Sigrid Schultz’s Secret

This week — as the world remembers the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — alert “06880” readers Morley Boyd, Wendy Crowther and John F. Suggs share a stunning World War II discovery. 

Sigrid Schultz, in a portrait by her father Herman Schultz.

Last week, the Westport Museum of History & Culture opened a compelling exhibit about Sigrid Schultz. “Dragon Lady” honors the pioneering female reporter, social justice activist — and longtime Westporter — who played an important role in exposing the growing Nazi threat during the lead-up to the war, and beyond. 

 Yet no one knew how truly perilous that role actually was for Schultz — until now.

Boyd, Crowther and Suggs have spent several years researching this remarkable, often overlooked hero. In this exclusive story for “06880,” they share a stunning discovery. They write:

Serving as the Chicago Tribune’s Berlin bureau chief from 1926 to 1941, Sigrid Schultz masked her intense loathing for the Nazis in order to cultivate contacts at the highest level of the Third Reich. Among her many accomplishments, Schultz interviewed Adolf Hitler several times. She also fearlessly cast a barb at Hermann Göring for his failed attempt to have her arrested.

She boldly covered the persecution of Jews, was one of the first to report on abuses at the German concentration camps, and was once called “Hitler’s greatest enemy.”

She also had a big secret: She was Jewish.

This fact appears to have been missed by every scholar and historian who has studied her thus far — including her own biographer, and the Westport Museum.

In 1938, as tensions escalated in Germany, Schultz’s mother Hedwig left Berlin, and  bought a house on Westport’s Elm Street.

On the ship’s manifest, Hedwig is identified as “Hebrew.” According to traditional Jewish law, a person’s Jewish status is passed down through the mother.

The passenger manifest, identifying Hedwig Schultz as “Hebrew.” It says “DO” for “Ditto,” referencing the names above.

Back in Germany, as the persecution of Jews became more aggressive, Schultz likely wondered whether her lineage would be discovered and used against her.

In a 1940 letter to her Chicago Tribune publisher, she detailed the growing threats and attempts meant to intimidate her. She noted, “I’ve even been denounced as being Jewish…”

Four months later, after learning of failed assassination attempts on 2 of her best German sources, Schultz fled Germany for the house on Elm Street. Based on her extensive knowledge of Nazi Germany’s inner workings, she was recruited as a high level intelligence operative in the OSS, the precursor to today’s CIA.

When Schultz’s mother died in Westport in December of 1960, it appears that Schultz went to extreme lengths to obscure her Jewish identity.

On Hedwig’s death certificate, Sigrid wrote “unknown” in the space reserved for her maternal grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

In fact Schultz was quite close to her mother, having lived with her most of her life. She also personally knew both her maternal grandmother and maternal aunt, and was in possession of historic family documents (including those related to her maternal grandfather, Louis Jaskewitz).

We believe that Schultz would have been quite knowledgeable about her family tree. It’s doubtful she did not know her own grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

Schultz did confide in a few people.  One was her good friend, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. In a November 10, 1986 interview with Sigrid’s biographer, Cohen said:

Schultz also divulged her secret to a young Staples student who interviewed her at her Elm Street home in 1976, as part of an assignment for Joe Lieberman’s English class.

Student Pamela Wriedt-Boyd quietly took notes as Schultz spoke about the importance of maintaining journalistic professionalism –- no matter what.

By way of example, Schultz recounted a chance meeting with Hitler at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin. Schultz had been chatting in the lobby with Göring when Hitler suddenly appeared. After Göring introduced the two, Schultz said that Hitler “bowed down, grabbed my hand, kissed it, then raised his head and with his eyes, tried to stare deeply into mine. That kind of soulful stare had always repulsed me, and I failed to show the appreciation he expected.”

As if to underscore the point of her story, Schultz added, “He didn’t know I was Jewish!”

Pamela received an “A” for her report. She provided us with a notarized statement attesting to the story Schultz told her that day.

