27 November 2019

The Tarnished Career of Johann Hans Wolpe

A few weeks ago, I posted several blogs about one of the individuals involved with Jürgen Ziebell in an Irish naturalisation scheme. Johann Hans Wolpe was a Jewish financier who had left Berlin under suspicious circumstances, bumped around Paris for a few years and then ended up in Holland, from whence he was eventually deported to a concentration camp and murdered.

I had found some intriguing references to Wolpe in a book about Aleister Crowley which included an Appendix about Leon Engers Kennedy. Engers was the brother-in-law of Wolpe and Frank van Lamoen, assistant curator at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, had conducted extensive research into Engers life.

Lamoen noted that in 1925, Beatrice and Johann Wolpe moved their family from Berlin to Paris. That same year, Wolpe and Fritz Klekottka were accused of a swindle. In 1935, Wolpe, while living in Paris tried to sell forged shares. In 1938, Beatrice and Wolpe moved to The Hague but by 1939, they couple was divorced.

I reached out to Frank van Lamoen, who kindly shared his primary sources with me. The most helpful site was Delpher which has digitized Dutch newspapers available for viewing (free!). I sifted through the site's newspaper archives and found dozens of articles in a number of newspapers which referenced Wolpe, Klekottka and their connection to the Barmat Scandal in Berlin. With the assistance of Deepl Translate, I've pieced together an overview of several aspects of Wolpe's financial career... a career that sometimes strayed over the line into illegal activities.

Russian-German Bank for Commerce & Industry
The first mention I found of Wolpe was a 31 July 1919 Parisian newspaper which reported that a new public limited company had been founded in Berlin with a capital of 300,000 Marks, with all of the shares being kept for the founders. The founders of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank für Handel und Industrie (Russo-German Bank of Commerce & Industry) were:
  • Dr. Ossip Friedlich [sic]
  • Baron Arthur von Kleist
  • Consul Richard Schneider
  • merchant (négociant) Paul Reyer
  • merchant (négociant) Johannes Wolpe.
The company's goal was to resume commercial relations with Russia particularly with regards to grain and timber. The company operated from 1919 to 1927. The founders of the company have a couple of interesting characters and I'll share more about them below.

Barmat Scandal
The next time we catch hold of Wolpe is in late January 1925 with the breaking of the Barmat Scandal. A Parliamentary Commission in Berlin had conducted an inquiry into the affairs of the Prussian State Bank and its clients, including the Russian-Jewish Barmat brothers. It turned out that certain officials of the State Bank and other public institutions had given, in the form of fraudulently secured credits, large amounts of public funds to “financial adventurers”. These “financial adventurers” had been recommended by prominent Social Democrats including former Chancellor Bauer.

The Barmat brothers were apparently Russian citizens who had originally entered Germany under the authority of Herr Bauer who stated that they were members of a Dutch Embassy. Later visits to Germany by some of the brothers were facilitated by President Ebert despite the fact that the German Consul General in The Hague had warned the Berlin Foreign Office about the Barmats.

Anton Höfle (from Wikpedia)
Anton Höfle
(from Wikpedia)
Over the next few weeks, the corruption scandal spread far and wide, and one of the primary targets was Anton Höfle, a member of the German Centre Party and minister of the Reich postal service. The Reichspost was one of the public institutions at the heart of the Barmat Scandal, which included not only the Barmat brothers but “financial adventures” such as Johann Hans Wolpe and Fritz Klekottka/Klikottka, directors of the Depositen & Handelsbank A.G.

The Depositen & Handelsbank had been founded in 1872 as the Landwirtschaftliche Kreditbank in Frankfurt a.M. and in 1912 renamed the Landwirthschaftliche Hypothekenbank. In 1916 the bank moved to Berlin and in 1922 became known as Depositen & Handelsbank A.G. The primary shareholder of the bank was Johann Hans Wolpe.

Aktie certificate from the Depositen und Handelsbank A.G. (from Freunde Historischer Wertpapiere site)
Aktie certificate from the Depositen und Handelsbank A.G.
(from Freunde Historischer Wertpapiere site)
The Depositen & Handelsbank A.G. had a reputation for being a “Schieberbank”(gangster or black market bank) and was excluded from stock exchange trading and foreign exchange trading. In financial circles, the bank had a very bad reputation but in 1923, it received an official letter of recommendation, sealed and signed by Post Minister Hoefle, Transport Minister Oeser and Reich Chancellor Stresemann. The letter, published in the newspaper Vorwärts on 6 February 1925, was an application to the Stock Exchange Commissioner (Privy Councillor Lippert) and the Foreign Exchange Commissioner (Privy Councillor Fellinger) requesting that the Depositen & Handelsbank be granted admission to stock exchange trading and foreign exchange trading. Both types of trading represented great prestige in the financial world and an expressing of reliability for the business world. Both Commissioners were outraged at the recommendation and unequivocally rejected the idea. When Oeser and Stresemann understood that they had been misled by Höfle as to the true nature of the bank, they withdrew their recommendation.

Later reports noted that Herr Fleischer of the Reichstag Centre Party had written to Stresemann recommending that the bank be given the right to buy foreign currency. It was Fleischer who, in October 1923, got an agreement with Höfle whereby the Depositen & Handelsbank was given the responsibility of purchasing precious metals on behalf of the Reich, particularly the postal service and the national railways. Apparently the bank didn’t use the sums it received from the government for purchasing precious metals but turned around and lent them out at exorbitant daily interest rates, sometimes bringing in 500,000 million gold marks in daily profits. These same profits were then used to buy currencies that were then returned to the black market. This apparently came to the notice of the president of the Reichsbank who strongly objected to such dealings. In return for losing this “business”, Wolpe received the letter of recommendation from the three Reich Ministers.

