The Charlotte News



Turrou's Revelations:

Nazi Spies in America

--A Review by W. J. Cash

Site ed. note: This intriguing editorial represents one of the few times Cash spoke of Nazi spies in print. Two and a half years after this article was written, according to Cash's wife, Mary, he would complain of being followed by Nazi spies in Mexico City 24 hours before being found hung by his own necktie at Hotel Reforma on July 1, 1941. His death, ever since labelled, entirely on speculation, as a suicide, has long nevertheless been a puzzle. Was this very calm, almost blasť, piece about the lack of threat of these "white trash" "cattle" in America the work of a man who was, twenty-nine months later, after enjoying nothing but unprecedented success in his life in the interim, apt to go suddenly insane and become terrified to the point of committing suicide from "imagined" Nazi spies threatening to kill him?

The last sentence of the article, pointing to the more profound--and quite real at the time--threat of the Nazi intriguants in Mexico, tempts intuition even more with regard to Cash's death and the possible underlying reason why he wished to spend his Guggenheim year in Mexico.

The other side of the coin is that had someone associated with the spy network seen this article in North Carolina in 1939--and members of the American Bund were spread throughout the United States--would such a person have relayed it to New York or Mexico to those who might have become outraged by Cash's quite accurate overall assessment of the ineffectiveness of the spy network in this country? Could such outraged Nazi spies, dependent as they were for survival and continued payment from Berlin on convincing the Abwehr in Hamburg of their regular feats of sabotage--which they claimed fancifully as ranging from causing quite naturally occurring train wrecks and forest fires to the occasional and usually far less impressive actual acts of minor sabotage and spying, the theft of the Norden bombsight and a foundered ship in New York Harbor being the exceptions to prove the rule--have set Cash on a list as a target for when and if opportunity arose at a time when he was most defenseless? With or without such antecedent compounding events, could the very real fear held by the spies in Mexico of being arrested and imprisoned in the wake of the June 28-29, 1941 arrest in New York of 33 Nazi spies, the largest single spy bust in history, have led them to seek out a vulnerable, yet visible, American citizen in Mexico to act as a sort of ransom--or implied threat to others who might seek to estop--for their escape from the continent back to Germany--someone they could easily rationalize, based on past journalistic endeavors, to the Abwehr as a danger to their exploits?

Indeed, at the time of Cash's death, the spies in Mexico were broke and afraid and were reaching out to Berlin and Hamburg desperately, and without sufficient response, to obtain funds for their egress. A plan had been actively floated in Germany the year before that if any Nazi spy in Mexico were arrested, Germany would retaliate by arresting a Mexican national in Germany--and a Mexican journalist had been considered a prime target--to be held pending the release of any such arrested Nazi spies. So as to attempt to ameliorate the inevitable inflaming of international opinion, and give quasi-legitimacy to any such arrest, there were two criteria stipulated: that the person had to be plausible as a spy against German interests; and not subject to diplomatic immunity. The plan was not finally implemented, however, in Germany as no suitable candidates for such criteria could be found there. Suppose, however, that the plan was simply altered to the emergent situation in which the spies in Mexico found themselves on July 1, 1941 and implemented quite directly by the spies themselves--with or without the active assistance of the Abwehr.

Regardless, none of the spies in Mexico, the most well-financed of the North American spy operations until its financial breakdown in 1940-41, were ever convicted; only two were tried. All escaped or were deported back to Europe during the summer of 1941 and the months following, and the North American spy operations were then and there shut down.

