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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Jackie and Bob

Lately I seem to be writing a lot about murder so it’s time for a little light relief of the doggie variety

Jackie was a black-and-white spotted dog, a Dalmatian mix, that became known for the political incident he caused between its owner, Tor Borg, his company, and Nazi Germany.

image of Jackie O and her dog found here

At some point in time, Jackie was trained to raise a single paw whenever the name “Hitler” was mentioned, appearing to emulate the Nazi salute. In 1941, shortly before the invasion of the Soviet Union provoked the Continuation War, an anonymous source notified Nazi authorities of Borg and Jackie.

Jackie and Borg found here

The report of Jackie’s actions set into motion a series of documents and diplomatic cables between the German Foreign Office, Economy Ministry, Nazi Party Chancellery and German diplomats in Finland. Borg was summoned to the German Embassy in Helsinki where he admitted that on a few occasions his wife called the dog “Hitler” and that on a few occasions it did respond with a raised paw.

Hitler and his dog found here

The Foreign Office spent three months investigating ways of bringing Borg to trial for insulting Hitler, but no witnesses would come forward. Finally, in March 1941, the Chancellory decided that “considering that the circumstances could not be solved completely, it is not necessary to press charges.”

 Historian Klaus Hillenbrand had this to say on the absurdity of the Nazi effort regarding Jackie. The dog affair tells us the Nazis were not only criminals and mass murderers, they were silly as hell. There are very few things you can laugh about because what they did was so monstrous. But there were two or three dozen people discussing the affair of the dog rather than preparing for the invasion of the Soviet Union. They were crazy.”

image found here

Bob the Railway Dog was part of South Australian Railways folklore.

Bob first experienced the railway life, when, as a young dog, he took a fancy to the workers building the railway near Strathalbyn and followed them to the line. His true railway career appeared to commence later when he was obtained as a runaway by William Seth Ferry, Assistant Station Master at Petersburg.

image found here

Bob was known to travel on trains to and from Petersburg often sitting in the front of the coal space in the locomotive tender, travelling many thousands of miles. He didn’t like suburban engines because of their cramped cabs, but was known to clear out third class compartments for his sole use by “vigorously barking at all stations, usually succeeding in convincing intending passengers that the coach had been reserved for his special benefit”.

Petersburg Post Office found here

In his early career, he had a number of falls, after which he refined his skills jumping up onto, or from one locomotive to another, including when they were moving. On one occasion he is reported to have fallen from an engine travelling between Manoora and Saddleworth. He managed to walk with an injured leg, two miles to Saddleworth.

image found here

In Port Pirie, his tail became jammed – just where is not known. In another incident, he is reported as losing an inch off his tail after slipping off, and on another journey, his coat caught fire.

image found here

During a stay in Adelaide, he is reported to have spent time at Goodwood Cabin, and, after tripping down the cabin’s stairs, rolling under and out the other side of a passing train.

During one of his visits to Port Augusta, he is reported as catching a steamship to Port Pirie, after he apparently confused the ships whistle with that of a locomotive.

image found here

The Petersburg Times records that “only during one winter did he look miserable, when some employee on probation cut off all his hair except that of his neck and tip of his tail. He was supposed to look like a diminutive lion, but his voice betrayed him”.

image found here

The Advertiser reports he retired to Adelaide where he was known to dine regularly at a butcher’s shop, run by a Mr Evans, in Hindley Street, until his death at the age of 17.

If readers have any interesting or funny dog stories of their own, please tell me about them in the comments. Thanks to Coyote for pointing me in the direction of Bob the Railway Dog


Piano-playing, Harvard-educated Putzi Hanfstaengl was Hitler’s foreign press secretary.

image of Putzi and British PM found here

Putzi excitedly told Adolf about the hypnotic effect of college cheering sections at U.S. football games and, at the piano, demonstrated the “buoyant beat” of U.S. brass bands. Recalls Putzi: “I had Hitler fairly shouting with enthusiasm. ‘That’s it, Hanfstaengl, that is what we need for the movement, marvelous,’ and he pranced up and down the room like a drum majorette.” The “Rah, rah, rah!” refrain of Harvardmen, by Putzi’s account, became the thunderous “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” of the Brownshirt demonstrations.

image found here

An accomplished pianist, art dealer and amateur historian, Hanfstaengl looked down his cultural nose at Hitler. Not only did the man resemble a suburban barber on his day off; he could not tell a Caravaggio from a Michelangelo. Worse, he seldom paid his debts, loved to stuff himself with pastry and whipped cream, sat delightedly through three showings of King Kong. Hitler, says Putzi contemptuously, was a Muttersöhnchen (mamma’s boy).

