Students of World War II have been intrigued for many years by the existence of an elusive German messenger who appeared in Switzerland from time to time conveying information of critical importance. This included, in July 1942, the first authentic news about Hitler's decision to exterminate European Jewry, on which the famous "Riegner telegram" was based.
Gerhard Riegner, representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, transmitted the message to New York and Washington. But the obstacles were many, and it was only by November of that year that the State Department ended its silence and acknowledged the information was true and not the product of a sick fantasy, as it had believed earlier on. And it was more than a year before some modest action was even envisaged.
This part of the story has been told before, but the identity of Mr. X (or the "industrialist" as he become known) who at great risk had undertaken these missions, remained a mystery. Thousands of articles and books have been written on all kinds of individuals from Germany and the occupied countries of Europe, with claims, sometimes quite spurious, to have helped the Allies to defeat Hitler. Why had the "industrialist," with a greater claim than most, remained anonymous? He does not appear even in the most recent biographies of U.S. wartime intelligence chiefs.
The short answer is that the "industrialist" wanted it this way. He died years ago. Of the half-dozen people who were in touch with him at the time--among them Allen Dulles and Leland Harrison, the U.S. diplomatic envoy in Switzerland-- only Riegner is still alive. He, like the others, had given his word of honor not to reveal his identity.
When engaged in research a number of years ago, I became fascinated with the personality of the mysterious messenger. The search led me to all kinds of other channels through which important information had come out of Germany in wartime. But the main riddle, the identity of the "industrialist," remained unsolved. We owe it to the industry and persistence of three young historians, Richard Breitman, Alan Kraut, and Monty Penkover, who, working independently of each other, and in archives in different parts of the globe, have now established the identity of the messenger beyond any shadow of doubt.
Edward Schulte, the "industrialist," was born in 1892 and, at a relatively young age, became the managing director of one of Germany's biggest mining corporations. A staunch democrat, he understood that Hitler's policy of aggression would inevitably lead to disaster, and decided to contribute his share to hasten Hitler's downfall. Most of the information passed to the Allies has not yet been declassified. It is known that in addition to the report concerning the extermination of European Jewry he provided detailed information about Operation Barbarossa, the decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, as well as the German thrust to the Caucasus in 1942.
Schulte was a wealthy man; he would not have dreamed of taking money, which, in any case would hardly have compensated him for the risks he was running. The existence of a Swiss subsidiary of his company provided a pretext for frequent visits to Zurich and Bern even in wartime. A letter he wrote to Allen Dulles in Bern in 1943 was intercepted by a Gestapo agent, but Schulte was warned and succeeded in escaping to Switzerland; his family, too, was saved. In a testimonial at the end of the war, (now uncovered by Breitman and Kraut) Allen Dulles wrote: "Schulte rendered most valuable services to the cause of the United Nations motivated solely by his hatred of the Nazi system and his desire to see it overthrown as thoroughly and speedily as possible. He uniformly stood for the ideals and principles of liberty and democracy." There were not many such testimonials provided by Allen Dulles.
Some loose ends remain even now; they usually do in such cases. They concern, for instance, the identity of the intermediaries between Schulte and the Allies. But this does not affect the main issue: the identity of a man ready to sacrifice his life to save many others.
Unfortunately, the history of the Second World War needs not to be rewritten in the light of these discoveries. For they also show, not for the first time in the history of intelligence and probably not the last, that correct information means very little by itself. It has to be believed, and more important, action has to be taken as a result. Schulte's message was at first disbelieved, and whatever action could be taken, came too late. It seems likely that other information provided by him did not fare much better. Several Allied leaders praised Schulte at the end of the war, but there is no evidence that they had given full credence to him earlier on. The story of Edward Schulte is that of a man of firm beliefs and a great heart. But it also leaves a taste of sadness: the walls of indifference are seldom breached by the efforts of one man.
The identity of the mysterious messenger was only a footnote in my own research, albeit an important and fascinating one. I felt frustrated as circumstances forced me to abandon an inconclusive search. Somehow a certain picture of the man had emerged as the result of my search and a vague, quite irrational feeling that he seemed somehow familiar. How could I have known that many years earlier on my way to school I had cycled every day past the office where the tall gentleman with the artificial leg worked, and that, on at least one occasion I had been to his home, visiting his son, a classmate.