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Archive for March, 2011

The following material is excerpted from the book “Room 3603 – The Story of the British Intelligence Center in New York during World War II”:

In April 1940, the British Consul-General in San Francisco informed the British Embassy in Washington that he had been approached by an acquaintance of his German opposite number, who apparently wished to establish relations on a secret and confidential basis with some responsible representative of the British Government. Now the German Consul-General at this time was Captain Fritz Weidemann, who had been Hitler’s superior officer when the Fuehrer was a corporal in the First War. For a time Weidemann had been close to Hitler who had employed him first as a personal A.D.C, [aide de camp] and then on a number of confidential missions as a special envoy, including one to London in the summer of 1938 when, unknown to Ribbentrop (who subsequently found out), he had tried without success to pave the way for a visit by Field-Marshal Goering. He was believed to have in some degree fallen from favour after Munich, an impression confirmed by his San Francisco appointment early in 1939, although the F.B.I. considered it a possible cover for the direction of Nazi espionage on the West Coast and in Latin America. According to Weidemann’s acquaintance, a British subject of douubtful reliability, Weidemann expected to be ordered back to Germany and was afraid to return because of his quarrel with Ribbentrop; he had hinted that perhaps he might be allowed instead to come to Britain where he could help in negotiating peace with a restored Hohenzollern monarchy after Hitler and the Nazi regime had been overthrown.

Lord Lothian, who was then Ambassador [to the US], turned the matter over to [William] Stephenson. Before taking any steps, Stephenson consulted the F.B.I., and he learned from Hoover that the Bureau had been monitoring Weidemann’s telephone calls. In one recent conversation with the German Embassy, it appeared that the Embassy had adopted a ‘domineering attitude’ towards him, so that there seemed some grounds for believing that Weidemann’s story might have some foundation in fact. As the result of further discussion between Stephenson and Hoover, it was agreed that contact should be made with Weidemann from the British side. For this purpose Stephenson invited the assistance of Sir William Wiseman.

At this point a woman entered the story – a clever, scheming Austrian who bore some resemblance to the glamorous spy of fiction. Born plain Steffi Richter, the daughter of a middle-class Viennese lawyer, she had married a Hungarian nobleman in London in 1914, divorcing him six years later but keeping his name and title, so that she continued to be styled Her Serene Highness Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe-Waldenberg-Schillingsfurst. She moved freely about Europe between the wars, at one time living in the Schloss [castle] Leopoldskron across the valley from the Hitler villa in Berchtesgaden and at another in a flat in Mayfair, where she acted as hostess to Weidemann during his visit to England in the summer of 1938. (Ribbentrop always said she was Weidemann’s mistress.) She entertained lavishly, but nobody knew where her money came from until a lawsuit she brought against the British newspaper magnate, the late Lord Rothermere, revealed that she had been employed by him as a kind of public relations agent with the top Nazis and that some of the money at least came from him. The rest no doubt originated in Nazi funds. On the writing-table of her Mayfair flat stood a photograph of Hitler inscribed in his own hand to ‘My dear Princess’, and presented to her with a letter in which the Fuehrer had conveyed his ‘sincere thanks for the great understanding you have always shown for our people generally and for my work especially’. Forced to leave England shortly after the outbreak of war – she was described in the House of Commons as ‘a notorious member of the Hitler spy organization’ – she turned up shortly afterwards in New York where she announced that she had come ‘to go shopping on Fifth Avenue’. However, it was observed that her old friend Fritz Weidemann had flown in from the West Coast to meet her, and the next that was heard of her was that she was staying as the guest of Weidemann and his wife at their house in San Francisco.

Since Sir William Wiseman had known the Princess slightly in London, Stephenson suggested that Wiseman should see her first and that the contact with Weidemann could best be made through her, particularly as this might also throw some light on the Princess’s own position. Accordingly, with the knowledge and approval of the F.B.I., Wiseman invited the Princess to meet him in San Francisco. The first of several such meetings took place in Room 1026 of the Mark Hopkins Hotel on November 26, 1940. They began by discussing the possiblility of the Princess’s going to Berlin to place a peace proposal before Hitler and Ribbentrop, for the Princess was confident that ‘she could make Hitler realize he was butting his head against a stone wall and that at the opportune time he should align himself with England to achieve lasting peace.’ Wiseman listened attentively and undertook to relay her proposition to the appropriate British quarters and ascertain whether her mission could not receive the unofficial blessing of the British Government.

The following evening they were joined by Weidemann and the conversation was resumed. But on this occasion the idea of negotiating with Hitler was pushed into the background and does not seem to have been seriously reconsidered. Instead the trio discussed the possiblility of re-establishing the monarchy in Germany with the support of the German Army. Next day Wiseman returned to New York, and reports of the ‘peace talks’ duly reached both the White House and Downing Street. As might be guessed, nothing came of them, although Wiseman was asked to resume his conversations with Weidemann, this time alone.

[The book goes on to say that Weidemann furnished British Intelligence with a great deal of information about Germany, which proved to be valuable and very accurate. He claimed to be in communication with a number of high-ranking officers who felt Germany’s only hope was a restoration of the old Hohenzollern monarchy, including General Franz Halder who was later arrested for complicity in the failed plot against Hitler in July 1944. He also stated that Hitler had never liked or trusted the Russians, but fell short of predicting the later invasion of Russia, and that the German High Command “had carefully studied the problem” of the Mediterranean and planned to close it at both ends by persuading Spain, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to join the Axis. He also revealed that Hitler had expected to defeat Britain by October, 1940 and that the persons most responsible for this belief, albeit mistaken had been Lord Rothermere himself and Hitler’s blonde English admirer, Unity Mitford, who had told him in 1939 that England was ‘on the verge of a Fascist revolution.’]

News of these conversations eventually reached the State Department, probably via the White House, and this caused the contact to be broken off, since it was feared that concerting plans for peace negotiations was an undesirable political activity, inconsistent with America’s neutral status. Princess Stephanie was refused an extension of her residence permit and ordered by the U.S. Immigaration authorities to leave the country. (There was even a suggestion that Wiseman should also be deported, until it was explained that his participation in the conversations had been known all along and approved by the F.B.I.) After many tears and entreaties the Princess was allowed to remain after she had volunteered some ‘interesting information’. But when America eventually entered the war, she was interned for the remainder of hostilities…

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