Hilda Monte’s luck ran out on the frontier between Nazi Germany and neutral Liechtenstein at dawn on April 17, 1945, just two weeks before the end of the war in Europe.
In London in May 1939 she had persuaded George Strauss, the wealthy founder of Tribune, to finance her plan to assassinate Hitler.
The plan failed. And Hitler outlived her. But only by 13 days.
A border guard shot her dead at the age of 30 and her body has been lying in an Austrian grave for the last 70 years.
Evidence from the North of England now suggests that one of the messages transmitted in her brief life as a British and American secret agent was so sensitive that for decades after the war it could never be admitted.
The message appears to have reached Winston Churchill in a telephone call from the Queens Hotel in Leeds on the evening of May 9, 1941.
But neither Churchill, nor Hitler, nor Roosevelt, nor even Stalin, ever learned the secret behind the message, that someone, somewhere, had been suggesting to the Germans that Britain would make a truce with Hitler to allow him to destroy Soviet Russia.
It was an outcome long feared by Stalin. But in 1941 it would have betrayed all the millions living under Nazi-rule in continental Europe, almost everyone living between the Pyrenees and the North Cape.
Any suggestion that such a betrayal was on the cards would even now bedevil relations between Britons and Russians, not to mention their occasionally irresponsible governments.
Not one of the wartime leaders knew the extent of disreputable diplomacy conducted through neutral Portugal and Switzerland in 1940 and 1941, double-dealing that somehow persuaded Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess to risk his life on May 10, 1941, by flying a fighter-bomber from Germany to Scotland on a doomed peace mission in the middle of the Second World War.
George Russell Strauss, public school educated son of a London metal merchant and tin mine owner was the MP for Lambeth North. After the war he was a government minister and between 1973 and 1979 he was the “father” of the House of Commons.
In 1946 he admitted to the political correspondent of The Sunday Times that in 1939 he funded a shadowy firm called Union Time in a secret conspiracy with the émigré German financial journalist, Werner Knop, foreign editor of The Banker.
Union Time Ltd., registered at Fountain Court in the Middle Temple legal quarter of London, camouflaged the activities of the 24-year old German socialist code-named Hilda Monte, a cross-border courier for anti-Nazi militants in the ISK [internationale sozialistische Kampfbund].
The courier’s real name was Hilde Meisel, born to middle-class Jewish parents and superbly educated at a lyceum in Berlin.
In Weimar Germany Hilde had joined her older sister Margot in the Schwarze Haufen, a wing of the romantic Wandervogel youth movement. The Haufen took their name from the armies of farmers and knights who fought for the rebels in the German peasant revolts of the 1520s.
Margot Meisel married Max Fürst, founder of the Haufen, and worked as secretary to his friend Hans Litten, a German lawyer notorious for daring to cross-examine Hitler for three hours in a 1931 court case that was dramatised by BBC TV in 2011 as The Man Who Crossed Hitler.
Hilde left school in 1929 and came to live in London with her uncle.
At the age of 15 she was writing for the Der Funke [The Spark], an ISK newspaper that called in vain for left wing unity against Nazism, the same popular front unity that later persuaded George Strauss, Sir Stafford Cripps and Aneurin Bevan to risk their own political careers by founding The Tribune in the winter of 1936. The Labour Party expelled them for this activity in 1939, by which time Cripps and Strauss had already lost £20,000 on The Tribune.
The Nazis banned Der Funke in February 1933, by which time Hilde was an informal student of political economy at the London School of Economics and an occasional pupil of Harold Laski.
In 1939, when she asked George Strauss for money to kill Hitler, Strauss telephoned Werner Knop. Knop described the event in The Saturday Evening Post after the war:
On the first of May 1939 a new dramatic chapter was to be opened.
A member of parliament [Labour Party] – G. R. Strauss, one of Union Time’s financial supporters and now parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Transport – called me on the telephone.
‘I have had an unusual visitor just now, and she has an unusual proposition to make. Will you see her?’
A little later I was seen by a woman who introduced herself by giving two names – Mrs. Olday, alias Hilda Monte – and then proceeded to expound a scheme for an attempt on Hitler’s life… She spoke with a cold matter-of-factness in which there was a compelling quality.
