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Hunting Up Truth for Fiction

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Cover of novel Frozen Trust, mountain, ice axe/sun emblem, two climbers helping each other
Frozen Trust is based on my research revealing Nazi spies and Nazi supporters in the U.S.

For the writing of Frozen Trust, the original thesis grew out of what I saw as wrong attitudes that determined how we handled spying in the United States.

As a child, I knew that some of my friends had been born in a prisoner of war camp because their parents were Japanese-Americans, but my friends who were German-American had never been suspected of being spies.

Instead of barb-wired camps, these German-Americans had been born in the same hospitals as everyone else of Irish, Polish, British descent. The Japanese had been interned (that was the euphemism for becoming prisoners) because their looks made them identifiable as possible spies. Those of German descent looked pretty much like other Whites, including those in power.

Easier to intern the ones you recognize, but can’t prove to be spies than to work to find proof and imprison only the real spies.

Never mind that there were American citizens who talked with fervor about protecting the German Fatherland, gathered in Bundist Clubs of Germans, sang songs of the triumph of German ideals, and supported Hitler’s efforts to rectify the mistake of letting too many Jews get too much power, or the fear of too many Jews getting too much power.

German-Americans who talked like that were not spies, they were just "normal people who had prejudices". We let the First Amendment stand for them, but the Bill of Rights was waved for Japanese Americans because we were afraid, and told ourselves we had to do this.

Even as a child, these distinctions and the actions they had allowed our government to take did not make sense to me. Our rules said people were innocent until proven guilty. Did that not apply to all?

I was pretty naïve. According to some who write history, editorials, and essays about the war, crisis allows suspension of fairness. According to this thought, fairness only works when there is no threat. When there is threat, our rules are useless and make self-protection too difficult. Or so I was told. And am still told.

These apologists would ask if I want the Japanese to come ashore, invading our country with the help of the few who might signal them from land?

Some few trotted out the occasional and repeated story of the Japanese -American who was discovered to have a radio down a well, or hidden in a barn. Those of us who had radios in our house, were not suspect, yet, these pitiful few examples represented the scouring for excuses to intern the Japanese, not the threat of organized spying these examples pretended to be.

Hundreds of Japanese-Americans at one of several concentrations camps during World War Two
Tule Lake Concentration Camp, WBur photo

While all the internment was being plotted, while the sniffing for evidence held our attention, there were riots in large cities. The reasons for these riots were fears of other identifiable people, including those of African descent in New York and Chicago, those of Latin-American descent in Los Angeles, and across the nation, fear of Jews. These riots were encouraged by polemics from hate-filled people like Father Coughlin on the radio all over the Midwest, and of the famous pilot and isolationist, Charles Lindbergh, who spoke for the organization called America First. Lindbergh made speeches urging isolationism, and about allowing the Nazi power to over-run anything short of the American shores.

At the time, in many minds, fear of communism was greater than fear of fascism or Nazism. Among many isolationists, the saying was that we could and should make peace with Hitler, who might take over France and Great Britain, but surely wouldn’t bother to come across the Atlantic. And for isolationists, Hitler at least wasn't a Communist and would keep Russia from taking over Europe.

America First. Everybody else last.

So went the talk and editorial programs in the radio and the newspapers of many cities and small towns.

My question is “Who allowed the fear-mongering of people like Father Coughlin on the public airways, and why did people buy what he sold?”

As I wrote about the hate-spewing of Senator Joseph McCarthy in my novel Scapegoat: The Price of Freedom, I also began looking for evidence that before and during World War Two there had been an atmosphere of ‘encouraging hate’ and believing the fear mongers in our nation. I found plenty of examples in every part of the country. These riots distracted our leaders from the threat from Germany and Italy. Moreover, the division in our country between isolationist and interventionists also benefited the Nazi cause.

When I learned more about the riots and other sabotage at shipbuilding yards and on military camps, I began finding a basis for the Frozen Trust story. I also found that I had a timeline for the military aspects of Frozen Trust, A time slot developed in between late 1941 when the 10th Mountain Division was an idea accepted by General George Marshal up to 1943 when the armed services moved the ski-mountaineers to Camp Hale, Colorado.

The original military intention had been that the ski mountaineers would be based out of Fort Lewis, in Washington, training on Mount Rainier, but the heavy snow and frequent storms of Mount Rainier created an atmosphere unlike the potential fighting areas in mountains of Europe. Military leaders decided to move the three divisions of this new skiing and climbing fighting force.

In 1943, the mountain troops moved to Camp Hale near Leadville.

Soon after I began writing, Frozen Trust, my husband, Woody, and I drove into the Colorado Mountains to find the home of the 10th Division training camp. We found it easily, since the valley is very large. At that time, the visitor could detect only the footprint of streets once marched upon, and the foundations of main buildings slowly disappearing into high altitude grasses. We also visited the WWII 10th Division Resource Center in Denver, followed by the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden Colorado, and the Ski Museum in Vail, Colorado.

