a darker shade of bad hat

‘Bad hats’ was a term employed in China during the 20th century to describe undesirable or simply ‘bad’ characters that landed in their treaty port concessions.

“In the 1930s a new breed of ‘bad hat’ began to emerge, often well-financed and politically affiliated with intelligence contacts in their own countries.The term began to take on a much darker shade in the press. One of the most notorious was a Viennese Doctor by the name of Hermann Erben.

image found here

In 1924 he won a fellowship for study at the Psychiatric Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey. He moved to the USA and acquired citizenship. In 1926 he began a wandering life and ended up a ship’s doctor on the American Dollar and President lines. In 1934 he visited Papua New Guinea and struck up an aquaintance with the film star Errol Flynn.The two of them ended up bumming around together travelling to India, Abyssina and then Vienna. In 1935 the New York Herald Tribune reported his arrival abroad the freighter ‘City of Rayville” in the company of 1,100 monkeys that he was importing from Calcutta. Upon disembarkation in New York he encountered difficulties with the customs authorities. Eventually he secured admission with his simian charges and took lodging with them at the YMCA but left soon afterwards, following a difference of opinion over the bill.

image found here

In 1937 he was reported to have been engaged in inciting a mutiny abroad an American cruise liner on which he was working. FBI inquiries revealed a pattern of challenging behaviour aboard the ship; he allegedly “wiped his hands on the American flag after taking food from the icebox”, had given the Nazi salute to a passing German ship and had threatened anyone criticizing Adolf Hitler that he would “sink his teeth into their throat”. His on board stage act was an uncanny impersonation of Adolf Hitler for anyone interested.

Baby Hitler found here

In 1941 Erben arrived back in China. He went directly from the docks to the German consulate, where he was interviewed by local Gestapo and bureau chiefs. Shanghai at this time, due to its non-defined territorial international settlement’s status, had become a hotbed of espionage activities,  its big hotels were famous for eavesdroppers and electronic bugs which had led to such wartime incongruities as a Nazi-controlled German embassy being housed in a British owned building on the Bund.

Shanghai in the 1940s found here

Erben, as a ship’s physician, was assigned to treat American sailors. He also received an order to contact the U.S embassy in his capacity as a U.S citizen with a view to learning about their security. Meanwhile he practiced medicine as a venereal disease specialist and abortionist for rich Chinese and foreign families. Extortion by sexual blackmail became something of hobby for him too, a well-known practice amongst corrupt doctors in the city. He also entered the opium smuggling business which proved more lucrative than espionage for the Nazis. Slowly the lure of easy money drew Erben away from his Nazi beliefs and he began selling ‘intelligence’ reports to Allies and Axis powers alike, often being creative in his write-ups. 

image found here

The German intelligence establishment in Shanghai came to consider Erben an extremely questionable person and made inquiries about his background. In 1943 a message came from Berlin that Erben was an ‘imposter, narcotics dealer and American propagandist’. The Nazis in Shanghai decided to play one of their (few and far between) humourous jokes on him. His controller, a Gestapo officer called Habenicht, asked him to go undercover in an internment camp in order to gather intelligence; from there he could effect an escape with an American prisoner and flee to Chungking to work as a German agent. He was handed over to Japanese guards but Erben quickly became a pariah, due to the other inmates’ well founded suspicions. He spent two and a half years in the camp as a ‘volunteer’ with no word from his controller. It appears to have been a joke assignment from his Gestapo superiors.

image found here

After the war he returned to Vienna and took up medicine again (where no one discovered another of his secrets -he never actually got his medical degree), dying at the age of 88 in an tiny unheated apartment in 1985. 

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:33 am  Comments (49)  
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49 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. he checked into the YMCA with 1,100 monkeys?
    maybe the village people were there that night.

    • would there have been enough room?

  2. Oh my gosh, baby Hitler was such a cutie pie! Who could imagine that adorable little baby becoming genocidal? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    And the monkeys! What could bad hat have possibly had in mind to do with all those monkeys? Medical experiments?

    Chinese insults are so uniquely understated. I’ve heard that comparing someone to a turtle is a great insult there.

    • What made that adorable baby into a monster? Violent abuse from his father, apparently. What made a modern, civilised nation follow him? That’s another question.

      • “Modern, civilised nations” have nothing on the bands of ignorant savages swinging blades and chucking rocks.

        Except maybe medicine and humor.

        The comment was more about babies than monsters. But thank heaven we prevailed against that monster, and may he be the last such menace brought forth by civilized modernity.

    • Yes, because turtles have perverted sex and “Turtlehead” refers to a physical characteristic of male humans. Quite reasonable insult terms, actually. And Hermann the Germann seems to have attracted insulters. (Nobody trusted him! Poor baby. But they never looked at his medical credentials. Or didn’t care because he had no patients anyway.)