Hilda Monte was given part of her expenses for the trip; the remainder she was to collect from a contact man in Cologne. This man, who had been instructed to shadow her during her stay in Germany, later reported that she eluded him within half an hour of collecting the money, so we had at least negative proof that she was an old hand in the tricks of the underground trade.
The veteran London-born anarcho-communist Albert Meltzer described Monte’s daring underground activities and her attempt to kill Hitler in his rambling 1996 memoirs I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels:
There was one attempt on Hitler planned in 1938, in which I was asked by a German anarchist resistance group, Schwarzrot, using Birmingham as a base, to travel to Cologne to pass over some documents to Willy Fritzenkötter. I stayed with Willy Huppertz, miner and pioneer member of the FAU-D
It was safe in that I had a British passport… I thought the documents related to emigration. A dozen years later, I met Fritzenkötter again and he told me they related to the escape of the planned attacker, but the plot had not come off. I did not meet him then — he had already been deported to England. One of the other people on the periphery was John Olday, who had been in contact with the Marxist (non-CP) resistance, which included Hilda Monte whom I met with Fritzenkötter.
Olday (properly August Wilhelm Oldag) was born of mixed German and Scots-Canadian parentage, and though he had lived in Germany all his life in very poor circumstances, was a British subject and had been bullied at school in the First World War as a consequence. He had married Hilda Monte to give her nationality (he was homosexual and they did not live together).
Hilda Monte made another attempt on Hitler’s life, someone obtaining for her the unlikely financial backing of G. N. Strauss MP (millionaire industrialist, later father of the House of Commons).
Hilda, after an unsuccessful attempt, went to England; I think, to help achieve her original plan, though Strauss pulled out when the war finally came, perhaps thinking he was being inveigled into a Nazi plot. When the war broke out she was interned as the authorities were not unnaturally suspicious of a German, recently married to a British subject with whom she did not live, and did not know or care that she was far more anti-Hitler than they were. However, she not only got her release but was allowed by British Intelligence to return to Germany as a saboteur because of an influential intervention…
Hilde’s campaign to get Hans Litten released from a Nazi concentration camp had led to an unsigned article in The Manchester Guardian of January 26, 1938: In Dachau Camp. The Tragic Case of Hans Litten, but a week later after five years of interrogation and torture and a failed escape attempt, Litten killed himself.
Hilde became a British citizen by the marriage of convenience to the gay anarchist and graphic artist, adding Hilda Monte-Olday to her long list of noms de guerre, returning to London from one of her clandestine missions inside Germany a day before the war started.
Two months later, on November 8, 1939, a time bomb painstakingly engineered by Georg Elser detonated at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, killing eight people and injuring 62, but missing Hitler by seven minutes.
John Olday and others have linked Hilde with the Elser bomb, but Fritz Eberhard her ISK co-conspirator commented after the war:
To me it seems highly unlikely that Hilde had anything at all to do with the assassination attempt in November 1939. Otherwise she would have told me, at least afterwards. However both of us performed a lot of illegal work, partly together, partly separately and always clearly understood there should be as few people in the know as possible.
Hilde Monte had been in Germany for a few months shortly before the outbreak of war and I wouldn’t rule out Hilde having made a financial transfer to the assassin Elser as part of her Union Time work. The assassin had made a long term plan to kill Hitler. The Nazis accused the British Secret Service and Hitler’s opponent Strasser of being involved.
After splitting with the ISK for their lack of militancy, Hilde lived through the hard winter of 1939-40 with an Austrian artist and his wife in a small stone house at Sleights on the North Yorkshire Moors near Whitby.
Hilde anglicised her ISK courier code name into Hilda Monte and wrote in English for Tribune, for the The Socialist Vanguard [a quarterly published by ethical vegetarian socialists in the MSI movement], for Victor Gollancz’s Left News, and in a book co-authored with Fritz Eberhard: How to conquer Hitler – A Plan of Economic and Moral Warfare on the Nazi Home Front.
In 1945 a French Resistance magazine noted her call for the progressive surrender of national sovereignty by the European nation states. Gilbert Velaire remembered Hilda Monte, L’Européenne:
I can still see her, in her huge spectacles in that house in Golders Green, in a little teacher’s bedroom full of books, wild flowers and those figurines that she sculpted to exercise her hands in the very few moments when she allowed her mind to wander.
I can still see her in Soho restaurants, observing a strict vegetarian discipline applied with her usual grim determination, or working in the political library at Chatham House surrounded by newspapers in six different languages.
