Overivew of the Black-Market Passport Business

In my previous blog, I gave an overview of Josef Jakobs and his involvement with a black market passport business.

I'm going to begin this overview with a summary of what Frau Lily Knips, German Jewish refugee told the officers of MI5 about the passport business with which Josef was involved. Lily had escaped to England in April 1939 and, when Josef arrived via parachuted in January 1941, he had told the MI5 officers that he knew her and planned to contact her. A more detailed blog post on Lily coming soon.

I'll then follow Lily's story with a summary of Josef's much more detailed, and complicated account. All of this information is pulled from MI5's interrogation files on Josef Jakobs housed in the National Archives at KV 2/24, 25 and 26.

The Passport Business according to Lily Knips
In her 28 February 1941 statement to the MI5 officers, Lily Knips said that she had been introduced to Josef Jakobs at a tennis court by a German Jew named Frau Reiwald. This woman told Lily that Josef was a clever man who could help her get a passport to leave Germany and assist her with financial matters.

Josef sat down with Lily and said that he could arrange a French or Irish passport for her. The normal cost was 40,000 RM but, as a special favour for Lily, Josef was prepared to go as low as 24,000 RM. Lily thought that this did not sound entirely legal, but Josef assured her that it was perfectly legal.

He told her that he had obtained a French passport and an Irish (or Finnish) passport for Fraulein Schachtel, the sister of Frau Doktor Josephthal of Freiherr von Steinstrasse 8 (a former neighbour of Lily's) for a "mortgage" [loan?] of 80,000-120,000 marks, payable to Ziebell.

At some point, perhaps on the same day, Josef introduced Lily to two of his associates in the passport business: Herr Rammrath was a friend of Josef’s who also found clients for Ziebell while Herr Goldstein was a German Jew who specialised in procuring French passports. Swayed by Josef's convincing arguments, Lily agreed to accompany him and meet the lawyer who oversaw the passport business: Herr Dr. Jürgen Ziebell.

A few days later, Lily accompanied Josef to Ziebell’s offices on the Kurfürstendamm where she also saw Rammrath again. Ziebell confirmed the price of a passport but when Lily asked for assurances that it was legal, Ziebell became evasive. At the same time, Rammrath accused her of wasting the lawyer’s time with her questions.

After they left Ziebell's offices, Lily told Josef that she was not satisfied with the legality of the business and wanted nothing more to do with the business. She did, however, continue to see Josef socially and almost entered into another financial scheme with him and a Swiss man named Seiler (more on that in another blog).

In October 1938, Josef visited Lily's flat and told her that Rammrath and Ziebell had been arrested. She didn’t see Josef again but, a few months later, saw Frau Jakobs who informed her that Josef and Goldstein had also been arrested.

Lily never heard from Josef again and eventually escaped Nazi Germany in April 1939 with the assistance of her son, Lothar Sauer, who had become a naturalised Briton. In late 1940, however, Lily received two mysterious letters, both demanding money from her. The first letter was incorrectly addressed but the second letter was addressed correctly.

According to the postmark, the second letter had been sent from Shanghai. The letter writer, a Frau Goldstein, stated that she had been informed by Herr Jakobs that he had given Lily 40,000 RM on Frau Goldstein’s behalf and that Lily should send that amount to Frau Goldstein's bank in Shanghai. Frau Goldstein mentioned that Herr Jakobs had already written to Lily concerning the matter. Lily then recalled the first letter, and suspected that it must have come from Josef [unlikely but not impossible]. Lily thought that the letter writer, Frau Goldstein, might be the wife of the Herr Goldstein associated with the passport business in Berlin. The letter writer said that Lily had met her husband with Herr Jakobs in Berlin and that both men had been released around Easter 1940. Lily did not keep either letter, returning the first to the postman and destroying the second.

The Passport Business according to Josef Jakobs
Interrogated by MI5 in mid to late April 1941, Josef confirmed that he had been introduced to Frau Lily Knips at a tennis club in May 1938 by a rich Jewish family called Reiwald. Lily had wanted to become Irish and during the course of the next few months, Josef had come to know her quite well.

Josef then went on to describe the Jewish passport business. He began by stating that he had merely acted as an agent for Ziebell, and that he really knew very little about Ziebell's connections. It was only after the group's arrest in October 1938, and during the subsequent investigation, that Josef learned a lot about the organisation.

In the summer of 1937, after being released from a Swiss prison, having served his sentence for gold counterfeiting, Josef returned to Berlin. He tried to resume his previous job selling typewriters but business was not brisk. Shortly after his return from Switzerland, Josef visited a friend named Egon Rammrath. The two men had been introduced to each other in 1931 by a patient of Josef's dental practice named Rudolf Hoch. Josef didn't give specifics but said that their initial meeting in 1931 revolved around the purchase of a motor-car. A few years later, in 1933, Josef bought some Mexican securities through Rammrath but then lost touch with him. The two men renewed their acquaintance in the summer and fall of 1937, and Rammrath had quite the story to tell.

