I want to thank you all for coming to hear Professor David Milne’s talk about the life of Sigrid Schultz. My name is Skye Doney and I am the Director of the George L. Mosse Program in History.
Dr. David Milne is the 2019 George L. Mosse Program & Friends of the UW Libraries Fellow. The Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries are an all-volunteer organization that has been in existence for seventy years. They focus on raising the visibility of our great libraries on campus. They do things like fundraise. If you want to know more just stop by the table by the front door.
This partnership has been ongoing since 2002 when the first Mosse-Friends Fellows traveled to Madison. The goal of the Fellowship is to encourage scholars to use the vast holdings in UW Libraries for their research. Considering that the Mosse-Friends Fellows have gone on to publish well over a dozen books in four different languages over the past seventeen years, it has been a remarkable success.
For the Program, this partnership continues George L. Mosse’s deep commitment to UW Libraries. Professor Mosse himself considered his gifts, he made many gifts to the libraries, and he considered himself a friend of the Libraries. When Professor Mosse was invited to Stanford to lead a seminar on European fascism in 1963 he spent a lot of time in the Stanford library. There he learned that Stanford happened to have many duplicate titles in fields of research that interested him. He arranged for 400 books, several pamphlets and 17 full runs of periodicals to be shipped from Stanford to Madison’s libraries. These titles were in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish, reflecting not only Mosse’s linguistic acrobatics, but also the languages of research of future Mosse-Friends fellows.
More directly related to Sigrid Schultz, two years ago the Mosse Program started an Internship in European and Digital History and the first project that our inaugural intern completed was to digitize photographs from World War I that are in the Schultz collection. This cache of moving images of the everyday life of World War I soldiers, was gifted to Schultz’s father, Hermann Schultz, by Eduard Frankl, a photographer. And all of the images are now online as part of the Wisconsin Historical Society digital collections and I encourage you to take a look.
Of course there are many other deep interconnections between Mosse himself, the Mosse Program and the Friends of the Libraries, but I was told to be brief. Professor Milne’s talk today. As I mentioned, Professor Milne is the twenty-second Mosse-Friends Fellow. He comes to us today from the University of East Anglia in the UK, where he is Senior Lecturer in Modern History. His first two books, America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (NY: Hill and Wang, 2008) and Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) together constitute an intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy from 1898 through 2016. He has lectured around the world on U.S. foreign relations and diplomatic history, including such diverse topics as Intellectuals and the Obama Administration to Donald Trump’s America First Policy.
While in Madison, Dr. Milne will conduct research at the Wisconsin Historical Society for his third book: Witness to Catastrophe: A Life of Sigrid Schultz. This full-scale study of Sigrid Schultz, the first woman to become bureau chief for a major U.S. newspaper, just down the road, at the Chicago Tribune, the book will examine Schultz’s astute and far-sighted reporting, from her Berlin vantage-point, where she observes the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Schultz is working for an isolationist newspaper in a totalitarian state to illuminate the workings and world ambitions of a brutal regime. Schultz’s achievements as a journalist were remarkable and I’m looking forward to hearing more about them. His talk today is titled, “Sigrid Schultz: Investigative Reporter who Predicted World War II.” Please join me in welcoming him to our campus.
Thank you. I’m absolutely delighted to be here. I’d like to thank the George Mosse Program in History and the Friends of the University of Wisconsin Library for both hosting this lecture and funding my research trip here to Madison. In particular, I’d like to thank Libby Theune for organizing this event, and for clearly doing such a magnificent job at marketing it.
Before I begin, I should say that my research on Sigrid Schultz is in its very early stages—I only commenced my research in earnest last year. My best guess is that it will take me about six years to research and write the book—so do please invite me back in 2026 or 2027 when I get to that stage. But I’m glad to have this very early opportunity to present on Schultz, and I’m looking forward to your comments at the end.
I should probably first explain how I came to work on Sigrid Schultz. I’m a historian of U.S. foreign policy, and my first two books explored the ways in which academics and intellectuals have shaped foreign policymaking through the twentieth century.
In my second book I wrote a chapter on George Kennan, the diplomat who authored the “containment strategy” that guided U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. (It would be remiss if I didn’t also add that Kennan was born and raised in Wisconsin). Kennan had been based at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin from 1939 to 1941, and he was interned, along with every other American living in Germany, following the Nazi declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941.
