Hitlers Intelligence Chief – Walter Schellenberg

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In spring 1952, an unexpected piece of information rippled through the international postwar intelligence community: Walter Schellenberg, the head of Nazi Germany’s political foreign intelligence service, Amt VI of Heinrich Himmler’s Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) – Office VI of the Reich Security Main Office – and advisor to and confidant of Himmler had died in Italy. A flurry of intelligence activity took place, meant to confirm a death that came as a surprise despite the man’s longstanding ailments. An understanding and appreciation of the facts settled in soon. There would be no further need by the various intelligence services to concern themselves with the former spymaster. 1 Hitlers Intelligence Chief Schellenberg

Walter Schellenberg’s career had been illustrious

Born in 1910, he was fresh out of law school when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933. Quickly aligning himself with the new government, Schellenberg joined the NSDAP and SS, Schutzstaffel – Protective Squads – and was shortly thereafter recruited into the SD, Sicherheitsdienst – Security and Intelligence Service – of the SS. Over the course of the next decade, Schellenberg, taking all opportunities given to him and creating additional ones along the way, made a stellar career that brought him close to the head of the SD, Reinhard Heydrich, and Himmler. Hitlers Intelligence Chief Schellenberg

Political Foreign Intelligence Service

In the summer of 1941, Walter Schellenberg was appointed to lead Office VI, the political foreign intelligence service, of Heinrich Himmler’s main instrument of power and terror, the RSHA. Having headed the Gestapo’s counterintelligence department in the two years before this, Schellenberg was no stranger to intelligence matters. He had written on it, tried to define it in its new, Nazified context, and played a prominent role in broadly defined counterespionage matters, notably in the abduction of two British intelligence officers across the Dutch border in November 1939. Until the end of the war, Schellenberg strove to create in Office VI what he deemed a unified, objective, and infallible foreign intelligence service for all of Germany.

Abwehr / Defense

Along the way, Schellenberg’s upstart agency swallowed Germany’s seemingly well-entrenched military intelligence service, the Abwehr – literally: the Defense – in February 1944 and battled the Auswärtige Amt – Foreign Office – under Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Prominently involved in Himmler’s last-ditch efforts to negotiate with the Western Allies in the spring of 1945, Schellenberg managed to extract himself from the fate that befell many of his SS and SD peers. The end of the war found him in Sweden, and he subsequently managed to parlay his short-term stint as Himmler’s peace emissary, his perception of himself as a reasonable politician, and his knowledge about the inner workings of Nazi Germany into the role of a friendly witness for the Western Allies.

Nuremberg Trails

Put on trial during the so-called subsequent Nuremberg proceedings, Schellenberg found himself on the docket with members of the Foreign Office. The erstwhile spymaster had morphed into a diplomat. At Nuremberg, he received a lenient sentence of six years but was released on a medical pardon in 1950. Schellenberg spent the last months of his life near Lake Como in Italy, furtively writing and editing his memoirs, published after his death, and regaling visitors with his wartime exploits. A myth of Schellenberg’s making gained currency. Hitlers Intelligence Chief Schellenberg

Walter Schellenberg has remained an enigma, and so has the organization he headed. Who was this man? What did he and his organization stand for? What did Office VI do? How did Office VI collect intelligence, and how did it use it? Well, this is another story which you can find out in several books about him.

The inspiration for this article came, again, due to a readers’ email who contacted me on a similar topic. Thanks to this reader I can display a most curious travel document – a fake US passport used by Schellenberg, Hitlers’ Intelligence Chief, under a different name.

William G. Bellmount United States Passport No. 4183
Hitlers Intelligence Chief Schellenberg

Hitlers Intelligence Chief Schellenberg
Source: The National Archives (USA), Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (7/1/1935 – ), HMS Asset ID: HD1-100709527

In early 1945, Schellenberg encouraged Himmler to overthrow Hitler in order to negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies, using as an excuse Hitler’s poor health; however, Himmler never took action but instead vacillated. He also convinced Himmler to meet with the former president of Switzerland, Jean-Marie Musy, who promised to pay in Swiss francs for the release of Jews. At the end of the war, Schellenberg was able to persuade Himmler to try negotiating with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte. Schellenberg had earlier in the year worked as an intermediary between Count Bernadotte and Himmler for the release and safe passage of a number of prisoners and inmates held in concentration camps through the Swedish Red Cross.

In the spring of 1945, Schellenberg instigated further meetings with Count Bernadotte as an opening to the western powers. He personally went to Stockholm in April 1945 to arrange the meetings for Himmler. With him above shown fake US passport seemingly issued as a replacement-passport by the US consulate general in Paris in 1941.

In the end, none of it mattered. The preliminary capitulation was signed at Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France on May 7, 1945; General Eisenhower wore “a battle dress and a hat.” On May 8, 1945, the Doenitz government finalized Germany’s unconditional surrender. The document was signed that night at Karlshorst, near Berlin. General Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov represented the Soviet Union.

1.) The Third Reich’s Intelligence Services – The career of Walter Schellenberg, Katrin Paehler


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...