What if FDR Listented?



   
    October 2010            
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Arnold Reisman at the Kreisau (now Krzyzowa, Poland) estate5

 
 
 
 

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Istanbul Intrigue: An unlikely quintet

By Arnold Reisman and George Wolf

Reflecting on their attendance at the recent Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, observances at congregation Habonim in New York City two Holocaust survivors; Arnold Reisman from Shaker Heights, and George Wolf of the Jewish charity The Blue Card, an organization that aids destitute Holocaust survivors, remembered painful experiences they had during that horrific time. Reisman, a survivor from Poland who escaped to the Soviet Union, has become an expert on the subject of Turkey's connection to the Holocaust,1 while Wolf, who escaped from Czechoslovakia, lectures to various groups on the continuing plight of the remaining survivors.2

Their ruminations lead to the inevitable "what-if" questions. In this case they were: What if the 1944 plot to kill Hitler had succeeded and the war ended earlier than it had. How many of the 6,000,000 would have survived? What if a 1943 plan to end the war earlier was accepted and implemented by FDR? How many more lives could have been saved? Yes, there was such a plan. Yes it reached FDR however his advisers including American Jews, Henry Morgenthau Jr., among them counseled against it.

The 1943 plan was serious. It was the result of a well-intentioned effort to end World War II by an unlikely quintet that could have only happened in Istanbul, then the geopolitical world center for intrigue, espionage, political maneuvering, and the black arts practiced by many secret services. The effort made by the unlikely coalition of anti-Hitler elements of the German Army, German refugees living in Turkey, members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Abwehr (German military intelligence) and the German ambassador to Turkey, Franz von Papen, became a report that was passed through various departments and into many hands all the way to FDR, only to be rejected in the end. The result of that rejection was two more years of war, untold destruction throughout Europe, and millions of additional soldiers and civilians killed. What is even more mindboggling is that the Nazi killing machine, the "final solution" to destroy the Jewish people, had only just kicked into high gear. As Wolf said to his friend Reisman, "that was before the big transports to Auschwitz started emptying the Theresienstadt camp where most of my family was imprisoned. Had the suggestions formulated in Istanbul been accepted, they would all have survived." Yes, along with at least 5 million other Jews.

Istanbul was not such an unlikely place for that plan to have been formulated. Neutral Turkey had become an arena in the fight between the Axis and the Allied powers for influence and allegiance. Clandestine activities by all sides had reached historically unprecedented levels.3

On the larger canvas of the war, in Stalingrad the Russians had already defeated and destroyed a huge German Army corps, along with Hungarian and Romanian troops and demolished several Panzer divisions in a massive tank battle at Kursk. Germany was bombed day and night by ever- increasing squadrons of B17 bombers that destroyed much of its industry and the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania. The hardships imposed on its civilian population increased. A conspiracy to rid the world of Hitler and create peace with the western powers arose in Germany. Known as the Free Germany Movement, it consisted mainly of aristocratic professional officers of the old school. Their primary goal was to prevent the total destruction of their country and the Army.

In July 1943, Count Helmut von Moltke,4 and another aristocrat, Wilhelm Wengler, went to Istanbul on a government-authorized trip to obtain the return of a fleet of ships interned by the Turkish authorities in the Sea of Marmara. While Wengler followed up on their official assignment, von Moltke, legal advisor to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris the commandant of Germany's military intelligence, the Abwehr, made a phonecall from the German Embassy to Hans Wilbrandt, a refugee who had been an old friend and was now a consultant to the Turkish Ministry of Trade. Wilbrandt had been an accountant and actuary in Frankfurt before 1933, and had helped von Moltke obtain financial help for his family estate in Kreisau.

Wilbrandt now arranged a meeting with Alexander Rüstow, an economics professor who maintained ties with both Ambassador von Papen and contacts in American intelligence.6

The three had a spirited conference during which von Moltke detailed conditions in Germany as well as the status of the resistance movement there. He further proposed that a German staff officer be sent to Britain under the guise of an air accident.This officer would have all the necessary powers to make an agreement with the Western Allies. Von Moltke, skeptical about involving the OSS, requested a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Kirk in Cairo. This initial group became larger as other émigrés and individuals joined making it an effective link between the internal Free Germany Movement (Deutscher Freiheitsbund – DFB) Germans living abroad, and Western intelligence services. By early fall, memoranda about the group, the émigrés and von Moltke, began traveling between Istanbul and Washington.

Joining the movement were economics professor Gerhard Kessler, Walter Arndt who later became a professor of humanities at Dartmouth, Ernst Reuter, a city planner who beacme the first mayor of post-war Berlin and Alfred Schwarz, a Czech engineer working in Ankara who was associated with the OSS. As guests of the Turkish government, the émigrés were gambling dangerously. Not only were they forbidden to participate in any political activity, they were risking their lives by cooperating with American and British intelligence. Nevertheless, the group was determined to help the Allies bring an early end to the war. The OSS assigned code names to the various members of the group;Von Moltke was given the code name Herman, Wilbrandt became Hyacinth, Rüstow was Magnolia and Schwarz was Dogwood while the inter-German resistance group became known as the Kreisau Circle (Kreisau Kreis). Schwarz served as the conduit between the DFB and the OSS.