In my research on Kennan’s unhappy experience of internment in Bad Nauheim, I happened upon an excellent book by Andrew Nagorski titled Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power (2012). A compelling figure who recurs throughout the book is Sigrid Schultz, the Chicago Tribune’s bureau chief for Central Europe, a brave and resourceful journalist who lived in Berlin from 1914 to 1941. Intrigued, I sought out Schultz elsewhere, and found that she also appears sporadically, if significantly, in a very popular book, Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts (2011), which focuses on the experiences of Ambassador William Dodd and his family in Berlin in the 1930s. More obviously, I turned to read Nancy Sorel’s The Women Who Wrote the War (1999), which features a long section on Schultz and other women journalists of this period.
Sufficiently encouraged by what I’d read, I travelled here to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2013 to spend a few days surveying her papers. They are rich and extensive, comprising 51 archive boxes in total. I decided fairly swiftly that I wanted to write Schultz’s biography, although other writing commitments have prevented me from making much progress as I would like.
So what did I learn from reading these books and the first archival trip? Here’s a brief highlight reel.
(The passport photo on the left dates from 1914 and the press pass on the right is from 1938.)
Schultz interviewed embittered German nationalists (including General Erich Ludendorff) in the aftermath of the First World War and reported on the 1921 plebiscite in Upper Silesia. In late 1925/early 1926 [both dates are used in her papers] she became the first female bureau chief for a major newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, earning this accolade just a few months before Dorothy Thompson. Schultz covered the rise and fall of Weimar Germany and forged an important working relationship with its most skilled politician Gustav Streseman. Anticipating the future significance of Nazism as a political force, she strategically befriended Hermann Göring and secured two interviews with Adolf Hitler in 1931. Working for an isolationist newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, and editor, Robert R. McCormick, Schultz filed copy that was highly critical of the Nazi regime, but never to the point that she was ejected from the country. Schultz scored a major scoop in 1939 when she broke the story of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In 1940 she was hit by shrapnel during a British bombing raid on Berlin, which later caused her to leave Germany. Ill health and the onset of war with the United States ensured she didn’t return until D-Day, after which Schultz returned to mainland Europe and reported from the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. She reported from the early stages of the Nuremberg Trials, and spoke with Göring before his death by suicide.
This potted biography conveys some sense of Schultz’s accomplishments. What I’d like to do in the remainder of this lecture is flesh out Schultz’s early years and then consider the three principal challenges that confronted her as a journalist in Nazi Germany: firstly, that she was a woman in a male dominated industry and milieu; secondly, that she worked in a totalitarian state that was highly sensitive to press criticism; and, finally, that she worked for a newspaper not naturally inclined to publish stories that might encourage interventionist sentiment in the United States. For someone who was implacably hostile to Nazism from the movement’s earliest days, these were daunting challenges indeed.
Sigrid Lillian Schultz was born in Chicago in 1893. Her father, Hermann Schultz, was a Norwegian portrait painter of relatively humble origins. Her mother, Hedwig Jaskewitz, was from a prominent musical family of mixed lineage—German, Russian, Polish, French—who had resided for many generations in Wiesbaden, Germany. Hedwig’s grandfather, Joseph Jaskewitz, indeed, had been the director of the Wiesbaden Opera (and began his career in a choir under the direction of Ludwig Van Beethoven). It was the lure of the Chicago World’s Fair that brought Hermann and Hedwig Schultz to the American Midwest. Hermann had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Mayor Carter Harrison, and for a while the family thrived in Chicago.
Here’s a photo of young Sigrid Schultz, aged about three, with her father and the family’s beloved St Bernard dog, Barry.
In this photo Schultz shares a scene, but is less obscured by the massive dog.
Here’s Hermann Schultz’s portrait of his daughter aged 15 or so.
Painting opportunities petered out in Chicago, however, and Herman brought his family back to Europe when Sigrid was just eight.
They lived in Wiesbaden, Paris, and then finally Berlin, where the family settled in 1914. Along the way, Sigrid became fluent in French and German, attending classes at the Sorbonne, and later at the University of Berlin.
And here’s a photo of a young Sigrid and her mother taken by her father about 1913-1914.
Unfortunately, mother and daughter were marooned in Berlin when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. Schultz and her mother (now a naturalized American citizen) were classified as “enemy aliens” and compelled to report daily to the German authorities. They were also denied travel privileges, which meant an enforced separation from Hermann Schultz, who was stranded in Munich.
