The Danish Peace Academy
Singer, Kurt D.: Autobiography
I was born in Vienna, Austria on August 10, 1911.Grew up and was educated in Berlin, married Hilde Tradelius in 1932. Both of us edited and published an underground bulletin when Hitler came to power dealing mostly with concentration camps asking for food packages to send to the imprisoned. Much was based on foreign radio reports. Gestapo discovered us in our book store were we published the underground paper.
The underground paper was called Mitteilungs Blätter but we changed the name every week to Schwarze Blätter, Gruene Blätter, Blaue etc.
I was able to escape to the Sudetenland but they caught Hilde who was imprisoned for one year and lived in the same cell Rosa Luxemburg had been incarcerated. In 1935 she was able to join me in Sweden where I had started to work as a jounalist and became a contributor to Folket i Bild.
The first books published were in Sweden: Det Kommande Luftkriget, Hitlers Olympiad and Tvangssterilisering i Tysland.
I had founded the Carl von Ossietzky Committee and was 24 when I wrote the first Carl von Ossietzky biography which was published also in English, German and Danish translated by Ester Gretor. The Nobel Committee in Oslo asked me for 6 copies of the book which gave me high hopes that he would receive the Peace Prize. Ossietzky's daughter Rosalinde contacted me from England asked for a copy and told me she was in troubles. The German refugees in London could no longer pay her boarding school so I asked her to come to Sweden an live with us.
She was barely 16 and lived in Sweden until she died in 2001. I worked as jounalist for the Swedish press and the Berner Tagwacht in Switzerland. It was on January 5th 1940 that my biography of Hermann Goering was confiscated by the Swedish Government based on a law from 1814. Goering and the Nazi German Ambassador in Sweden asked for the banning of the book and my extradition. Friends in the Swedish Government told me they had declined the extradition. But I was also told in April that that the war had come to Scandinavia, Norway and Denmark were occupied, Nazi troops were in Finland and nobody knew what Sweden would do if Goering asked for my extradition a second or third time.
Mia Leche Löfgren of our old Ossietzky Committee suggested I should see Torgny Segerstedt the courageous anti Nazi editor of the Goeteborg's Handels och Sjofartstidning. Mr. Segerstedt appointed me as their foreign correspondent to the USA, He also asked me to see the US Consul General in Goeteborg Mr. William C. Corcoran. He not unlike Raoul Wallenberg helped immediately and issued visas for me, Hilde and our newly born daughter Marian Birgit. 1940 was the year were no Swedish ships could leave for the USA nor existed an airline to take us. The British press attache who helped to publish Ture Nerman's anti Nazi weekly TROTS ALLT of which I was one of the excutives gave me hope. He said that a British sub may be able to pick us up in Northern Norway around the North Cape. We were packed lightly only to learn that the Nazis had arrived before us. We finally came on a small Finnish cargo ship from Petsamo at the Arctic See. 50 Canadian Finns had fought with the Nazis and Finns against the Soviets and would be repatriated to Canada. So there was hope the Nazi subs would not sink us. We arrived 3 weeks later in Brooklyn and all visas were cancelled since France had fallen while we were on the high seas. We were interned in Ellis Island but released after 2 weeks. I sold my first articles to Norsk Tidende and to the New York Times. Duel for the Northland was my first book published in America and later published by Chr. Erichsen Copenhagen, followed by Spies and Traitors of World War II, 3000 Years of Espionage, World's Greatest Women Spies, Gentlemen Spies, Spies over Asia, The Men in the Trojan Horse even a biography of Mata Hari.
While in Sweden I had written a biography of Pastor Martin Niemoeller. Among the various biographies I wrote were Albert Schweitzer, President Lyndon Johnson, Man of Reason, also Ernest Hemingway, Man of Courage which was also published in Denmark and several other countries followed by biographies of Danny Kaye, and Charles Laughton. For a British publisher I compiled and edited anthologies of TALES OF TERROR, TALES OF HORROR, Weird Tales and similar titles. I also did some juvenile books like translating Ester Gretor's KIPPE KO which became a book club selection as KIPPIE THE COW also a Spy Omnibus, a Crime Omnibus. All in all 104 books many published in foreign languages.