While only a few people in Westport knew the truth about Schultz’s Jewish identity, her father’s relatives in Norway were never in the dark. We tracked down Schultz’s nearest living next of kin — a first cousin, twice removed — who lives there. He said:

Schultz was a pro at keeping secrets. There were many reasons her life and livelihood depended on it.

Our research continues. We are developing a more in-depth piece about Schultz that will not only cover this topic but others. Many have never been explored before, including her later life in Westport.

In the meantime, we are finalizing details of a bronze plaque that we intend to affix to a stone pillar on Elm Street near Schultz’s former house. (The home — located in what is now a parking lot — was unceremoniously torn down soon after her death).

The narrative on the plaque will be brief. But it will certainly make mention of the fact that Sigrid Schultz was a courageous Jewish American patriot, whose actions helped defeat one of the greatest evils the world has ever known.

33 responses to “Sigrid Schultz’s Secret

  1. Absolutely fascinating article, and important that she be remembered and honored. On this Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz , we should be reminded that the New York Times played a key role in covering up the extent of the a Holocaust as it was happening. Never Again !

  2. Matthew Mandell

    Bravo!!! This is what makes history so intriguing, especially as it relates to Westport and her being Jewish.

  3. Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Well, I declare!!!!
    Score +1 for the WMCH.
    However, there’s more to “culture” than what’s on the shingle.
    Adjusted -1 for style/form, they still have to get on the board.
    Remember, it’s not about the Benjamins, It’s about the Westporters.

    • John F. Suggs

      Actually Eric, the Westport Museum’s exhibit mistakenly infers that Sigrid was a Protestant not Jewish. Based solely on the fact that her WWII dog tags – which they display – lists her as a Protestant.

      That was actually much more common than one might expect. During WWII thousands of Jewish American service members opted not to be listed as Jews on their dog tags out of a legitimate fear that they would be singled out for harsher treatment or death if captured by the Germans. Here is an excellent article on the phenomenon. (Hat tip to Dick Lowenstein)

      Click to access Vol15Males.pdf

      • John: were the three of you aware of the WMHC’s plans for its exhibit on Schultz? If so, was there any attempt to coordinate your findings with the work of the WMHC? I am away now but it seems from afar like a wonderful exhibit and your terrific research obviously seems like a natural fit.

        • Hi Fred,

          Yes, we had heard some time ago that the Westport Historical Society might possibly mount an exhibit about Sigrid Schultz. But nothing substantive. We learned about the exhibit at the same time everyone else did; when it opened.

          As an aside, we did learn last August, through an intermediary, that the Society’s ED was aware of our conclusion that Sigrid Schultz was Jewish – and had dismissed it out of hand.

          • Well, hopefully, your research will now be added to the exhibit in some manner. I mean, why would anyone not want to include information pertaining to the fact that there was a local interview in which Schultz stated that she was Jewish?

            Schultz’s acknowledgement late in life of her true religious identity could be related to the fact that she was working on an oral history of anti-Semitism right around the time that interview took place.

            In any case, kudos to you, Morley, and Wendy on your work.

      • Actually your Historical Society is correct. Sigrids mother, aunt, father, uncles, grand mothers and grandfathers were all Protestants. I found their birth, death and marriage licenses in Germany. Look it up yourself. The records are online via the Ancestry and family search.org website. I will reach out to the Historical Society to see if they are interested in copies of these documents. Who should I ask for?

        • William Strittmatter

          Actually, the Historical Society appears to share your view so they probably don’t need your documents. And, since this is an old thread, likely not may folks are following it anymore. You might try sending the documentation to Dan Woog (there is a link under “Pages” to the right that you can click to send him private comments) and maybe he will see fit to publish an update article with your new evidence.

          Or, maybe Morley, Wendy or John (the trio that uncovered this theory) are still following the thread and will reach out to you for the documents. I have no clue how to otherwise contact them.

  4. Morley Boyd recently brought this story to my attention over coffee. Clearly, the local aspect of Ms. Schultz story is important. Of greater importance is to educate and remind all of those who are naïve or choose to forget this painful chapter in history. Bravo to Morley and others who have done the heavy lifting to honor this brave and substantial woman.