Schultz and her mother experienced the acute food shortages imposed by Great Britain’s naval blockade. The two women bred rabbits that they used in barter deals for other foodstuffs. To make ends meet, Sigrid served as an English tutor to wealthy German families – she became the family breadwinner. Sigrid Schultz also experienced tragedy when her Norwegian fiancé drowned at sea when a German U-boat sunk the ship on which he was travelling.
At the end of the war, Schultz got her big break, through Richard Henry Little, the Chicago Tribune’s lead journalist in Berlin, and a friend of her father from their Chicago days. Schultz became, first, a translator and then, very soon after, a cub reporter for the Tribune. One of her first assignments was to interview General Erich Ludendorff, the joint leader of Germany’s war effort with Paul von Hindenberg, and a fierce nationalist and advocate of the “stab in the back” myth—that Germany’s supine political leaders had deprived the nation of eventual victory by conceding a premature defeat in 1918. The interview did not go well. Ludendorff ended it early, affronted by what he took to be Schultz’s insufficiently respectful style. She soon got the hang of interviewing pompous and powerful men, however. Indeed, Sigrid Schultz became a hugely accomplished reporter in very little time. She was fluent in German, a clear and often forceful writer, and she accumulated a very large circle of contacts. The Tribune appointed Schultz as its Bureau Chief for Central Europe in 1925—the same year that her father died. With Sigrid as the sole wage-earner, mother and daughter lived together in a small apartment in Berlin through the most momentous period in modern German history.
I’d like to hit pause on biography to discuss the history of women in U.S. journalism.
I’d highly recommend these two books [Fahs and Guarneri], both published in the last five years.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a huge expansion in the newspaper industry in the U.S. As the historian Julia Guarneri writes, “Whereas the country’s existing daily newspapers had printed fewer than one copy for every two U.S. households in 1880, they printed one and a half copies for every household by 1915. The issues themselves grew fatter and fatter. In 1880, urban daily papers had run to about twelve pages. By 1930, those papers would run perhaps forty or sixty pages, with their Sunday editions topping one hundred.” [Newsprint Metropolis: City Newspapers and the Making of Modern Americans (2017)]
Millions of American women picked up the newspaper habit during this time. And census figures demonstrate that increasing numbers of women also became journalists. In 1870, only 35 women were recorded to be working as editors and reporters in the United States; in 1880 this number rose to 288 women; in 1890, 888 women; and in 1900 there were 2,193 women out of 30,088 total journalists.
While very low, these percentages were on an upwards curve. But women were sharply constrained as to which sections of the newspaper they were permitted to write for. As the historian Alice Fahs writes, “most women began their newspaper careers in some way connected to the woman’s page—one of only two departments of the newspaper where women could rise to editorships. The other department managed the new Sunday sections of many newspapers. Women were able to become Sunday editors there in part because these sections contained woman’s pages, society pages, book reviews, and interviews—all features often assigned to women.” [Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space (2011)]
This full-page advertisement from the Chicago Tribune in 1938 serves to illustrate this point. We have Mary Meade, Home Economics Editor, India Moffett, Society Editor, Bettina Bedwell, Paris Fashion Correspondent, Rhea Seeger, Chicago Fashions Editor, and Mae Tinee, Motion Picture Critic. Sigrid Schultz’s job title, “Chief, Berlin Bureau” does rather stand apart.
Female journalists had of course written on foreign affairs in the past, but these tended to be on a per-piece basis. Margaret Fuller covered the Italian uprisings of 1848 for the New York Tribune. In the late nineteenth century, Nellie Bly wrote on Mexican affairs occasionally for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Margaret Sullivan covered European affairs for the Associated Press. As we move into the early twentieth century, Mary Boyle O’Reilly, in Belgium at the time of the German invasion of 1914, wrote stories for the Boston Pilot. Henrietta Hull covered both wars for the El Paso Morning Times. But these women were rarities in a male-dominated profession.
And this second full-page advertisement from the Chicago Tribune serves to illustrate this point. Here are the Tribune’s foreign correspondents and bureau chiefs in 1939, everyone a man except—front and center—Sigrid Schultz.
Schultz was the first female bureau chief for a major U.S. newspaper but she was quickly followed by Dorothy Thompson at the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Through the 1920s and 1930s Janet Flanner wrote for the New Yorker from Paris. Martha Gellhorn wrote from various locations for Colliers magazine. Margret Bourke White was a distinguished photographer during the Second World War for Life magazine. But there should be no doubt that journalism was overwhelmingly a man’s world in the 1920s and 1930s and Schultz had to find a way to navigate it.
