German Swindler Josef Emil Roos

Jürgen Ziebell from Der Spiegel 1955
Jürgen Ziebell from
Der Spiegel 1955

A year ago, I published a series of blogs about Josef Jakobs' involvement with a blackmarket passport scheme in Berlin. The scheme was orchestrated by a German lawyer, Jürgen Ziebell, and involved selling fake passports to Jews desperate to escape Nazi Germany. Many of the fake passports were from Finland and supplied by Finnish bootlegger Algot Niska.

The link above provides a summary of the blackmarket passport business, but I posted a separate blog with links to all of the characters involved in the scheme.

There was a triad of individuals who were involved in securing Irish naturalisations for Ziebell: Johannes Hans Wolpe, Josef Emil Roos and Lincoln Allan Smith. While I had found quite a bit on Wolpe, I had only found brief mentions on Roos and Smith. There was one intriguing reference in an MI6 report on Roos which noted that he had been hanging out with one A.A. Tester in Greece. This spring, I downloaded several files from the National Archives (Kew) that related to Arthur Albert Tester. I was on the hunt for any information about Roos and, in the process, generated a four-part blog series about Tester himself (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Tester was, to put it mildly, a swindler and scoundrel of the highest order. He left a trail of financial ruin in his wake. He would drum up investors for some company with a "great" idea or product and then conveniently abscond with the money as the company inevitably failed and went bankrupt. This was the man, then, with whom Roos was associating in Greece during the early years of the war.

Before we get to what I discovered about Roos in the Tester files, I thought I would give a quick summary of how Roos showed up on my radar, specifically, his connection to Josef Jakobs.

What Josef Jakobs said

Josef Jakobs had been a client recruiter for lawyer Jürgen Ziebell in Berlin in 1937 and 1938. Josef would find rich Jews, desperate to leave Nazi Germany, who could purchase fraudulent passports, naturalisations or visas from Ziebell.

One aspect of the business for which Josef had a fair bit of information was Irish naturalisations. These were apparently a failed initiative in which Ziebell partnered with two German expats: Johann Hans Wolpe and Josef Emil Roos. According to Josef, Wolpe had emigrated to Holland from Germany in 1938, while Roos had emigrated many years previously. According to Josef, Roos had gone bankrupt in Germany and fled due to financial reasons. While Wolpe was a very rich man, Roos was virtually penniless and lived off of Wolpe whilst also dabbling in fraudulent foreign exchange transactions.

At the time of their meetings (1938), Josef said that both Wolpe and Ziebell were living in London. According to Josef, Roos was actually deported from London at one point. The two men would travel to Amsterdam where they would transact their business with Ziebell. Both men were also involved with a man named Smith, apparently a partner in an English law firm.

The Irish naturalization scheme worked something along these lines. Wolpe knew a firm of lawyers in London, who knew the Mayor of Dublin, and who thought that arrangements could be made whereby a certain number of Jewish refugees could go to Dublin and become Irish. The cost was £600 per person. Wolpe chartered an aircraft and flew to Dublin with Roos and two Jews living in Holland. The trip was a spectacular failure and when the aircraft landed at Croydon aerodrome enroute from Dublin to Amsterdam, the English police arrested both Wolpe and Roos. They were released a few hours later but, upon their arrival in Holland, the two men were arrested by the Dutch Police. Ziebell subsequently gave up the idea of Irish naturalisations a  means to squeeze more money out of the Jews.

What MI5 Discovered about Roos
MI5 began by requesting traces of Wolpe and Roos from pecial Branch and the Home Office, with very little success. Part of the difficulty lay in the fact that they weren't sure if the surnames were Wolpe/Volpe or Roos/Rose. Presumably they went back to Josef and got the correct spelling of the names.

By early June 1941, Special Branch had dug up information on Joseph Emil Roos, a German born on 27 January 1880 in Mosbach, Germany. Roos had first arrived in the UK on 22 November 1926 as a financial broker. On 28 December 1933, he was charged at Bow Street Police Court with failing to notify the authorities of particulars affecting the accuracy of the register. This may simply be that Roos, an alien, had moved residences but had not notified the authorities in a timely fashion. It is also possible that the British suspected Roos of being in England for ulterior motives (spying) but had no hard evidence with which to charge and convict him. Something similar had happened to Walter Simon in 1938 when he arrived in the UK illegally. Suspected of spying, Simon was deported back to Germany. Like Simon, Roos was recommended for deportation in lieu of a sentence and was deported on 13 January 1934. 