Vorwärts published a copy of the infamous letter of recommendation (Vorwärts - 1925 02 06 - from FES site)
Vorwärts published a copy of the infamous
letter of recommendation (the newspaper
also published a transcription of the letter)
(Vorwärts - 1925 02 06 - from FES site)
The newspaper Vorwärts published the text of the letter in their 6 February 1925 edition:
Berlin, 26 October 1923

I hereby request that the
    Depositen- und Handelsbank A.G.
    Berlin N. 7 Neustädtische Kirchstraße 3 I,
which acts in the interest of the Reich and undertakes certain important actions for the same, to procure the unlimited right of deposit, foreign exchange law and stock exchange admission.

I note that haste is necessary and I ask you to avoid any delay as far as possible.

[Postmark of the Minister of the Posts of the Reich]
    Dr. Höfle, Reichspost Minister
[Stamp of the Imperial Chancellor]
[Stamp of the Reich Minister of Transportation]
         Oeser, Reich Transport Minister
Within two weeks however, after the protests of the stock exchange and foreign exchange commissioners, Stresemann and Oeser withdrew their support for the letter of recommendation. Höfle, however, was not so far-sighted. He decided to extend millions in unsecured credit to the Depositen & Handelsbank from the coffers of the Reichspost. After receiving 5 million Marks in one lump sum, Wolpe and Klekottka absconded with the funds, departing Berlin and leaving no forwarding address.

Several newspapers reported that the men had fled to Amsterdam and London. The German authorities began an investigation and the two men were being prosecuted by letters of intent. The scandal raised many questions, primary among them was how 5 million Marks from the Reichspost could be paid into the pockets of fraudsters without the necessary co-signature of the Secretary of State and the ministerial director. The investigation was hampered by the fact that when Wolpe and Klekottka fled abroad, they destroyed most of the bank's books.

One Dutch newspaper noted that Wolpe had previously tried to set up a mediation office for the commercial representation of the Russian-Soviet delegation in Berlin. Apparently nothing came of it, however, since Wolpe had apparently tried to bribe a large number of civil servants in the housing agency of Berlin-Wilmersdorf. This may be connected with the Russian-German bank for Commerce and Industry.

The Depositen & Handels Bank was not the only institution sucked into the Barmat Scandal. A French newspaper noted on 8 February 1925 that Reich Attorney General was initiating proceedings against the Deutsche Kredit und Grundstücksgesellschaft, a Berlin-Wilmersdorf printing house and West Textil Fabrik. Both institutions had fraudulently obtained credits from the Reichspost treasury which had suffered a total loss of 60 million gold marks.

In addition to initiating proceedings against the "financial adventurers", the attorney general also began proceedings against Höfle and the Berlin Police Commissioner, a man named Richter. The police commissioner had apparently been involved with the Barmat brothers and granted residence permits to the three at the recommendation of former Treasury Minister Bauer. Höfle had apparently received 50,000 Marks from the Depositen & Handels Bank. It wasn't a pretty picture and the right-wing political parties had a field day claiming that democracy was rampant with corruption thanks to the Social Democrats. Höfle was a relatively young man (43 years old) who had had an impressive career but he told one friend, "I know that I am a lost man". Höfle was arrested and held in preventitive detention while the prosecutors conducted their investigation.

As for Klekottka, he had apparently fled to London and, from that place of relative safety, wrote a letter to a Dutch newspaper, denying responsibility for the scandal. He stated that he was only co-director of the Depositen & Handels Bank for severn weeks in November and December 1923. He said that he immediately saw that the bank’s practices were contrary to his principles and resigned. He claimed that an accusation had never been made against him and that he never intended to flee.

By the end of April, the case of Wolpe and Klekottka was still simmering. The prosecution had attempted to get the two men to return to Germany, by offering safe conduct in exchange for their testimony, but neither man took up the offer. In the meantime, more evidence had come to light against the two men and the prosecution was continuing their investigation.

Towards the end of December 1926, Wolpe’s name bubbled to the surface again, this time in the case of Justice Inspector Rossel and his secretary Pahlke. For years, the two men had been systematically eliminating procedural acts, requests for revision, etc from the files of the Moabit Court in return for payment. On 21 December, the Dutch newspaper Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant said it had become clear that Rossel was involved in the case of banker Wolpe who had mysteriously escaped prosecution a few years earlier.

It's a bit of a tangled tale and it would appear that both Wolpe and Klekottka escaped prosecution. The newspaper Vorwärts has a brief mention of Wolpe still being in Paris in 1931, apparently still involved with financial activities. The Barmat brothers were eventually found guilty of corruption (influencing politicians and bribing officials). One brother received 11 months while another brother received 6 months. As for the Reichspost Minister Anton Höfle, he committed suicide while in preventive detention in prison on 20 April 1925.

Counterfeit Shares
In early 1935, Wolpe’s name was again in the news in Holland.