As Schultz herself recalled, “It was not always easy to convince the Germans that a woman could be the boss of a big outfit—comparatively big, as correspondents’ offices go—[…]” Nonetheless, as Schultz recalled generously, “Chancellor and Foreign Minister Stresemann, Chancellor Bruening, and the various men at the helm of the German government as well as the sundry international diplomats ignored old-time prejudices.”
Some of this has can be attributed to simple practicality. Based on its circulation, advertising revenues and political clout, the Chicago Tribune described itself as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” on its masthead. This was hyperbolic, of course, but it was one of the three most important newspapers in the United States at the time. “What the Chicago Tribune reminds me of most is the state of Texas,” wrote the Chicago Daily News’s foreign correspondent, John Gunther. “Like Texas, it is aggressive, sensitive in the extreme, loaded with guts and braggadocio, expansionist, and medieval. Also, like Texas, it has its own foreign policy—though one very different.”
Gunther was here referring to the political proclivities of the Tribune’s owner Robert R. McCormick who was an instinctive isolationist and anti-Wilsonian. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Germany’s political class had to take the Tribune, and its female bureau chief seriously—how could it not. This imperative only became stronger following Hitler’s ascent to power. The Nazi Party saw in the Tribune a force that could help forestall any movement in the United States to confront Germany’s territorial designs on the rest of Europe.
Schultz was taken seriously because she worked for the Tribune, then. But even then, there were numerous obstacles to clear. At the National Association of German Industry’s annual banquet in 1926, for example, Schultz was literally the only woman in the room—once she got in, that is. At the door Schultz was denied entry to the men-only gathering. She insisted she speak with the Press Chief of the Association, handed him her card, and scribbled on it: “Are three hundred men afraid of one woman?” She was ushered to a table, sat down for dinner, and, as Schultz later recalled, “as the banquet progressed, I saw the moguls grin as my card was passed from hand to hand. One after the other came around to talk to me and show they were not scared of one lone woman.”
The heart of Schultz’s journalistic operation was the Adlon, one of Berlin’s grandest hotels. Its guestrooms served as a temporary home for distinguished visitors while its bar was a permanent meeting point for the city’s foreign press corps. The ambience, as Schultz recalled was incredible: “whether bullets were whizzing by it, a hungry mob was threatening it, whether world famous statesmen were in conference or at banquets, whether the would-be elite were dancing all night, or whether black marketeers or political plotters were at their sinister work.”
Schultz spent a lot of time in the bar, as a place where contacts could be made and stories potentially broken. But this was a hard-drinking, male milieu, and “I could not risk having the boys beat me to a scoop just because I would not go into the bar.” Schultz’s solution was simple and ingenious. She made an agreement with its staff that “whenever I asked for a Schultz cocktail they would give me a very wicked concoction in a tiny glass [but] it was only orange juice—there sometimes was a drop of something stronger to make it look more like a cocktail.” With this arrangement in place, Schultz stayed up later, with greater command of her faculties, than any man there.
Finally, Schultz became a manager of men, which riled some and exacerbated insecurities. “We had a big organization all over Central Europe,” Schultz recalled, “and it may have been quite a shock to some of the men to suddenly discover themselves under the orders of a woman.” There was also a deeply entrenched drinking culture that she worked assiduously to dilute. “I did not care how drunk they got after office hours,” Schultz admitted, “but I insisted on accurate reporting and they did not care much for that.”
Yet worse was to come when the Tribune insisted that Schultz fire some of her staff; a task that she understandably approached with some dread. When she informed her first staff member that he was out of a job, “I was staggered to see him burst into tears and beg for a second try. It was hard enough for a man to handle a woman who cries but what does a woman do in sight of tears?” Schultz’s answer was to give him a “second and third and fourth chance” until she could “not stand it anymore.” Eventually she was compelled to act with finality. She later observed that it [quote] “takes a much more manly man to cooperate in an office under direction of a woman than in a man-run establishment.”
Gender obstacles, then, were clear and present and had to be surmounted. But what of the second impediment to Schultz reporting freely—that she was based in a totalitarian state.