Her lectures to the Workers’ Educational Association were popular and by 1940 she was an official adviser to the International Committee of the Labour Executive, run by William Gillies rescuing those members of the German SPD party executive who had survived the deadly grip of the Nazis, particularly Hans Vogel and Erich Ollenhauer.
Gillies was backed by Hugh Dalton, Minister for Economic Warfare, and by Richard Crossman, black propaganda chief and head of the German Bureau in Dalton’s ministry.
Monte worked with Walter Auerbach, a German official of the International Transport-workers Federation broadcasting to Germany from October 7, 1940 at Crossman’s ‘black’ radio station SER [Sender der europäischen Revolution].
In December 1940, a Dutch aircrew flew Hans Vogel, one of the SPD survivors, from Portugal to Britain on a liberated KLM DC-3 airliner, working the dangerous BOAC service from Lisbon to Bristol (Whitchurch) Airport.
In January 1941, Erich Ollenhauer, post-war leader of the West German Social Democratic Party, arrived at Whitchurch with his family aboard another of the camouflaged DC-3 airliners.
The anti-Nazi film star Leslie Howard was killed in 1943 when German aircraft shot down one of the Dakotas over the Bay of Biscay.
Monte worked for the Central European Joint Committee of the Ministry of Economic Warfare, parent of the Special Operations Executive, formed by Churchill to “set occupied Europe ablaze” by sabotage, assassination and a multitude of dirty tricks.
She was clever in three languages and very secretive.
SOE flew her to Lisbon in 1941 from where she sent international telegrams to London using both SOE and ITF codes. A note, describing the airport security checks for her flight from England to Lisbon is in the Jewish Museum at Hohenems in Austria:
The military intelligence people were suspicious from the beginning, told me after a few minutes that H. H. [Helen Harriman] was not my real name, that what I told them was not really true. They said that they could not allow me to travel if I did not admit the truth. They inspected my handbag with all papers etc. At last they agreed to phone London [SOE or ITF?] and made inquiries… They called me again. And then they told me what had aroused their suspicion. The national registration number in the passport [differed] from either the number on the identity card or the one on the ration book.
Dieter Nelles, author of ITF Resistance Against Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Spain, has seen some of Monte’s encoded telegrams in the ITF archives at Warwick University:
With the support of SOE, Hilda Monte (Meisel) travelled as courier for the ITF to Lisbon in March 1941. Monte, who was a member of the ISK until 1939, was among those closely involved with the SER. She was scheduled to travel from Lisbon to unoccupied France and Switzerland to build up contacts with ITF members and to reconnoitre the possibilities of rescuing German, Italian and Spanish refugees. These plans appear to have encountered difficulties early on. Monte remained in Lisbon until June 1941 and there met Peter Leopold, a German émigré living in Marseille, who took over her mission. Insofar as it is possible to gather from the encoded telegrams and letters, she was able to get into contact with refugee organisations in Lisbon and established a distribution service for German newspapers and literature, which were of interest to the ITF and the SOE.
Harold Lewis, post-war general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, described Monte’s modus operandi to the German historian Dr Ellen Babendreyer in 2003:
One problem that is already clear from my own research attempts here is that she was very careful to leave absolutely no written evidence of her ‘resistance’ activities and did not encourage any interest in her personal life and work.
But Dr Babendreyer has discovered a terse hand transcribed curriculum vitae, written by Monte, probably under orders, and dated March 10, 1941, the month she flew to Lisbon for SOE:
I have been in touch with the ISK since 1928, and have been working actively for that organisation from 1929 till the beginning of 1939.