In December 1934, Amsterdam police had broken up a ring of fraudsters who had tried to introduce 200 false shares of the H.V.A. (Handelsvereeniging Amsterdam - Trade Association of Amsterdam) into circulation. The ring included four individuals:
  • a Dutchman Bouis Paardekoper
  • a German named Adler
  • a Russian named Wulff
  • a Russian named Wolpe
Apparently the men had crafted counterfeit H.V.A. shares which they had offered to a securities commissioner. The shares were valued at 150,000 Guilders but the fraudsters had tried to sell them for 70,000 Guilders. The commissioner notified the police who arranged a sting operation in which the comissioner pretended to be interested in purchasing the shares. The commissioner met with Paardekoper and Wulff, and when the deal was done, the police swept in and handcuffed the two men. The other members of the ring, Adler and Wolpe, were both in Paris and could not be brought to justice due to the refusal of the French police to cooperate. Paardekoper and Wulff were both tried in Holland. Wulff’s defence was that he didn’t know the poor reputation of Adler and Wolpe and had simply taken up with the wrong company. Wulff and Paardekoper were sentenced to three and two years in prison but appealed their sentences, unsuccessfully.

Wolpe appears to have led a rather charmed existence, dabbling in various fraudulent financial endeavours and always, somehow, managing to escape justice. One can easily see, however, why his wife might have decided that she had had enough of his shady career and why their marriage ended in divorce. Wolpe would not, however, escape the clutches of Nazi Germany, being sent to Auschwitz in 1944.

As always, I am intrigued by the side stories of other individuals and did a bit of digging into Wolpe's financial associates.

Friedrich (Fritz) Klekottka
It's hard to say if Klekottka was as innocent as he claimed to be in his letter to the Dutch newspaper. Did he only serve as a director for the Depositen und Handels Bank for seven weeks? Did the entire 5 million Marks go with Wolpe? Klekottka isn't that common a surname, so one would think that he would be relatively easy to track but such is not the case.

Several of the 1925 newspapers noted that Klekottka had fled to London and I did find a marriage registration from 1924 in which one Fritz Klekottka married one Emmy Rusag in London. The genealogy sites only provided the marriage indices so acquring the actual marriage registration would cost a bit of money. But it might confirm the names of his parents which would either confirm or deny that the following reference is our man.

On 1 July 1952, one Friedrich Klekottka passed away of a heart attack in Frankfurt a.M. This individual had been born 24 September 1895 in Sanien, near Lyck in East Prussia (now Zanie near Ełk, in northeastern Poland). His parents were Johann Klekottka and Luise Kieragga. Klekottka had married Alwine Wilhelmine Maria Luise Ursula von Heyden on 17 December 1937 in Berlin. Klekottka was a director but it does not say of what. It is hard to say if this is the same Klekottka who married Emmy Rusag in London in 1924…

There is also a Fritz Klekottka showing up in the Essen-Mühlheim address books from 1927 to 1937 but this individual is a Bergman (miner) and is unlikely to be our friend the bank director.

Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Kahn Solhdoost
One of the founders of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank für Handel und Industrie (Russo-German Bank of Commerce & Industry) was Dr. Ossip Friedlieb. This individual does appear in the 1920 Berlin address books as a "Dr. Jur., Bankdirekt." who lived in Berlin-Wilmersdorf at Wittelsbacherstrasse 18. This would seem to indicate that he was a lawyer as well as a bank director, likely of the Russisch-Deutsche Bank noted above.

Ossip also appears in numerous passenger lists between Europe and the USA in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as border crossings between Mexico and the USA. It is from these that we can begin to stitch together a picture of Ossip. His last name is sometimes given as Friedlich but this appears to be a transcription error of Friedlieb. He sometimes adds Solhdoost to his surname, particularly in the early 1930s when he applied for US naturalisation.

Ossip was an ethnic German born 18 July 1881 in Pahlevi, Persia who possessed Persian nationality and traveled on a Persian passport. A few records state he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, but these may be transcription errors as he was often traveling with his wife, Raissa, who was born in St. Petersburg on 25 November 1892.

Ossip and Raissa were married on 8 Janaury 1911 in St. Petersburg. The couple had four daughters, all born in Russia:
  • Kira - born 21 February 1913 in Russia
  • Anna - born 4 April 1915 in Russia
  • Marian - born 23 December 1917 in Russia
  • Galina - born 23 December 1917 in Russia
 It is likely that the family fled the Russian Revolution and made their way to Berlin. We know that Ossip was listed as a founder of the Russian-German bank in 1919 and that he was listed as living in Berlin in 1920. By the late 1920s, Ossip and his family were still living in Berlin, this time at Achenbachstrasse 13 in Spandau. Ossip was a banker who often traveled to the USA for business with the Relay Motors Export corporation of New York. He appears to have been a linguist, able to speak Spanish, German, English and French.

A few years later, it appears that Friedlieb was back in Iran, for some of his US visas were issued in Teheran. His closest living relative in Iran was a cousin, Ali Husein Kachef, living in Teheran. In 1932, Ossip entered the US and applied for naturalisation. The naturalisation form provided an excellent synopsis of Ossip and his family. According to the form, Ossip Friedlieb Kahn Sochdoost [sic] was the vice president of the Persian-American Trading Corporation. His two oldest daughters (Kira and Anna) were living in New York while the younger twins (Marian and Galina) were living in Germany. It doesn't appear that Ossip and his family ever completed their US naturalisation, or that they were rejected.