That the Nazi authorities were highly sensitive to foreign criticism was demonstrated when Dorothy Thompson was ejected from Germany in 1934. Thompson had famously derided Hitler as “the very prototype of the little man” and did not hold back in expressing contempt for Hitler once he acquired power. Where Thompson had viewed Hitler as an underwhelming and vaguely comic figure when she interviewed him in 1931 (“inconsequent and voluble” is how she described him—getting it half right), Schultz, who also interviewed him in 1931, perceived him as a more genuine threat, and it was a source of pride to Schultz that her reading was correct and Thompson’s wrong. Yet Schultz was as opposed to Nazism as Thompson, and yet she escaped expulsion. How did she do it?
Well, firstly, as mentioned before, the Nazi press authorities well understood how useful the Chicago Tribune—isolationist and sympathetic to the view that the Versailles Treaty had roused justified German resentments—was likely to be to their cause. Keeping the Tribune’s bureau chief in Germany, so long as she avoided editorializing in the style of Dorothy Thompson, was viewed as the preferable course.
Here, in this photo from 1934, you can see Schultz with Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, and Ambassador William Dodd at the Foreign Press Ball. They’re enjoying a light moment here, which would have gladdened Schultz. Ensuring that Goebbels did not turn against her was important.
Schultz also made an important contact in Hermann Göring, best known as the Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe from 1935 to 1945, but an individual who held many important positions in the Nazi Party, before and after Hitler rose to power. In 1930 Schultz identified Göring as an important figure in the Nazi party, and quote “auditioned him” in a Berlin restaurant—he had “the kind of table manners [one could] invite to lunch,” Schultz recalled. Thereafter Göring was a frequent invitee to dinner parties that Sigrid and her mother hosted in their Berlin apartment. As Schultz recalled later in a radio interview, “feeding the gentleman very well was very useful to get information out of him.” It was through Göring that she secured those interviews with Hitler in 1931.
In spite of being well connected with high-placed Nazis, the relationship between Schultz and the Third Reich was never going to remain amicable. Schultz reported factually and dispassionately—but what she wrote could not fail to horrify her readers back in Chicago and beyond and, in so doing, flag her as a threat to the Gestapo.
Speak to it [cartoon image]
At a gala luncheon at the Hotel Adlon on May 2, 1935, Schultz confronted Göring directly about this clumsy attempt at entrapment. Göring denied knowledge but Schultz persisted. Eventually Göring snapped, “Schultz, I’ve always suspected it. You’ll never learn to show proper respect for state authorities. I suppose that is one of the characteristics of people from that crime-ridden city of Chicago.”
Apparently Göring later referred to Schultz as the “dragon from Chicago,” which she took as a compliment.
To report on Nazi Germany in a more unvarnished form, Schultz employed a different tack. She filed stories under a fictitious name, John Dickson, and wired these to Chicago from Copenhagen or Oslo. In 1938 and 1939 a series of hard-hitting articles appeared on the Tribune’s front page, alongside a series published in the Tribune’s Graphic magazine titled “The Truth about Nazi Germany.” The first articles, appearing in August and September, 1938, focused on the concentration camps, persecution of Jews, secret arrests, labor conscription, and the attacks on churches generally.
On July 13, 1939, the most remarkable Dickson article of all appeared on the Tribune’s front page. It forecast the German-Soviet pact, which at the time was being secretly negotiated. “The newest toast in high Hitler guard circles is: ‘To our secret ally, Russia,’” Schultz wrote. “Supporters of the theory of Nazi-Soviet cooperation claim that plans for a new partition of Poland, dividing it between Germany and Russia, have been concluded.’” Schultz made very clear that Hitler’s volte-face on the Soviet Union would quickly gain acceptance across Germany: “If Hitler says the wicked Red Soviets are no longer Red nor wicked,” she prophesised, “the Germans will accept his word!”
Schultz was correct on all counts. Forty days later, on August 23, 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was announced. It came as a huge shock to Germany’s ally, Japan, and to its principal enemies, Britain and France. Intelligence analysts from each nation should have been reading the Chicago Tribune, for Schultz predicted the pact and the sequence of events that would lead to the Second World War with unerring accuracy. It was the highlight of her journalistic career. But to keep Schultz safely in place in Germany the story was published under a fictitious male name.
