Fridrih Kolbe

Fridrih Kolbe

Country: Germany

  1. Biography of Friedrich Kolbe
  2. An Unremarkable German with a Secret Life
  3. A Spy for the Allies
  4. Exposing a German Agent
  5. Life After the War

Biography of Friedrich Kolbe

Friedrich Kolbe, born in 1899, was a little-known German spy and a modest official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during Hitler's Germany. However, his name should not be forgotten, as he is considered the "most valuable spy of World War II". French historian and journalist, former correspondent for "Le Monde" in Germany, Luke Delattre, named his book about Kolbe, which was recently published in Germany and previously in France.

An Unremarkable German with a Secret Life

Kolbe, an apolitical man, worked in the telegraph department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1939 to 1945. He directly reported to Karl Ritter, an intermediary between the German High Command and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ritter dealt with hundreds of top-secret telegrams, letters, reports, and strategic information, such as the situation on the front lines. Initially, Kolbe's duties only involved sorting and burning these documents. However, in 1943, he was assigned the role of a courier due to his exemplary service, and that's when his extraordinary life began.

A Spy for the Allies

Despite his unassuming appearance, Kolbe despised Hitler and used his position to fight against Nazism. During air raids in Berlin, while his colleagues sought shelter in bomb shelters, Kolbe stayed behind, photographing top-secret documents. He even took the originals home with him. In August 1943, he was tasked with delivering a set of documents to the German embassy in Bern. Kolbe boarded a train, hiding two large envelopes containing the stolen papers under his pants. After successfully completing his official assignment, he approached the British embassy and offered his services, showing them the envelopes. However, the reception was unexpected. The attaché who received him said, "I don't believe you. And if you're telling the truth, then you're a scoundrel."

Kolbe then turned to the American embassy, specifically to Allen Dulles, who was working there at the time. Dulles, the future director of the CIA (from 1953 to 1961), was leading the Bern branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. Dulles, who had crossed the border into neutral Switzerland just a few hours before the Gestapo closed it, established a vast intelligence network with hundreds of agents across Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. After some initial hesitation, Dulles recruited Kolbe, giving him the codename "John Wood." Kolbe would go on to provide nearly 1,600 invaluable documents, most of which ended up on President Roosevelt's desk. Among the information were plans for Japanese military factories, details about their locations, the number of workers, and the technology they were producing. There were also reports on the morale of German troops, instances of sabotage among soldiers, and plans to deport Jews from Italy and Hungary to death camps. Additionally, Kolbe revealed that the Nazis would launch their new vengeance weapons, the V-2 ballistic missiles, at England within 60 days (specifications included).

Exposing a German Agent

Kolbe's most significant contribution was exposing a German agent embedded in the British embassy in Ankara. This "mole," code-named "Cicero," was an ethnic Albanian named Dello, who worked as a valet for the ambassador. From October 1943 to April 1944, Dello provided the Germans with photographic copies of documents he secretly retrieved from the ambassador's personal safe at night (after making a copy of the key). The diplomat and the con artist bonded over their shared love of music, with the diplomat being an ardent music lover and the con artist having a beautiful singing voice. On one occasion, Dello sent the following coded message to his Abwehr chief, Canaris: "On November 29, a secret meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill is scheduled in the center of Tehran. We request if there is any possibility of urgently transferring an SS commando unit to Iran for the purpose of destroying Group 'A'." Another time, Dello revealed to Berlin the date and location of the opening of the Second Front (D-Day) – June 6, 1944, on the shores of Normandy. However, the Germans did not believe him, considering it a British counterintelligence operation to spread disinformation. They were unable to apprehend Dello as he sensed the danger and promptly disappeared from Ankara.

Life After the War

After the war, Friedrich Kolbe lost everything – his job, friends, and good reputation. He was labeled a traitor and faced rejection when he tried to find employment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Due to the presence of many former Nazi diplomats who opposed him, Kolbe was forced to leave Germany. With the help of Allen Dulles, he emigrated to the United States in 1948. He later returned to Europe and settled in Bern, where he traded in gasoline-powered chainsaws. Kolbe died in 1971, forgotten and unrecognized.

In a letter written in 1965, Kolbe expressed his attempts to bring an end to the war for his suffering fellow countrymen and prisoners of war, saying, "I don't know how successful I was." Richard Helms, another CIA director, responded affirmatively to Kolbe's rhetorical question, stating, "His information was the most important ever received by the Allies." Allen Dulles remarked, "Kolbe took extreme risks without demanding anything in return." He hoped that the injustice done to Kolbe, who became a victim of circumstances, would one day be corrected, and his true role would be acknowledged by his country.

It appears that this year, Germany will finally honor Friedrich Kolbe as an "anti-fascist fighter." Previously, the country had recognized Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the author of the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944, and Sophie Scholl, the student who founded the underground organization "White Rose" and was executed by the Gestapo in the summer of 1942. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that they are considering ways to immortalize Kolbe's name as the "silent hero," as referred to by the ZDF television channel. It is possible that this "most valuable spy of World War II" will be included in textbooks and even receive a memorial in his honor.