Herbert Haupt: America’s Nazi Spy

Chicago has been a haven for German immigrants for a long time. image020It might be something about the climate, it might something about being on the edge of the frontier in the 1800s, or it might be the thriving cattle and hog industries beckoned the skills they possessed. Whatever it was, German immigrants began arriving on the shores of the lake between 1840 and 1860, German immigrants began filling up the city and the trend continued after the Civil War. In the 1880s, the German immigrants often clashed with their Irish brethren who had come over to build the I&M Canal and escape the Potato Famine. It usually involved drinking beer on a Sunday, politics, or unions. In the 20th century, German-Americans took great pride about their place in Chicago history. However, not all German-American immigrants severed ties with the Fatherland. One, Herbert Haupt from Chicago, along with seven other Nazi sympathizers tried to wreak havoc as saboteurs here in the United States during World War II. Fortunately, they were caught. Six were executed and two eventually were deported after the war. Their tale is a wild one and it begins on the north side of Chicago.

Herbert Haupt’s parents immigrated to the United States from Germany in the early 1920s. Germany was in chaos following World War I and the Weimar Republic was teetering. In Chicago, the Haupts found a home, jobs, and acceptance for their young son Herbert. Herbert grew up and graduated Lane Tech High School.

Chicagoan Herbert Haupt

Chicagoan Herbert Haupt

Herbert worked at Simpson Optical and made atotal of $25 a week. Haupt made friends easily, with both men and women. Friend Wolfgang Wergin said that “Herbie was a sharp dresser and attracted women. One thing he could never get off his mind was women.” Haupt’s fiance Gerda Merlend (Stuckman) was set to marry Haupt. She became pregnant. In response, Haupt and Wergin along with another friend decided to take off for Mexico on a rather spontaneous vacation. Haupt and Wegrin got into Mexico while the other friend was turned back at the border. Haupt and Wegrin then made their way to Mexico City. After a few dalliances with local women, the two men running short on cash, bought a cheap car and tried to cross back into the US. Mexican authorities required the young men of 21 and 18 to pay taxes on the car. They didn’t have the money and somehow wound up working on a freighter bound for Yokohama, Japan. They arrived there on August 24, 1941. The two eventually wound up in December 1941 near Nazi occupied Bordeaux, France when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Wergin enlisted in the German Army, Haupt took another route.


Wegrin is on the left and Haupt is in the center

For Haupt, Germany had sent him to Stettin to live with relatives. When he and Wegrin initially arrived, they were detained by German authorities until the two mentioned they both had born in Germany. They were then sent to live with relatives in Germany and the two went their separate ways. Back home in the US, Haupt had earned a reputation for spouting off about the new greatness of the Third Reich. In fact, the family was known to be supportive of Hitler.

Soon after Haupt arrived in Stettin, he was contacted by a German officer named Walter Kappe. Kappe had spent 12 years living in the US and had returned to Germany in 1937. Kappe was part of a counter-intelligence outfit called Abwehr which was putting together a group of soldiers together who could blend in as Americans and take out military targets in the US. In essence, he was making spies. Haupt signed up but said he had no choice. He stated at his trial:

“When I saw [Kappe the second] time, he asked me if I knew that my mother’s brother was in a concentration camp and my father’s brother had been, and I answered in the affirmative. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed that I couldn’t get a job and whether or not the Gestapo and police had been bothering me, which they had. He pointed out that the only thing left for me to do was to return to the United States.”

In April 1942, Haupt began training near Brandenburg. His return to America would not be long. On June 13, 1942, four German soldiers left a Nazi submarine and landed close to Amagansett, Long Island, New York. Four nights later on June 17, another four landed near Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida. According to the FBI, their purposes were to

agents-1942strike a major blow for Germany by bringing the violence of war to our home ground through destruction of America’s ability to manufacture vital equipment and supplies and transport them to the battlegrounds of Europe; to strike fear into the American civilian population; and to diminish the resolve of the United States to overcome our enemies.

When the Long Island group buried their German uniforms and had put on civilian attire, a Coast Guardsmen approached them. George (John) Dasch, 39, promptly bribed George Cullen with over $200. As soon as the men were out of sight, Cullen reported the incident to his superiors. The hunt was on. For Dasch, he did not give the mission much chance of success. He confided in fellow saboteur Ernest Burger. Upon reaching New York, Dasch called the FBI twice using the name Pastorius , the name of the mission, and ratted out his co-conspirators without their knowledge. He turned himself in when he arrived in Washington, D.C. By June 27, all men were in custody. Five were arrested in New York. Haupt and Herman Otto Neubauer were picked up in Chicago.

