This is the third article in the “Tientsin at War” series,which uncovers evidence Gestapo agents were working undercover in Tientsin during World War II. Taken partly from “Top Secret” Office of Strategic Services records now declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency, their typewritten interrogations conjure a musty , dimly lit room inside the Tientsin Municipal Police Station. Outside, it’s night. World War II is coming to a close. An ashtray on a wooden table can’t possibly take another butt, but a Chinese police officer finds a hole while OSS agents face a known Gestapo man, five thousand miles from his Fatherland.
By C.S. Hagen
TIENTSIN, CHINA – One carelessly sealed letter through diplomatic pouch made Nazi Germany’s Consul-General Fritz Wiedemann aware the Gestapo were working in Tientsin.
Four letters betrayed the Nazi spy – “EMME.”
“We had not the right to read these letters,” Wiedemann said in his testimony to Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents on September 29, 1945. “But once a letter was delivered open; that’s how we got the name.” Agents were investigating in part if rumors that Werwolfs, Nazi Germany’s underground partisans sworn to kill anti-Nazis, were active in Tientsin.
Fritz Gunther Emme, born to Richard and Goyke Emme on March 13, 1913 in Danzig, was a Gestapo agent living at 202 Edinburgh Road, currently named Changde Road, which is not far from Chateau 35, a Western eatery established in 2010. Officially, Emme was an engineer working for C. Melchers & Co.
Described as a thin, gaunt-faced near sighted man with glasses, standing no taller than five feet six inches and head of Tientsin’s Gestapo, he was a private in the German Reserves before being recruited into the Gestapo. “The S.D. took me away from the Army,” Emme said during his interrogation. “I felt I had to do it. Just another patriotic duty.”
Despite being newly married to Elvira Wormsbecher, a woman he met in Tientsin, Emme had no identification of any kind after he was captured in Tientsin, according to the OSS secret report, now declassified. His front was as an engineer working at Melchers & Co., Number 16 Bruce Road, but he was an agent of the S.D., an affiliated sister organization of the dreaded Gestapo. Emme reported to Gestapo man Charles Schmidt in Peking (Beijing), who reported to Colonel Josef Meisinger, the “Butcher of Warsaw” in Shanghai, according to Wiedemann.
Inside the Tientsin Municipal Police Station, a nervous Emme tripped on his answers saying he was simply excited, many times refusing to answer questions fired fast as a MG 34 machine gun. He was confronted with a list of names and checkmarks in his own imitation leather notebook. Agents feared it was a blacklist.
The list of names is not short. “Will you explain these entries?” Captain Coulson of the OSS pointed to page number ten.
“These are acquaintances of mine. Mr. M. Stahmer. These are check marks for Christmas cards.”
“When did you send that card, last year?”
“No, must have been the first Christmas I was out here in 1941.”
“Why did you preserve this book – a record of Christmas cards sent in 1941?”
“I forgot about it,” Emme said.
“You tore out many pages. The entries in it are all in your writing. Did you tear these pages out?”
“Yes I did. It was used in the office as the book was not used any more after 1940 or 1941.”
“But you have preserved these pages. These names are of people you did not send cards to?”
No direct answer, and then the captain squeezes the trigger again.
“You entered these names here. For what purpose? Did you put these names in the book?”
“I put my acquaintances in the book to remember so that they would not be offended.”
“How does it happen that the check marks against the names are in ink and these names are in pencil?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did you not send him a Christmas card?”
Dr. Richard Brieuer√
Captain Coulson made a note to show Podgoretney had died in Shanghai, then showed Emme a business card for Dr. Bongarten found inside the notebook.
“Did he know you were a Gestapo man?” the captain said.
Caught. The captain turned pages.
“I show you the entries made upside down on page 73, will you explain?”
“These are weather entries of barometer readings.”
“When did you begin making these weather reports?”
