Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century

By Nigel West; Heike Bungert et al. | Go to book overview

3

Ethnic Germans as an Instrument of German Intelligence Services in the USA, 1933-45

Cornelia Wilhelm

From 1933 to 1945, the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) and the German intelligence services extensively used the organizational and personal networks of ethnic Germans and ethnic politics as a means for their political goals. The so-called fifth column had developed as a new factor during World War I, when German-Americans had been a target and a source of recruitment for the German intelligence services. 1 During the Nazi era, German intelligence again utilized recently immigrated Germans as ‘ethnic agents’ who were guided by political enthusiasm rather than by professional experience or by profound knowledge of their newly adopted country. Thus, they often tended to be a source of misunderstanding and acted unprofessionally. Accordingly, German intelligence in the USA was not very successful during either war. The Nazi party considerably over-estimated these agents’ potential as spies and saboteurs, partially because Nazi ideology assumed a superior ‘racial value’ in such ‘folk Germans’. Desperately seeking politically reliable ‘experts’ on the Americas to help establish an infrastructure for a German spy network, they depended on contacts among recent immigrants. 2

This chapter tries to shed some light on the role these ethnic Germans in the USA played in the recruitment and placement of agents and the planning of and participation in intelligence activities. Their actions are closely connected with German ‘cultural work’ abroad because the NSDAP redefined German culture as ‘folk culture’ (which valued ‘blood, soil, and race’), rather than as high

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