On 19 May 1937, Kira Friedlieb-Solhdoolst [sic] sailed from Cherbourg, France, arriving in New York on 24 May 1937. Kira was 25 years old and visiting a friend, Ms. Young in New York. Kira was of Iranian race and nationality and her closed contact in Iran was her father, F. Solhdoosv [sic], living at Ave. Pahlev in Teheran.

In 1939, Ossip traveled to England and by 1941 appeared to have a residence in Kensington, London. Whether he and his family spent the war in England is unknown. We lose the traces of most of the family.

Gravestone for Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Solhdoost (Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran, Iran)
Gravestone for Dr. Ossip Friedlieb Solhdoost
(Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran, Iran)
What we do know is that:
  • Raissa (nee Kiiakinine) Friedlieb-Solhdoost passed away 3 March 1956 in Iran and is buried in the Doulab Catholic Cemetery in Teheran
  • Ossip Friedlieb-Solhdoost passed away 9 February 1968 in Iran and is buried in the same cemetery.
  • Galina (nee Friedlieb) Mostofi passed away 16 April 1961 in Iran. Galina had married one Hassan A. Mostofi (later a resident of Baden-Baden, Germany) and had at least one son - Djahan Mostofi who currently lives in the United States.
  • Anna (Solhdoost) Cade became a naturalised Briton in 1952 and passed away in 1981 in Manchester
There is no record of Marian Friedlieb-Solhdoost. The most interesting character is Kira Friedlieb-Solhdoost. Kira had studied at the Columbia University-Presbyterian Hospital, School of Nursing in 1937. Kira became a naturalised Briton in 1953 and joined a Roman Catholic religious order in England - the Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle. She was later quoted as saying that she "chose to join the Congregation of the Cenacle because she felt its ministry came closest to that of the priesthood". She appears to have been a bit of a rebel and fervently campaigned for the equality of women in the Catholic Church... particularly for women's ordination. To further that cause, she served as the UK president of St. Joan's International Alliance which campaigned for equality in the Church. Kira passed away 1 July 2005 in Manchester at the age of 92.

Ossip Friedlieb Khan Solhdoost seems to have been a legitimate banker and businessman and I haven't found anything detrimental against him. Whatever his association with Wolpe had been in regards to the Russische-Deutsche Bank, it doesn't seem to have tarnished his reputation.

Baron Arthur von Kleist
Franziska Schanzkowska (a.k.a. Anna Anderson -  one of the Anastasia Romanov imposters (from Wikipedia)
Franziska Schanzkowska
(a.k.a. Anna Anderson -
 one of the Anastasia Romanov imposters
(from Wikipedia)
This co-founder of the Russian-German Bank was likely Arthur Eduard Gustav Viktor Ewald von Kleist, born 1873 in Kelm, Lithuania. In 1901 von Kleist married Marie Wilhelmine Elise von Grotthuß in Riga and the couple had two daughters (1902 and 1905). Von Kleist was a lawyer and served as an associate judge for the government in Riga and in 1905 became head of the administration of a district in Russia.

In 1917, the family fled the Russian Revolution, first to Kurland (west of Riga) and, in 1919, to Berlin. In 1922, Baron von Kleist gained some notoreity by taking in Anna Anderson, a young woman who some believed was the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia. Kleist passed away in 1928 in Berlin at the age of 55.

Anna Anderson was later proved to be an imposter, no relation to the Romanovs and actually a Polish woman named Franziska Schanzkowska.

Kleist’s wife moved into a home for the elderly in Lichterfelde which was heavily bombed in 1944. Much distressed and confused, Kleist’s wife was diagnosed as a restless geriatric and, on 21 June 1944, euthanized by the Nazis.

Johann Hans Wolpe seems to have been quite the character. His supposed involvement with Ziebell and Lincoln Allen Smith in the Irish naturalisation scheme doesn't really surprise me. Wolpe seems to have been involved in a number of shady and questionable financial ventures. The counterfeit shares fiasco in 1935 apparently involved the son of the former Costa Rican consul in Holland... who was dealing in false passports.

I had wondered if Wolpe might have had a connection with the Abwehr but... nothing has to come to light to support this, beyond a few weak, but tantalizing connections such as his relationship with the Rhodius Koenigs Handel Maatschap banking company. Until more information comes to light... it will just have to remain an intriguing possibility.

Many thanks to Frank van Lamoen, assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam for pointing me in the right direction with the Delpher newspaper archives!

Doulab Catholic Cemetery - headstone pics for Raissa, Ossip and Galina
Stolpersteine - story of Baron Arthur von Kleist's wife and her fate under the Nazis
Catholic Herald - article about Kira Solhdoost
Delpher - Dutch newspaper archives
Ancestry - genealogy resources
Vorwärts - newspaper archive on the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung site
Freunde Historische Wertpapiere - has info on Depositen und Handelsbank A.G.

22 November 2019

Book Review - Ghost of a Hurt - Bella in the Wych Elm - Rik Rawling (2008)

Ghost of a Hurt: the Mystery of who put
Bella in the Wych Elm (2008)
by Rik Rawlings
During my research into the Bella story, I've come across repeated references to a booklet published by Rik Rawling entitled Ghost of a Hurt. Unable to find a copy online, I reached out to Pete Merrill (co-author of another book on Bella) and got Rawling's contact info. Rawling was kind enough to send me a copy of his booklet in Word format, the published versions all being long since dispersed. The booklet was part of a set which included a compact disc and cassettes.