“I got the barometer as a present and I started making them on June 16, 1945.” The captain purposefully relaxed, asking Emme about hobbies, and then fired again.
“Did you ever own a radio sending or receiving set?”
“No, have no knowledge of radio.”
“Do you remember this? You went to S.D. school to study radio for three months, and you learned how to make radios.”
“Studied code sending and receiving; I don’t remember any more of these signs.”
“Are you an experienced radio man or not?”
“I am not.”
You did study it for three months.”
“Yes, sending and receiving.”
Emme is caught in another blatant lie when asked about hidden property and jewelry, much of which, he said, belonged to his wife, which he pawned for money.
“Have you made any effort to conceal your property?”
The captain waved a receipt for personal property stored at the residence of Mr. L. Julian, in Tientsin. “You know what this is?”
“I will ask you again. Did you deposit any of your property with friends for safe-keeping?”
“Yes, I have.”
“This receipt. Mr. L. Julian. Where does he live?”
“I don’t know – he works in our company.”
“Have you left other property with other people?”
“Yes, Mr. Chi.”
“What is his first name and where does he live?”
“He has his office on the corner of Bristow Road and Rue Du Chaylard.”
“What did you leave with him?”
“I left one case of cutlery, a case of books, all together four cases.”
“Where has your wife left her jewels?”
“She has them with her.”
Emme was caught in deeper lies saying he never reported to the Abwehr Group, another Nazi intelligence-gathering agency that dealt exclusively
with human intelligence, and then conveniently remembered he had filed a report about Japanese forces in Qingdao, a Shandong Province coastal city and former German Settlement.
Nothing else is known about Emme’s imprisonment or release, but when Germany surrendered Wiedemann quickly called OSS agents and negotiated his own surrender. He didn’t want to be captured by the quickly encroaching Soviets to the north and feared retribution from vengeful Werwolfs.
“There were some Germans who were really anti-Nazi in China,” Wiedemann said, “but I don’t know if Meisinger really gathered information about these people. Once I was told that one of these businessmen in Tientsin is accused to be anti-Nazi and acting against the interests of the Reich and regime and said … [there were] files about this businessman.”
Tientsin’s Nazi Past
According to a 1946 U.S. War Department document entitled “German Intelligence Activities in China During World War II” declassified by the CIA in 2001, many of China’s German businessmen were considered a threat to US interests because they had entrenched themselves deeply into both Chinese society and business venues.
Before the First World War Germany had a lease for a concession area in the southwest section of Tientsin for ninety-nine years. The area was taken over by the Japanese in 1917. Despite the lack of an official concession, Germany continued trade and furthered political and business interests within the country and by the start of World War II the Nazi party had branches in Shanghai, Peking, Tientsin, Hankow, Tsingtao, Canton, Tsinan, Chefoo, Foochow and Kunming, (respectively Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Hankou, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Jinan, Yantai, Fuzhou and Kunming). The branches were small, and out of 4,300 Germans in China at the time, the Nazi Party boasted 575 members.
Tientsin had ninety-eight registered Nazis of the total 700 German residents, costing the Fatherland 45,000 Deutschmarks a month (an actual 25,000 in real expenses), Wiedemann said. Funds were transferred through companies, sometimes directly from the German-Asiatic Bank (Deutsche-Asiatische Bank) until the end of the war, which included subsidies for the German Deutscher Zeitung newspaper for North China. Tientsin’s most popular Nazi publication was the Twentieth Century magazine, known as the “slickest piece of propaganda disseminated by any government.” Another newspaper in Tientsin was the Deutsh-Chinesische Nachrichten, run by Waldemar Bartels, who died in a Japanese Prison, charged with activities defying Berlin and Tokyo. Tientsin also had access to radio station XGRS, which was operated on direct orders from Berlin’s Propaganda Ministry.
