De Toledano,









M. Wesley




INT: And were you frightened?

FE: I was frightened, but I had allies. I was a member of a teachers' union, I was active in the community, I was an ardent Democrat in the Democratic Party. I believed in political action to defend our constitutional rights and I practised this as often and as much as I could.

INT: But there must have been some publicity about the case and the general public must have become aware of it?

FE: Oh yes, the 'Red Scare' at Connogle Park was headlined in every valley paper, with huge headlines. Copies of these papers are on file at the University of California, Los Angeles special research library. It was a very frightening thing to get up in the morning and see, in the headlines, that there were Communist teachers in the public schools and I felt immediately the impact of these scare tactics.

INT: You mentioned to me before, you were even frightened you were being shot at. Would you be able to say that again?

FE: Yes. At one hearing, when I exited, there was a throng of people - this was in downtown Los Angeles - and also police and just inquisitive people and many, many reporters. Well, my husband had a typewriter cover that he had found in the examining room and he had taken it out with him and he put it over my face, because I was trembling, because I felt that this group of people it seemed to me hundreds of reporters were rushing at me to ask me all these loaded questions. They... I felt that they were not my friends wanting to get the real story, but a biased version of what was happening, because the newspapers were very much influenced by propaganda originating from the enemies of democracy.

INT: But now, you had been a member of a Communist Party and this was the Cold War. You know, was there not some justification for it?

FE: Yes, I was a member of the Communist Party, because other teachers and people I admired in the community as leaders were. I attended probably two sub-committee meetings. I never met the leaders of the party at any mass rally. I was so busy as a school teacher correcting papers, taking care of a family of three children, having duties as a union member and editor of the LA Federation of Teachers' newspaper. As I mentioned before, that I had no time to function as a Communist and I found that I had my hands full just functioning as a teacher, with about a hundred and seventy five students a day and helping to build our teachers' union to protect our rights as citizens in the class room and to improve our conditions of work. The number of hours we worked, the pay that we received, health insurance, there were many problems then.

INT: And from what you saw, do you think the Communist Party was ever a threat to America?

FE: Never, really. It was a small group. However, it did have political influence...


INT: Can you say, I don't think the Communist Party was ever a threat to America?

FE: Was the Communist Party ever a threat to America? In my opinion, no. In California, for example, one candidate, sponsored by the California division of the Communist Party, was successful in electing Bernadette Doyle, if I remember the name correctly, to the office of Secretary of Education for the state, which thousands of votes, certainly, not of Communist and so it had that kind of influence for a short time. I never felt that it was very strong or very dominant. We were under the guidance, you might say, of the democratic forces in the state, because we re-elected President Roosevelt over again, four times and California's vote was very important.

INT: Right. And was anyone... I mean, what was the Communist Party trying to do? Was anyone who was, you know, arrested, harassed, so on and so forth, actually, you know, committing acts of sabotage against the American government?

FE: Never to my knowledge did any member of the American Communist Party ever commit an act of sabotage. For example, when the Hollywood Ten writers were taken and put in jail, there was no proof that they had ever written a script that contained Communist philosophy or ideology. They were simple persecuted because they were members of a party that the studios simply conceived as an enemy.

INT: And how do you think this did damage to American society? It seemed to be there was a sort of narrowing of the political spectrum during this period, plus infringements of civil liberties?

FE: There were very many infringements of civil liberties. School teachers were frightened. They, of course, were attacked in many cities and so the teachers would not willingly teach some elements of the course of study, for example, the United Nations. I remember the librarian at Fairfax High School hiding the Charter of the United Nations in the library. This was one concrete example of the effect upon the teaching profession. There were, of course, many businesses, industries, that would ask, are you a Communist, before they would hire you. So labour unions began to be fearful of Communist members and there was division in the American Federation of Labour on this question, a very great division.

INT: Did your persecution actually have an impact on other parts of your life, I mean insurance, housing, getting another job, these sorts of things?

FE: I was not really affected too much in that. I was not affected by health insurance at that time. But I remember, we wanted to move from one area to another and when we applied to the owner of a house, she sai, 'What is your name?' and I said, 'Mrs. Eisenberg'. 'Oh, I'm so sorry, the house has been rented.'

INT: And that was all connected. Now there was something else I wanted to ask you. It seems that these sort of purges and prosecutions created firstly a climate of fear, but alsoa culture within themselves. When you went in front of the committee, you didn't call the first or the fifth, you chose to answer their questions, but many people chose to do, you know...

FE: When I was called before the first committee, I answered the questions, some of the questions. I would not answer the question, are you a member of the Communist Party? I refused to answer that, because the next question our lawyer, the union lawyer told me would be, 'Who else?' I would not name names. I took my stand at that point and whenever I was asked to name names of my fellow teacher union members, I refused as a matter of principle.

INT: But that probably counted against you, didn't it?

FE: Of course it did. I meant that I was a conspirator, that I was hiding something that was unlawful. But that was in our Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. If we believe that our civil liberties are being infringed upon, we have a right not to answer these questions and I took the Fifth Amendment.

INT: I'd like to take a break. Would you like to take a break?


INT: So, when you were called in front of the Committee, what did it really mean?

FE: When I was called in front of the Committee, what did it mean to me personally and to the school, to students, to the community? To me, it was an assault upon my reputation, my honour, my integrity as a citizen. I felt guiltless. What had I ever done wrong? I'd never even gotten a traffic ticket and here I was called before, in public, a state senate investigating committee about my beliefs. I felt very, very wronged and I felt that I had to not only uphold myself, my reputation, but that of my fellow teachers, my fellow union members, my fellow citizens and of the community at large.

INT: And to be called in front of the Committee meant that you were a Communist, meant that you were...

FE: (Interrupts) Yes, in the public opinion, the climate of opinion was so manufactured, that anyone who was summoned was automatically a Red and a menace and therefore had to be treated as a possible criminal.