The document is about 15 pages long and the first third is taken up with Rudolf Hess and his mission to England. In the later two thirds of the booklet, Rawling examines the Bella mystery and suggests there may be a connection with Rudolf Hess - that Bella may have been a German spy sent to Britain in late 1941 to escape the Aktion Hess (retaliation against astrologers in Germany). In the final few pages of the booklet, Rawling examines some other, more recent events surrounding Hagley Wood (abductions, rapes, murders) although their connection to the Bella case is not clear.

Mandrake - basal rosette of lowers with long tap root
Mandrake - basal rosette of lowers with long tap root
I'm not entirely familiar with the occult but Rawling does spend some time exploring the history of the Hand of Glory, and its possible links to the Bella case.

He notes that the Mandrake plant derives its name from the French word - mandragore, which comes from maindeglorie, meaning hand of glory.

So far so good, sounds reasonable... but Rawling then notes that another name for Mandrake is Deadly Nightshade, the Latin name of which is Belladonna. Ah-hah - connection between Hand of Glory & Bella... As an amateur herbalist however, this sounded a bit strange to me, so I did some research.

Deadly Nightshade - tall (2 m) shrub
Deadly Nightshade - tall (2 m) shrub
Mandrake (Genus Mandragora) and English (or False) Mandrake (Genus Bryonia) and Deadly Nightshade (Genus Atropa) are all from separate genera. Mandrake is NOT the same as Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

On top of that, Merriam-Webster states that Mandragora is derived from Middle English, from Old English, from Latin mandragoras, from Greek. A bit more digging on Wiktionary reveals that mandragoras originates: from Ancient Greek μανδραγόρας (mandragóras), probably from a non-Indo-European Pre-Greek/substrate. Or, possibly from Old Persian *merdum gija (“plant of humans”). There is no hint of Mandragora being derived from French... or that it means "hand of glory".

The above leaves me wondering how much of the booklet is accurate and how much is based on rumours and/or speculation. Having said that, it was definitely an interesting read! I also loved the cover of the booklet with it's Penguin-esque look to it.

18 November 2019

The Spy in the Tower - Reviews and a Request

The Spy in the Tower (cover) by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower (cover)
by G.K. Jakobs
The Spy in the Tower has been published for just over six months now and I've received some feedback from a few people, including a maternal uncle who thought he was ordering a "pamphlet" and received a "tome", much to his surprise! It certainly isn't an overnight read but I was hoping that a few people may have had a chance to read through it.

The granddaughter of Lily Knips posted this kind review on Amazon.co.uk:
I am declaring an interest' as I'm mentioned in the book as is my grandmother Lily Knips who formed a relationship with Josef Jakobs 'the spy in the Tower' before finding safety in England as a refugee in 1938 from Nazi Germany.

Giselle Jakobs contacted me a few years ago and brought this extraordinary story to my attention and I was able to help with some aspects of her research.

Over the past five years she has worked tirelessly to create an absorbing book exploring the fate of spies sent over to spy for Germany-in this instance sending information to help the Luftwaffe's bombing raids. They were very often poorly trained. The book is intensely personal as it is about her grandfather and family but it is also extremely well-researched from the point of view of political context, the history of espionage/double agents and MI5 interrogation techniques and objectives.. People involved in this narrative faced challenging and life-threatening choices and situations with varying degrees of courage and manipulation.
Fellow author, David Tremain had this to say on the GoodReads site:
Full disclosure: I have to confess that I was in some way instrumental in helping the author in getting her book published as I believed that it was an interesting story which should become public knowledge.

Joseph Jakobs was yet another pawn in the Germans' game of sending spies to Britain during WW2 and, as the title suggests, he came to a sticky end. His granddaughter, Giselle Jakobs, begins by documenting his early life and how he became involved with the Abwehr and German espionage. Like most spies, his life was chequered by many affairs, illegal dealings, and falling in and out of prison because of them. The beginning of his downfall came when (no pun intended) he parachuted into England in December 1941 to begin his spy mission but injured his ankle in the process. By this time the British (MI5) had already dealt with a number of spies, and so were not sympathetic to his cause, yet at the same time they respected him as a brave man and it was with some reluctance perhaps that they put him on trial. What emerges from this story is how biased the trial was, and how determined the British were to punish anyone who dared to attempt to spy on them. The book raises important questions about the fairness of the Treachery Act and how spies were handled during WW2, as well as comparing Joseph's case with that of others. He died an honourable man. The author's description of his final days spent in prison and his execution by firing squad are incredibly moving, as is his final letter to his wife, a letter she would never see. Anyone interested in wartime espionage should read this book as it is an important contribution to the genre.
Another fellow author, Traugott Vitz, had this to say in an email to me:
Well, now, what would I say if someone asked me, "Tell me about the book you've just read"?...

I loved it. The subject - Spies, World War Two etc - is one that I'm interested in anyway. And since it is well written and readable throughout, you'll lay it down (till next day) only when you're tired from digesting the enormous amount of subject matter. But there's more to it.

The book is incredibly well researched, with footnotes all over the place to corroborate what the author claims to be true. It also shows evidence of careful proofreading. An example: The author - I've been exchanging emails with her - always says her German is rusty and hasn't seen much use since her childhood days. Nevertheless and, given the subject, very naturally, she uses a lot of German expressions and sentences. But I, being a native speaker of German, found only a dozen or so language errors in 448 pages (and some of them must be attributed to her sources, not to herself). I've seen MUCH worse from anglophone authors.

