FBI spied on German anti-fascist exiles

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Aug 30 09:29:57 MDT 2000

NY Times, Aug. 30, 2000

Book Details U.S. Spying on Wartime Exiles From Germany


During the 1930's and 40's hundreds of German writers -- Jews and non-Jews
-- fled Hitler and sought refuge in the United States. But though they were
given asylum, in the 1940's the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other
government agencies spied on them, intercepting their mail and sometimes
keeping tabs on their sex lives, reports a book to be published in October
by Yale University Press.

The book, by Alexander Stephan, a professor of German at Ohio State
University, is called "Communazis." The title comes from the word that the
government, and even some exiles, occasionally used to disparage those
writers, who, driven out of Germany by the Nazis, were supposedly
totalitarians themselves, embracing left-wing causes.

Using the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, Mr. Stephan obtained
government files on the writers. That the government kept files on Thomas
Mann and Bertolt Brecht is already known, but Mr. Stephan provides new
details about them, and documents many other cases, involving the writers
Erich Maria Remarque, Lion Feuchtwanger, Hermann Broch and many others.

The theme of the book, published in a longer version in Germany in 1995, is
that the surveillance was wider and deeper than previously known. It was
born of concerns over Nazi infiltration and a fear that Germany might
eventually establish a pro-Soviet government.

Mr. Stephan said he obtained more than 10,000 pages of documents that show
that the exiles were watched not only by the F.B.I., but also by the Office
of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the C.I.A.; the Immigration and
Naturalization Service; military intelligence groups; the State Department;
and other government agencies.

The surveillance demonstrates "an absolute waste of manpower in time of
war," Mr. Stephan said in a telephone interview. "These were 20th-century
bureaucracies that outgrew themselves."

Most writers had no idea that they were under surveillance, Mr. Stephan
said. And it did not matter what their politics were. "In the background of
F.B.I. surveillance lay a widespread public fear of foreigners, especially
German spies and saboteurs, combined with deep distrust of liberal or
socialist ideas," he writes.

Bill Carter, an F.B.I. spokesman, said yesterday, "Since I have not read
the gentleman's book and have not had an opportunity to review the files it
would not be appropriate to make any response about the accuracy of it."

Some of the exiles settled in New York. Others went to Los Angeles, which
became their cultural center and which they called Weimar on the Pacific.
Franz Werfel, the author of "The Song of Bernadette," Feuchtwanger, author
of "Proud Destiny," and Mann prospered, living in stately homes. Movie
studios offered some "lifesaver contracts," one-year contracts to tide them
over. But alienated from their language and their culture, many of the
writers were unhappy in Hollywood. Brecht, for instance, wrote about Los
Angeles in a poem called "Reflections on Hell." Though openly a Marxist,
Brecht was not a member of the Communist Party. After appearing before the
House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, he left the United States
and ended up in East Berlin, where he died in 1956.

Some files, like that on Remarque, the author of "All Quiet on the Western
Front," are sparse. But others show, for instance, that the agents took an
intense interest in the exiles' sex lives. The immigration agency called
Klaus Mann, Thomas Mann's son, "a well-known sexual pervert" with
"communistic sympathies."

The F.B.I. kept watch on Klaus, author of the novel "Mephisto," at the
Bedford Hotel in New York. One informant, "T3," said that a soldier stayed
overnight with him regularly. "Informant . . . advised . . . that the only
suitable sleeping place in Mann's room is a single bed." Nonetheless Klaus
was accepted into the military intelligence unit of the Army and later
served in the Army in Italy and Germany.

The F.B.I. even speculated that Klaus had sex with his sister, Erika.
"Confidential informants," stated one file, told agents that "Klaus and
Erica Mann were having affairs together." Her first name was misspelled.

The F.B.I. noted that Erika wore her hair in "a short mannish bob with a
part on the right side," and was affiliated with the Peppermill political
revue, made up of "members of the Hebrew race." Mr. Stephan wrote that
eventually Erika got in touch with the F.B.I. and volunteered information.
Her sister, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, in a letter printed in The New York
Times in 1993, said that Erika Mann was never paid by the F.B.I. and that
she provided information on fellow exiles only to clear them of suspicion.

