World War II: Exchange of American and Axis Diplomats


Figure 1.--These children are the families of German diplomats at the Greenbrier. Their parents set up a school for them. The man in white suit and dark tie is German chargé d'affaires Dr. Hans Thomsen. Thomsen actively supported American isolationists. He also obtained perhaps the biggest German intelligence coups of the War. He learned of that the Anericans had cracked the Japanese diplomatic (Purple) code. This essentially exposed the American Magic operation. When the German Foreign Ministry reported this tothe Japanese, they dismissed hos report believing that their codes were unbreakable. Thomsen was with Japanese diplmats at the Greenbriar for several months. While he reported the breaking of Purple to the Japanese Foreign Ministrty, we do not know if he he discussed it with the Japanese diplomats at the Greenbriar. Image Source: Greenbrier Archives.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war brought America into World War II. Axis allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy) followed suit. This left hundreds of diplomats from these countries in the United States. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929, the United States was bound to protect the diplmats and their families. To do this, the State Department contracted with resorts in isolated locations. The FBI and Border Patrol undertook to transport the individuals to the resorts. The two most important were the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and the Greebrier in White Sulpur Springs, West Virginia. About 2,000 diplomats were housed in these resorts. The Grove Park Inn near Ashville, North Carolina was used for a brief time. The Axis diplomats thus had first class accomodations and meals. The Japanese wre housed separately at Homestead, but eventully mixed with the other Axis diplomats at the Greenbrier. Staff there reported that the Japanese did not mix to any extent with the Europeans. We are unsure just why that was. Schools were set up for the children. Some 130 American diplomats were housed by the Germans at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt. The accomodations were not as plush. Legendary American Diplomat George Kennan reported, "... most of us were emaciated when we emerged from the experience." The Germans at the resorts were big spenders. They could not leave with any American currency so they bought what ever appeared in the resort shops. The Japanese assetts had been frozen, so they had no money to spend. The room and meals were paid for by the Government. The diplomats remained at the resorts for about 6 months while exchange arrangements were made through the International Red Cross. They were exchanged through neutral Portugal, both Portugal itself and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. The Japanese diplmats traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Swedish liner Gripsholm destined for Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in Mozambique. There American diplomats arrived from Shanghai and Yokohama. The German diplmats were boarded the Drottningholm bound for Lisbon. There they were exchanged for American diplomats traveling by train from Berlin.

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a stunningly successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single united people with a burning desire to wage war. The issolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States. The Axis alliance did not require Germany to declare war on the United States. Hitler impulsively did declare war 3 days later (December 11, 1941). He expected Japan to reciprocated by declaring war on the Soviet Union.

Formal Delivery of the Declarations of War

The Japanese diplomats delivered the decla\tion of War just after the last boms dropped on the Pacific fleet (December 7). They were susposed to deliver it earlier, but it took too long to translate and type it. German Charge d'Affaires Hans Thomsen left the German Embassy at 8:00 AM (December 11). Secretary Hull declined to receive him. Thomsen was told that the Secretary was "engaged". Thomsen delivered his note to the Chief of the European Division and then returned to the Embassy. Italian Ambassador Prince Ascanio Colonna delivered the Italian declaration of War, but Secretary Hull also declined to see him. He emerfged out of Political Adviser James Dunn's office and into the elevator when photographers converged on him. They forced him against the elevator wall and took flash photographs. Colonna lied, "I have delivered nothing. I came to inquire." A gum-chewing New York Daily News reporter replied, "Okay, Prince, goombye please." [Turiddu]