Other German companies in Tientsin at the time included the Defag on Victoria Road, another front for Nazi activists, and Siemens on Taku Road. There was also the German School on Yunnan Road, which was founded by German businesses, but was later taken over by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Germans built a park at Woodrow Wilson and Soochow roads, and a German-American Hospital between Ningpo and Tanchu roads. The German Lutheran Church with its picturesque cemetery – now gone – was located on Shensi Road. The German Concordia Club, still standing today, was a popular meeting place for Germans before and during World War II. The main library was British, called Tientsin’s British Municipal Library, and local Chinese were not allowed entry.
Tientsin’s German companies Melchers, Defag, Kunst & Albers, the Deutsche-Asiatische Bank , among others, are on file with the “Records Pertaining to Axis Relation and Interests in the Far East” stored at The National Archives in Washington D.C.
Melchers, the company Emme and other Nazis used as a front, was a trading company established in Tientsin in 1898. After both the first and second world wars the company was liquidated, according to a company booklet commemorating Melchers 175 operational years in 1981. The U.S. War Department reported the most important feature during the war years for Melchers and Defag in China, and Illies & Co. in Japan was transferring funds and financing various Nazi intelligence groups. Although Japan and Germany were allies, trade suffered immeasurably.
After World War II German companies liquidated, according to the U.S. War Department. Proceeds from the sales of businesses, houses and properties were distributed to German citizens as payroll. Swiss francs or US dollars were purchased through collaborationist friends known as “straw men,” which then went to purchasing gold bars, later hidden in cellars and backyards. According to the Melchers’ booklet, Carl Gerhard Melchers, fifth generation of the family involved in company management at Tientsin, tried to continue the business but left China in 1951. Melchers reentered the China market through Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and had a liaison office in Peking (Beijing) at the time the booklet was published.
Newspapers and foreigners’ accounts who lived in Tientsin during the 1930s and early 1940s report Tientsin’s different nationalities mingled, sometimes bickered at local nightclubs and cabarets. Excluding White Russian and Japanese funded gangs and hit squads roaming the concessions, racial or political violence was rare, but occurred on occasion. On September 6, 1939 a German fired upon a patrol in the British Concession, according to the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper. There were no casualties, but a group of local members of the British Defense Force stormed a German Tennis Club and arrested the shooter. Each concession lived by its own sets of laws and customs, rarely venturing past the safety of its own barricades, and were impervious to Chinese law.
Isabelle Maynard in her book Growing Up Jewish in Tientsin says that as a child she remembers Hitler Youth marching down Victoria Road, swinging swastikas and singing “Horst Wessel” at the top of their lungs. “Englanders” fought back with patriotic songs of their own. Once, written on the Tientsin Jewish School’s wall, someone scrawled the word Djid, meaning dirty jew, which instantly electrified the high school boys into a search for the culprit.
Anti-semitic activity in conjunction with Hitler’s Final Solution was not high on the Nazis’ and German consul-general’s to do list.
As a high-ranking representative of Nazi Germany’s government, Wiedemann, who lived at Number 1 Detring Court, spent most his mornings at the Kiessling’s Café, talking to friends, employees, agents and contacts. Although Wiedemann had been “banished” to Tientsin, he immediately accepted the posting when it was offered. He wanted to remove himself as far from Nazi Germany as he could.
“As I greeted my subordinates in my office in Tientsin I told them I didn’t come out to Tientsin to work,” Wiedemann laughingly told OSS agents. He laughed frequently during the interrogation. “It was the same for me as in the old Roman Empire – send somebody across the Mediterranean – away from the capitol.”
Wiedemann’s duties as the consul-general were to give lessons, called Zellenabende, once a month to Tientsin’s German residents, hold celebrations on Hitler’s birthday and holidays, donate clothes and food for the poor, give speeches, pass faulty information to Japanese through Chinese employees and relay information. He did not admit to being a spy, and said his interests in Tientsin were mostly of a commercial nature. Wiedemann also attended and maintained the “German-Italian-Japanese Friendship Organization” which was an obligatory social gathering where plays and concerts were performed in the name of mutual friendship.
