Thursday, January 15, 2015

The wartime adventures of Prince Max Hohenlohe

During WWII the military forces of the Allies and the Axis battled in Europe and Asia but behind the scenes there were efforts to negotiate some sort of compromise peace. These efforts however never amounted to much since both sides distrusted each other and the military situation made it clear that the Allies could win the war through military force alone.  

Since the 1930’s a segment of German society that opposed the National-Socialist regime had tried to establish contact with foreign countries in order to topple Hitler. During the war the same groups contacted US and British officials in neutral countries and tried to gain their support in order to remove the NS regime from power. The Western Allies were aware of these efforts but they did not offer material support to the members of the German resistance.
At the same time elements of the NS regime came to realize that the war was lost and thus made cautious attempts to contact Allied officials that could promote some sort of compromise peace. Heinrich Himmler was leader of the SS security service and thus one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany. Yet by 1943 he was beginning to realize that hopes for a successful conclusion of the war were slim. His subordinate General Walter Schellenberg, head of the foreign intelligence department of the Sicherheitsdienst, had many talks with Himmler on the need for a compromise peace and in 1943 he was able to make the first attempts at contacting Allied officials.
The Germans knew that Allen Dulles was in charge of the OSS-Office of Strategic Services station in Bern, Switzerland and they chose to contact him through people associated with the German resistance.
In early 1943 Prince Max Hohenlohe (working on behalf of the Sicherheitsdienst) was given permission to travel to Switzerland and meet Dulles. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like their meeting remained a secret for long. In the Finnish national archives one can find the decoded version of message No 2.181 of April 7, 1943, giving an overview of their discussion.

The original is available from the US National Archives and Records Administration - collection RG 59.

Both the German resistance (through Admiral Canaris) and the Sicherheitsdienst (through Schellenberg) had warned Dulles that his communications were compromised but it doesn’t seem like he acted on this information. These efforts for a compromise peace were probably doomed from the start (especially since the Germans seemed to have overestimated the influence of Dulles) but even so without secure communications the talks could not have remained secret for long.


  1. Just stumbled over your phenomenal site-- I imagine you were not a fan of The Imitation Game. :o)

    To go off topic a moment, your post on Himmlers' doomed attempts at a negotiated peace make me curious whether you've come across any signal traffic (whether on Allied or Axis side) giving credence to my new favorite conspiracy theory-- that the Valkyrie plotters actually succeeded in killing Hitler in July 1944 but senior Nazis decide to pretend he survived by subbing in one of his body doubles. Presumably then, the "Hitler" found dead outside the Berlin bunker was just such a luckless double. French writer Robert Christophe laid out the case for this in a 1983 book (which unfortunately was never published in English).

    1. No, I’ve never seen any evidence to support that conspiracy theory. Moreover wouldn’t the other top Nazis object to an impostor running the Reich? What about the officers that took part in the daily briefings on the military situation? Wouldn’t they notice a change in the Fuehrer? Conspiracy theories are fun most of the time but come on…

  2. The impostor-- and Hitler surely had more than one double-- wouldn't actually run the country, he'd just be sent out as needed for public appearances (of which, post-Valkyrie, Hitler made very few). A voice impersonation for radio speeches or telephone calls would be even easier to pull off. The BBC apparently at times used a Churchill impersonator (actor Norman Shelley) to read WSC speeches. This was rumored for years but Shelley didn't come forward to admit it until the 1970s.

    During the war, no German official or general would challenge such a deception for fear of getting the Rommel treatment for perceived disloyalty. After the war, these same German leaders were busy trying to look blameless to accusations of war crimes and putting all guilt on Hitler. That would be a harder argument to make if said war crimes continued on past Hitler's natural life.

    I don't really think this theory is true but it is fun to think about it. Clearly the producers of that Tom Cruise movie missed a great opportunity to sidestep its biggest marketing defect-- that everyone already knew the ending. Maybe they should have had Oliver Stone direct it. :o)

  3. Their interest in Prince Max Hohenlohe stemmed primarily from his peace efforts. He arranged a deal for peace wherein Hitler would step down from power and restore restricted democracy in exchange for a British alliance against the Soviets and the allowance of a land bridge between Germany and East Prussia.