The first indication that the OSS was in direct contact with members of the émigré community is provided in a report filed with the OSS Washington Office on September 8, 1943, by Lanning Macfarland (OSS Istanbul) who informed Washington of the "Founding of a Free German Movement in the Service of the Western Allies."7 In the document the group was identified as Deutsche Freiheitsbund DFB or the German Freedom Movement and described as "an organization of Germans who have united to work for the liberation of Germany and her reconstruction along democratic lines, in close co-operation with the Allies in the common struggle against Hitlerism." The report specifically named Professors Kessler, Rüstow, Reuter, and Wilbrandt in a section titled "Personal Particulars of Some Members of the German Freedom Movement (DFB)" and summarized their respective bios and continued with: "They possess valuable contacts with like-minded men inside Germany, with circles in the Wehrmacht and all sectors of German economic life, on the employer as well as the labor side."8

October 5 and 6 1943: "Report by OSS Agent Theodore A. Morde: Conversations with German Ambassador Franz von Papen in Turkey"9

In this report labeled 'Secret,' Rüstow's name is mentioned several times and supports the claims that Rüstow did have connections with von Papen and that von Papen was "hedging his bets" by playing several sides.

"He [von Papen] then opened the door, and I [Agent Morde] stepped into the hall, again trying to appear very German. He said a few words in German to Rüstow [obviously already there] who joined me in stiff bows to him, as we made our exit. Our return to the same waiting taxi, and subsequent ride back to Istanbul was without comment on my part or Rüstow's and without incident. The interview with Von Papen [sic] lasted an hour and five minutes.10

This report must have raised red flags in Washington among those who knew von Papen's history of espionage activities. In Istanbul, the émigrés kept their goals moving forward: October 27, 1943 "Report from 'Dogwood' [Alfred Schwarz, OSS Istanbul] to OSS Washington: OSS Channel to the German High Command",11 Schwarz informed his contact at the OSS about von Moltke and the Kreisau plan.

And from the head of OSS William Donovan who sent Morde to Istanbul the following shows that FDR was very much in the loop:

October 29, 1943: Memorandum from OSS Director William J. Donovan to President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Support for the Morde-Papen Plan

November 3,1943 Report from Lanning Macfarland (OSS Istanbul) to OSS Washington: "Free German Movement" Under Anglo-American Auspices However this memorandum shows that there were those in Washington who were suspicious of Morde and thought he was a double agent and so advised FDR.

November 10, 1943: Memorandum from Adolf A. Berle, Assistant Secretary of State, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Denial of a Passport to Theodore A. Morde Von Moltke's first attempt at contacting leading Americans in Istanbul failed, so he went to Istanbul a second time in December from the 11th to the 16th. He had planned a third trip for the beginning of 1944,but Von Moltke was detained by the Gestapo in January of 1944 and executed on January 23rd 194512.

On July 31, 1944 Macfarland was removed from his position as OSS chief in Turkey, and the Dogwood network was terminated thus ending the émigrés' involvement with espionage, intrigue and the hope for an early end to the war. Meanwhile, millions of people, combatants and non-combatants, perished, including the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Arnold Reisman, a teenager from Poland who had escaped into the Soviet Union, would suffer deprivation and starvation struggling to survive for two more years. George Wolf was one of the lucky Jews who had escaped the Nazis' clutches and gone to safer ground. Both hoped against hope that their families, and the millions of others, would somehow survive long enough to be liberated; but time ran out and they never saw them again.


1 See Reisman,A. Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers. 2006). Turkish language edition is forthcoming in 2010 (Isbank Culture Publishing, Istanbul, Turkey); Reisman,A. SHOAH: Turkey, The US and the UK (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing. 2009); Reisman Arnold Refugees and reform: Turkey's republican journey (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing. 2009); and Reisman Arnold Ambassador and a Mentsch: The story of a Turkish Diplomat in Vichy France  (forthcoming in 2010).

2 See "George Wolf, "A Different Observation of Yom Hashoah at Congregation Habonim http://hnn.us/roundup/11.html#126043

3 For some entertaining reading of espionage stories see Barry Rubin, Istanbul Intrigues. (New York: Pharaos Books. 1989)

4 Count Helmuth von Moltke plotted the July 20th 1944 failed attempt on Hitler's life for which he was executed on January 23rd 1945.

5 Photo courtesy, photojournalist Marek Pedziwol, September 29, 2007.

6 This article is based on Chapter 11, "Intrigues in Istanbul: Beyond the Job description" in Reisman Arnold Refugees and reform: Turkey's republican journey (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing. 2009)

7 National Archives, RG 226, Entry 190, Box 72, Folder 14. Complete text available in Jürgen Heideking, and Christof Mauch, American Intelligence and the German Resistance to Hitler: 1996 pp. 70-83.

8 Heideking, and Mauch; p. 71

9 Among other reports see September 8, 1943: Report from Lanning Macfarland (OSS Istanbul) to OSS Washington: Founding of a Free German Movement in the Service of the Western Allies

September 30, 1943: Report by the OSS Research and Analysis Branch: The Foreign Laborer in Germany as an MO Target

October 26,1943 Memorandum from Robert E. Sherwood (OWI Overseas Director) to President Franklin D. Roosevelt: Veto Against the Morde-Papen Plan

All of these reports can be found in the Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, F.D. Rosevelt Papers, President's Secretary's File Box 153, [Formerly 167] Folder OSS/Donnovan 1941-1943. Complete text is available in Jürgen Heideking, and Christof Mauch, American Intelligence and the German Resistance to Hitler: 1996 130

10 Ibid

11 Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, F.D. Rosevelt Papers, President's Secretary's File Box 153, [Formerly 167] Folder OSS/Donnovan 1941-1943. Complete text available in Jürgen Heideking, and Christof Mauch, American Intelligence and the German Resistance to Hitler: 1996 146. See footnotes 4 and

12

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from the October 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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