Despite the Tripartite alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan, nothing in Tientsin was easy, Wiedemann said. Communication was the most difficult aspect of his duties as the Japanese military authorities would not allow any direct transmissions to Berlin. He was aware of messages being coded with secret ink or photographed as microdots, then sent through drop boxes or by slow courier or with Italian assistance by radio, but he said he had nothing to do with espionage.
Nobody trusted anybody, he said. The alliance was a superficial one in Tientsin, at best. Despite the existence of Hitler Youth, few Germans, if any, actively followed Nazi protocol or attempted to stem the growing flow of Jewish refugees in the city. Mostly, German nationals were concerned with lining their pockets, like any other businessman or woman.
In a 2003 story made public by the OSS Society, Inc., Grant “Barney” Fielden says the Federal Bureau of
Investigation expressed great interest in debriefing Wiedemann. When the OSS plane was landing in Tientsin,
Japanese soldiers surrounded the plane with their swords drawn, they were surprisingly allowed to land and take Wiedemann into custody. He was flown to Kunming for debriefing.
“You had to like the guy,” Fielden wrote. “Remember, he was a Nazi official for years, but he was ever the diplomat: suave, black homburg, very sophisticated.”
According to interrogation records from the Office of US Chief of Counsel for the Persecution of Axis Criminality, Wiedemann was in Hitler’s “Inner Circle,” but Allied negative opinions of Wiedemann lessened after the Swiss Consul in Tientsin spoke up for his anti-Nazi attitude. While in Tientsin, Wiedemann’s speeches were mostly against Hitler, which nearly cost him his job, and he feared for his life.
“In Tientsin my views were well known before very long,” Wiedemann said in the report. “I was opposed to Hitler’s policies. I was opposed to the war.
“[I was] put into the doghouse.”
Wiedemann was a royalist. He believed in the power of the monarchy and saw Nazism and Bolshevism as “two sides to the same coin.” As a socialite and opportunistic spy, he enjoyed his women, his schnapps, his thick German beer, Kiessling Cafe’s fresh bread and Wiener Schnitzels and decided the Nazi ship would sink long before Victory in Europe Day. He contacted the OSS not only because the Soviet invasion was looming, but also because he feared retribution from the Werwolf Underground.
From men like Emme.
When asked about other potential Werwolf Underground members Wiedemann listed Peter Meinss of Tientsin as the most fanatical; Charles Schmidt of Peking; Major Huber of Shanghai; Franz Marks, chancellor of the Tientsin Consulate who according to OSS records was the most fanatical long term Tientsin Nazi, and lastly Ulbrecht, Hitler Youth leader in Tientsin. Such men, Wiedemann thought, disguised themselves as businessmen and were financed through banks such as the German-Asiatic Bank. Through secret letters sent directly from Colonel Meisinger, they were capable of partisan work such as spreading leaflets and making threats, after Nazi Germany’s surrender.
No matter how the Gestapo might have denied their careful scrutiny of its citizens at home and abroad, every spy had a card index file with photos of residents under police surveillance, and kept a blacklist of all German undesirables, Wiedemann said.
The OSS records do not confirm, nor do they deny the “Tientsin List” was either a candid Christmas card notes or a lethal hit list. The truth will never be revealed, but it was proof enough for Wiedemann, an opportunistic former adjutant of Hitler’s, the consul-general of Tientsin, to surrender to American agents.
After World War II he testified at the Nuremberg Trials, and spent twenty-eight months in prison before returning to the farming life in Upper Bavaria. He died January 17, 1970. In 2012 news agencies around the world reported Wiedemann helped save Ernst Hess, Hitler’s commandant of the List Regiment during World War I. Although Hess, a decorated war hero, survived the Holocaust, the Jewish Voice from Germany and other news sources report Hess was sent to a labor camp in Munich where he suffered terribly.