During my stay in England, from 1929-31, I studied economics at the School of Economics and also privately, and continued that work for some time in the Ruhr District. After having done secretarial work in an office for some months, I joined the editorial staff of the Funke, the daily paper of the ISK which began to be published in January, 1932. Apart from a three months stay in France and Belgium, I worked in Berlin for the Funke, until it was finally suppressed in February 1933. I then started a small news service, based on French and English papers, which I continued to receive, and when illegal groups began to be organised I was in charge of some of them. I removed to Cologne and made the frontier service – mainly to Holland, but occasionally to Belgium and Switzerland, smuggling people and money out of Germany, and illegal literature into the country. Back in Berlin we produced some illegal leaflets of our own and organised a fairly large-scale propaganda for the plebiscite in August 1934. Towards the end of that same year I was asked to join the editorial board of the Sozialistische Warte in Paris, where I remained until the spring of 1936. In the meantime I went to Germany frequently, in order to take propaganda and other material across the frontier, and to discuss the international situation and the illegal work with the trade union groups inside. I continued these trips after I came to England in 1936. At the beginning of 1939 I resigned from the ISK, and tried to take up some work in Germany again, which had suffered greatly after numerous arrests in 1937 and 1938. I made three trips to Germany, spending about three months inside the country. After my return I wrote, in common with H. Rauschenplat, the book How to conquer Hitler. I then wrote another book, which has not been published so far, and subsequently worked for the B.B.C., the Central European Joint Committee, and anti-Nazi propaganda in general.
Exiled ITF leaders in London and neutral Sweden, using secret links to German railwaymen, dockers and sailors, knew more about smuggling information, cash and fugitives on barges, ships and trains in and out of Nazi Germany than anyone at MI6 in London. They derailed both passenger and freight trains and “re-directed” military freight wagons bound for France and Italy by “administrative sabotage” in the Swiss marshalling yards at Basel.
The ITF’s top contact in London was Ernest Bevin, founder of the Transport and General Workers Union, wartime Minister of Labour and after Churchill the most powerful man in the government.
According to Churchill, Bevin was by ‘far the most distinguished man that the Labour Party have thrown up in my time.’
No-one today knows how Hilda Monte managed to enter the Third Reich in 1941, after the three months working in Lisbon, “Eldorado for Spies,” as the city was described by Sigmund Freud’s grand-daughter Sophie, one of thousands who survived the Final Solution by escaping through Portugal.
Thanks to the deliberate destruction of British SOE files, no-one now knows how the frail, vegetarian Hilda Monte managed to survive in Nazi Germany and make it back to London, time after time.
She was well informed. A BBC radio script of her 1942 message to German workers has survived. Broadcasting from London very soon after the SS had embarked on their secret Final Solution in the death camps of Eastern Europe she said:
What is happening today in Poland, the cold-blooded extermination of the Jewish people, this is being done in your name, in the name of the German people. […] Show evidence of your solidarity to these people, even if it requires courage – especially if it requires courage.
In 1942 Victor Gollancz published her book Help Germany to Revolt, co-written again with Fritz Eberhard, the ISK nom de guerre of Hellmut von Rauschenplat, a future SPD parliamentarian and one of the authors of the constitution of Federal Germany:
We feel that you and some of your comrades in the Labour Party are beginning to realise that an immense responsibility falls today on these last vestiges of European Socialism which exist in Britain. The suppressed masses on the continent look to the British Labour Movement for guidance and assistance in the fight for their liberation and the establishment, after this war, of a European Commonwealth… and there is only one way of laying that basis: the way of a German revolution.
H.N. Brailsford, doyen of British socialist journalists and member of the board of Tribune, wrote the introduction to Hilda Monte’s 1943 book The Unity of Europe in which she declared with uncanny accuracy that
a real solution of the European problem, i.e. for the creation of a socialist commonwealth of Europe, a price has to be paid.
1. European Unity deprives the nations of Europe of part of their sovereignty.
2. Restoring the balance of Europe means for the more highly developed countries of Europe the loss of their advantage over less developed countries.
3. The socialist solution of Europe’s problems entails the loss of class privilege to the ruling class.
4. Planning inevitably deprives the individual of some of his liberty of action.
Some fear that the unity of Europe, far from being an instrument of peace, will lead to new wars on an inter-continental scale. That the United States of Europe, and the United States of America, and Soviet Russia, and China, and the British Empire, will go to war against each other. The danger clearly existed if the Continent would be united under Adolf Hitler. And it is for this very reason that unity in itself need not mean much progress. But unity on a socialist basis, on a basis that is, on which the motives for which wars are made will be infinitely reduced, such unity would hardly be said to foster new serious conflicts. We are not utopian enough to envisage a future of complete harmony. There will be conflicts and quarrels even if all the world should go socialist. But it may become possible in the course of time – in the course of a very long time perhaps – to deal with such conflicts in a more civilised manner than we are doing now. European unity alone will not solve that problem, as indeed it cannot solve all problems. But it is a necessary condition for the solution.