Caravaggio or Michelangelo? (rhetorical question)

“I felt Hitler was man who was neither fish nor fowl, neither fully homosexual nor fully heterosexual,” he explained. “You can drink very weak tea, or very thin absinthe and you can suffer from very diluted sex inversion.”

Putzi was one of the many who believed that Hitler suffered from syphilis.  At the time of his supposed infection it was still thought that the pox could only enter through a flaccid penis, so men who practiced coitus interruptus would achieve some measure of safety.

One of the “cures” used on Hitler by his personal physician, syphologist Dr Theo Morrell, was the application of leeches to his head to alleviate buzzing in his ears.

Emo Hitler found here

He also gave him Homoseran, derived from human placenta and capsules of Mutaflor which contained bacteria cultured from the faeces of a vigourous Bulgarian peasant, after which, for a time, he felt better.”

beware the jack dempsey erection

image found here

Lina Basquette was a prima ballerina and silent movie star who was married nine times. She also caught the attention of Adolf Hitler.

“The man repelled me so much” she recounted. “He had terrible body odour; he was flatulent. But he had a sweet smile, and above all, he had these strange penetrating eyes.”

image found here

Her first husband,  Sam Warner, was 20 years older than his bride.

“He died two years later of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 40. She had one daughter, Lita, by this marriage. Husband No. 2 was cinematographer J. Peverell Marley and they divorced about a year later. She was also widowed by Husband No. 3, actor Ray Hallam, who married her in 1931 and died that same year at age 26. Husband No. 4 and 5 was Theodore Hayes, former boxing trainer to prizefighter Jack Dempsey. They married in December of 1931 but it was annulled when it was found he was a bigamist; they remarried in 1933 but divorced two years later after having one son, Edward. Marriages to Husband No. 6, British actor Henry Mollison, No. 7, Warner Gilmore, and No. 8, Frank Mancuso, ended in divorce.

She also had an affair with Jack Dempsey

Dempsey was a strong, powerful youth who quickly discovered he had a talent for fighting. With the help of his older brother Bernie Dempsey, he began training to be a professional boxer. His other brother, John Dempsey, shot his own wife, then killed himself in a murder-suicide in 1927

Dempsey was for a short time, a part-time bodyguard for Thomas F. Kearns, president of The Salt Lake Tribune. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a shipyard while continuing to box. After the war, he was accused by some boxing fans of being a draft dodger. It was not until 1920 that he was able to clear his name on that account, when evidence was produced showing he had attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but had been turned down

But Jack Dempsey is not only the name of a famous boxer.

“It’s a cichlid fish that is widely distributed across North and Central America  Its common name refers to its aggressive nature and strong facial features, likened to that of the famous 1920s boxer.

In 1997 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a man had died when he put a Jack Dempsey into his mouth as a joke: the fish erected its fin spines to avoid being swallowed, a characteristic cichlid anti-predator response, and became wedged in the man’s throat.

In an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, a Jack Dempsey is recovered at the scene of a murder, and is taken home by an unsuspecting Detective John Munch, who intends to give it to his tropical fish-collecting girlfriend as a present. As a surprise, he places the fish in her aquarium, where it proceeds to devour $4,000 worth of her fish before being removed. Munch later refers to the fish as an “assassin who uses piranhas as toothpicks.”

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 7:11 am  Comments (34)  
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the handkerchief of devotion

Lida Baarova was a Czech actress who had an affair with Joseph Goebbels.