America Entering the War

When Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), most Americans were admently opposed to entering another war in Europe. Americans had come to believe it was a mistake to have entered World War I. President Roosevelt was hopeful that the British and French with material American support could defeat the Germans. The German defeat and occupation of France and the ensuing Blitz on Britain began a major reassessment in America. Gradually public opinion shifted and despite a vigorous national debate led by the Isolationists, American's came to support President Roosevelt's policy of national rearmament and support for Britain. At the time of Pearl Harbor, however, a majority of Americans still opposed entering the war. The public supported all support for Britain short of war. In the end, the national debate was settled by the Japanese militarists and Adolf Hitler. The decesion for war by Japan and Germany was radically different. The Japanese after more than a year of intense study had convinced thenselves that Americans were soft and would not fight. Few Japanese commanders had any knowledgeable about America and Admiral Yamamoto's misgivings were very rare within the military establishment. Crowds in Tokyo cheered the Pearl Harbor success. The reaction in Berlin was very different. Hitler was shocked by the failure of Barbarossa before Moscow. And President Roosevelt had been ahorn in his side sibce the War began. With the Wehrmacht falling back in Russia, in was the only aggressive step open to him. It would be the last major NAZI initiative. The War would be decided in 1942 and he would spend the rest of the War reacting to Allied moves. The German people received the bews very differently than the Japanese public. The Gernans had fought the Americans in World War I and were aware that American entry in the War had been the turning point. Only the most ardent NAZIs were enthusiastic with the news. And Hitler's announcement that he had declared war on America reached the German people at the same time as the news of the Red Army offensive before Moscow. Unlike the Japanese military, many German military commanders realized that Hitler's high stakes gamble had failed. Presidennt Roosevelt was shocked at the devestation suffered by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Inteligence reports had made in clear that the Japanese were preparing to strike, but Ameeican military commanders had not anticipated the blow would come at Pearl or that Japan had the military capacity to deliver such as powerful strike. Perhaps the most sanguine assessment was made in Britain by Primeminister Churchill.

Axis Diplomats and Civilians

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war brought America into World War II. Axis allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy) followed suit. This left hundreds of diplomats from these countries in the United States. Originally the individuals concerned were just diplomatic and other government officials. Gradually the lists were expanded to include private individuals, including businessmen, teachers, missionaries, tourists and others. The term reciprocal became a matter of some contention. Deciding on a formula proved to be a difficult undertaking. The Japanese were intent on exchanging non-official persons of equivalent social status using education and employment as the principal consideration. Here cultural differences emerged. To the American mind "all men are created equal”. And basic Western civility meant "women and children first”. The Japanese had a different view. Women and children (especially girls) were seen as the lowest rung in the social hierarchy.

Hans Thomsen (1891-1968)

Dr. Hans Thomsen was the Chargé d'Affaires at the Embassy of Germany in Washington. The United States after Kristallnachr recalled its ambassador in Berlin (November 1938). The German Government then recalled Ambassador Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff. Thomsen appears to have accurately assessed the Roosevelt Administration and its anti-NAZI orientation. Like Ambassador Dieckhoff reported to Berlin on the President's hostility. While he was in charge of the Embassy, the Isolationist Movement in Ameerica gained strength. He did what he could to support the Isolationists. He did what he could to support Americans opposing involvement in another world war. [Thomsett, p. 151.] Thomsen saw an opportunity in the 1940 presidential election to replace Roosevelt with an isolationist Republican. He thus oversaw an effort at the Republican National Convention to pass an anti-war platform. [Stout] Thomsen cabeled the Foreign Ministry that a "well-known Republican congressman" had offered to take a group of 50 isolationists to the convention $3,000. (June 12, 1940). [Wllace, p. 262.] He was apparently reffering to arch FDR-foe Hamiltion Fish. There is no collaboration that Fish actually solicited such a bribe. Thomsen asked Berlin for the requested funds as well as the money to arrange for full page advertisements in newspapers during the convention. The source of the finds of course was hidden. The ads were placed. They were written by George Viereck, a German agent working for Congressman Fish. The ads appear to have had some affect. Thomsen reported back to Berlin that the wording of the Republican Plank "was taken almost verbatim" from an ad which appeared in the New York Times as well as other papers. No one really knows, but there is no evidence indicating that Fish was involved with the German campaign. He certainly was an importahnt isolationist and opposed in American particiption in another war. He directed the National Committee to Keep America Out of Foreign Wars, the group which sponsored the ads. Of course all this came to naught when the Republicans nominated Wendel Wilkie who shared Rossevelt's dislike of the NAZis. Thomsen was involved in another even more serious incident. He canled the Foreogn Ministry that the American Government had broken the Japanese diplomatic (Purple) code (April 1941). Unmasking the American Magic operation of course would have been a major intelligence coup. Apparently his source was Soviet Ambassador Konstantin Umansky. The Foreign Ministry forwarded this alert to their Axis ally. The Japanese Foreign Ministry, however, dismissed the report, believing that their codes were unbreakable. (The Germans for their part do not seem to have taken the logical step that if the Americans could crack into Japanese transmissiions that their own secure transmissions were vulnerable. In fact the British had been reading them for many months.) After reHere we see Thposen with the Germany diplomat children at the Greenbrier (figure 1). paitriation to Germany, Thomsen replaced Victor zu Wied at the German delegation in Stockholm, Sweden (1943). After the War he likeall German Government officials was interrogated by de-Nazification officials, but was not charged with any war crime. He served as head of the Hamburg chapter of the Red Cross (rarly 1950s).