The quality, accuracy, and prescience of her reporting from Germany was remarkable. How did she do it? From where and whom did she acquire her information? The journalist William Shirer, a friend of Schultz’s, observed that “no other American correspondent knew so much of what was going on behind the scenes as Sigrid Schultz…She knew literally everybody…” Her friend and Berlin contemporary Benjamin Ziemer later wrote : “Where Sigrid got her news tips, nobody ever really knew for sure—from friends among the German nobility, political leaders, churchmen, government officials, labor leaders, educators, (she knew more people in more walks of life than any two journalists put together): from analyzing all the leading German newspapers daily; from informants she hired; from guests in her home… More generally, sheer instinct seemed to point her in the right direction.”
This is the part of Schultz’s life that I’m intrigued to research in more detail, both in Schultz’s papers here in Madison and in the German Federal Archive in Berlin. There is a fascinating story to tell here on the issue of journalistic method—the compromises one must make and the subterfuges one must employ while working inside a totalitarian state.
Finally, I’d like to finally turn to Schultz’s relationship with her employer, the Chicago Tribune, and its vehemently anti-interventionist owner and publisher, Colonel Robert R. McCormick.
Colonel McCormick (he used the rank he gained during the First World War) was one of the most powerful newspaper owners of the twentieth century. The length of Schultz’s career at the Tribune depended in no small part on how she managed relations with the Colonel, a cold and aloof man who, in spite of his Anglophobia, looked like he belonged in the English aristocracy. In this regard, as in so many others, she managed him very well indeed.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. In early 1934, McCormick travelled to what had recently become Nazi Germany. He gazed in admiration at a march of German stormtroopers. Schultz recalled that “I was sitting beside the Colonel and I could see his soldier’s heart throbbing…The way they marched was just absolutely beautiful.”’ To snap him out of his reverie, Schultz pointed out Ernst Röhm, and added that “the little man there right beside Röhm is his former lover, and his other lover, the new one, is standing right behind.” McCormick was scandalized and complained to staff at the US Embassy later that “Schultz is terrible.” He only settled down a bit after staff at the embassy verified that what Schultz had said was true.
This was a rare misstep, however. Schultz maintained a close and regular correspondence with McCormick through the 1930s and continued to impress him with the acuity of her appraisals of German politics and the discretion she demonstrated when she uncovered stories that didn’t sit well with the Tribune editorial line.
A good example of this came in 1936, as Alf Landon and Franklin Roosevelt campaigned against one another during the presidential election that year. Schultz informed McCormick of rumors in Berlin that would have hurt Landon had they been verified and reported:
McCormick to Alf Landon:
Sigrid Schultz writes me confidentially: “The Nazis are convinced that Mr. Landon, after his election will see to it that they get American credits and American lard and copper. [She indicated her sources.] These Nazis belong to a very small group that we have never caught lying. This conviction, a high Nazi official claims, is based on promises made by the former ambassador to Germany, Mr. Jacob Gould Schurman, and ‘other unofficial representatives’ of Mr. Landon.
“Promises of credits, etc., may seem like a good policy to an old gentleman like Mr. Schurman who has never gotten over his student days in Heidelberg. Past experience has shown that even an empty promise of help to dictatorships strengthen their positions. They know how to make a tremendous amount of capital out of mere promises.”
McCormick closed his letter by observing: “I will not intrude upon your time with the rest of the letter, which is of no importance to the campaign.”
So, Schultz relayed this to McCormick, who chose not to report this incendiary story. Schultz decided not to press the case. Her restraint, which must have been very difficult to maintain, given the significance of the story and its likely impact on a presidential candidate she did not favor, allowed Schultz to build trust with her staunchly Republican and vehemently anti-Roosevelt editor. I assume Schultz’s reasoning was: why bother. Landon was likely to lose anyway.
McCormick trusted Schultz and published what she wrote—even when it encouraged a sense of outrage among the Tribune’s readers that he, an isolationist and friend of Charles Lindbergh, could do well without. A page such as this
… is testament to the deft manner in which Schultz managed her boss and reported the news.
On August 25 1940, in retaliation for a German bombing raid on London, the RAF bombed Berlin for the first time. Sigrid Schultz was delighted that the British had exposed German vulnerability, but she was hit by a piece of shrapnel that evening, just prior to her delivering a radio broadcast for Mutual Broadcasting. She remained in Berlin for a few more months but decided at the end of the year to return home to the United States to take a much needed break and check in with her mother, whom she had resettled in Westport, Connecticut in 1938. Unfortunately, she contracted typhus along the way, and her recovery from the disease, which was so often fatal, was slow.
