The most dangerous woman in Europe

Because I’ve spent a fair chunk of 2006 with my nose in research books, reading newspapers on microfiche and scouring the web for relevant stories and anecdotal nuggets (long story short: trying to finish a non-fiction proposal before I leave for Bristol. Can I do it? Who knows, but self-imposed deadlines are fun…) I sometimes wonder if I don’t exist in a parallel, almost labyrinthine world. Mostly because the gift and the curse of research is going down blind alleyway after blind alleyway — and realizing that as fascinating as the side trips are, it’s so easy to lose sight of the main goal.

But one side trip really bears mentioning because it would be all to easy to turn this into a book of its own — even though someone has done so already. For whatever reason, the story of Stephanie von Hohenlohe seems to be relegated to the footnotes, and that seems rather a shame. Because anyone who could give FDR serious conniptions has to be someone worth remembering.

How did a young woman born to a Jewish mother end up as “Hitler’s

Spy Princess?” (and dubbed by Himmler as an “honorary Aryan”?) How did

she manage to manipulate so many people as to be considered “worse than

ten thousand men” and feared for her espionage prowess on several

continents? And how did she manage to evade deportation from the US for

so long?

It’s a pretty crazy story, one that managed to ensare Lord Rothermere,

the Daily Mail’s publisher during the 1930s, involve Fritz Wiedemann,

Hitler’s commanding officer in WWI (who later became the German

consulate in San Francisco and von Hohenlohe’s longtime lover and

partner-in-crime) and got the then-Commissioner of the Immigration and

Naturalization Services, Lemuel Schofield, to do pretty much anything von Hohenlohe wanted (though he couldn’t prevent her arrest and detainment in one of the enemy camps set up for aliens.)

But in spite of Roosevelt’s rantings that ‘unless the Immigration

Service cleans up once and for all the

favouritism shown to that Hohenlohe woman, I will have to have an

investigation made and the facts may not be very palatable, going all

the way back to her first arrest and her intimacy with Schofield…’

the whole matter was hushed up fairly well. Von Hohenlohe got back to

Germany where she made some name for herself as a journalist, and died

in 1972 at the age of 81. She never did write a tell-all, and never

really did spill her guts on who she spied for and why.

So why the fascination? For one, she wasn’t exactly young when all

this was taking place — she was pushing fifty by the time she took up

with Schofield (who was about the same age.) There’s the fact that she

was of Jewish descent but fervently embraced the Nazi cause. She

married royalty but it didn’t last, nor did any of her marriages. But

most of all, it’s the fear she struck in the minds and hearts of men

She had power, she knew how to use it, and she didn’t even have to die

for it. That says a lot.