To the Editor:
I received numerous letters following the publication of my article, “The Mysterious Messenger & the Final Solution” [March]. The letters were personal in character and not for publication, but I should like to thank here those who told me of their own experiences and let me have their comments and suggestions.
On one specific point a correction is called for: it is not true, as I wrote, that Congress Weekly, of December 4, 1942, identified the “mysterious messenger” as a major industrialist; I was quoting from memory. The report did state, however, that the messenger had provided important information on earlier occasions, such as the demotion of Field Marshal van Bock, when this news was known only to Hitler’s personal entourage.
Some of my correspondents have suggested that the informant may not have been a German citizen in the first place. But various indications made it virtually certain that the industrialist was indeed a German citizen, though not necessarily a resident of Germany. I now know that at least for the last eighteen months of the war, probably for much longer, he lived in Switzerland.
Others have pointed out to me that the designation “industralist” might have been a code-word for someone in a very different occupation. It is certainly true that a permanent resident of Switzerland could not function as general manager of a big industrial enterprise in Germany. The messenger, then, must have been a German citizen who had settled in Switzerland but who went back to his native country from time to time.
There is reason to believe, however, that the designation “industrialist” was chosen for some good reason. Perhaps he had been one in the past? This led me in my search to the one man who fit the description and certainly could have acted as the informant: Robert Boehringer. Boehringer came from a family well known for its pioneering work in the chemical industry; the family firm was at the time the main manufacturer of quinine in Germany, Born in a small town in southwest Germany in 1884, Boehringer settled in Basel in 1897 and was one of the few foreigners to be accepted by the leading local families. He graduated in political economy and then worked for major Swiss pharmaceutical firms, first for Hoffmann-La Roche, later for Geigy, which, partly owing to his talents, gained world renown. (He was among the first to have recognized the importance of DDT in stamping out epidemics.)
Boehringer had two more careers: one was in the field of German literature. He was a prominent member of the Stefan George Circle and wrote what is perhaps the most important single study of the master. George, who died in Switzerland in late 1933, made him his legal heir. During World War II, Boehringer volunteered for the International Red Cross. With his reputation as an excellent organizer, he was made a member and eventually chairman of the Comission Mixte de Secours which provided help, such as food and drugs, to the civil population in the occupied countries. He initiated the dispatch of food parcels and medicine to the Jews in Slovakia and the camps in Transnistria. Those who know Boehringer describe him as a tall, erect man, an indefatigable worker who preferred a monocle to glasses and always insisted on anonymity. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday, a friend wrote that “the many cases in which an invisible man brought help will never be known.”
Was Boehringer the mysterious messenger, and if so, how could he have learned of the Final Solution? There are various possibilities: he might have heard about it from other members of the George Circle, some of whom were in important positions in the German army; or from Ernst Weizsaecker, then State Secretary of Foreign Affairs, whom he knew well; he could even have heard the news from members of his own family in Germany. It is likely that Boehringer was one of Carl Burckhardt’s two informants (the other was Albrecht von Kessel, a diplomat). Burckhardt, a native of Basel, was the “foreign minister” of the International Red Cross and it was his evidence which eventually persuaded the U.S. State Department that the information about the Final Solution was not a mere rumor.
Boehringer was still alive in 1974 and at the age of almost ninety published a volume of excellent verse. I am told that he has since died and that a foundation which bears his name has been established in Geneva. I must confess, however, that there are certain incongruities in this case which still puzzle me. If Boehringer was not the mysterious messenger, I suspect the man was not, after all, an industrialist.
While much of the evidence points in the direction of Boehringer, it is not conclusive. The messenger might have been one of Boehringer’s collaborators, perhaps Johannes Prince Schwarzenberg who later became Austrian ambassador in London (he had dual nationality). But Schwarzenberg was certainly no industrialist. Or the messenger might have been a member of the German-Swiss Industrial Commission which met in Berne from time to time; but most of its members were bureaucrats, not captains of industry.
Internal evidence leads me to believe that the first letter of the “industrialist’s” name was probably “S,” and that at one stage he supplied important information to the American legation in Berne. There is a message from U.S. Ambassador Leland Harrison in Berne (“Most Secret”) dated September 29, 1942 which mentions all the legation’s informants at that time, which was prior to Allen Dulles’s arrival. The list is not impressive, but again there are some vague leads: who was “Lee” (also called Tom, and Poe-to, and Mr. Schwaken)? Was “Smith” (Sarasin), a Basel manufacturer whose family included well-known German industrialists, involved? Was Boehringer possibly acting in collaboration with yet another person?
I am no longer certain that the identity of the elusive “industrialist” can still be established with absolute confidence. The few who knew it are either dead or bound by a promise not to reveal his name. For this reason, even a denial cannot be accepted as the last word on the subject. Those who did not know him can only guess and thus he may, after all, have taken his secret to his grave.