In another case of sexual prying, the book reports, the F.B.I. planted
wiretaps in the Chalet Motor Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., to record the
pillow talk of Brecht, who was married, with his mistress, Ruth Berlau.
Berlau never showed up. The F.B.I. also intercepted the couple's love

Among the more famous writers, Thomas Mann, who won a Nobel Prize in
Literature, was perhaps the most pro-American, said Mr. Stephan. Yet "they
collected about 130 pages on Mann." Mr. Stephan said that Walt Disney was
one of those who gave Mann's name to the F.B.I.

In 1943 Elmer Linberg, an F.B.I. agent, interviewed Mann. Mr. Linberg
recalled recently in a telephone conversation that he "was cooperative."

"He told us about several people in close touch with the Russians," among
them Brecht," Mr. Linberg, who is now retired, said in a recent telephone
interview. "Every time Soviet intelligence agents came to Los Angeles, they
would go and be with Brecht for several sessions. Mann told us that. We
already knew from surveillance of Brecht." Mr. Linberg said he did not take
part in surveillance of Mann.

Although Mann was cooperative, reported the documents, agents read his
correspondence, and derogatory information was placed in his file.

The émigrés wanted to form a committee that would prefigure a German
government in exile, with Mann as its leader. But the Americans opposed it
because, the Office of Strategic Services said in a memo, "we do not like
some of the personalities involved."

In 1952 Mann moved back to Europe. But by 1955 the charge that he had
engaged in "Communist-front associations and activities consistently since
1920's" had resurfaced in his immigration and naturalization file. Mann
feared that his American citizenship would be revoked, but that did not
occur because he was elderly and already living abroad, writes Mr. Stephen.

He writes that the agents' interviews with the émigrés sometimes took on a
bullying tone. The Office of Strategic Services described Feutchtwanger as
"the archtype of intellectual who believes in a patent solution for all
problems . . . vain and not always reliable . . . has no physical or moral
courage . . . should not be considered as an 'homme politique.' " His
dossier ran 1,000 pages.

Feutchtwanger applied for citizenship, and immigration agents interviewed
him. Although he was dying of cancer, the agents "tried to rattle
Feutchtwanger by persistent questioning," and "brusque interruptions," Mr.
Stephan writes. Feuchtwanger's application for citizenship was denied.

The American government's reach also extended into Mexico, Mr. Stephan
writes. There, personnel from the F.B.I., C.I.A., State Department,
Immigration and Naturalization Service and other government agencies
focused on Anna Seghers, author of the best-selling anti-Nazi novel "The
Seventh Cross." Seghers, who was a Communist Party member, had been denied
entry into the United States. American agents in Mexico burglarized homes,
tapped phones and intercepted letters to Seghers, which had coded messages
written in invisible ink, the book says.

The files are filled with anonymous denunciations. Agents jotted down the
names of those who parked near Communist Party headquarters in Los Angeles.
There are also frequent misspellings. In one mistake, agents confused the
Free Germany Movement in Mexico with one founded in exile by the right-wing
German Otto Strasser.

The government continued its investigations of some writers even after they
had died. Five years after the death of Thomas Mann's brother Heinrich,
author of "Professor Unrat," on which the Marlene Dietrich film "The Blue
Angel" was based, F.B.I. agents were discussing the identity of one
informant on Heinrich Mann and his credibility. Franz Werfel's file
continued for nine years after his death.

One F.B.I. agent sympathized with the spied-upon exiles. "Most members of
the committee have never lost their fear of the police," he wrote in the
files, referring to the exiles' Free Germany committee. "They feel that
their activities are continually observed and under surveillance, which
especially hampers the activities of those members who are not American

Robert J. Lamphere, a retired FBI agent, said in a telephone interview, "It
is important you understand, we were engaged in a very serious time in the
Soviet Union." Mr. Lamphere, author, with Tom Shachtman, of "The
F.B.I.-K.G.B. War: A Special Agent's Story" (Random House, 1986),
interviewed Gerhart Eisler, a Communist Party functionary and journalist
who later became the chief propaganda spokesman and a member of the Central
Committee in East Germany. "We had many investigations that went nowhere.
That's the nature of counter-intelligence. People like Eisler came in as
refugees and immediately began working against this country and for the
Soviet Union."

Despite the spying, no one except Eisler was deported, Mr. Stephan said.
"This is not the Gestapo, not the K.G.B.," he said. "Nobody was harassed in
his writing. In many other political systems people were not permitted to
write and publish."

Louis Proyect

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