She was born Ludmila Babkova in Prague on May 12 1910, and made her first film, The Career of Pavel Camrda in 1931. Three years later she was signed up by a German company and cast in Barcarole as the innocent sexual pawn of squalid male intrigue.

Goebbels told me he loved me time and again,” she recalled 60 years later, “and I felt his eyes burning into my back every time we were in the same room together.” The Fuhrer too, was given to staring mutely in her direction; indeed, when he visited her film studio he seemed to her to be mesmerised. Shortly afterwards he invited her to tea.

Hitler teapot found here

She arrived at the wheel of her BMW which Hitler seemed to consider rather too liberated. On this occasion, however, he found his tongue to the extent of telling her she reminded him of his half niece Gerri Raubel who, he encouragingly explained, had committed suicide on his account.

Lida’s BMW found here

Goebbels invited her to hear him speak at a Nazi congress. He promised to touch his face with a white handkerchief during the speech as a sign of his devotion.

Panicking, Baarova tried to leave town. But as her train waited at the station, a messenger arrived with roses and the minister’s picture.* “He was a master of the hunt, whom nobody and nothing could escape,” she said.

The actress, who died alone in poverty in November aged 86, reveals that Goebbels’s wife, Magda, proposed a ménage à trois to save her marriage but Hitler ordered an end to the two-year affair on the grounds that it could damage the Nazis’ image as guardians of traditional family values.

Lida saw Goebbels one last time at the 1942 Venice film festival. He ignored her. “He must have recognised me, but he did not make a single movement,” she said. “He was always the master of self-control.”

If interested you can see a photo of Hitler and Lida here, with Goebbels photoshopped out

* There is also a photograph of Goebbels’ corpse here. Be warned: the image is very graphic

Published in: on January 6, 2010 at 7:14 am  Comments (41)  
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heady business

Stanley Lovell worked in the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War


“Another device we made for intelligence agents originated when a spy told me he was nearly trapped in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin.

“I would have given anything'” he said, “if I could have created a panic in that lobby.”


My answer to the spy’s suggestion was “Hedy.” Hedy was a simple firecracker device which, when you pulled a small wire loop, simulated the screeching Doppler effect of a falling Nazi bomb and then ended in a deafening roar but all completely harmless. By activating Hedy the agent could have a chance to escape in the turmoil he had created. It was named after Hedy Lamarr, because my lusty young officers said she created panic wherever she went.


Equally simple was the explosive candle. Pretend you know a French girl who has access to a German officer’s study or bedroom. Give her your candle to replace the half-consumed one already there. It will burn perfectly until the flame touches the high explosive composing the lower two-thirds of the candle. Since the wick extends into a detonator and the latter is embedded in the explosive, the burst is as effective as any hand grenade.


Women’s accessories offered a wide source of concealment. It is easy to melt a lipstick, pour the molten wax around the message tube and recast it in its original shape. All containers for the female form divine become themselves available as concealment areas. Steels in corsets and foundation garments can be deadly stilettos provided they don’t work loose and stab the operator in a critical area. We are, as it happens, considering a still sensitive area of activity in camouflage, so the reader’s imagination will have to supply the devices omitted from this recitation.


My favorite attack on Adolf Hitler was a glandular approach. America’s top diagnosticians and gland experts agreed with me that he was definitely close to the male-female line. His poor emotional control, his violent passions, his selection of companions like Roehm, all led me to feel that a push to the female side might do wonders. The hope was that his moustache would fall off and his voice become soprano.

facial hair

Hitler was a vegetarian. At Berchtesgaden, the vegetable garden that supplied his melodramatic Eagle’s Nest on the rocky peak had to have gardeners. A plan to get an O.S.S. man there, or an anti-Nazi workman, was approved. I supplied female sex hormones and, just for variety’s sake, now and then a carbamate or other quietus medication, all to be injected into der Fiihrer’s carrots, beets or whatever went up to his larder.

Since he survived, I can only assume that the gardener took our money and threw the syringes and medications into the nearest thicket. Either that or Hitler had a big turnover in his “tasters”


Published in: on October 11, 2009 at 9:11 am  Comments (21)  
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