Rammrath told Josef that he was involved in securing Jewish clients for an emigration business run by two lawyers: a Jew named Dr. Hans Blum (blog post) and an Aryan named Dr. Jürgen Ziebell. The organisation secured foreign naturalisations for Jews desirous of leaving Germany and had originated with Blum. Under the Nazi laws, however, Blum, as a Jew, was eventually prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He then partnered with Ziebell who represented Blum in the law courts and ran the emigration business as a cover for Blum. It was Blum who introduced Rammrath to Ziebell and the very profitable business. Ziebell had apparently gone from being an unimportant lawyer to being a very rich man. [Elsewhere Josef said that Ziebell had served as public prosecutor for many years which does not align with "unimportant lawyer". This will be discussed in more detail in a future post on Ziebell.]

Through Ziebell, Germans Jews could obtain foreign nationality which would: (a) allow them to remain in Germany for up to a year to settle their affairs, (b) allow them to transfer their money out of Germany under more favourable terms, (c) help them to emigrate out of Germany and (d) allow them to work in the their new country,  The only caveat was that the clients had to be still resident in Germany.

Josef was always keen to make a fortune through legal or illegal means, and this business sounded promising. According to Rammrath, foreign naturalisations could be obtained in a completely legal way. The applicant simply sent in an account of his life, a medical certificate of health for himself and his family, a police certificate of good conduct, proof that he had not taken part in politics, four photographs and a detailed application. These papers were then placed before the relevant authorities, in accordance with the laws of each country. If there was no objection to the application then the applicant received, either through the Consul General of the country concerned or through a lawyer, a passport, a document proving that he had been naturalised, and an official newspaper in which the naturalisation was published. According to Rammrath, there was no difficulty with the German authorities because Jews were encouraged to emigrate and German law permitted the acquisition of a second nationality.

Rammrath told Josef that he had connections in various countries and could successfully submit naturalisation applications for Switzerland, Holland, France, Norway and Sweden. Rammrath suggested, that if Josef knew any rich Jews, he could introduce them to Blum and Ziebell and earn a lot of money.

Rammrath emphasised that Josef would be working on his own account and all he needed to do was quote a higher fee to prospective clients and pocket the difference. For example, Ziebell charged 20,000 RM for some naturalisations (10,000 RM covered expenses, bribery, etc and Ziebell pocketed the rest). Josef could simply tell the prospective client that a naturalisation cost 25,000 RM and pocket the 5,000 RM difference. The naturalisation fee included the applicant, his wife and their children under the age of sixteen. Children over the age of 16 were charged extra.

At some point in during their conversations, Rammrath introduced Josef to a Herr Markuse who also became involved in introducing clients to Ziebell.

Despite Rammrath's assurances that the business was legal and profitable, Josef was apparently not entirely convinced. After meeting with Rammrath, Josef spoke to his Jewish step-father-in-law, Abraham Wolfgang Elkan who also knew Rammrath. Josef was quite astonished to learn that Elkan was in the process of securing a naturalisation for the Balkans (Yugoslavia) through a former Jewish banker named Tuerke (Türke).

At some point after his initial meetings with Rammrath (the exact timeline is unclear), Josef accompanied Rammrath to meet Dr. Hans Blum. Josef said that he didn't earn much money from the Jewish passport business until January 1938 when Blum introduced him to Ziebell at his offices at Kurfürstendamm 202. This would appear to be a big hiatus from the time when Josef first met up with Rammrath in the summer of 1937. Did Josef first meet Blum in the fall of 1937 and then Ziebell in January 1938? Or did he meet both Blum and Ziebell in January 1938? The interrogation summaries are not clear on this point.

Whatever the case might be, Ziebell confirmed everything that Rammrath had told Josef but added some extra information.

Irish Naturalisations
Through Blum, Ziebell had formed some key connections which would allow a limited number of Jews (up to 20) to acquire Irish naturalisations. Ziebell would send the applications to his agent in Amsterdam (recommended to him by a bank in Amsterdam) who would forward the papers to two Irish lawyers. These two lawyers would then stand guarantee for the applicants and place their applications before the Irish Parliament. Should Parliament agree to the naturalisations, the applicants would then be invited to Dublin by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The applicants would then be sworn in by the Lord Mayor himself and obtain Irish passports. The fee for Irish naturalisations was about 20,000 RM. The Irish naturalisation business involved two German Jews who had emigrated from Germany many years previously: Max WOLPE (Josef wasn't entirely sure of the forename) and Josef ROOS. According to Josef, both men had spent time in London, although he thought they might operate out of Amsterdam. Wolpe and Roos were also involved with two Englishmen: a lawyer named Smith who knew the Mayor of Dublin, and an English officer (a Major or a Colonel).

