Harrison wins release under murky circumstances

As Marguerite had feared, no one was sure what had happened to her after she left Chita. Vice Consul Edward Thomas apparently was unable to confirm whether she had been taken from the train at the station outside the city. U.S. officials and news reporters assumed she had been sent to Moscow, but no one knew for certain she had arrived. American Relief Administration officials repeatedly pressed the Russian government for answers, but weeks passed without a response.

“As I understand it, we have no confirmation of her presence in Moscow or that she is alive,” Dewitt Poole, head of the Russian section at the State Department, wrote to Christian Herter in the Department of Commerce. “If she has been killed or seriously mistreated, the fact will out eventually, of course, then there will be a pretty to-do. You, of course, have all this in mind. Can you suggest anything to do which has not already been done? The situation rather worries me.”

Then, the day after Poole urged Herter to keep trying to find out what had happened to Marguerite, there was surprising news: Soviet authorities announced that they would deport her within days.

 What accounted for the sudden turn of events? Why, after weeks of refusing to provide any information about her at all, did the Soviets suddenly acknowledge they held her and would soon let her go?

William N. Haskell

Marguerite later explained a Russian worker for the A.R.A. happened to see her in the prison, alerted director William Haskell, and he demanded that the Foreign Office release her.

But contrary to what Marguerite said, Haskell did not suddenly learn of her imprisonment and demand her release. A.R.A. officials had known for months that the Soviets held her. By Haskell’s account, he was having dinner with Maxim Litvinov, head of the Western Section of the Foreign Office, when the Soviet official told him Marguerite soon would be released. According to Haskell, Litvinov said that her freedom was “entirely due to the American Relief Administration,” although there is no evidence Haskell worked very hard for her freedom.

Ames offered a different version of what transpired. Writing to Herter, Ames said that George S. Jackson, a Baltimore grain exporter, had interceded on Marguerite’s behalf. Jackson’s wife, Annie, was a third cousin of Marguerite’s husband, Tom.

Records in the Russian archives provide yet another explanation for why Marguerite was set free. A document notes she was released because of bad health and because she denied the spy charges.

Whatever the account, Marguerite boarded a train that would take her to Latvia on Feb. 24, 1923.

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