  5. Jay Walshon MD

    Accolades for Morley, John and Wendy for once again discovering and relating facts and truths important for their fellow Westporters to know. This time they also honor and memorialize a brave unsung hero who happened to share our Town’s postal code.

    Thank you for the decades of caring so deeply for Westport’s varied and rich history. Hopefully our residents appreciate its relevance and importance.

    Dr J

  6. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    Wow! I really want to comment in all caps, yes shout. This is fascinating and so very important. We must never forget the Holocaust and the brave souls who exposed the horror and stood up for what is right. Sigrid Schultz was right in our midst. A memorial is a must. That her house is gone is a tragedy.
    We need to do all that we can to remember and never forget. If we do not remember we will allow the horror to be repeated. Westport has been blessed with people who quietly and with out fanfare stood strongly for the rights and lives of all. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Sigrid Schultz, I did not know to thank you in your life time but I thank you now.

  7. Kristan Hamlin

    Thanks to the good work of Morley, Crowther and Suggs, this story about Sigrid Schultz’s religious background percolated last year when the RTM renamed the parking lot in Sigrid’s honor. Indeed, the fact that Sigrid was part Jewish –thereby increasing the danger of her work in Nazi Germany, and underscoring Sigrid’s bravery and professional discipline– was published in a local Westport newspaper on Sept. 26, 2019.
    (See https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/The-life-of-Sigrid-Schultz-Westporter-reporter-14470259.php) .
    So my question is this: have we inferred correctly that this 06880 article indicates that the Westport Museum overlooked and failed to discuss this critical fact about Sigrid’s life in its exhibit about her, even though it was PUBLISHED in a Westport paper four months ago?
    If so, it is mind-boggling to consider that the Westport Museum’s exhibit on Sigrid Schultz leaves out this critical fact of Sigrid’s Jewish ancestry.
    To me, it is a critical fact because it shows the enormous discipline it must have taken for Sigrid to suppress her personal feelings and repulsion for Goring in order to cultivate him as a source to keep her readership back home in the US informed.
    Consider this critical role she played in WWII: Her “dispatch forecast the non-aggression pact that took place between Germany and the Soviet Union five weeks later. Writing as Dickson, Schultz reported that “Supporters of the theory of Nazi-Soviet cooperation claim that plans for a new partition of Poland, dividing it between Germany and Russia, have been concluded. It was Schultz who awoke CBS reporter William L. Shirer on the morning of the German invasion of Poland, September 1, 1939.”
    She also “accompanied the U.S. Army when it landed in Normandy in June 1944 and reported on the subsequent liberation of France, and on the advance of the Allied armies into Germany. Schultz was also one of the first journalists to visit Buchenwald and she reported on the Nuremberg Trial.”

    The personal risk was exponentially increased by her religious background reporting from Germany as a person of Jewish ancestry during the rise of Nazism. What an incredible woman she was.

    • Mary Schmerker

      I really need to correct one sentence of your wonderful reply because it really is important and does explain why Sigrid Schultz would withhold her Jewish identity . In the Hebrew faith if your mother is Jewish you are Jewish. Period. Ingrid was at risk and her marvelous work would have been snuffed out if she had been exposed. Many many thanks to a high schooler, Pamela Wriedt-Boyd for your wonderful work all those years ago. And to John Suggs, Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd for staying on this one. Well done!

  8. Werner Liepolt

    What an exciting look into the living history one of Westport’s long time families reveals. It’s especially significant to have the full and nuanced story these three researchers built from interviews, official records and even Westport students’ work in times when our national values of respecting and honoring all religious beliefs and ethnic origins are threatened.

  9. I look forward to seeing the exhibit and hoping that they properly reference the correction and note the sources. History needs to be referenced accurately and not in some inaccurate and revisionist manner.

  10. Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    John,
    Excepting during WWII of course, Holocaust awareness has never been more important than it is now as are your, Wendy’s and Morleys efforts to bring them to light for us all. I’m sure there are many other stories involving Westporters that need telling. Now more than ever.