She went back behind the lines in September 1944, this time as agent CROCUS for the United States Office of Strategic Services, flown by RAF Lysander to a moonlit Resistance airstrip in occupied France for an illegal crossing into Switzerland to work for the spymaster Allen Dulles, a future director of the CIA.
Dulles gave her new papers as courier to his legendary agent Jupp Kappius, a pre-war ISK member based undercover as an industrial spy and saboteur in Bochum in the Ruhr after parachuting into Germany from an RAF bomber on September 1, 1944.
OSS, under the Wall Street lawyer and Republican politician William “Wild Bill” Donovan, sent a trades union lawyer, Arthur Goldberg, to work in London with George K. Bowden, a former organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World, charged with recruiting trades unionists for underground work inside Germany.
Goldberg became a supreme court justice and US ambassador to the UN after the war. Bowden was a former American football player whose One Big Union, known as the Wobblies, had actually opposed American intervention in the First World War. The founder of the Wobblies, “Big Bill” Haywood, before being sentenced to 20 years for breaking the Espionage Act in 1918, had declared: “This war is a businessman’s war and we don’t see why we should go out and get shot in order to save the lovely state of affairs that we now enjoy.”
In mid-1942, Goldberg and Bowden met with Omer Becu, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation [ITF]. The ITF had moved its entire operations to London into Transport House where, in co-operation with the former ITF president, Ernest Bevin, it collaborated with British intelligence in providing information on transport movements and labour conditions in occupied Europe. Becu met with Goldberg and urged him to establish a working relationship with the anti-Nazi union cells across Europe through contacts in London. The Political Role of International Trades Unions by Gary K. Busch, London 1983.
From the OSS office at 70-72 Grosvenor Street in 1943, Lazar Tepper, former research director at the New York headquarters of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, organised Project Bach, the infiltration of 200 left wing Germans and Austrians as spies, couriers and saboteurs inside the Third Reich. Hilda Monte was chosen.
A Wall Street lawyer was employing former Wobblies in a Mayfair office to hire socialists, syndicalists, anarchists and communists as penetration agents in the war against Hitler.
Dr Babendreyer in her research paper on the “facts, myths and legends” surrounding the brief life of Hilda Monte quotes the historian Peter Pirker, co-principal investigator in the Department of Government at the University of Vienna:
I suppose that Hilde Meisel was SELMA [Bachmann] one of the female couriers of Rene Bertholet (CHARLES) for establishing lines from Switzerland into Germany. Bertholet, a member of ISK was working with SOE agent Robert Jellinek. Jellinek mentioned in his short report ‘Work into Austria’… that SELMA was sent into Austria on a mission on behalf of the Austrian Socialist Ludwig Klein who was a contact of SOE in Switzerland. Originally Meisel should have been sent to Berlin by Bertholet. I quote: ‘Charles being unable to get SELMA off to BERLIN as planned at the end of 1944, she offered to go to VORARLBERG for KLEIN and finally was able to go in April. Her trip – as was subsequently checked – was successful but ended fatally.
Until late April 1945, Allen Dulles, OSS and General Eisenhower’s SHAEF headquarters staff feared that a Nazi defensive “national redoubt” existed in the alpine Vorarlberg.
Sheltering in Switzerland on Christmas Eve 1944 Hilde wrote a tender Skizze [sketch] of her 1939-40 winter in England and how Hilde, with Hannes and Tess Hammerschmidt, had dreamed of renting a cottage with a view of the sea in the “land of moors and dales”.
They found a house just outside Whitby at Sleights. The Hammerschmidts were still living there in 1950 when they became naturalised British citizens. A plaque on a parish bench commemorates their thirty years in the village.
They were amused by the incompetence of a Yorkshire sign writer who had named the house BEUNA VISTA. The house is now known as number 106 on the Coach Road in Sleights.
A washing line now hangs from a hook in the back yard exactly where the secret agent posed in a recently discovered snapshot taken by an 18 year old English girl in 1940.
Hilde and her companions Tess and Hannes Hammerschmidt and baby Hammerschmidt received “many visitors but little comfort, no electricity, with lighting and cooking by oil lamps and running water in the garden brought in by bucket.”
There was, however, a church, a police station, a school, a lending library, a railway station and a village institute for dancing and public meetings. Hilde wrote about feeling safe for the first time in years when she looked out across the moors at night to see moonlight reflected from the North Sea.
