video from world war II oral history archives
Part 4 of obituary by Peter Carroll
While in court, Wolff was abruptly subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the spring of 1940, the first of many tangles with the government's anti-Communist crusade. Although Wolff had joined the Young Communist League before going to Spain and had nominally joined the Communist Party of Spain during the war, he always insisted he had not joined the U.S. Communist Party even though he sympathized with its policies. To the government, it was a distinction without a difference, and Wolff's movements would be monitored closely by the FBI and other government agencies for decades. Meanwhile, when faced with government inquiries, he answered questions selectively. From his wartime friendship with journalist Vincent Sheean, Wolff had fortuitously met William Donovan, chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to head the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. During the spring of 1941, Donovan summoned Wolff to his offices in Wall Street and requested Wolff's assistance in recruiting Lincoln veterans to work for British intelligence. According to Wolff and backed by sparse documentary evidence, this conversation occurred before the German invasion of the Soviet Union and so violated the official Communist position of non-participation in World War II. Wolff's willingness to cooperate with OSS reflected his flexibility about ideology: though a man of great principles and ideals, he avoided dogma and rhetoric, and appreciated the imperfections of given situations. Wolff spent the next year working quietly with British intelligence officials. When the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, Wolff sent a telegram to President Roosevelt offering the services of the Lincoln Brigade in the war effort. He also assisted Donovan's OSS in recruiting Lincoln veterans for special projects that would later bear fruit in U.S. victories in North Africa, Italy, and the Normandy invasion.