Two days after Josef's execution, on 17 August 1941, MI5 received more information about Wolpe, Roos and Smith from MI6. The officers of MI6 were quite confident that the Smith referred to by Josef was one Lincoln Allen Smith, born in London on 19 February 1890. On 13 July 1938, Smith had visited the Passport Control Office in The Hague with a view to sponsoring the visa applications of Emil Josef Roos and Johann Hans Wolpe. Smith gave two London addresses: 22 Vallence Road, London N.22 and 21 Greek Street, London, W.1. Smith described himself as a citizen and horner and came across as a very plausible and unprepossessing individual.

Smith produced a letter signed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, concerning a loan to the Corporation of Dublin, which was for development purposes. Smith indicated that Roos and Wolpe were prepared to invest a considerable sum of money into a pending Dublin Corporation loan and were also negotiating the purchase of a Dublin brewery. Smith said that Wolpe and Roos were acting on behalf of a wealthy group and that he was quite satisfied as to their bona-fides. Given the information to follow, I could begin to wonder if that "wealthy group" was a consortium with which Arthur Albert Tester was involved. It wouldn't surprise me given that he had traveled to Dublin in the fall of 1938 aboard his steam yacht to discuss some business opportunities.

Josef did indeed have some of the details of the story correct, although it almost sounds as if Wolpe and Roos were trying to bribe their way into securing Irish naturalisations for themselves.

According to MI6, Emil Josef Roos was a German, born on 27 January 1880 in Mosbach. He had a German passport issued 14 October 1931 and valid until 14 October 1941. He resided at Frankenslag 126 in The Hague. He visited Holland at infrequent intervals and was concerned in a financial business in Düsseldorf. He had apparently lost a considerable amount of money in the past. He was a close friend of Wolpe.

MI6 concluded their report on Wolpe and Roos by noting that, in December 1940, Joseph Emil Roos had been in Greece, working "hand in glove" with A.A. Tester in several very shady financial transactions. Tester was a known pro-Nazi and while Roos was reported to be anti-Nazi, he was, according to MI6, a German at heart and not above doing business with Germany if he could turn a profit.

As it turns out, Arthur Albert Tester was indeed in bed with Nazi Germany and even conducted several missions for the Abwehr in the Balkans after the German occupation of Romania. So, we have a German named Roos, involved with an English citizen (supposedly) who was spying for the Germans. It's a bit of a tangled mess, but... there is a bit more about Roos in the Tester files and I have dug up some additional information to try and get some sense of the man.

Early Life
Josef Emil Roos was born on 27 January 1880 in Mosbach, Baden, Germany to Franz Martin Roos (born 8 March 1830 in Fahrenbach) and his wife Maria Florentina Barbara Schweitzer (born 23 April 1837). Josef was baptized Catholic and his parents had been married in the Catholic church on 14 May 1867 in Mosbach. Martin and Maria had several other children and Josef was the youngest.

Maria Josepha Joanna Roos - born 20 March 1868, buried 26 July 1868
Maria Roos - born 31 May 1869
Joseph Hermann Roos - born 1871, buried 1 October 1872 in Mosbach
Maria Anna Roos - born 1872 - buried 15 October 1872 in Mosbach
Ludwig Roos - baptized 28 September 1873 (certificate #39)
Gottfried Roos - baptized  28 September 1873 (certificate #40)
Clara Amalia Roos - born 1875, buried 25 August 1875 in Mosbach
Maria Amanda Roos - born 12 May 1878 (lived to marry one Theodor Flum on 5 October 1899)
Josef Emil Roos - born 27 January 1880

I admit to being rather perplexed by Josef's two surviving brothers, Ludwig and Gottfried. From the baptismal information (two consecutive certificate numbers), it would appear that they were twins. On the other hand, information suggests that at least one of them was actually called "Ludwig Gottfried Roos". I'm not sure if one of the brothers passed away or if he is simply not recorded in subsequent historical records, living a rather unassuming life.

