Posts

From the Mailbox

Image
A few months back, I received some very kind feedback on The Spy in the Tower. I've been meaning to share the comments for a while and my weekly Mailbox blog post seems like a good place for that. Winston Ramsey, After the Battle Magazine Winston was the first person I reached out to back in the late 1980s when I was trying to track down information on my grandfather, Josef Jakobs. After the Battle's classic spread on the executed spies from the Second World War was instrumental in helping me move a step up in my quest. "Words fail me! Since it arrived I have only had time to dip into your book but already it comes across as a masterly scholarship blended with your own beautiful expressive way of telling the story. Which makes it very hard to put it down when I have chores to do. I am privileged to have been able to help you with your project and I still treasure the memories of the first day I spent with you in 1990 on that whistle-stop tour of the London locations. We w

Black Market Passports - Alfred Gutmann

Image
 I may have tracked down another one of Ziebell's black market passport clients - Alfred Gutmann. The 1939 German Minority Census on Mapping the Lives has only one Alfred Gutmann living in Berlin at the time. While I am not 100% sure that it is him, I thought that I would dig a bit deeper, just in case it was him. The German Minority Census gives one piece of hopeful information, Alfred and his family, wife Lina and children Herbert James and Steffi Mirjam, all escaped to the USA via Portugal. Whether false Finnish passports helped them is doubtful. On top of that, Alfred's son, Herbert James Goodman (anglicized version of Gutmann), gave an interview on 17 October 1996 that was filmed for the Visual History Foundation (Survivors of the Shoah) . I was able to watch the video and learned quite a bit about the Gutmann family. Supplemented by information from Ancestry, I think we can get a fairly good picture of the family. Again, I am not 100% sure that this is the correct Alfred

The OBE of Robin W.G. Stephens

Image
Colonel Robin William George Stephens I seem to be on a bit of a Stephens streak at the moment. While re-reading Chris Bilham's Medal News article on Stephens, I noticed this bit: "Stephens was awarded the OBE which was apparently ungazetted but was probably awarded at the end of the war." That same information appears in the DNW write-up for the auctioning of Stephens' Indian General Service Medal. It seemed strange to me that the OBE (Order of the British Empire) would be ungazetted and I did a bit of digging. Wikipedia - 1946 New Year Honours I had some success with Wikipedia which lists the New Year Honours for every year. I found Stephens listed for the 1946 New Year Honours . The 1946 New Year Honours were appointments by many of the Commonwealth Realms of King George VI to various orders and honours to reward and highlight good works by citizens of those countries, and to celebrate the passing of 1945 and the beginning of 1946. They were announced on 1 January

From the Mail Box

Image
I thought I'd tuck an extra blog post (or two) into my monthly schedule. A Friday revisit of correspondence from the week (or month). And this doesn't include my regular correspondents like Traugott V., Tony K. Nick H. Tony P. and Adrian B. I'm reporting here on new correspondents... mostly because I am always intrigued by their stories and why they reached out to me. Johann Hans Wolpe Linked to Jürgen Ziebell (Berlin black market passport scam) in trying to secure Irish naturalizations for Jews desperate to flee Nazi Germany. Blog post 1 , Blog post 2 and Blog post 3 I actually received three Wolpe communiques within the span of two weeks! Nov 2018 - Wolpe family at the display of Hans Max Wolpe in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum First up was Wayne C., a researcher at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg who was looking for information on Hans Max Wolpe (the son of Johann Hans Wolpe) who had unofficially joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles during the Second World War. I s

The Medals of Robin W.G. Stephens

Image
Robin W.G. Stephens (auto-colorized using Colorize app) When Robin W.G. Stephens applied to join the Security Service, he claimed to have been awarded the Star of Abyssinia medal for his service with the Red Cross during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in the mid-1930s. The funny thing is... there is no such medal in the United Kingdom. A mystery calling out for investigation. May 2014 Medal News In 2014, Chris Bilham wrote an article about Stephens and his medals for the May edition of Medal News. He had in his possession a medal which he believed was Stephens' India General Service Medal (plus clasps). He included a photograph of the medal along with the other medals awarded to Stephens (seven in total). I was perplexed because the well-known picture of Stephens seems to show ribbons for eight medals on his ribbon bar, yet Chris only featured seven medals. Another mystery. Stephen's medal group from May 2014 edition of Medal News I reached out to Chris via email and he told m

