-14 |location=New York | pages= pp. 140-150 |id=ISBN 0-375-75536-5 ]

Dickstein later served as a Justice on the New York State Supreme Court until his death in New York City.


* [ Biographical Directory of the United States Congress]
* Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, "The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—the Stalin Era" (New York: Random House, 1999)
* [ Jewish virtual library]
* [ American Jewish Archives]


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