The author dived deep into the parliamentary history and legal intricacies of Britain's War Emergency legislation such as the Treachery Act. She followed every step of the legal proceedings and pointed out where there were weaknesses in courtroom tactics or outright violations of established procedure.

She also followed side issues, like the fate of other German spies, with similar zeal and made good use of the results for her main line of argument. (Which means her book can as well be used as a starting point for research into other cases of "German Spies in Britain".)

Her conclusions are well founded, in my opinion: That the Germans sent Josef Jakobs to Britain not to gain information but as cannon fodder or "canary in the mine". And that the British, under the veil of bewigged and gowned legal procedures, killed him not to atone for his guilt but because it was politically expedient.

And there's still one more layer to that book: When you are writing about your grandfather, it is inevitable that your family history and your own person will be involved and affected. If you don't lay open to the reader in which way this is the case, it will come out in unexpected places. Giselle K. Jakobs has seen that trap, I think. And she decided to lay open to the reader the multi-faceted image she got of her grandfather (not all of the facets being favourable) AND how the research process influenced her in her relation to her family and to her inner self. That is, by the way, a step I'd love to see the authors take in many other books as well - not only when they're researching something as close to home as their own grandpa. There is no such thing as disinterested and impartial historiography, you know.

So - "Spy in the Tower" is a book on a VERY special subject within the already special historical field of "History, Modern, World War Two, Espionage, German, in Britain" and will, for that reason, probably not make the bestseller lists. No matter. But it is also a book which establishes Giselle K. Jakobs as a trustworthy, thorough and thoughtful historical writer. Fellow researchers will notice that and pay their respects. Chapeau!
I do have a request to any of my blog readers/followers who have read the book... could you please post a review either on Amazon (if that is where you purchased your book) or on the GoodReads site. Amazon only allows "verified purchasers" to post reviews on their site but... GoodReads is a nice alternative. Here are some direct links to the book's page on the different Amazon sites:
Thanks so much!

13 November 2019

Geheimisse des Towers: Spione und Kronjuwelen - ZDF (2019) - in German

Logo of ZDF (from Wikipedia)
Logo of ZDF (from Wikipedia)
A cousin of mine in Germany made me aware of a German documentary that broadcast on 11 June 2019 in Germany. The show was a four part series on Geheimnisse des Towers (Secrets of the Tower [of London]):
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Spione und Kronjuwelen (Spies & Crown Jewels)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Verschwörer und Verräter (Conspirators & Traitors)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Könige und Henker (Kings & Executioners)
  • Geheimnisse des Towers: Prinzen und Rebellen (Princes & Rebels)
I watched the episode on Spies and Crown Jewels shortly after it aired via the web and thought they did a fair job of telling the story of Josef Jakobs. They had a nice little piece in which they interviewed Bridget Clifford, curator of the Armouries at the Tower.

I wanted to watch the episode again before writing this blog post but... it is no longer available online. I wrote an email to the broadcasting company (ZDF - Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen - public broadcasting company) and asked for a digital copy to view. They told me that the program was unavailable due to "legal reasons".

08 November 2019

The Mystery of Le Touquet Syndicate and Josef Jakobs

There are a few mysteries in Josef's MI5 files, and one of them lies in folder KV 2/25, folio 87a - a memo on 30 May 1941 from H.P. Milmo (B2c) to Mr. Hunter (B6)
Memo from Milmo to Hunter re: Le Touquet Syndicate Ltd. (National Archives - Security Service file - KV 2/25, folio 87a)
Memo from Milmo to Hunter re: Le Touquet Syndicate Ltd.
(National Archives - Security Service file - KV 2/25, folio 87a)
First off, it's important to note that the memo has Josef's Personal File number on it (P.F. 55039), which means it is definitely connected to his case file.

In the memo, Milmo requests particulars of the directors of the "Le Touquet Syndicate Limited". On 4 June 1941, Hunter sends the memo back with an added note to see the attached particulars from Somerset House.

The particulars comprise two pages of information on Le Touquet Syndicate, although the official scanned pdf from the National Archives only includes the first page. The photocopy of the file I obtained in 2003 has the second page, see below.

Briefly. Le Touquet Syndicate Ltd. was a company registered on 9 May 1903 with a nominal capital of £50,000 divided into £1 shares. The object of the company was to acquire the land known as Le Touquet near Calais in France. The first page lists the directors of the company while the second page outlines the distribution of shares.
Le Touquet Syndicate directors - page 1 of Hunter's report (from National Archives - Security Service file KV 2/25, folio 87a)
Le Touquet Syndicate directors - page 1 of Hunter's report
(from National Archives - Security Service file KV 2/25, folio 87a)
Le Touquet Syndicate shares and shareholders - page 2 of Hunters report (from National Archives - Security Service file KV 2/25, folio 87a)
Le Touquet Syndicate shares and shareholders - page 2 of Hunters report
(from National Archives - Security Service file KV 2/25, folio 87a)
They mystery lies in the fact that at no point in his interrogations does Josef mention Le Touquet Syndicate. In terms of its placement in the list of folios, this memo falls in that period when MI5 was investigating Niska, Roos, Wolpe and Lincoln Allan Smith. Is there a connection? It's not clear. But let's delve into Le Touquet Syndicate and see what we can find.