What I do know is that Ludwig Gottfried Roos, from Mosbach, studied at the Juristische Fakultät (Faculty of Law) at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg. And that he was "promoted" (graduated?) on 8 February 1898. Less than two months later, on 24 March, 1898, Franz, the father of the Roos children passed away in Mosbach at the age of 68.

A year later, on 15 October, 1899, Dr. Ludwig Gottfried Roos moved from Karlsruhe to Mannheim and moved into L14 20. This is a rather odd street address, but not unusual in the city of Mannheim, where addresses are given by city blocks. Ludwig's occupation is given as Bankbeamter (bank employee).

The Roos family seems like quite a stable family so far with a son who studied law and became a bank employee. But then, we come across a 1904 entry in the Edinburgh Gazette which doesn't bode so well for the Roos clan.

6 Holborn Viaduct - former offices of Josef Emil & Ludwig Gottfried Roos and the Baden-Baden Mineral Springs Co.
6 Holborn Viaduct - former offices of Josef Emil & Ludwig Gottfried Roos
and the Baden-Baden Mineral Springs Co.

Joseph Emil Roos and Ludwig Gottfried Roos (lately trading as the Baden Baden Mineral Springs Co.) at 6 Holborn Viaduct, in the city of London had a receiving order issued against them on 27 October1904 - i.e. bankruptcy. The petition had been filed by creditors on 27 June 1904. But, beyond that... nothing more. And given the prevalence of mineral springs in the Baden-Baden area... searching for their company name has yielded a haystack of hits with no easy way to narrow it down. At this point, we the trail of the Roos brothers grows a bit sketchy.

I found a 1908 passenger list which could refer to him. Joseph [sic] Emile [sic] Roos (born about 1880) and his wife Wilhelmine (born about 1884), both from from Baden-Baden, arrived in New York on May 6, 1908, aboard the SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie. The ship had sailed from Cherbourg, France on 29 April, 1908, and Joseph and his wife had previously visited Dr. Roos in Strasbourg. just southeast of Baden-Baden (possibly Josef's brother, Dr. Ludwig Gottfried Roos). Josef gave his occupation as manufacturer and stated that he had arrived in the US "on business" having previously visited the country in 1901. The couple planned to return to Baden-Baden. Josef was 5'8" tall of fair complexion with blond hair and blue eyes. A tantalizing glimpse at the man.

Unfortunately, what became of him for the next 30 years is almost a complete mystery. We can obtain some small glimpses that he may have lived in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s.

1920 Berlin Phone Director - J.E. Roos, Kaufmann, Taubenstrasse 13, Bavariahaus (a business?)
1923 Berlin Phone Directory - J.E. Roos, Kaufmann, Taubenstrasse 13, Bavariahaus
1932 - Berlin Phone Directory - Joseph Emil Roos, Montanbüro u. Bergwerksbes., Kurfürstendamm 224 (this seemed a bit odd until I saw the entry for 1933 - same address)
1933 Berlin address book - Emil Josef Roos, Finanzierung (Financing), Kurfürstendamm 224

It's not much to go on, but it does indicate that Roos was involved in the finance world and it wouldn't be surprising if he lost a significant amount of money or declared bankruptcy during that period. As we enter the mid-1930s, however, we are able to piece together more of Roos' activities.

Roos in Holland

The Tester files yielded a report sent from the Consul General of the Netherlands on 31 January 1939 to CID (Criminal Investigation Division) in London. Apparently the British Police had requested information about Roos and his associates from the Dutch authorities. According to the Dutch report, which included information from the Chief Commissioner of Amsterdam Police, Josef Emil Roos had been born at Mosbach on 27 January 1880. The Dutch had a few stories involving Roos.

In September 1935, Roos had been discovered in the offices of the Crenabank (formally known as the N.V. Internationale Crediet en Hypotheekbank - International Credit & Mortgage Bank) by the Amsterdam Police. The bank had been founded in 1921 but had not done business for a very long time. In the spring of 1935, the shares of the bank were bought by a Frenchman, Henri Tailleur. Through the bank, Tailleur hoped to float a loan of N.Fl. 2,500,000 for the Casino of Monte Carlo.

