The life of Sigrid Schultz: Westporter, reporter who exposed Nazi secrets
WESTPORT — Heroes of the past are sometimes forgotten, but the work of those today help shine a spotlight on them.
At least, that’s what three of Westport’s town historians — Morley Boyd, John Suggs, and Wendy Crowther — aimed to do when they began extensively researching Westporter Sigrid Schultz years ago.
In August, the Board of Selectmen approved naming the parking lot at 36 Elm St. after her, and now the decision lies in the hands of the Representative Town Meeting.
Born in 1893 in Chicago, Schultz became a famed reporter and war correspondent who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world. However, amid the groundbreaking reporting she did for her country, she withheld a secret of her own from many.
“She was Jewish all the while outing Nazi secrets,” Boyd said.
Schultz would go on to cultivate an network of contacts in the Nazi regime to document their movements. Her contacts were so extensive she knew not only Nazis in Adolf Hitler’s regime, but people in Hitler’s household such as his astrologist and doctor.
“She knew what was going on in Hitler’s kitchen, the people who worked there,” Boyd said.
This work led to her being named the Chicago Tribune’s Central Europe Bureau chief, where her reputation for fair and fact-based reporting gained her the trust of Hermann Goring — Hitler’s second in command.
“She managed to get him as a source because she was a woman and an excellent cook,” Boyd said. “She would feed him, get him a little tipsy, and he would just start talking.”
Suggs noted when the Nazis came into powers in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Schultz used her cooking expertise to her advantage.
“She said to one of her staff, ‘Go find me one who has good table manners,’ and they went and found Goring,’ ” Suggs said. “She was on them from the very beginning.”
She hosted dinners using the ploy to gain more information. Facing extreme danger in her role, Schultz not only hid her Jewish heritage, but also wrote under a pseudonym for her most groundbreaking reports.
“She would write the stuff up, smuggle it out and the Chicago Tribune would publish it under the byline John Dickson from Copenhagen or Paris,” Suggs said.
In 1939, Schultz scooped journalists around the world by revealing the nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany — five weeks before it was officially announced.
However, her success eventually aroused the suspicion of the Gestapo — the secret police of Nazi Germany — and two of her best sources were also nearly killed. In 1941, she fled Germany, but in one interrogation before she left she was directly confronted with her pseudonym.
“They said there better not be any more John Dickson stories,” Suggs said.
In 1942, Office of Strategic Services Director William J. Donovan ask her to join the organization, which served as the precursor to the CIA.
“They hired her because she knew everybody that was anybody in Berlin,” Suggs said.
As a member of the OSS, Schultz wrote countless reports for the country, he said, adding she took her membership to the grave. Suggs, Boyd and Crowther later discovered her association after documents connecting her to the OSS was declassified in 2008.
The little-known fact evaded even Schultz’ personal biographer Cynthia Chapman, who also was unaware she was Jewish.
“In her write-up she called for her to be a Righteous Gentile,” Suggs said. “It’s Israel’s highest award for non-Jews that saved Jews during the Holocaust.”
Suggs suggested that Schultz withheld these details not only to protect her from foreign enemies, but also due to hurdles faced in the newsroom.
“She worked for a newspaper that was very anti-Semitic,” Suggs said.
A 2007 article titled “Roll Over, Colonel” by the Chicago Tribune detailed the history of anti-Semitism during Schultz’s tenure with the organization.
Schultz returned to covering news abroad when she accompanied the U.S. Army to Normandy in June 1944, and covered the subsequent liberation of France.
Shultz, who according to the historians was active in her community affairs, lived in her Elm Street residence in Westport from 1939 until her death on May 15, 1980.
Between 1941 and 1944, she wrote a book titled “Germany Will Try It again,” and embarked on a nationwide lecture tour about her tenure in the country. But after World War II, Schultz’s career came to a halt.
“Unfortunately like many women, when she came back to the United States there was no job for her,” Boyd said. “Men came back and took their jobs.”
The researchers now hope that Schultz is honored and remembered by Westporters for generations to come. In fact, Schultz’s life would never have been fully explored if not for a Staples High School student.
Pamela Wriedt-Boyd interviewed Schultz in 1976 as part of a high school English assignment. During the interview, Schultz recalled first meeting Hitler and his attempt to woo her by placing a kiss on her hand without knowing she was Jewish.
“The Staples student would remember this all these years later as my wife,” Boyd said.
When discussions regarding the relocation of the Kemper-Gunn House to the town-owned parking lot on Elm Street started in the fall of 2013, everything came full circle. Boyd realized the new location was the area of Schultz’s old home and found a reinvigorated passion alongside his colleagues to honor her.
Whether or not the parking lot is named, Boyd said he plans to create a plaque alongside his colleagues to commemorate her.
“Now, here we are looking at a person from a distance realizing that their stature was so significant,” Boyd said. “Our thing became how do we honor this person that doesn’t have a gravestone? This is a small gesture, but small gestures can be meaningful too.”
The RTM will vote on renaming the parking lot at their meeting on Oct. 1.