Yes, I was deeply involved in espionage as my contribution to fight and destroy the Hitler regime. I worked with the Swedish secret service, the British, the American and mostly with the Norwegian secret service of their Government in Exile. Security was needed for the Norwegian and Danish "Handelsmariner" their cargo ships which has escaped and sailed with the Allied forces.
The year was 1943. I received a visitor from the OSS Intelligence office who had been a Columbia University professor before the war. He knew I had lived in Sweden and he needed help. There was a plan, among many other option to invade Germany also via Sweden, the Baltic countries or via Denmark and Schleswig Holstein. For that purpose he needed the blue prints of the Bromma Airports out side of Stockholm. The department looked for many month and could not find it. Could I help. Perhaps I could.I had maintained a distant friendship with Hans Helwig, a Russia born refugee from Germany who published a magazine called ARKITEKTUREN.
I remembered when the Bromma Airport was opened his magazine published many pictures, drawings and a kind of blue print of the airfields and environment. Perhaps the New York Public Library would have copies of ARKITEKTUREN. We went to the Fifth Avenue and 42nd street library and asked for the Swedish magazine. We were lucky. The library had copies. We found the right issue with all the drawings, pictures and details and blue print. Fortunately Sweden was never invaded though an optional plan existed. Research again was one of the best espionage tools.
January 5th 1940 is a date I will never forget. My daughter Marianne Alice Birgit was born that day at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm. And I was not at the bedsite of my wife Hilde. Why? The German Nazi Ambassador in Sweden had asked for my extradition to Germany and the confiscation of my just published biography of Hermann Goering. I had to hide and hide 3.000 copies of the banned books with a friend in a suburb in Enskede. Then i risked the visit at the hospital. It all led to our departure from Petsamo in Northern Finland to the USA.
Marianne received a poem as a present from Ture Nerman, a senator and well known poet. He had written EMIGRANT BARN, Refugee Child. Marianne's two other names held great meanings for us. Alice was her grandmother who had hanged herself in a Nazi prison and Birgit was for Birgit Magnusdotter Hedström, a Stockholm City Council member and editor of a woman's magazine. Thorsten Sederström, head of the political police department phoned me if I could get him a dozen copies of the Goering book. I did, some went to Generalstaben, the Swedish Intelligence department.
Sweden refused to extradite me but I was told it would be wiser to leave for the USA. Last year in 2002 I wrote to the Swedish Department of Justice and asked if the book was still banned and received a very polite answer. The confiscation was based on a law from 1814 which forbade all insults toward foreign dignitaries. That law was now cancelled and I was free to republish the book. Of course the book written in 1939 was outdated. It was published in England.
Both the free Norwegian and the American intelligence departments had learned that Vidkun Quisling's brother lived in New York. He had been helping his Nazi Puppet dictator and traitor to contact Norwegian sailors in American harbors and ask them to skip the ships and tankers which sailed now with the Alllied and return home to Norway via Argentina. Over 1200 ships of the Handelsmarine had escaped.
But nobody could find Mr. Quisling. Immigration, Motor vehicle Bureau, IRS all had only pre war addresses. I was asked if I could help. I said I'll try.
Norsk Tidende in Brooklyn was a Norwegian American weekly and I had written for them. I visited the editors and just asked them if they could help to find the man. They shook their heads but one of the old timer had an idea. He took the Brooklyn Telephone Directory and their was Quisling's brother. No address given but his phone number. I don't know what happened to Quisling's brother but assume he was interned in some of the alien camps. Again research remains one of the best tools of espionage.
My son Kenneth Walt was born in 1945. I re-married in 1955 to Jane Sherrod a text book consultant I co-authored with her FOLK TALES FROM THE SOUTH PACIFIC and FOLKTALES FROM MEXICO. She died in 1985. I remarried in 1987 to Kyung Ja Han, a Korean business lady now called Katherine who is trying to keep me alive.
Closing my connections with spy organizations I started an international newspaper syndicate and literary agency in California. From 1955-1960 I was chief Correspondent for PA Reuters Features in the USA. I am contributing now to the Ossietzky Magazine in Berlin also Aufbau in New York.