The Managing Director of the bank was a Dutch subject and a "notorious swindler" named Herman Carl Anton Campagne. The board was composed of Paul Butaye (Belgian), Thomas Maslin Harris (born 7 March 1883 in London - one of Arthur Albert Tester's close accomplices) and Henri Tailleur.

On 30 June 1935, Campagne was dismissed from the board because, according to Tailleur, he had embezzled funds. Campagne's place was taken by a German, one Albrecht Oscar Soder (born 16 Nov 1909 in Bremen) and who was expelled from the Netherlands a scant five months later as an "undesirable alien".

Nederlandsche Lloyd Amsterdam insurance company
Nederlandsche Lloyd
Amsterdam insurance company

When Roos was found in the offices of the Crenabank in 1935, he said that he was a patent agent and that his last address was Litzenburgerstrasse [sic] 29 in Berlin (I have not been able to confirm this). [This is likely today's Lietzenburgerstrasse off the Kurfürstendamm] He had come to Amsterdam via Brussels and had been ordered by Tailleur to exclude Campagne and his friends, including a swindler named Edmund Hecht, from the Crenabank. It also appears that Hecht may have been involved with the Barmat scandal. Oh what a twisted web. Scandal building upon scandal.

Roos pretended to act as a liquidator of the bank but investigators later discovered that Roos and one Heinrich Albrecht (born 2 March 1890 in Bonn) had tried to buy the Amsterdam Insurance Company (Nederlandsche Lloyd) on behalf of a concern of English banks named the Simon Group, who had acted on behalf of some Swiss Insurance companies.

Tailleur, along with Tester, Harris, Butaye and others, were involved in a huge swindle affair in 1935 when they bought some shares of the N.V. Patria Verzeekerings Maatschappij of Rotterdam (Patria Insurance Company of Rotterdam). This case dragged out in the Dutch courts for years and there was some confusion as to whether the Dutch wanted Tester arrested or not given his involvement with the Patria affair. I haven't looked into the Patria affair in any detail, just skimmed some Dutch newspapers, suffice to say, it apparently involved a member of the Dutch Parliament and possibly a Tester concern called the Anglo Marine Insurance Company.

In January 1936, Roos and Albrecht were arrested by the police in Brussels at the request of the Swiss authorities. Albrecht was found to have a false Swiss passport in his possession and both men had been committing fraud in Zurich.

During the Patria trial, Campagne, the man ousted from the Crenabank directorship, told the court that Tailleur has been taken over entirely by Tester. Despite Campagne's warning, Tailleur wanted the resources of the Crenabank be made available to him. (Nieuwe Leidsche Courant, 1937, 11 June 1937, page 10). Roos does not appear in any of the Dutch newspaper indices but it is possible that he was only referenced by his surname initial (R.) as was common practice at the time in court reporting.

On 21 July 1938, Roos arrived at Waadhaven Aerodrome (Holland) from Croydon Aerodrome (England) in the company of Johannes Hans Wolpe and Wolpe's wife. They stated that they had traveled to Ireland to negotiate a loan to the City of Dublin. This appears to jive with Josef's story above. It would appear that the Dutch authorities were a bit skeptical of Roos and on 24 August 1938, deported him back to Germany. Wolpe tried to head for Sweden in early 1939 but was not allowed to disembark and was sent back to the Netherlands where he was detained as an undesirable alien.

In December 1938, Wolpe had given a statement to the police in The Hague in which he seemed to be on bad terms with his former partner, Roos. Wolpe told the police that Roos and a man named Benito Weiser, residing at 76 Finsbury Pavement, London, along with some others, were planning to print bonds and raise money for the former King of Spain. Roos and Weiser were supposed to borrow money on these bonds from the Rhodius-Koenigs Handel-Mattschappij, Amsterdam or from the London bank, Singer & Friedlander. Apparently the original Consul General's report included a picture of a proof of the bond (I presume a mock-up) but there was no picture in the National Archives material.