  11. William Strittmatter

    Looks like a lot of good investigatory work. Seems odd that the WHC ED dismissed out of hand the evidence presented that Sigrid was Jewish. I suppose it may be a question of what provides adequate proof of a historical fact, at least from a scholarly perspective. Certainly though, what Wendy, John and Morley uncovered seems like a strong basis for suggesting that Sigrid was Jewish and, at a minimum, provides a basis for further investigation. It certainly adds an interesting perspective to her narrative.

    With respect to what comprises adequate proof, however, though her mother was identified as Hebrew on a ship’s manifest, is there any other corroborating or contradictory evidence from other sources? Say, a synagogue where she lived in the US that could confirm what otherwise may have been a clerical error? With respect to the Wriedt-Boyd story, does she still possess the 1976 paper and contemporaneous notes or recordings or is it only a 40 year old recollection? The Cohen transcript certainly seems on point though, for whatever reason, Sigrid’s biographer apparently did not deem it dispositive or worth following up.

    Certainly more work could be done to lock this down one way or the other. Maybe the work has been done and these are only the highlights.

    In any event, I have no reason to believe it is not true, and it certainly seems plausible to this non-historian based on the information presented, but I understand why it may not live up to historical method “proof”. If the WHC doesn’t care to follow up, perhaps Wendy/John/Morley should present the case to some peer-reviewed historical journal.

    • William, here is the historical record on which the WMHC Executive Director and Archivist contended that they had uncovered what happened to George Washington’s onetime chef: https://westporthistory.org/blog-post/cold-case/

      That discovery entailed some fascinating investigative work and obviously a key assumption or hypothesis re what last name the former chef was using. They made a compelling case that successfully persuaded others of their find (and rightfully so from my perspective as a history buff).

      I see certain parallels in what John, Wendy, and Morley have done and hopefully their work will be looked at just as closely by historians. I think they too have made a compelling case and, at the very least, I feel their find merits inclusion in some manner in the exhibit (since there apparently is some kind of reference in the exhibit to Schultz’s religion as being other than Jewish as described above).

      • William Strittmatter

        Hi Fred. I agree that John, Wendy and Morley did some nice investigative work and also agree that it is worthy some mention in the WHS exhibit, if nothing else noted as a conjecture that is being explored. Frankly, I would think this discovery ranks up there with what happened to Washington’s chef.

        However, even the chef’s case appears to have had independent peer review before becoming accepted/communicated as fact. The disappointing thing to me is that the WHS doesn’t seem to be interested in following up this discovery which is why I suggested they take the case elsewhere.

  12. Great story. Very eye opening.

  13. Kudos to Boyd, Crowther and Suggs for bring to light with confirmatory evidence the Jewish heritage aspect of the Sigrid Schultz story. She was not only a spy in Nazi Germany- but a Jewish spy!!

    Thank you Dan, as always for helping to put this in the public 06880 realm!

  14. This raises the issue that if people chose to hide their Jewishness, is it really appropriate to reveal it. I knew at least a couple of fellow students growing up in Westport in the 50’s who tried to hide their Jewishness. I even knew Joel Douglas, Kirk’s son, who never let on he was Jewish. Now times change and Kirk Douglas and his son Michael (and perhaps Joel) now celebrate their Jewishness. But if someone chose not to, is it really the right thing to do to go out of the way to expose it?

  15. I’m kinda late at this site but I’m curious about the portrait painted by her father. It’s a good painting tho a bit old style. I wonder where and when he painted it and also about him. But you’d never know from the painting the dedication and adventure his daughter lived with. Also, I think the title Dragon Lady for the exhibit about Sigrid is unfortunate, even if Goring called her that. It sounds like somewhere else.

