Schultz, Sigrid (1893–1980)
Schultz, Sigrid (1893–1980)
Schultz, Sigrid (1893–1980)
American journalist and author. Name variations: (pseudonym) John Dickson. Born Sigrid Lillian Schultz in Chicago, Illinois, on January 5, 1893; died in Westport, Connecticut, on May 14, 1980; daughter of Herman Schultz (a portrait painter) and Hedwig (Jaskewitz) Schultz; attended the Lycée Racine in Paris; graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris, 1914; studied international law at Berlin University; never married; no children.
Witnessed the rise of the Nazi party (1920s–1930s); despite threats and intimidation, remained in Berlin in early years of World War II (1939–41), reporting on the Nazi regime; conducted interviews with Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler; under an assumed name, filed stories that exposed concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, and other Nazi brutalities; wrote Germany Will Try It Again (1944).
Sigrid Schultz was born in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair, the daughter of Hedwig Jaskewitz Schultz and Herman Schultz, a Norwegian-American artist who had been commissioned to paint an official portrait of Chicago mayor Carter H. Harrison, Jr., in honor of the event. Sigrid attended school in Chicago until 1911, when she accompanied her family to Europe after her father was invited to paint William II, the king of Wurttemberg. The Schultzes remained in Europe while Herman continued to paint portraits of diplomats, royals, society beauties, and the wealthy. Sigrid, who spoke five languages fluently, attended the Lycée Racine in Paris and graduated from the Sorbonne in 1914. That year, she traveled with her family to Germany and witnessed Kaiser Wilhelm II's authorization of his nation's entrance into World War I, sending his army into Belgium en route to France. By virtue of their American citizenship, the Schultzes maintained their neutral status until the United States entered the war in 1917. Declared enemy aliens at that time, they were required to report daily to the German police. Work was scarce and food was scarcer. Schultz, who was studying international law at Berlin University, was energetic and versatile in helping her parents. She earned money by acting as an interpreter for the mayor of Baghdad, a fellow classmate who spoke no German, attending classes with him and translating the material into French.
After the war ended, Schultz found employment in 1919 at the Berlin office of the Chicago Tribune, working for Richard Henry Little, the Tribune's Berlin correspondent. Little originally hired her as his assistant and secretary, but when he was asked by the newspaper's publisher, Robert R. McCormick, to obtain the German version of the inconclusive 1916 Battle of Jutland (the anti-Anglo McCormick mistrusted the English version of events), Schultz took it upon herself to help. Ignoring a policy that women were not allowed to enter by the front door, she marched into the German Navy office and disarmed authorities with her wit and charm. Her defiance worked, and the Navy granted Little an interview. Schultz would continue to pursue stories doggedly until she earned the notice, and finally the respect, of editors at the Tribune. Her earliest exclusive was an interview with Friedrich Ebert, the first president of the new Weimar Republic. When she heard that Ebert had been admitted to a private clinic, she managed to be admitted as a patient as well. Most reporters believed the hospital stay was for a routine procedure; Schultz broke the story that Ebert was dying from a ruptured appendix, and secured her reputation as a "newspaperman," a term she preferred throughout her life.
Elected a member of the board of directors of Berlin's Foreign Press Club in 1924, the first woman journalist so honored, Schultz was named bureau chief of the Tribune's Berlin office in 1925. Five years earlier, she had witnessed the Kapp putsch, one of the initial stirrings of the Nazi movement, and she was one of the first foreign correspondents to warn readers about the Nazi threat. When she met Adolf Hitler in 1930, she was immediately aware of, and repelled by, his charismatic power. "As was his habit," she wrote, "Hitler grabbed my hand in both of his hands and tried to look soulfully into my eyes, which made me shudder, and Hitler sensed it." Her early understanding of the dire threat posed both by the nascent Nazi Party and Hitler himself stood in marked contrast to the opinions of a number of other intelligent, seasoned observers, among them her fellow Berlin journalist Dorothy Thompson , who after interviewing him in 1931 would write of Hitler as "a man of startling insignificance."