Le Touquet History
Allen & Florence Stoneham ca. 1915 at  Étaples, France (Flickr - Library of Congress - no known copyright restrictions)
Allen & Florence Stoneham ca. 1915
at  Étaples, France
(Flickr - Library of Congress - no known
copyright restrictions)
Le Touquet started off as an isolated moor inhabited only by wild animals. In 1837 , Alphonse Daloz and Alyon bought 1,600 hectares of land and tried to set up a distillery and potato industry. In 1855, after many failed attempts, Daloz succeeded in planting a pine forest on some of the land. In 1875, the owner of "Le Figaro" newspaper realised that the Le Touquet area would make a perfect seaside resort and the first villas were built in 1882, the beginnings of Le Touquet - Paris Plage (Paris by the Sea). It served mostly as a summer retreat and was deserted in the winter months, but that all changed when John Whitley and Allen Stoneham bought the land in 1902.

Whitley and Stoneham decided to base the resort on sports and the area acquired a casino, golf course, hippodrome and tennis courts

After the outbreak of World War I, Allen Stoneham offered the area of Le Touquet for the use of the British Armed Forces. Le Touquet, and its glamourous hotels, hosted several military hospitals for wounded British and Canadian troops.  After the war, Stoneham was awarded the Order of the British Empire. His business partner, John Robinson Whitley passed away in 1922.

Canadian Hospital at Le Touquet ca. 1915 (Flickr - Library of Congress - no known copyright restrictions)
Canadian Hospital at Le Touquet ca. 1915
(Flickr - Library of Congress - no known
copyright restrictions)
In the 1920s, Le Touquet reached its nadir and hosted princes and politicians, as well as the likes of Noël Coward and the smart set from England. Le Touqet's gaiety vanished with the outbreak of war and it achieved notoriety as the most mined town in France (130,000 mines). After the war, Le Touquet revived some of its liveliness with the creation of a small port. It was once again known as a year round resort and seaside destination of the Opal Coast.

Today, Le Touquet is still a thriving resort with a year-round population of 5,355 that welcomes up to 250,000 people during the summer. It has a reputation as the most elegant holiday resort in northern France, the favourite haunt of rich Parisians. Today, Le Touquet offers guests sand yachting, sailing, riding, three golf courses, a thalassotherapty spa, water park, discotheques, night clubs and casinos.

Le Touquet and the company founded by Stoneham and Whitley seem quite straightforward and benign, but clearly something about the company, or its directors, piqued the interest of MI5. The information that Mr. Hunter tracked down on Le Touquet Syndicate doesn't tell us much, but let's take a look at it.

Company Directors of Le Touquet Syndicate in 1941
On the 3rd of May 1941 the directors and shareholders were:
  • Mrs Florence Maine [sic] Louise Stoneham. British. Director of - St. Swithens Syndicate Ltd. [also connected with Le Touquet] (Appointed June 1916)
  • Donald Skyring Allen Stoneham. British. Director of - Tramways Syndicate Ltd. [Allen Henry Philip Stoneham had introduced electric trams to Western Australia] (Appointed May 1927)
  • Mrs Jean Monica Stoneham. British. No other occupation. (Appointed December 1939)
    • All the above are shown as, c/o Gordon Reid. St. Sauriur des Monts, P.Q. Canada
  • Vincent Allen Stoneham. British. RAF Station. Coventry. Air Force Officer. (Appointed April 1928)
  • Henry Cooke McAlister [sic]. British. 159 Nether Street, N. 12. Chartered Accountant. Partner - Monkhouse Stoneham & Co. (Appointed 5 August 1940)
It is clear that the Stoneham family was still involved with Le Touquet in 1941, although three of the directors would appear to have weathered part of the war in Canada. If we then look at the shareholders of the company, we see the same Stoneham family names pop up, as well as one more.

Shareholders & Shares in Le Touquet in 1941
According to the MI5 document on Le Touquet, there were some "dozens of shareholders in this company". The following were the largest holdings at the time of the last return prior to the MI5 report. A total of 50,000 shares were issued of which:
  • 15,000 shares split between
    • Donald Skyring Allen Stoneham. Address as above.
    • Henry Tudor Crosthwaite. Stockbroker - 10/11 Copthall Avenue. EC.2.
  • 13,484 shares split between
    • Donald Skyring Allen Stoneham. Address as above
    • Florence Maine [sic] Louise Stoneham. Address as above
    • Henry Tudor Crosthwaite. Address as above
  • 11,000 shares to Florence Maine Louise Stoneham
  • 3350 shares to Donald Skyring Allen Stoneham
  • 3400 shares to Vincent Allen Stoneham
  • 250 shares to Jean Monica Stoneham
  • 100 shares to Henry Cooke McAlister [sic]
That totals 46,584 shares leaving 3416 shares to be distributed between lesser shareholders. We now need to take a look at the Stoneham clan where we begin to see the relationships between the company directors and shareholders.

Stoneham Family
With one exception, all of the directors and major shareholders are members of the Stoneham clan, either by birth or marriage. The original co-founder of the company, Allen Henry Philip Stoneham, passed away in 1927 but his second wife, two children and two children-in-law were still involved in the company in 1941.

