War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

5 Conspiracy to Murder Hitler

In neutral Switzerland, a tiny, mountainous enclave surrounded entirely by Adolf Hitler's forces in France, Italy, Austria, and Germany, Allen W. Dulles did business in a building at Herrengasse 23 in the picturesque, medieval city of Bern, a hotbed of intrigue. The lettering on a small sign next to Dulles's front door stated "Special Assistant to the American Minister." But the sign was merely part of the games that those involved in international espionage play. Dulles, as nearly all of the hundreds of German and Allied spies roaming about Switzerland knew, was actually the OSS station chief.

Dulles was fond of tweed jackets and bow ties, wore rimless spectacles, and was seldom caught without his briar pipe--a stereotype of Hollywood's version of a kindly, middle-aged college professor. Despite his deceptively mild appearance, Dulles was tough-minded and cagey. A lawyer by trade, he had been posted to Bern during World War I, ostensibly as an employee of the State Department. Then he was doing the same thing he was doing a war later--collecting intelligence from inside neighboring Germany.

Dulles was fortunate to have arrived in Switzerland at all. In early November 1942 he had been in France on "legal work" when the Allies invaded North Africa and Adolf Hitler immediately sent troops to occupy all of France. Dulles managed to catch the last train to Switzerland.

On his arrival in Bern, Dulles's staff consisted of two other persons. But in this uneasy corner of Europe he began to weave his espionage network. With the Swiss border now sealed, he set about recruiting "talent" from among American citizens living in Switzerland. One of his early recruits was Mary Bancroft. She was the daughter of the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, a large, New York City-based newspaper. She was a fiery political liberal and Democrat--no doubt to the consternation of her conservative father. A comely brunette in her early forties, Mary had concrete opinions and seldom, if ever, was reluctant to express them.

Bancroft was engaged in free-lance journalism when Allen Dulles asked her to take a job in his Bern office analyzing German newspapers and magazines for the reports he telephoned almost nightly to OSS headquarters in Washington. It was the first step in plunging her into the murky yet

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