  3. What a creep!

    • A nasty piece of work

  4. A joke assignment?! Those Nazis were a riot…

    • weren’t they just?

  5. Maybe he had all those little soft monkey babies because he was short of toilet paper?

    Don’t you just love the subtleties of German humour.

    Hitler: “Today we invade Poland”
    The rest of Germany: “Ha Ha Ha “

    • Monkeys as toilet paper? Only a twisted Scottish bastard could come up with that

  6. From now on, whenever I see a new doctor, I’m going to ask what their hobbies are. If the list includes extortion by sexual blackmail, I’m going to cancel my appointment.

    • Ooh Laura…. what could they blackmail you about?

  7. Barry Humphries did a great after-dinner speech where he talked about his good friend Reinhardt and the humour of the Third Reich – amongst many other topics.

    The sound and picture quality is poor but the speech is hilarious…

    • I just read Rudolph Herzog’s book about jokes under the Nazis. Actually, the Nazis pretty much had NO sense of humour, and tried to stamp it out in their opponents. One trait, among many, that made them so dangerous.

  8. Amazing how several of your subjects practice their subjects without actually passing a degree, or getting found out.

    • Yes, he’s not the first I’ve posted about

  9. Not that he didn’t deserve it, but 2½ years in an internment camp? That was some “joke.”
    I’m still pondering the YMCA stay/bill – 1,100 monkeys?!!

    • The monkeys have me baffled too

  10. German spy HQ is China WW 2 ? Is that how they knew how to make Berlin Wall ?

    • Carl, you’ve confused me….

  11. Those silly Nazi’s! A bunch of cut-ups, weren’t they?

    • Someone should make a movie about them. Oh wait, Mel Brooks already did

  12. Oh hell yes I want a finger monkey.

    BTW…I found the topic of your next post http://www.neatorama.com/2012/04/21/portrait-of-the-patron-saint-of-transvestites

    • Oh i can’t borrow from Neatorama, they have too many readers already

      • But not YOUR readers. They steal all their stuff from Uncle Johns Bathroom readers anyway.

  13. Not that I have any regard for the Nazis my initial feeling was that the scumbag deserved internment… Then again one of my oldest friend’s mother was interned by the Japanese in Rangoon. Her mother and brother died in Japanese captivity. I don’t think I would wish interment by the Japanese during WWII on anyone

    • I’ve seen some horrifying images of those camps. you’re right Jams, not something to wish upon another.

  14. I used to read “Madeline and the Bad Hat” by Ludwig Bemelmans to my daughters and never really understood the true meaning. The definition was implied but I never bothered to look it up.

    • I don’t know that book. i spent my childhood reading Enid Blyton and Louisa May Alcott

  15. loved reading this and great images hitler baby so sweet someone must have laced his bottle with something really good posts love them xjen

    • Thanks Jen. Are you still working on your problem with wordpress?

  16. I love your blog–it’s so enjoyable for someone with a dark sense of humor like me! It also makes me feel a little better about myself to see that there really are weirder people than I!

    Also, I love the photo of the pygmy marmosets! Those are the smallest monkies in the world–and ever since I first saw one in a book, I’ve wanted one as a pet! I hear they’re very aggressive, though–I guess they have to be!

  17. 1100 monkeys in YMCA ?
    i’ve seen those small monkeys you have in that photo! they dont feel like monkeys to me.

  18. ‘Never be seen in public with a bad hat’ – that is currently my family motto. xxx

  19. For not being licensed he must have at least been somewhat confident in his results… considering his ‘methods’ and the unfortunate patients he was inflicting them upon…

  20. It’a amazing how far some of these people can get, despite all the crazy things they do.

  21. There is so much which can be taken as retrospective humour in the Nazi foibles. A pity they were so nastily evil in real time. Still, 1,100 monkeys deserves some punishment!

  22. What a very enterprising individual. Interesting that his fervent belief in Nazism wasn’t quite so fervent when he discovered opium smuggling was more lucrative.

    Considering some of the duff advice I’ve had from doctors, I’m also wondering if they all had the proper medical qualifications….

  23. It’s interesting that no one ever found that he never completed his medical degree.

  24. It’s good that the YMCA fellas decided to put aside their ‘prejudice’ against monkeys…..the whole theory of evolution and what not….and allow them lodging…

  25. Didn’t he smell a rat with the ‘going undercover thing’??? Still at least the rest of the world was safe with him there

  26. I’m sorry. I got distracted at the adorable finger monkeys.

    • Too cute aren’t they Tammy?

  27. I’ve never seen a baby pic of Hitler…yikes. Scary how such sweet little things can become such hateful creatures!
    Enjoyed your post as always!

  28. I could swear that I have commented here last week. Something like “typical SD-humor”.

  29. I’ve heard of “black hats” but not “bad hats.”

  30. I promised my cats that I wouldn’t ever bring another pet home and disrupt our little family. But I am seriously tempted by those tiny monkeys.

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