Treat for a Translator : A Memorable Lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt
It happened in 1950. My good friend Ivar Oehman, editor of Folket i Bild in Stockholm, informed me that he and a group of fifteen or more Swedish labor union leaders were coming to New York and needed a translator. It sounded like an interesting assignment and my Swedish was still fairly fluent. The Swedish visitors represented a variety of labor unions – textile-, metal-, automobile-, teacher-, construction-workers, and so on. There was only one woman among them. The group stayed for one week in New York and then moved on to Washington and other places without me. They visited the Ladies Garment Workers Union and its leaders, saw many other American union leaders and friends, and made the rounds as tourists. But there was one visit which still remains very fresh in my mind. It was the unforgettable day visiting America’s First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Truman had appointed her Ambassador to the United Nations and she had been instrumental in presenting and passing the important international human rights resolution.
I never found out who had arranged the visit of the Swedish labor leaders to Mrs. Roosevelt, but Sweden’s Ambassador, Ivar Oehman and the American Federation of Labor leaders had asked for the invitation.
A large bus took us to Hyde Park, but not to the great mansion where the Roosevelt family had lived. We went to the real home of the widowed First Lady – a small cottage in nearby Val-Kil. Here she wrote her daily newspaper column MY DAY, here she prepared her speeches, and here she greeted us personally, shaking hands with each one in our group of 20 people.
It was really a small place but filled with pictures, memorabilia, fine art and books and more books. There were no servants visible, not even her secretary. It was a Swedish Labor Day in Mrs. Roosevelt’s intimate home. Telling us that her strong pro-labor stance had been criticized, she added, “ I believe if you are in public life you have to develop an elephant’s hide.” She did not go into specifics, but I knew that some ultra conservatives had called her a Communist, and a pink Socialist. Even J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful FBI director, had accused her of helping known Communist intellectuals such as Berthold Brecht, Hanns and Gerhart Eisler, George Grosz and similar refugees enter the USA. Mrs. Roosevelt was known as a great defender of the victims of the Holocaust and the political victims of the Nazi Reich. No doubt her sympathies for labor unions had made her a target.
Mrs. Roosevelt wanted to know how it was possible that Sweden had not had a war for centuries and why a Swedish Labor and Agrarian Government coalition had worked so favorably. She seemed well informed about Sweden and Scandinavia. She felt that American labor unions could learn from the Swedish labor unions and government. She was most gracious. I tried to translate everything as correctly as possible. Finally she said: “You must be starved – let’s eat.”
The First Lady served the food from the kitchen personally, with some of the Swedish guests helping her. It was all so casual as if in a simple home. She served “Swedish meatballs” and salad and vegetables, some nice cake and ice cream. No wine or beer was served but water and soft drinks from the refrigerator.
Speeches followed and I can’t remember much, but there were two things said--first by Mrs. Roosevelt and then by Ivar Oehman – that stayed with me for the rest of my life. Mrs. Roosevelt concluded, “Labor unions must help to organize peace and social advancement not just in America and Europe, but also in the industrially underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia. Minorities must be protected .” She was wildly applauded. The Swedes were really impressed.
The final word then came from Ivar Oehman who thanked her for the gracious invitation, the wonderful luncheon and the ideas she had shared with the group. He said quite dramatically: “Mrs. Roosevelt you are not only the First Lady of the United States of America – you are the First Lady of the World.”
If someone has tried to inherit the mantle of Eleanor Roosevelt in the year 2000, it is perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The war ended. Germany was divided into East and West. The Weltbühne seemed to be forgotten. In Berlin and the rest of West Germany, no one was interested in reviving the left-wing magazine. There were many more pressing economic problems to be solved. It seemed hopeless until Ossietzky’s wife Maud started to negotiate with the DDR in East Berlin. The pro-Soviet government was willing not only to grant an asylum to the Weltbühne, but also to finance a new version of the old Wochenschrift.