In our mountain climbing days, we had benefited greatly from the equipment research and the skilled mountain writings of Ski Patrol and 10th Division leaders. So, these visits were a way of thanking these ski and climbing leaders, as well as learning more about earlier equipment. The museums helped in understanding the obstacles to ski and climbing warfare in Europe during those years.

Large valley filled with living quarters for troops and surrounded by high Rocky Mountains.
Camp Hale as it looked during the war. Later, only the footprint of streets and the foundations of major buildings were left. WBurr photo

Now, I had a timeline for Frozen Trust and a background for the spies. In between 1941 when the ski troops were forged and 1943 when Camp Hale went into action, my fictional General, Arthur Atweiler searched for a good camp location on Longs Peak, Colorado. There, a German leader murders General Atweiler. His daughter, Laura, also a trained mountaineer, discovers the murder and begins her hunt for Nazi spies acting within the United States.

And why did I believe there were Nazi spies in the United States at that time?

As I read news accounts of the time, one thing that stood out for me was the prevalence of racial riots in large urban areas. Beyond the Coughlins, the isolationist and the American Bundist Societies, why did I believe there were Nazi spies urging disruption?

I knew from arrest records and news reports that there were discovered Nazi attempts to sabotage fleet and troop readiness, and that riots between soldiers at bases had been triggered by events whose origin was unsubstantiated rumor. In the years of the war, of Frozen Trust there were race riots in Detroit, at the Sojourner Truth housing project in Harlem, in Beaumont, Texas, Los Angeles and Mobile, Alabama, just to mention a few. Frozen Trust puts a face behind those rumors and a plan behind the disruption of our attention. Riots kept us from paying attention to the real enemy -- Nazi aggression.

White men turning over a car. Some carrying weapons, 1940s Detroit
Race Riot in Detroit, Reuthers Library

Among many news reports of such riots, I also discovered a Master’s thesis by a Paul Alexander of the University of Ohio from 1980 studying the race riots of World War Two. His emphasis was on why Columbus, Ohio avoided large riots by working with the police, the city, the local newspapers and the Urban League to create better understanding between races even during a time of upheaval and change.

Alexander’s examination of the causes of riots across the nation is based on what he could find and surmise from circumstances that made Columbus different from other large cities. His findings are very helpful. Partly, they support my own findings that there were large numbers of such riots, and that change makes people very uncomfortable and self-protective. His findings also show that one impetus for rioting in these cities may have been triggering voices and triggering events designed to encourage fear in a country already in danger and deeply divided between isolation and intervention. When people fear each other, it is easy to set that fear into action.

Thus, Frozen Trust tells the story of those who triggered riots that were executed with the purpose of distracting and debilitating our social unity against an obvious ,but far away enemy.

More recently, after Frozen Trust was finished, already had a cover designed by Diana Kolsky, and was ten days from publication, I discovered Bradley W. Hart’s tome, Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich Supporters in the United States.

Hart’s study supports what I also discovered in reading about the period using historical periodicals and newspapers. According to Hart, Nazi plans were to sow discord among our various races and economic factions of the United States. American Nazi supporters assisted in dispersing negative propaganda about immigrants, Jews and others within our citizenry.

The other interesting thing I discovered, that made Frozen Trust an exciting story to write, was that the identity of the captured Deputy Fuhrer to Hitler, Rudolf Hess, was in doubt from early after his ‘accidental’ landing in Scotland in May, 1941.

Man in Nazi uniform, dark eyebrows and wavy hair.
Is this the Rudolf Hess who was captured in Scotland? Photo by Bundesarchiv Bild

The Hess who was captured gave an incorrect birth date, couldn’t identify a photo of his son, and landed in an airplane similar to the one known to be flown by Hess. But his lessor flying skill and the wrong identifying numbers on the airplane may have tipped off British

Intelligence that the man claiming to be Hess was a decoy. Over the years, there have been arguments about his identity, his apparent suicide in 1987, and his relationship to the Hess family. A recent DNA test (2019) has shown that Hess, the prisoner, is an almost perfect match with a living Hess relative.

However, in 1941, from a small incident in a farm field in Iceland, intelligence later realized that someone with Rudolf Hess’s looks, with a gun and German-made bullets, as well as Hess’s flying skill had left Germany in May 1941, stole fuel in Iceland, shot the farmer whose fuel he stole, and then took off for the west , flying so low that he could not be tracked by radar.

All of these facts were fodder for a ripping good story of spies within the United States during World War Two.

Enjoy the unfolding of the tale, and the melting of Laura’ Atweiler's frozen trust.


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