(For much more on this topic in relation to Cash's death, see "Caso de Homicidio or Felo de Se: The Death of W. J. Cash", at this site. For a comparison of Cash's very realistic, if somewhat underestimating, understanding of the spy network's effectiveness at this time to that which has since been meticulously and intriguingly established by historians, see The Broken Seal, by Ladislas Farago, 1967, Random House; The Game of Foxes, by Ladislas Farago, 1971, McKay; and Hitler's Undercover War, by William Breuer, 1989, St. Martin's Press.) (And as to anyone out there who has ever laid eyes on an unpublished novel regarding a scenario for Cash's death at the hands of Nazi spies, perhaps it is intriguing to note that we have it on pretty good authority that the author of that work had never laid eyes on this or any but a small handful of Cash articles written for The News, those few appearing in the Reader section of Southern Prophet, when the novel was researched and written in 1991-92; which suggests, all in all, that, contrary to Cash's assertion here, there is something on occasion to be said for ghost writing--of a sort. And one might cite no lesser authority than Alex Haley for the proof.)


Mr. Leon Turrou's "Nazi Spies In America" (Random House, $2.00) is obviously a ghost job, and I should say that the ghost has seen service in the galleys of William Randolph Hearst.

Not that Mr. Turrou's story, so far as it is confined to facts, is phoney. It certainly isn't. Mr. Turrou, of course, is the FBI agent who turned up Guenther Gustav Rumrich, Jenni Hoffman, the allegedly beauteous ship's hair-dresser who wasn't in fact beauteous at all; Eric Glaser, Otto Voss, Dr. Griebl who got away, and other assorted Nazi agents in this country during 1938. He lost his job, as I recall, because he signed to publish the material which makes up the present tome, without consulting his boss, J. Edgar Hoover, or waiting until the trial of the spies was over.

The Hearstian breathless attack, therefore, was entirely unnecessary. For the facts of Mr. Turrou's investigations are immensely melodramatic in themselves. I think, indeed, that the story would have been much more interesting and much more convincing if Mr. Turrou himself had set down and wrote out a simple straightforward account showing how he developed the facts step by step, instead of letting a ghost switch around all over the place in an attempt to make it sound just like Hollywood.

But enough of carping. It is, as I say, a melodramatic story in its own right, and regardless of the fumbling of hacks. And it seems to establish the fact that the Nazis do have an extended chain of spies scattered throughout this country, in shipyards, in ammunition plants, in key industrial spots, in air bases, in the army and the navy--all busily engaged in stealing or smuggling out information designed to give the high command in Berlin a complete picture of our readiness for war and our points best open to attack.

Yet, when all that is said, I do not find myself unduly upset about it. It rather seems to me to prove nothing so much as that the Germans have two qualities that are interesting but scarcely alarming. One of them is an egotistic urge to dramatize themselves as far more formidable than they actually are. That showed up as long ago as Heinrich von Treitske and the Kaiser. And it is only natural that it should show up even more extensively in the gang of white trash which presently rules the country. The other characteristic is a combination of a sort of squareheadedness with a naive delight in Rube Goldberg research, which issues in a profound belief in the merit of anything which has been got down on paper after such research. That quality showed up to perfection in 1914 when the Kaiser's army went pouring into France under the quite fixed conviction that the war was bound to be over in two months because the experts had doped it out that way on paper!

Spies, I know, are dangerous in war times. Two of them ruined General Nivelle's great drive in the Spring of 1918. But it seems doubtful that they can do much serious damage in peace time. Ah, but they stole the plans of an American device for spotting airplanes at a great distance? And they were out to grab plans of the aircraft carriers, the "Enterprise" and the "Yorktown?" The truth probably is that they would have found out about the airplane spotter in very short order, anyhow. For a democratic country cannot long keep the secret of such machines from the public. And I understand that there was nothing to be learned from blue-prints of the carriers which a competent naval architect cannot have told them merely from examination of photographs of her hull--certainly a thing nobody could keep secret.

I do not argue that such cattle as these spies should not be locked up in jail. I wouldn't mind myself if the Government got a good deal rougher with them than it has yet done, for they are highly unpleasant. But I still see no reason to get hysterical about them. There is ten times as much menace to us in Nazi flirtation with Mexico as in the whole lot of them.

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