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All Posts, Frontline Books, Military History

Author Guest Post: Norman Ridley

Kurt G.W. Lüdecke was born into a wealthy family in Berlin in 1890 but the death of his father saw the family fall on hard times. He found the most productive way of providing for the family was by defrauding and swindling, mostly women, as he travelled all across France, England and the United States in the years before the outbreak of the First World War. He avoided conscription due to a minor medical condition and spent the war working in a psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg. At the university there he attended lectures on racial theory given by of Professor Alfred von Domaszewski that led him onto the path of anti-Semitism.

After the war he got work as a purchasing agent travelling to South America and Mexico where, by nefarious means, he acquired a passport in the name of Conrado Lüdecke.

Soon he was back in Berlin selling ex-army surplus. It was a lucrative business since the Treaty of Versailles had barred Germany from having a military air force so there was a great deal of material to trade with countries like Sweden which had a large aircraft manufacturing industry. Having made a small fortune in a very short time, Lüdecke invested in art and went to the United States to promote an exhibition of German paintings. This did not go as well as he had expected and so he returned to Berlin where he joined up with the National Socialists after attended a rally and hearing Hitler speak. In 1922, he went to Munich and plotted with the Bund Bayern und Reich to overthrow the local government there. From Munich he was granted an audience with Mussolini as an ‘official representative [of Hitler] in the kingdom of Italy’.

The arrest and imprisonment of Hitler after the abortive Beer Hall Putsch barely slowed his progress as he went again to the United States on a fundraising trip for the Nazi party in 1924. While in New York, Lüdecke met up with Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, the son and daughter-in-law of the composer Richard Wagner. The couple was in America to gain new support for Wagner’s symphonies after they had been condemned during the anti-German war years. Lüdecke and the Wagners travelled to Detroit together to meet Ford and try to persuade him to give financial assistance to the Nazis. According to Lüdecke, he was able to obtain a private meeting with Ford who seemed to pay close attention to what he had to say but declined to show any real interest in helping out. Siegfried Wagner would tell a different story many years later, however. According to her, when she had met a few days before his meeting with Lüdecke, he told her that he had helped to finance Hitler with money from the sales of automobiles and trucks that he had sent to Germany and was willing to help again to support Hitler’s campaign to ‘free Germany from the Jews.’

Henry Ford

Unfortunately for Lüdecke, his globetrotting was halted in 1924 when he was brought before a Munich court charged with blackmailing one Frau Martha Behn. Found guilty, he spent a few weeks in jail before returning to the United States. Once there he set off on a round of lectures on the political situation in Germany but rather than raise funds, he left a trail of debts and unpaid bills wherever he went.

Nevertheless, he prospered long enough to marry a twenty-eight-year-old librarian, Mildred Coulter, in Detroit on 13 June 1927. At this time he became infuriated to discover that a New York branch of the Nazi Party had been formed without his knowledge believing that he alone was the official party representative in America. In the few years following, Lüdecke travelled freely between Germany and the United States until he was arrested by the Gestapo in July 1933 on charges relating to yet more blackmail. He spent a year in Oranienburg concentration camp without coming to trial before persuading his captors to allow him to go under guard to Berlin to plead his case before Alfred Rosenberg. He had no difficulty in evading his guards during an overnight stop in the city and fled to Switzerland.

Before long, Lüdecke was in Paris and, according to the German Embassy there, was planning a trip to America on a Czech passport. When he arrived there in September 1934, he found himself hauled up to give evidence before the MacCormack-Dickstein inquiry. This annoyed Goebbels who was anxious to avoid bad publicity especially given that he was plagued by persistent rumours that his wife Magda had been in a relationship with Lüdecke at some point in the past.

Unable now to return to Germany, Lüdecke set out to make a name for himself as a writer and published a book I Knew Hitler in 1937. This brought him a modicum of fame which encouraged him to apply for America citizenship. A judge saw things differently, however, calling him ‘a cheap politician and a hanger-on and would have stayed in Germany if the Nazis had offered [him] a job.’ Then when Germany withdrew his German citizenship, he found himself a ‘foreign-born resident’ in America. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Lüdecke was arrested and interred on Ellis Island where he remained throughout the war. He was deported back to his home country in 1948 where he died in 1960.

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