Another View of Robin W.G. Stephens

Image
Robin W.G. Stephens Original at Imperial War Museum If you look for Robin W.G. Stephens on the internet, you will likely come across this photo. I think it originally comes from the Imperial War Museum. Stephens, for those who may not know, was the commandant of Camp 020, MI5's secret Second World War interrogation centre at Latchmere House (Ham Common). Stephens was a rather controversial character after the war, enduring a court martial for alleged mistreatment of prisoners at the Bad Nenndorf interrogation centre in northern Germany. Although he was acquitted of all charges, his career seemed to take a bit a sideways turn after that. My personal interest in Stephens is the fact that he interrogated my grandfather, Josef Jakobs, at Camp 020. Parachuted into England on 31 January 1941, Josef injured his ankle leaving the aircraft and was quickly picked up by the Home Guard the next morning. Josef experienced his first interrogation with Stephens on 2 February 1941 at Camp 020. It

The Spy in the Tower - Review in After the Battle magazine Volume 188

Image
My journey to uncover the story of Josef Jakobs, my grandfather, really took off when I found the eleventh edition of After the Battle magazine in late 1980s. The two page spread on Josef in the magazine gave me way more information than any I had found to date. After contacting the editor, Winston Ramsey, a whole new world opened up. Winston took me on a tour of some of the sites in London associated with Josef and introduced me to Nigel West. I sent Winston a copy of The Spy in the Tower last year and he said that "It really does stand supreme in the annals of Second World War history and is a wonderful tribute to your grandfather. You have told his story in the most detailed way and I can only guess at the countless hours that you have spent at the keyboard. Every little loose end is researched and I particularly liked your comments in italic in the court martial transcript. And what a good way of putting it all in perspective by telling the Richter story and that of the follo

Scratching at the Door of the Landesarchiv Berlin

Image
Landesarchiv Berlin I've known for a while that the Landesarchiv Berlin (State Archives Berlin) probably have some information on Josef Jakobs and his family. A few years ago, when I wrote to the International Tracing Service (ITS) at Bad Arolsen, they sent me an incomplete document containing some information on the detention of Josef and the other individuals involved in the black market passport scheme. I wrote to them a year ago, asking if I could possibly have the complete document and they suggested that I contact the Landesarchiv Berlin. Ooof. While I love archives... I'm not such a big fan of archives in a foreign language. My schoolgirl German stumbles and falls before words like..."Gebührenverordnung". While I know that "Gebühr" means something like "fees" or "costs"... the rest of the word stymies me and I am left to dig out Google Translate to make some sense out of it. FYI - it means "fee regulation" Now... the Land

Black market passport business - Richard Eduard Wiener

Image
I received an email in early August 2020 from a gentleman living in Norway, the son-in-law of Karl Victor Hagen (brother of Clara Hagen). He had read my blogs on the pre-war black market passport business in Berlin and had a bit of information which he thought might be helpful. For those who wish to get a bit of back information, four blogs are pertinent to the story of Richard Eduard Wiener: Overview of the Black-market Passport Business   Josef Jakobs and the Characters involved in the Passport Business Ernst & Clara David - Clients of the Passport Business Algoth Niska and the Black Market Passport Business We don't know much about Richard Eduard Wiener, simply that he was one of the many German Jews who wanted to escape Nazi Germany. Through word-of-mouth, Wiener heard that a Berlin lawyer, Jürgen Ziebell was able to provide Jews with authentic Finnish passports, for a price. The truth was a bit shadier. Ziebell procured the forged Finnish passports through a Finnish bootl