- Historic Sites
The Spies Who Came In From The Sea
Wartime America’s nerves were jumpy. One foggy night on a deserted Long Island beach a young coastguardsman heard the muffled engines of a submarine offshore, and suddenly eight shadowy figures loomed up out of the mist
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
Behind this menacing business lay a curious Nazi seminary of sabotage at Quentz Lake, forty miles west of Berlin near Brandenburg. Established by the Abwehr , the German military intelligence headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and Colonel Erwin von Lahousen, the school had received a direct order from Hitler to train specialists for the destruction of vital factories and communications in America. It was a crash program representing German fear of American industrial might. Perhaps this was why its high requirements for secret agents—men who not only qualified in intelligence and courage but who also spoke English and were familiar with the United States—were sometimes allowed to slide. Indeed, George Davis, whose real name was Georg Johann Dasch, was hardly the kind of operative one might meet in the pages of John Le Carré.
Born in Speyer-am-Rhein in 1903, Dasch landed in Philadelphia as a stowaway in 1922. Familiar with German and French, he soon learned English, but he became disgruntled because he could find work only as a waiter. He followed this calling at hotels and restaurants in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. After his marriage in 1930 to Rose Marie Guille, a Pennsylvania-born hairdresser, he visited Germany with his bride. When they returned to America, Dasch again was seen at some fairly good restaurants, but only as a man with a tray.
Meanwhile the propaganda coming out of the Fatherland confirmed his belief that he was meant for better things. The beginning of the European war in 1939 made up his mind. He haunted the German consulate in New York, begging them to get him back into Germany. His passage was arranged in March of 1941, and in Berlin, Dasch met thirty-six-year-old Lieutenant Walter Kappe, a Nazi intelligence officer who from 1925 to 1937 had worked as a newspaperman in Chicago and Cincinnati and had wound up in New York as press chief for the Hitler-loving German-American Bund. Dasch’s English was good, so Kappe landed him a job monitoring American broadcasts. In February, 1942, when Kappe was selected to superintend the “American branch” of the Quentz Lake school for saboteurs, he picked Dasch as his first pupil. Among the others in the student body were seven who figure in this account, all of whom had spent years in America:
Violin-playing Ernest Peter Burger, from Augsburg, was only seventeen when he joined Hitler’s gang in the abortive Munich beer-hall putsch of 1923. Immigrating to America in 1927, he worked as a machinist in Milwaukee and in Detroit, joined the Michigan National Guard and also the German-American Bund, and in 1933 became a citizen; but he returned to Germany that same year when Hitler became chancellor. He rose swiftly to become aide to Captain Ernst Röhm, head of the storm troopers—a connection that became a liability when Rohm was liquidated in the 1934 blood purge. Thereafter Burger had the inevitable troubles with the Gestapo. In 1940 he was imprisoned for seventeen months, occasionally tortured, and his pregnant wife was grilled so mercilessly that she had a miscarriage. After his release, however, his standing was partially restored, and he became a student at Quentz Lake.
Edward Kerling, born in Wiesbaden in 1909, had joined the Nazi party in 1928 and yet had gone to America the following year. He worked in a Brooklyn packing plant, then became a chauffeur, handling the wheel for Ely Culbertson, the bridge expert, and other wealthy people. He married, but soon separated from his wife. A loyal Bundist, he also kept up his dues-paid membership in the Brown Shirts, so that when he returned to Germany in July, 1940, he had considerable seniority.
Richard Quirin, a Berliner, was nineteen when he came to the United States in 1927. He worked as a mechanic in Syracuse, Schenectady, and New York City and joined the Bund. His return to the Fatherland in 1939 came about because he was out of work at the time, Germany had started a policy of paying the return fare for the faithful, and the news about Der Führer excited his feelings of nationalism.
Heinrich Heinck, born in Hamburg in 1907, had entered the United States illegally in 1926. After working in New York City as a handyman, then as a machinist, he was swept away by the stirring rites of the Bund, and m 1939 he also leaped at the “free return trip” offer.
Hermann Otto Neubauer, born in Hamburg in 1910, had been a cook and hotel worker in Hartford and Chicago from 1931 until 1940, when his Bund-inspired Nazi loyalty drew him back home.
Werner Thiel, born in Dortmund in 1907, came to America at twenty to work as a toolmaker and in other jobs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles. He followed the pattern in his wholehearted embracing of the Bund (Dasch was the only nonmember) and in accepting a German-paid return trip after the war began in 1939.