She noticed how little the war diminished the friendship shown by the locals:
The tailor, the gardener next door, our landlords, the stonemason, the butcher and the coal merchants never allowed international events to diminish more than slightly the friendship they showed us, but the “posher people” who had found us quite interesting at first, later showed that their patriotism demanded xenophobia and steered clear of us.
The war intervened on February 3, 1940, when the first German aircraft to be shot down over England in the Second World War crashed a mile from Sleights.
The Heinkel 111 convoy raider had flown from Schleswig in North Germany. Two aircrew were mortally wounded by RAF gunfire but the pilot and the radio operator survived a crash landing that flattened a sycamore tree and missed a farmhouse by ten feet.
Hilde noted the kind response of a Yorkshire neighbour, “those poor young lads, each one was some mother’s son” but guessed incorrectly and pessimistically that wartime hatred generated by Luftwaffe attacks on Whitby fishing boats had denied the dead airmen a local burial: “The dead airman was refused a normal funeral and people might have killed any German in the street.”
She was unaware that one of the three Hurricane pilots machine-gunning the Heinkel was the future Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC and bar, a famous fighter ace prevented after the war from marrying Princess Margaret because he was divorced.
On the day after the crash F/Lt Townsend visited the badly wounded German radio operator, Uffz Karl Missy, in Whitby Cottage Hospital. Missy lost a leg and was later repatriated but met Townsend at his home in Rheydt after the war. The men remained friends until Missy died in 1981.
The German airmen who died in the crash, Peter Leushake and Johann Meyer, had been given a burial with full military honours at Catterick, accompanied by a wreath “from 43 Squadron – with sympathy”.
Hilde’s description of her train journey from Sleights station back to London and the war will be familiar to those who know the spectacular preserved North Yorks Moors railway line.
When you are leaving our valley, you have plenty of time to say goodbye. It’s only 17 miles to Pickering where the line eventually leaves the moors, but the train needs nearly an hour to cover the distance.
Slowly snaking its way along the little brooks of the dale it climbs into the wilderness of the moors, where sheep graze unconcerned by the train. It halts at every village and only the larger glass-covered station at Pickering heralds the outside world.
There’s a newspaper stand there and you can safely start to read your paper because after Pickering there’s not much to see out of the window.
Hilda Monte was in Austria on April 16, 1945, when the Soviet Army launched the final attack on Berlin.
She was heading back to Switzerland from a mission to the Austrian “05” resistance group carrying papers identifying her as Eva Schneider, a clerk with a home address in bombed Berlin that not even the Gestapo could have checked in those cataclysmic last days of the Third Reich.
At 03:45, with a pistol and 2,842.78 Reichsmarks in her rucksack, cash equivalent to two years average German wages, she encountered a border patrol in dense forest at Rappenwald, close to the frontier with neutral Liechtenstein.
The Austrian part-timers who guarded the border around Feldkirch had been known for their lack of enthusiasm and even for their corruption.
Hilde said she was delivering two letters to Switzerland for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry of Joseph Goebbels, which explained the pistol and persuaded the patrol leader to detach a single guard to escort her to the Hauptzollamt at Tisis.
At 06:30 at a point on the border, just 150 metres from Liechtenstein territory, Monte bolted for Switzerland.
The guard winged her once with a shot that hit her right thigh, but the bullet hit an artery and she bled to death on the border.
Her true identity would not be established in Austrian records until 1947. Some of the cash in her rucksack paid for her burial in the Lutheran graveyard at Feldkirch.
It was Tribune, who broke the news of the death of Hilda Monte in the June 29, 1945 edition, sourced possibly from their occasional editor Jon Kimche, described in his Guardian obituary as using ‘his Swiss passport during the second world war to travel throughout Europe on mysterious assignments for Britain and the Zionist movement.’ Kimche’s younger brother David Kimche, 1928 – 2010, known in Israel as ‘the man with the suitcase’ was a spymaster, journalist, diplomat and deputy director of the Mossad.
The facts from Austria were a bit shaky and even the OSS took many months to inform Hilda Monte’s parents, who were then living in Cairo.
The facts about Hilda Monte are still shaky.
In 1947, when Victor Gollancz launched a first edition of Hilda’s novel Where Freedom Perished, Tribune’s star columnist wrote the introduction.