Resort Stays

Under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929, the United States was bound to protect the diplmats and their families. To do this, the State Department contracted with resorts. They were among America;s most beautiful resorts and situated in isolated locations. The FBI and Border Patrol undertook to transport the individuals to the resorts. The two most important were the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and the Greebrier in White Sulpur Springs, West Virginia. About 2,000 diplomats were housed in these resorts. The Grove Park Inn near Ashville, North Carolina was used for a brief time. The Axis diplomats thus had first class accomodations and meals. The Japanese wre housed separately at Homestead, but eventully mixed with the other Axis diplomats at the Greenbrrier. Staff there reported that the Japanese did not mix to any extent with the Europeans. We are unsure just why that was. Schools were set up for the children. The Germans at the resorts were big spenders. They could not leave with any American currency so they bought what ever appeared in the resort shops. The Japanese assetts had been frozen, so they had no money to spend. The room and meals were paid for by the Government.

American Diplomats in Axis Countries

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull recalled the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Hugh R. Wilson, who had been appointed only a few months earlier. The action was taken to protest the NAZI pogrom--Kristallnacht (November 16, 1938). The Germans responded by withdrawing their ambassador. After this, two men served as Chargé d'Affaires: Alexander C. Kirk (May 1939-October 1940) and Leland B. Morris (October 1940-December 1941). The Embassy was faced with a range of problems. Not only did it have the normal functions of a U.S. Embassy, but it tried to take over the responsibilities of the French and British embassies which were closed on the outbreak of War. After the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack, Germany declared war on the United States leading to the formal break in relations between the two countries (December 11, 1941). The First Secretary reported, "... "On Sunday morning, 14 December all staff and their families collected at the embassy only to find the building, inside and out, already guarded by members of the Gestapo, and ourselves their prisoners. Then, the entire assemblage moved by bus and rail to Bad Nauheim, near Frankfurt am Main." [Kenan] Some 130 American diplomats were housed by the Germans at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt. The accommodations were not as plush. Legendary American Diplomat George Kennan reported, "... most of us were emaciated when we emerged from the experience."

Exchanges

The diplomats remained at the resorts for about 6 months while exchange arrangements were made through the International Red Cross. They were exchanged through neutral Portugal, both Portugal itself and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. The German diplmats were boarded the Drottningholm bound for Lisbon. There they were exchanged for American diplomats traveling by train from Berlin. The Japanese dipolmats traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Swedish liner Gripsholm. The most logical exchnge would have been over a Pacific route, perhaps at Vladisvostock in the neutral Soviet Union. So Mozombique was chosen as tghe cloesrt neutral territory to Japan. Japanese women and children were driven to the train station at White Sulphur Springs (June 10, 1942). Taxies shuttled the Japanese back and forth from the station to the hotel transporting women and children. The men escorted by armed guards walked the short distance to the station. The guards were primarily to protect the individuals. They boarded two special passenger trains. Senior diplomats were assigned Pullman class with private sleeping compartments. The train took them to New York where they boarded the chartered Swedish liner Gripsholm. The Swedish vessel was destined for Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in Mozambique. The ship had a lasrge sign painted on the sides identifying the vessel as 'Diplomatic'. It sailed with lights lit so that U-boat captains could easily identifybit. American diplomats arrived from Shanghai and Yokohama aboard the Asama Maru and the Conte Verde an Italian ship the Japanese chartered. After the exchange the Japanese boarded the Asama Maru which had delivered some of the American diplomats. [Stewart]

Sources

Kahn, David. The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet. (Scribner: 1996).

Kenan, George. Sketches from Life.

Stewart, William H. Military Historical Cartographer. "First Diplomatic Exchange of World War II".

Stout, David. "How Nazis tried to steer U.S. politics" New York Times (July 23, 1997).

Thomsett, Michael C. The German Opposition to Hitler: The Resistance, the Underground, and Assassination Plots, 1938-1945 (McFarland & Company: 1997).

Turiddu. Entry on Axis Forum (May 4, 2002).

Wallace, Max. The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich (St. Martin's Press: 2003).





HBC







Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main American World War II diplomacy page]
[Return to Main American World War II page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]




Created: 7:10 AM 4/19/2011
Last updated: 6:17 PM 5/11/2011