The Saboteurs

The Saboteurs

Evidence they were found with (All pictures courtesy of the FBI):


Capsule containing acid in a rubber tubing for protection


electric blasting caps, pen and pencil delay mechanisms, detonators, ampoules of acid, and other time delay devices

Pen and Pencil assembled for use as delay device

The question now became how to go about trying and convicting the saboteurs. Would it be in criminal court or would it be in a military court? It would be hard to convict them in a criminal court as the eight men had not committed any act other than bribing a member of the coast guard. President Franklin Roosevelt felt the six men deserved to be executed as spies. He issued Proclamation 2561 in response. It reads:

75 – Proclamation 2561 – Denying Certain Enemies Access to the Courts
July 2, 1942
Franklin D. Roosevelt
By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

Whereas, the safety of the United States demands that all enemies who have entered upon the territory of the United States as part of an invasion or predatory incursion, or who have entered in order to commit sabotage, espionage, or other hostile or warlike acts, should be promptly tried in accordance with the Law of War;

Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States do hereby proclaim that all persons who are subjects, citizens, or residents of any Nation at war with the United States or who give obedience to or act under the direction of any such Nation and who during time of war enter or attempt to enter the United States or any territory or possession thereof, through coastal or boundary defenses, and are charged with committing or attempting or preparing to commit sabotage, espionage, hostile or warlike acts, or violations of the law or war, shall be subject to the law of war and to the jurisdiction of military tribunals; and that such persons shall not be privileged to seek any remedy or maintain any proceeding, directly or indirectly, or to have any such remedy or proceeding sought on their behalf, in the courts of the United States, or of its States, territories, and possessions, except under such regulations as the Attorney General, with the approval of the Secretary of War, may from time to time prescribe.

The prosecution in a military tribunal was selected for two reasons. First, FDR did not want the public to know that the reason they were captured so quickly was that Dasch turned them in. The second reason was that FDR wanted the death penalty. In a criminal court, intent to commit a crime might only bring about a two-year sentence and a fine.
The eight men were charged with four crimes, Articles of War 81 and 82d and two other charges against the law of war and conspiracy.


All eight were found guilty by a military tribunal. All but Burger and Dasch were sentenced to be executed. Burger and Dasch were given long prison terms later commuted by President Truman and they were deported.
The government quickly capitalized on the crimes in this short video.

At the trial, Haupt maintained all he wanted to do was to return to the US. He said had no intent of going through with the attacks on the American aluminum industry. He told his parents of his plans and he also told Neubauer of his lack of desire. The tribunal did not believe him. Haupt was executed on August 8, 1942 with the others in Washington, D.C.

The government next went after Haupt’s parents and their friends. A total of six more people were charged and convicted with treason. An appeals court would overthrow most of the rulings against Haupt’s parents and friends, although his parents would eventually be deported.

In recent years, the US government has referred back to the Haupt case, and others surrounding it, to uphold the use of military tribunals in the war on terror. George Dasch had filed a lawsuit during the proceedings to stop the tribunal. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court ruled the government was within its rights during wartime to try the case using a military tribunal. Ex parte Quirin (1942), as Dasch’s case became known, is the precedent for both the Bush and Obama administrations. However, what most historians fail to account is that FDR did not follow the precedent later in 1944 when a similar incident occurred. This document lays out the case for both sides in this wonderful PDF file that examines the issue in more detail.

For Haupt’s family, his parent’s hometown back in Germany was absorbed into Poland after the war. They had no home to go home to when the Polish kicked out the German population after the war. Gerda Merlend (Stuckman) had the baby, a son, but gave the child up for adoption. His whereabouts or identity are not known.

Gerda Merlund (Stuckman)  Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune  June 29, 1942  Page 2

Gerda Merlend (Stuckman)
Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
June 29, 1942
Page 2


Chicago Tribune Newspaper Articles
Proclamation 2561: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16281
Military Tribunals File: http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL32458.pdf

They Came to Kill
Shadow Enemies
Saboteurs, Nazi Raid on America
In Time of War

Haupt’s Chicago Home
Home of Nazi Spy Herbert Hans Haupt