Some time after the death of Maud, Ossietzky’s daughter Rosalinde asked me to accompany her to East Berlin and visit the editors of the new Weltbühne. It was a memorable trip in 1982. We took the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn from West Berlin’s Zoo station to East Berlin. It tooks us hours to pass through the passport control and another hour to find a Travi taxi. Finally, we reached the very impressive new House of the Journalists. We met the editors of the new Weltbühne and its political chief executive, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. A kind and friendly man, he could not help asking me “Why is the USA so opposed to the DDR’s Government?” My answer was simple and quick: “On account of the wall.” I received a very temperamental answer: “Die Mauer kommt nie runter.” The wall will never come down.
Afterwards, we discussed many things. He admitted that there were great problems in the DDR. Publishing took too much time, was far to slow. The House of the Journalists was modern, had every thing needed to serve the domestic and foreign press, and also boasted an excellent restaurant were Rosalinde and I were treated to an outstanding lunch. Then we were invited to the editor’s home for supper. In his car – Russian-made – he drove us around East Berlin for sightseeing. We saw the collection point from which helpless Jews had been sent to concentration camps to die. We also saw many dilapidated houses and coffeeshops filled with young people.
After the wall came down, I received a letter from the editors of the Weltbühne asking if I could find the financing to publish the Zeitschrift in newly-united Germany. Respectfully, I declined. Suddenly there were legal issues to be solved. The Jacobson family, which still owned the Weltbühne and its name, refused to give pemission to the former DDR editors. There was a court case, protests, anger, but after several years of quarreling, the DDR Weltbühne was revived under the name Ossietzky. Rosalinde von Ossietzky gave her blessing and new editors took over under the leadership of Eckart Spoo, an author and journalist known for his work on the life of Knigge, the etiquette expert. With Spoo as co-editors and contributors are Professor Dr. Arno Kloenne, Dr. Rudolf Groessner, Otto Koehler, Professor Dr. Reinhard Kuehnel.
When I returned to Sweden in 1985, I saw Rosalinda again. She was now in her late sixties and still working for her father’s legacy. With her was Dr. Elke Suhr, a history professor. They interviewed me and invited me to a reunion at the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg. I accepted and gave a nostalgic lecture.
The next year Rosalinda, her son Ebbe and Dr. Elke Suhr visited me as my house guests in California. After a brief trip to Mexico, we flew to New York where Rosalinda visited the Aufbau, was interviewed and met old friends of her father. Elke Suhr shot a documentary film in the home of my first wife Hilde. The Südwestdeutsche Rundfunk had commissioned her to produce it with the help of an NBC crew. Rosalinde, Hilde and I spoke about our activities during the Ossietzky Campaign in Sweden to free the great man and to obtain the Peace Prize for him. After that we flew to Boston to visit Dr. Howard Gotlieb the director of Special Collections at the Boston University Library. They have the only Ossietzky Collection in the USA.
On other occasions I travelled with Rosalinda to East Berlin, which she liked very much, and to Hamburg and Oldenburg. All the trips were undertaken for her untiring crusade to make Ossietzky a part of German history and to ensure that his teachings against German nationalism and militarism and for human rights would not be forgotten. At the beginning, there was little understanding for her father’s work in West Germany. Therefore, the Communist DDR used this vacuum to revive the publication of the Weltbühne und honored Rosalinda with the East German Peace Prize. Slowly, West Germany under Chancellor Willy Brandt began to recognize Ossietzky’s importance, not only as an anti- Nazi hero but as an untiring leader against German militarism and anti-Semitism.
On the day Rosalinda passed away, Germany has a dozen Carl von Ossietzky schools, the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Carl von Ossietzky streets in many cities, an express Ossietzky train between Hamburg and Berlin and an eight-volume Collected-Works, published by Rowohlt Verlag. It was edited by Rosalinda and professors from the Oldenburg Ossietzky University. There is also a bi-monthly Ossietzky magazine fighting for human rights which Rosalinde supported from the very beginning. Not a small achievement for the 16-year -old girl who came to Sweden.
In December 1994 one of my legs was amputated, my second leg is still weak and I am living the last 8 years with a urinary catheter and am still writing articles since journalism is in my blood it is my life.
Articles by Kurt Singer
Lehnert, Herbert: Kurt Singer.
In John M. Spalek, Konrad Feilchenfeldt, Sandra Hawrylchak, eds.
Deutschsprachige Exilliteratur seit 1933, Bern: Saur, 2001,