Schultz's uncanny ability to predict the political climate in Berlin, both before and during the war, was due in part to her talents as a host, a job for which her cosmopolitan upbringing suited her perfectly. Petite and blonde, impeccably dressed, fluent in the languages of diplomacy and a gourmet cook besides, Schultz attracted some of the most influential leaders of the day to her parties, where she listened attentively to their boasting. (International business and artistic luminaries also attended her fêtes, among them the
irascible Katherine Anne Porter , who apparently did not like her.) One of Schultz's more infamous guests was Hermann Goering, who later became Hitler's second-in-command. Goering, whom she described as a Nazi with table manners, proved to be a dangerous source of information. In 1935, he developed a plan to entrap foreign correspondents by giving them false military reports; as soon as the reports were in the journalists' possession, he would arrest them and put them on trial for espionage. But Schultz and other correspondents were forewarned of the scheme. While she was at work one day, her mother called to tell her that a man had just delivered an unmarked envelope to her home; Schultz rushed home and burned the envelope. Minutes later, the same man came to arrest her, writes Julia Edwards , but Schultz "told him not to bother, she had destroyed the evidence." She later confronted Goering at a luncheon honoring him and his new bride Emmy Sonnemann (Goering ), making it clear that she would not be intimidated. Said Goering: "You'll never learn to show proper respect for state authorities. I suppose that is one of the characteristics of people from that crime-ridden city of Chicago."
In August 1939, Schultz reported what she considered to be her greatest story, the non-aggression pact between Soviet Russia and the Nazis, an alliance that shocked the world and paved the way for World War II. She was also one of the first to learn of the German invasion of Poland on September 1 of that year. She called William Shirer, CBS correspondent in Berlin, and said only two words: "It happened." Soon after, Britain declared war on Germany. For the next several years, Schultz remained in Berlin, contending with censorship and intimidation but still writing factual and controversial articles for the Tribune. Some of these, including the 1938–39 series "The Truth About Nazi Germany," were published under the pseudonym "John Dickson" because the information contained therein was so enraging to the Nazis. Schultz would often cross the border into Denmark or Norway to file uncensored dispatches, a risky undertaking that could have led to her arrest as a spy.
As early as 1935, Schultz and some others reported on the existence of concentration camps, which at the time held more opponents of the regime and those deemed "misfits" by the Nazis than they did Jews. From then on through 1941, she reported on the Nazis' systematic and increasing aggression towards Jews, their dismantling of basic civil freedoms, and the blindly conciliatory attitude of some world leaders towards Hitler and his followers. "Schultz, of course, took care not to editorialize in the news columns," writes Edwards. Instead, she reported only facts and "succeeded in revealing," said Schultz, "a great number of terrible crimes the Nazis were committing." In 1940, she had been wounded by shrapnel from British bombs while traveling to the studio of the Mutual Broadcasting System where she worked as a radio newscaster. Her wounds did not stop her from going on the air, but the following year she contracted typhus. After returning to the United States, she wrote Germany Will Try It Again, a stern warning against what she feared was a growing attitude of sentimentality on the part of Americans toward Germany. "Wherever I went," wrote Schultz, "I was impressed by the number of well-meaning people who had been won to the German thesis that this War could have been avoided if 'we had been kinder to the Germans' after the last War." She tried to warn Americans of the existence of concentration camps and the plight of the Jews.
In 1943, Schultz returned to Europe as a war correspondent with the 1st and 3rd Armies and the Air Power Press Camp for the Chicago Tribune. In this capacity, she reported on the liberation of the concentration camps and the dental identification of the remains of Hitler, who with his mistress Eva Braun had committed suicide in an underground bunker in April 1945. She also covered the Nuremberg war crimes trials, where her erstwhile party guest Goering was among those Nazis sentenced to death. (He committed suicide before he could be hanged.) Years later, when she was interviewed by the oral history library of the American Jewish Committee, she acknowledged that she had helped numerous Jews escape the Holocaust. Sigrid Schultz predicted the reunification of Germany and hoped that it would not be carried out under a militaristic regime. Honored with a copper plaque by the Overseas Press Club in 1969, she died in her home in Westport, Connecticut, on May 14, 1980.
Belford, Barbara. Brilliant Bylines. NY: Columbia University Press, 1986.
Edwards, Julia. Women of the World: The Great Foreign Correspondents. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1988, pp. 59–72.
Rothe, Anne, ed. Current Biography 1944. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1944.
Bonnie Burns , Ph.D., Cambridge, Massachusetts