In August 1941, still “weak as a pup” from the Typhus, Schultz asked Robert McCormick if she might return to Berlin. He refused, noting that she should “postpone her return temporarily until ‘tension is lessened’.” Tension ran in the opposite direction in the months to come, which meant that Schultz would remain firmly put in the United States. She embarked on a nationwide speaking tour that laid bare the horrors of Nazi Germany.
She also published a book in 1944, titled Germany Will Try It Again, which contended that Germany, following its inevitable defeat, would inevitably return to its militaristic, expansionist ways. She would remain true to this belief that Germany could never be trusted right through to her death in 1980.
After returning to mainland Europe following the D-Day invasion in the summer of 1944, Schultz accompanied the First and Third Armies through France and Belgium as they marched toward Germany.
In April 1945 she took a detour to Weimar and became one of the first journalists, alongside Edward Murrow and Margaret Bourke White, to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp. “Those of us who have seen the piles of emaciated corpses stacked near the crematorium “will never forget…” Schultz later wrote.
She later travelled to the Nuremberg Trials, where Schultz met with Hermann Göring and asked him about the concentration camps: “And the same Göring,” Schultz recalled, “who in 1934 had boasted to me that they were good for Germany’s morale, produced a first-class baby stare. “Oh, I did not know what was going on in those camps.” The day before the hangman was scheduled to carry out Nuremberg’s death sentence, Göring committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide. Schultz was incensed that he had been allowed to die on his own terms.
It was Nuremberg that caused Schultz to break with Robert McCormick and the Chicago Tribune. She had met with McCormick to discuss her coverage of the Nuremberg trial. “We had a very good talk, and we talked about Nuremberg.” Then the Colonel said, “We have officers who should also be put on trial.” And I gasped and I said, “Colonel, I’m sorry I can’t go along with that.” So then we switched to normal things…Afterwards I went down those long stairs, weeping my head off…”
She resigned her job with the Tribune, thus ending her long and devoted career as a correspondent.”
I’d like to be able to tell a story of Schultz’s resurgence in the period following her return to the United States in 1946 and her death in 1980. But I cannot. Her career slowed and then stalled as decent writing commissions petered out. The reason: she could never forgive Germany.
In 1945, Schultz made a recommendation on how to deal with defeated Germany that was brutal: seal the borders and encourage an internal reckoning in which right-minded Germans would eliminate Nazis. “During the period of internal German cleansing,” Schultz wrote chillingly, “the United Nations forces, with their steel ring around the German borders and their air superiority over the country would run no extraordinary risk. When it is finished, we must know which groups within the German borders we can trust.”
Her book, Germany Will Try it Again, summarised her views for the remainder of her life. As the Second World War ended and a U.S.-Soviet Cold War began, West Germany was rehabilitated as a vital ally. Schultz pitched piece after piece contending that Germany remained a threat but the Soviet Union had become America’s principal enemy by 1947. As the years passed, the notion that West Germany posed any kind of threat to the U.S. appeared to most observers as detached from reality and so editors politely declined her many submissions.
But her perspective—these vengeful views toward Germany—are comprehensible to some extent. Her fiancé had been killed by a German U-boat attack. She had met Ludendorff, Göring, Himmler, Goebbels, and Hitler. She had witnessed the persecution of Germany’s Jews prior to the war, and its genocidal denouement at Buchenwald. She had watched leading Nazis brazenly lie and feign shock before and during the Nuremberg Trials. In Cold War America she was simply unable to move on.
Following the death of her mother in 1960, Schultz focused increasingly on writing for publications such as the Ladies Home Journal. Much of her earned postwar income was derived through writing cookbooks and lifestyle articles. As her acuity on foreign affairs dwindled, Schultz was forced to pick from the gendered box of occupational categories that she had spectacularly transcended in interwar Germany. To her death in 1980, Schultz worked on a memoir and a history of anti-Semitism in Germany with a growing sense of futility—that neither would see light of day. A Ph.D. student named Cynthia Chapman wrote her thesis on Schultz and her life—subjecting her familial relationships to a psychoanalytical reading. During long conversations, Schultz confided to Chapman her “wish to have her story told.” Sigrid Schultz died in 1980, aged 87.
Slowly, Schultz has begun to receive more attention—not just in the pages of Eric Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts, but in an exhibit devoted to her life that’s currently running at the Westport Historical Society in Connecticut.
I’m the very early stages in my research, but I’m excited to be researching and writing a biography of this remarkable and path-breaking journalist. I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of where her significance lies.
Thanks so much for listening, and I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.