  16. When Morley first reached out to me last spring we had an immediate connection because of our passion and quest for the truth. To be honest, the thought of research generally only strikes me if it’s an applicable subject that relates to my work.
    Sigrid’s childhood home here in Chicago was a great example of starting with nothing and wanting to learn by research all I could to understand who she was. I had never known anything about her or her life. As far as I know there was no reference of her at that home before she left for Europe when she was 9. What I uncovered in that home in the weeks before it’s demolition kept me coming back and digging for more.
    As much as I can be sure of anything I can say that she was ready for her story to be told. For me the rewards were well worth the efforts. Both Chicago and Westport have coincidentally been able to bookend Sigrid’s life at the same time. She lived a complicated life balancing between the two worlds of her parents. Her upbringing was perfectly suited to adapt to whatever situation she was in. From the rich array of visitors to her home, as a child she surely must have developed the ability to read rooms and crowds.
    From what I gather, after being an only child to a famous ego driven father who clearly enjoyed the pleasures of what he felt entitled to in his society of choice, it seems only natural that Sigrid would turn to her mother Hedwig and vise versa. The two of them seemed more alike and akin to the same struggles of keeping secrets from others. Both learned how to master a happy face in spite of the turmoil at home. Throughout their life they remained almost inseparably and extremely protective of one another.
    Although academia has yet to confirm your finding that Sigrid was in fact of Jewish decent, I believe wholeheartedly that she was. Her loyalty and conviction to what she believed in throughout her life was unfettered. Her wit and intellect was spot on. Her awareness of the greater good was selfless as she had been schooled on that early in life. Protective at all times and calculated since birth. Of all the secrets she must have lived with I believe this was one that she held the tightest. Hats off to your research and the light shed on Sigrid Schultz, this beautiful and wonderfully complex human being.

  17. Jimmy, hats off to your discovery and research. I just watched the video from WTTW containing the report of your find. What an incredible story!

    I have posted the link below for “06880” readers. It is well worth watching: https://news.wttw.com/2019/03/19/newly-discovered-photos-reveal-childhood-sigrid-schultz

    Hopefully some of these photos are included in the WMHC exhibit. They are amazing. Thanks for posting here and you are exceptionally modest about your contributions to Sigrid Schultz’s story.

  18. Mary Schmerker

    I am excited to read Jimmy Nuter’s post! Sigrid Schultz’s life is a post that I have returned to over and over and reread multiple times. I thought about posting last night that I felt sure that she would want her story told. While I have no proof that she was Jewish I feel that she was and that makes her life all the more amazing. In her biographer’s interview with Ruth Steinkrause the biographer says: “She told me she had no Kraut blood in her.” Kraut was a derogatory term for a German after WW 1 & WW 2. I believe she was saying that there is not one drop of my blood that would ever condone what the Nazis were doing. I can also say that I grew up in Westport during the 1950’s when there was a building boom. There were a lot of people who would comment that they did not like all the New York Jews who were moving in. There definitely was prejudice. All the more reason that Sigrid would remain quiet and confide in only a few trusted people.

  19. Sigrid Schultz wasn’t Jewish. If you has done more research you would have easily found the proof of both her and her parents Protestant Religion. Her mother Hedwig and her sister Irma’s birth certificate, their marriage licenses, as well as her paternal and maternal grandmothers and grandfathers birth, death and marriage license, ALL list the family religion as Protestant. One boat document that was filled in by a member of a ships crew is hardly proof that she was Jewish. No reputable genealogist or researcher would post that one boat document as proof of someone’s religion, especially without other substantive back up, such as a birth or death certificate. I recommend you log into the free family search website or ancestry.com and look up the Shultz and jaskewitz family and make the necessary corrections.

    • Actually, you are oversimplifying John, Morley, and Wendy’s research; it is not simply the boat logs. In any case, I can tell you there is an academic expert on Sigrid Schultz who is taking their findings very seriously and following up. We shall see what he has to say.

      • I find it interesting that you write this article saying she is Jewish, not that she might be Jewish and that you seem to have absolutely no interest in finding out the truth. You didn’t ask me to send you a copy of the records nor does it sound like you are going to look up the documents that are available at family history websites. You seem to be stuck on a single minded path. I actually do genealogy as a hobby and I will reach out to your town and historical society to see if they are interested in the proof. She isn’t Jewish. She and her entire maternal line is Protestant .