The Consul General concluded his report by noting that Roos was unsuccessful in raising funds in Italy for the "Submar" Company. Apparently he was making an attempt in the United States and had negotiated with Tester in Rome in early 1939.

The Benito Weiser Connection

After reading the Dutch Consul General's report, MI5 was, naturally, interested in any English connection to Roos and they did a bit of digging into Benito Weiser. Alas, all of the folios associated with Benito Weiser were weeded from Tester's files in the 1960s. There are, however, Minute Notes which give us a few tantalizing tidbits. On 30 November 1939, B4b wrote a note to B6 - "Please see report herewith which gives result of enquiries made regarding J.E. Roos. It was not considerd advisable to interview Benito Weiser, regarding Roos, without further instructions". It would also appear that NID (Naval Intelligence Division), SB (Special Branch) and SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) were also canvased for information on Roos and Weiser. What they found is lost to history but there is one Minute Note from 13 February 1940 (from D2 to B3c) which is informative:

"Reference your Minute 395, it is clear that the man Roos, subject of [Naval Attaché] Athens reports, is identical with Josef Emil Roos, born at Mosbach Germany on 27.1.1880. This man has a very long record up against him with the police in this country also have... [page edge torn off]... attaching to Roos himself and on the ground of his connection with Tester. (KV 2/617 - Minute Note 397).

From what I can gather, Benito Weiser was born 26 January 1860 in Venezuela and immigrated to the UK in the 1880s. He became a naturalized UK citizen in 1887. In 1895 Benito was admitted to the London Stock Exchange. A reference in Grace's Guide to British Industrial History notes that in 1898 he formed the Delecroix Motor Syndicate (motor car and engine patents) with Xavier Delacroix and was listed as one of the company directors in 1900. Benito Weiser may have also been involved with Baron Max Mendelssohn in some Anglo-Bulgarian banking schemes in the early 1900s. I also found a London Gazette notice from 1910 which referenced Benito in relation to The General Caoutchouc Company (involved in rubber manufacturing). The 1911 Mining Yearbook also has Benito listed as a stockbroker who was involved with several mining concerns and a director of a Transvaal gold-mining company. And, finally, in 1913, Benito was declared a defaulter on the stock exchange.

Beyond that, I did find an intriguing reference to Weiser in the National Archives catalogue. The MEPO 3/1477 file catalogue reference notes that in 1937-1938 "Price [sic] Said Halim of Egypt: obtaining jewellery from Benito Weiser: sentenced to 5 years for fraud by a Paris Court". Weiser married at least twice and in 1939 gave his occupation as Director & Sec. of Company. Weiser passed away in 1942 leaving his wife the pitiable sum of £64.

Suffice to say that Benito Weiser also appears to have been an individual who engaged in all sorts of financial ventures, some of which may have stretched the limits of legality. Not a surprising connection for a swindler like Josef Emil Roos.

Roos through the Eyes of Tester's Employees

In 1939, given that Tester had fled from the UK in his steam yacht in late December 1938, MI5 was limited to requesting information about Roos from other foreign authorities (the Dutch and Germans). From the Germans (Cripo - Criminal Police Office of the Reich), the British learned that “Tester, in the year 1933, was an accomplice of the international swindler who is also known to your authorities, Emil Roos, born on 27 Jan 1880 in Mosbach.” Some of the other documents in the Tester files indicate that Roos was sending international letters to Tester (in England) in 1936, so whatever their connection, they were able to maintain it even whilst on different continents.

In 1940, several of Tester's former employees were questioned by the British authorities. In the course of their interviews, they also provided some information on Tester's business associates.

The first employee was Ms. Louiza Ginoris who joined Tester's retinue as a secretary on 7 August 1939 in Naples. According to an SIS report, Ginoris was Italian by birth but was a naturalized US citizen who was also pro-German. Tester was, at the time, installed in Naples while his ship was in dry dock undergoing repairs. According to Ginoris, Roos visited Tester in Naples. In her eyes, Tester had betrayed his country (England) by doing business with Germany through Roos. Ginoris evidently learned a little bit about Roos while he was with Tester and believed that Roos was a fugitive from Germany where he had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment on account of his anti-Hitler attitudes. Roos was apparently an old friend of Tester's, the two men having known each other since 1920 (when Tester was still living in Germany). The two men had been more or less in contact ever since. Roos ended up having to leave Italy in a hurry as he was "undesirable" owing to certain shady affairs.