Jennie Lee, the cultured left-wing MP for Cannock married to Aneurin Bevan, minister of health in the Attlee government, wrote:
The pity and the waste of it was that this was the last secret mission into enemy territory she need have undertaken, for the war was almost over. This young anti-fascist had a veteran’s record in dangerous underground activities.
She maintained her contacts with the German underground, smuggled literature and information to her comrades there, warned those in danger and helped to provide them with means of escape. When the war broke out she volunteered to continue this hazardous work. With forged passport, carrying material that she knew meant, if she were discovered, imprisonment, torture, death, Hilda Monte again and again walked alone across the frontier, separating the fascist and free world.
It would be another seventy years before researchers investigating one of the most intractable historical problems of the Second World War began to suspect that in May 1941 Hilde Meisel had played a crucial part in a political and diplomatic conspiracy that was so secret and so complicated that it remains a subject too murky for most academic historians.
This is the vexed question of whether both Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill had foreknowledge of the sensational wartime solo “peace flight” to Britain made on May 10, 1941, by Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess.
Hess flew a fighter-bomber from Bavaria to Southern Scotland just six weeks before Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia that led to the deaths of 23 million Soviet citizens but probably saved Britain from a humiliating truce with Nazi Germany.
Both Hitler and Churchill denied prior knowledge of the flight and any negotiations about a ceasefire between Britain and Germany that would have given Hitler a free hand to attack the Soviet Union.
Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, even Churchill, all died without knowing the full story of desperate and dubious diplomacy in what the historian John Costello has called “the ten days that saved the West”.
A chink of light on the subject appeared for a moment in 1969, in an article that appeared in The Yorkshire Post when Hess was still alive in Spandau Prison in Berlin.
But by the time Hess was found dead in a hut in the prison garden in 1987, the 1969 cutting had gone missing from the files in Leeds.
The Yorkshire Post reporter was Malcolm Pithers, later Northern Editor of The Independent and today living in retirement in Wakefield and writing political thrillers.
Under the headline: The man who broke the secret news that Hess was coming, Pithers reported that a former regional officer of the Transport and General Workers Union named Albert Heal had contacted the newspaper.
At home in Leeds, the 80-year old Heal told Pithers he was writing a book that would reveal what had happened after Bevin telephoned him at noon on May 9, 1941.
Bevin asked me if I would be at a meeting organised by the regional office of the Ministry of Labour at the Civic Hall, Sheffield, that night. I told him that I had not been invited.
He asked me to meet him there just the same at 6:30 p.m., as he wanted to talk to me urgently. When I got there, Bevin met me in a private room and showed me the coded message he had received from his contact, a girl that I knew.
The code she had used was invented by me when – and I think it’s safe to admit this now – I was secretary of the South Wales No More War Movement. The code had been passed on to her by me some time before.
I had used the code to keep in contact with the people we helped to get out of the country. We got 18 to Ireland and 17 to America.
I thought at the time, from the conversation, that the Prime Minister thought it was all a joke, especially when Bevin told him that Hess would try and contact the Duke of Hamilton. After the call we sat down and had some refreshments. No other message came from the Prime Minister. Bevin told me to go home and meet him at 9:30 the next morning.
Heal told Pithers his contact had been ‘a London girl, who died after the war’.
Professor Scott Newton of Cardiff University, investigating Heal’s story in 2014, was aware that Ernest Bevin was a key member of the International Transport-workers’ Federation and in close touch with three German anti-Nazis exiled in London.
The three resistance leaders were Hans Gottfurcht, an anti-Nazi and an anti-Communist who had joined the British Labour Party, Hans Jahn, a former engine driver and ITF railway resistance leader and Walter Auerbach, chief of SER the clandestine left-wing German language radio station where Hilda Monte had worked.
The arrival of Hess remained secret in Britain until May 13, 1941. But late on May 12, German radio reported that he had taken off without Hitler’s knowledge and disappeared.
After being taken into captivity by a Scottish ploughman, Hess had asked to see the Duke of Hamilton, a fighter pilot and commanding officer at RAF Turnhouse. After interviewing Hess in a barracks in Glasgow, Hamilton climbed into a Hurricane and flew south to report to Churchill in Oxfordshire.