Allen Henry Philip Stoneham - 1856-1927 (co-founder of the company)
  • married 1882 - Jane Harley Cowie - 1853-1899
        • Irene Maude Stoneham - 1884-1947
          • m1905 - Henry Tudor Crosthwaite - 1871-1956  (major shareholder)
        • Linda Harley Stoneham - 1886-1965
          • m1911 - Bernard Cyril Windeler - 1887-1961
        • Phyllis Marjorie Stoneham - 1889-1958
          • m1912 - Roland Clive Wallace Burn - 1882-1955
  • married ???? - Florence Marie Louise [maiden name unknown] Stoneham - 1875-1950 (founder's second wife as well as director and major shareholder) 
        • Donald Skyring Allen Stoneham - 1903-1969 (director and major shareholder)
          • m1932 - Jean Monica McLean - 1908-1985 (minor shareholder)
        • Vincent Allen Stoneham - 1906-1982 (director and major shareholder)
          • m1946 - Jean M. (nee White) Hosken - 1916-?
That leaves us with Henry Cooke McAllister (1882-?) as director and chartered accountant, as well as a minor shareholder. He does not appear to be related to the Stoneham clan by birth or marriage. McAllister was born in Belfast Ireland in 1882 and by 1901 was already a chartered accountant in Ireland. In 1912, he married Eveline Emelie Kydd (1890-1974) in north London. McAllister served with the Army Service Corps during World War I and, given his background, he might have served as an accountant. After the war, his named appears in relation to the liquidation and bankruptcy of numerous companies, always as a chartered accountant.

I'm not going to delve into the Stoneham clan in any great detail but one item is of note. The co-founder's second wife, Florence Marie Louise Stoneham was born in Montreal, Canada around 1875-1880. This may explain why Florence, her son Donald and Donald's wife Jean (all directors) were apparently living in Canada (or the USA) in 1941.

MI5's Interest in Le Touquet Syndicate
On 11 June 1941, H.P. Milmo of MI5's B2c wrote a letter to Henry Cooke McAllister in which he stated:
Dear Mr. McAlister [sic],

I would very much like to have an early opportunity of talking to you about a confidential matter upon which I think you may be in a position to supply us with some helpful information.

Would it be possible for you to arrange a meeting either at the War Office or at any other address which would be convenient to you?

I will be most grateful if you will telephone me at the above number some time in the course of the next few days.
There is no further reference to Le Touquet Syndicate, the Stoneham's or McAllister in the MI5 documents in Josef's file. We are left with several mysteries:
  • What did Josef say that triggered this investigation into Le Touquet Syndicate?
  • Given the chronology of the investigation, did it have anything to do with Lincoln Allen Smith?
  • What became of Milmo's meeting with McAllister?
On the face of it, Le Touquet Syndicate seems like a completely innocent bystander in the espionage game. Somehow, their name got dragged into Josef's case, but the exact connection is still a mystery. My best guess is that something in the Roos/Wolpe and Lincoln Allen Smith investigation caused MI5 to look at Le Touquet with more interest. It is clear from marginal notes in Josef's case file that Lincoln Allen Smith had his own Personal File (P.F.) in the MI5 registry. What lay therein is unknown.

As an aside, the village/town of Le Touquet does get one another mention in relation to espionage matters. The four hapless spies who landed on the coast of Kent in late September 1940 (Waldberg, Meier, Kieboom and Pons) had apparently celebrated a last meal in Le Touquet and set sail from there.

Information France - article on Le Touquet
France Today - article on Le Touquet
Le Touquet History - on Web Archive
Wikipedia (French) - Allen Stoneham
Fracedemic - French - history section
National Archives - Security Service file on Josef Jakobs - KV 2/25
Ancestry - genealogy information
Flickr - Library of Congress - pics of Allen Stoneham and Le Touquet

04 November 2019

Book Review - Shanghai Remembered - Bert Faulbaum (ed.) (2005)

Shanghai Remembered - 2005 by Bert Falbaum (ed)
Shanghai Remembered - 2005
by Bert Falbaum (ed)

The Book
Shanghai Remembered: Stories of Jews who escaped to Shanghai from Nazi Europe. Bert Falbaum (ed.). Momentum Books. 2005.


I came across this book while researching the stories of the German Jews who got caught up in Niska and Ziebell's passport business.

The book is composed of chapters written by individuals whose families escaped Nazi Europe to Shanghai, one of the only "open" places in the world for desperate Jews. About 20,000 Jews survived the war in Shanghai, although conditions were often quite horrific, particularly after the Japanese entered the war and sequestered all of the European Jewish refugees in the Hongkew Ghetto.

One of the chapters is written by the daughter of Martin Goldstein, the man who acted as a connector between Niska and Ziebell.

The stories are all fascinating, tragic and hopeful. When so many Jews stayed behind in Germany and Austria, reluctant to travel to the notorious Paris of the Orient, a brave few took their lives in their hands and left Europe with very little in the way of material wealth. They would, however, come out of the war with their lives, and many emigrated to the United States.

Several of the stories relate how the Jews had attempted to secure visas to other places, like Bolivia or Chile, sometimes purchasing documents - all of which proved to be false and/or worthless. While the stories don't have a specific reference to Ziebell or Niska, one can easily see that many individuals preyed on desperate Jews.

The many stories, all with their own tones and voices, present a patchwork quilt of life in Germany and Austria before focusing on a rather desperate life in Shanghai. I rather liked this approach of many voices, rather than a single narrative.

I had never heard of Jews escaping Nazi Europe to Shanghai, so this book certainly broadened my horizons. When so many countries reduced immigration quotas and turned away shiploads of Jewish refugees, this story is one of hope.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - interesting and very readable.