Transfer of Capital
Ziebell only undertook naturalisations after the applicant appointed Ziebell administrator of his property. Ziebell could then get the applicant’s capital transferred at a rate of about 20%. (An official transfer through the "Gold Discounting Bank" fetched at the most 8 or 10%.) Ziebell claimed that he had the necessary permits from the German foreign exchange authorities for these transfers. He would take the applicant’s money and buy heavy spar (barite) mines. He then exported the heavy spar to Holland, and from there to England. The buyer and guarantor of the heavy spar was a Dutch Jewish private bank. The overhead expenses were calculated at a very high rate, so that the foreign currency paid into the clearing institute was lower than it should be. This allowed the bank to nominally “employee” the applicants recommended by Ziebell at a monthly salary of 800 Gulden, until they received 20% of their original capital.

Aryanisation of Jewish Businesses
Ziebell would also take over a Jewish business and sell it to an Aryan German firm. He formed a company for this venture with eight others, and it had a capital of 15,000,000 RM. The Jews had had all their money confiscated from them as of 1 April 1938. This organisation for selling and buying Jewish firms had to place their applications before the “Arbeitsfront”, which then gave them the necessary permission. Josef said that under these arrangements, Jewish business owners were able to get greater advantages than were allowed under the law, and that this was done by bribing German officials.

Release from Concentration Camps
Ziebell also claimed that he could get Jews, who had the necessary means, out of concentration camps, but only after their relatives had sent in an application for naturalisation. The Jews concerned had to pledge to leave Germany within three days of their release. The fee for this was 30,000 RM.

A Willing Accomplice
Ziebell's spiel was enough to convince Josef and he jumped into the business with both feet. Through his step-father-in-law, Wolfgang Elkan, Josef had gotten to know many Jews and these, in turn, recommended others. Elkan, for example, was friends with Herr Reiwald, a former patient of Josef's dental practice. Elkan told Josef that Reiwald wanted to become Dutch or French and Josef apparently introduced Reiwald to Ziebell. The Dutch and French passports were found to be impossible so Reiwald then requested a Cuban naturalisation. Reiwald did not need help getting his money out of Germany as he had already made arrangements to transfer it to a brother-in-law in Italy. Josef said that they could have arranged the Cuban naturalisation except that they were all arrested in late 1938 (more on that below).

Josef claimed that he had introduced about 40 or 50 clients to Ziebell, although he could not remember individual names as he knew so many Jews. He earned a lot of money through these introductions, about 150,000 RM after expenses.

Josef had been primarily involved in deals that related to emigration, naturalisation, and visas. Josef had not been involved with getting Jewish capital out of Germany although he had been involved in the Aryanisation of one Jewish business. Josef had also assisted with acquiring visas for Chili, Uruguay, Cuba and Argentina, receiving 3,000 RM for each visa. He had also dealt with ten cases of naturalisation, all of which had involved applicants becoming Finnish.

Finnish Naturalisations
At some point, Josef introduced Martin Israel Goldstein to Ziebell. Josef had gotten to know Goldstein through a Jewish lawyer, Dr. Schwarz, who practiced at Königstrasse 41. Goldstein brought connections for naturalisations in Finland and Cuba as well as visas for Central American countries.

Goldstein worked with a man named Emil Dochnal (an Aryan), who in turn worked with a Jew called Rosenberg. These three men, and a retired Finnish Captain called Niska, were able to arrange successful naturalisations for Finland.

According to Josef, Finnish naturalisation was comparatively easy, as the Finnish Home Office could issue passports and give orders for naturalisation without requiring the applicant to be resident in Finland. Niska would fly to Berlin with another Finn, and these two men would make the necessary arrangements in Finland as regards bribery. Josef said that Niska and the other Finn didn't meet directly with Ziebell but dealt with Dochnal and Rosenberg.

In late 1938, when the entire group was arrested, Josef said that Niska and Rosenberg were also arrested but released quite quickly. The fact that these two men were released, while the others were all sent to concentration camps, led Josef to suspect that they were being used by the Gestapo.

MI5, with the assistance of MI6, was able to confirm that Algot Niska had been involved in forging Finnish passports. They also learned the names of a number of other people who had come under suspicion when Niska was arrested. They ran the names past Josef but he only recognized a few of the individuals: Altmann, Hagen and Schapiro. They also showed Josef a picture of Niska but he admitted that he had never actually met the man, but only heard about him while under interrogation by the Gestapo.

Josef had known a German Jew called Altmann who was about 50 years old and married. According to Josef, the Altmann that he knew had nothing to do with the passport business.