On May 15, four days after Hamilton reported to Churchill, Ernest Bevin told a War Weapons lunch in London that he was convinced Hitler had known Hess was planning the peace mission:
‘From my point of view Hess is a murderer. You can understand my feeling about him when I tell you that he was the man who collected every index card of every trade union leader in Germany and every social democrat, and when the time came they were either in a concentration camp or murdered.
‘My own views on this adventure I will not express at this gathering, further than to say that I do not believe that Hitler did not know that Hess was coming to England.’
On May 16, Hans Jahn, post-war chairman of the German railwaymen, wrote to Bevin from the London office of the ITF using the code-name Kramer and specifying just how much money had been stolen by the Nazis from the German trade unions.
Bevin’s contacts with these German Social Democrats led to post-war West Germany being re-organised on lines suggested by the British Labour government and to Bevin’s successful campaign to get West Germany included in the NATO alliance against Soviet Russia.
Professor Newton, author of Profits of Peace: the political economy of Anglo-German appeasement, has discovered wartime news reports in the Hull Daily Mail that support Albert Heal’s account of Bevin’s movements before the Hess flight to Scotland.
On April 21, 1941, the Hull paper had reported an announcement from the North-Eastern Regional Officer of the Ministry of Information that: ‘Mr Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, will address public meetings to be held under the auspices of the local information committees at Sheffield, Leeds, and Hull on May 9, 10, and 11.’
The all-ticket meeting at the City Hall in Sheffield was to start at 6:30 p.m. on May 9, exactly as recounted by Albert Heal in 1969.
On May 10, the morning after Heal drove Bevin to Leeds, and before Hess took off from Germany, the Hull Daily Mail ran a headline ‘Mr Bevin’s Hull Meeting’ to announce that ‘owing to unforeseen circumstances, the meeting to be addressed by Mr Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, in Hull on Sunday, has been cancelled.’
Professor Newton said, ‘These events concern the most critical moments of the Second World War. Albert Heal’s papers appear to have disappeared and it seems an attempt was made to suppress the Yorkshire Post report. Yet the Hull Daily Mail announcement of Bevin’s cancelled meeting and the schedule of his speaking tour exactly match the account given by Albert Heal in 1969.
The public meeting in Hull was cancelled before the first announcement of the Hess flight on German radio on the evening of May 12. In Britain the flight was kept secret until 6:00 a.m. on May 13. It is possible that this old newspaper story may yet lead us to a discovery of worldwide importance. Mr Heal’s documents might have survived somewhere in Yorkshire. Is there anyone alive in Yorkshire today who knew Albert Heal?
Professor Newton’s appeal has never been answered.
But a new question about Ernest Bevin’s secret message has now been posed by the authors John Harris and Richard Wilbourn in a book timed for publication on May 10, the 75th anniversary of the Hess Flight.
Harris and Wilbourn, previously authors of Rudolf Hess: A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941 now think it more than “just possible” that the London girl who died after the war and the woman who encoded the message brought by Bevin for de-coding in Yorkshire, was none other than Hilda Monte.
John Harris says,
Hilda Monte was stationed in the espionage capital of Europe in the weeks before the Hess Flight, her assignment involved coding telegrams for the ITF and the SOE, she had moved pre-war in the same international socialist groupings as Albert Heal, they both lived in Yorkshire in the winter of 1939-40 and, like Albert Heal, Hilda Monte had been in the dangerous pre-war business of smuggling hunted men across borders.
Bearing in mind that Hilda Monte had lived in London for ten years before 1939, Albert Heal’s cagey identification of a London girl who died after the war certainly fits the life and times of Hilde Meisel, a.k.a. Hilde Olday, Selma Trier, Selma Bachmann, Helen Harriman, H. Monte, Hilde Monte, CROCUS and Eva Schneider, shot at the age of 30 at Tisis bei Feldkirch on April 17, 1945.
By BERNHARD MULLER and ANDREW ROSTHORN 5 March, 2016.
On May 3, 1945, just two weeks after Hilda Monte died at the Tisis border post, French soldiers liberated Feldkirch and Princess ‘Gina’ of Liechtenstein, founder of the Liechtenstein Red Cross, crossed at Tisis into her native Austria to help thousands of refugees stranded on the Austrian side of the frontier.
A Stolperstein memorial on the pavement near Landhausstrasse 3, in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin, marks the location of Hilde Meisel’s childhood home. The English for her epitaph is ON THE RUN.