After the outbreak of war, and having surrendered his vessel to the Royal Navy, Tester moved his base of operations to Greece and apparently extended an invitation to Roos to join him there. While there, Roos tried to buy up tobacco, pretending to be purchasing it for the UK while really buying it for Germany. Roos couldn't make the first payment to the Greek supplier and left for Yugoslavia on the pretext of getting more money, but didn't return to Greece. While in Yugoslavia, Roos helped Tester find Drs (Dinars) 546,000 to pay a debt although the money was obtained by "dishonest means". Since everything was done in Roos' name, Ginoris said that Roos found himself in difficulty with the authorities and that the Yugoslav Police had impounded his passport.

Ginoris stated that Roos was a democratic capitalist who detested all dictators, including Hitler and Mussolini. He always expressed the hope that England would win the war. Even though he was a German at heart, he maintained that Hitler had ruined Germany. Roos did do business with Germany but his main motivation was not to supply his native land with food, but to make money with Tester. “My personal opinion is that Roos... is not a bad man, but is very mercenary and is capable of anything for money; besides which he associates with Tester for many years and must have the same mentality.” 

Several other Tester employees remembered Josef Roos but didn't have the detailed information provided by Tester's secretary.

Some of this information, MI5 had gleaned from earlier reports. According to one October 1939 report, Roos was in Belgrade (Yugoslavia) with an expired German passport (#17294 issued at the German Consulate in Naples on 27 September 1938).  The same report noted that Roos was a resident of Zagreb, and claimed to be a close friend of the President of the Chamber of Commerce. Roos had also spent three and a half years in a concentration camp in Germany. Roos was, at the time, involved with Tester and several others in a scheme to buy up Greek produce with a view to making a profit by reselling it to the British and/or Germans.

Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria From Mauthausen Memorial site
Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria
From Mauthausen Memorial site

Two sources apparently corroborate each other that Roos had spent several years in a concentration camp in Germany. Trying to determine the exact time frame is a bit challenging given Roos' busy schedule of swindles. The first concentration camps opened in 1933 but we know that Roos was in Holland in 1935 and in 1938. It is possible that Roos was deported out of Holland in 1935 after the Crenabank affair and could have been placed into a German concentration camp between 1935 and 1938, particularly if he was as anti-Hitler as Ginoris indicated. Another option would be that he was imprisoned in a concentration camp in 1933 after the rise of Hitler, and then left for Holland after his release in 1935. The truth will likely never be known.

The Fate of Josef Emil Roos

Josef Emil Roos died 3 January 1944 in Mauthausen concentration camp at the age of 63. He had apparently been arrested for political reasons (likely his anti-Hitler views) and arrived at the camp on 9 December 1943. According to his death registration, Roos was divorced and living in Spalato in Dalmatia (now Split, Croatia). Roos was a Kaufmann (merchant) and he died of Kreislaufschwäche (circulatory weakness). Given that Mauthuasen was an annihilation or extermination camp (the only Class III camp within Germany proper), whose motto was death through work, Roos' cause of death should be considered in the context of where he was. As a 63 year old, his chances of survival at Mauthausen were very, very small.

I am almost beginningto think that financial schemes and swindles were par for the course in the 1930s and that everyone participated in such endeavours. Of course, this just might be that these are the sorts of people with whom Josef Jakobs was associated. Which, I think, says more about Josef and his circle of acquaintances than anything else. Sigh... blacksheep grandfather.


JSTOR site - Financial Speculation, Political Risks, and Legal Complications: British Commerical Diplomacy in  the Balkans, c. 1906-1914 by Mika Suonpää. The Historical Journal, volume 55, no. 1 (March 2012), pp.97-117.

Numistoria site - Central European Oilfields Ltd - share certificiate from 1920 

Delpher - Dutch newspaper site

Ancestry - genealogy records

London Gazette


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