Josef also knew a little bit about Louis Georg Hagen. The man owned a large private business in Berlin. Hagen had been imprisoned by the Gestapo for four months (October 1938 to March 1939), at the same time that Josef was under arrest. Josef had only met Hagen in prison and when Hagen was released, Josef never saw him again.

Hagen had a brother-in-law called David, who had moved to England. David was very rich, and had ordered a Finnish passport from Ziebell, for which he was prepared to pay 5,000 RM. In the end, however, David had left the country using a German passport, accompanied by his wife.

Josef had heard the name Schapiro, but did not know anything about the man concerned.

Josef also acknowledged that Fräulein Schachtel was a good friend of Frau Knips and that she had obtained a Finnish passport through Niska.

Ziebell was also able to obtain visas for South American countries (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chili, Paraguay) without the usual waiting period for Jews who possessed a German passport for traveling abroad. The fee for this was 600 to 800 RM depending on the applicant's financial position. The Uruguayan Consul General in Hamburg at that time, a man called Rivas, earned an enormous amount of money through bribery. According to Josef, Rivas had sent a shipload of Jews to Uruguay, and when these emigrants arrived, they were refused admittance and sent back to Germany. Naturally, Rivas had made a lot of money on this ignominious deal. Rivas's son, who was the Uruguayan Consul in Berlin, was very friendly with Dochnal.

House of Cards
According to Josef, Ziebell’s practice increased tremendously and, at times, forty or sixty Jewish clients could be seen in his luxurious offices. Ziebell also had a legal partner who like Ziebell, belonged to the Nationalsozialistische Rechtswahrerbund (NSRB) (National Socialist Association of German Legal Professionals). This partner (who is never named) withdrew from the partnership because Ziebell was not allowed, by the rules of the Association, to look after Jewish interests. (This partner may have been Blum.) Ziebell also voluntarily resigned from the Association (likely after his arrest); otherwise he would have been expelled from it. Ziebell earned a very large fortune from the Jewish emigration business but it all came crashing down in the fall of 1938...

At the end of September 1938, an Aryan lawyer in Hamburg was arrested by the Gestapo on a charge of immoral conduct. When the officials searched his house, they found the addresses of various Jews in Berlin. Two Gestapo agents were sent to Berlin to investigate and ended up arresting Dr. Hans Blum. From Blum, the Gestapo got Rammrath’s address and the latter agreed to expose the entire business in return for his release. Rammrath was accordingly set at liberty immediately, but was re-arrested three weeks later by the Berlin Gestapo, to whom the Hamburg authorities had transferred the investigation.

Josef said that the entire group (about 60 people) were arrested on the 10th of October, suspected of political intrigue and high treason. Elsewhere, Josef and Lily indicate that the arrests happened in a cascade - first Blum, then Rammrath, then others. Josef also says that Ziebell was arrested eight days after Josef was arrested. The group included four Aryan lawyers and ten Jewish lawyers as well as clients of the organisation. Josef said that Frau Knips would also have been arrested had Josef divulged her name. This is unlikely for both Rammrath and Ziebell could have disclosed her name.

Despite the fact that nothing could be proved against them, Josef claimed that they were all sent to Oranienburg Concentration Camp. Josef and Goldstein were released on 22 March 1940. Ziebell too, was sent to the concentration camp, but was also released, although he was not allowed to practice as a lawyer.

Josef repeatedly told the MI5 interrogators that their arrests were triggered, not by the emigration business itself, against which there was no objection, but because of the authorities' suspicion that the business had a political background and was connected with infringements of foreign exchange regulations. According to Josef, this suspicion was entirely unfounded. At another point, Josef said that they were all arrested on charges of high treason and political intrigue.

Josef restated that the business was entirely legitimate which, he claimed, was proved by the fact that the Gestapo did not confiscate any of the money that the group had earned. Josef also said that many other people in Berlin were engaged in similar business and that it was still taking place in Germany. Permits from the Gestapo and the regular Police first needed to be obtained, however, and Ziebell did not have the necessary permits. On top of that, he was an Aryan lawyer and, as such, was not allowed to look after Jewish interests. According to Josef, Ziebell got into trouble because he was a member of the party [Nazi party?] but still had business transactions with Jews. For that reason, he was no longer allowed to practice as a lawyer.

Josef's account contains a few inconsistencies and raises many questions. Who were these people? What became of them? Did any of the Jews who purchased passports from Ziebell and his cronies actually manage to escape Germany? Did any of these schemers qualify as "Righteous among the Nations"?

Over the next few weeks/months, I plan to post blogs about some of the characters mentioned... as I do, I plan to link posts back into this blog.

N.B. Thanks to Traugott Vitz for improving the translation of some of the German bits!


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