Just a Notice

I see by the “search”-feature of wordpress that every now and then people search for Elsbeth SCHRAGMÜLLER (I and II) or Oberst NICOLAI (IIIb)  and find this blog.
For people interested in the history of German intelligence this years’ annual conference of the International Intelligence History Association may be of interest. It takes place in Marburg from 17th to 19th of June and focuses on “German Intelligence History from Bismarck to the Present”. The call for papers is out now. I will link to the conference report on HSOZKULT and will note when the papers and lectures are published.
German Intelligence is one of the last “uncharted territories” in the German historical science. As the announcement of the conference puts it:

The state of historical research is characterized by large gaps both with regard to sources and to important studies. The military staff records for World War I were destroyed for the most part. For other periods sources are patchy. For the period after 1945 archival access is still heavily restricted (except for East Germany) but rapidly improving. But the difficulties with German source materials are an insufficient explanation for the gaps in historical research. Most German scholars of military and diplomatic history have been reluctant to take intelligence into account while non-Germans have often led the way to a more comprehensive perspective. The wider historical community has yet to appreciate the benefits of intelligence history in many fields, especially in writing the history of war and conflict. This conference aims at filling some of those gaps.


interesting women, Persons


I wrote about Elsbeth SCHRAGMÜLLER (1887-1940), das Fräulein Doktor, here and there. In a totally different connection I came across Oberst NICOLAI (1873-1947) (Ger., Eng.) again, her chief through the Great War and the head of section III B. He is mentioned in a Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich*, because he was a member of the board of the Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschland (Ger.), a pretty unsavoury institution.
III B was the military intelligence service of the Prussian and later the German army. It was founded 1889 as a section in the Generalstab and later became an own departement (Abteilung), steadily growing. NICOLAI was the head of this organization from 1913 until the end 1918. III B always was in competition with the Navy (Marinenachrichtendienst, Ger., Nachrichtenabteilung des Admiralstabs, founded 1889) and the different sections of the Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt, Ger., Eng.).
As a kind of forerunner of NICOLAI Wilhelm STIEBER (1818-1882) (Ger., Eng.) can be seen.  But STIEBER is basically a police man of the Criminal Division, who in the times of the 1848 revolution also did domestic intelligence avant la lettre, working seemingly with the Preußische Geheimpolizei (Ger., Eng.) too. Later (in the 1860s) he became head of the Feldgendarmerie (Ger., Eng.) and so was responsible for the counterespionage corps. STIEBER played a role in the running of the Central-Nachrichten-Büreau, the very first structured German intelligence organization. I read somewhere that it was part of the Foreign Office**, but am not sure, I have not yet looked for a history of this organization. After all in those years around 1871 the institutions are still in a liquid state of forming.
When NICOLAI took over 1913 he found a working organization, but with large room for improvement. Generally it was not overly successful throughout the war, with SCHRAGMÜLLER’s work as notable exception. NICOLAI’s last second in command was Major Friedrich GEMPP (1873-1947) (Ger.), the first head of the Abwehr (Ger., Eng.), who also died in Moscow, one week before his old chief.

* KLEE, Ernst: Das Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945, Frankfurt a.M. 2007, 433.
** The Foreign Office established an independent historical commission some years ago, the final report will be available in the coming days: Das Amt und die Vergan­genheit. Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik. Here’s an interview with Prof. ZIMMERMANN.

interesting women, Persons

Interesting Women: Elsbeth Schragmüller II

Elsbeth was born 1887 in Schlüsselburg in Westphalia. Her family later moved to Mengede where her brothers were born and where her father held a post in the civil administration (Amtmann). He built a house in a nearby village and the Villa Schragmüller stands to this day. Elsbeth was educated by her grandmother and received a prussian education with special focus on languages, French was the teaching language. Elsbeth says about her grandmother that “anything that seemed to foster my education was supported by her”.
It was not a normal thing for young ladies to receive a formal certification, but Elsbeth made the grammar school exam (abiturium) what allowed her later to study. For that purpose she had to go to the most modern German state, the Grand Duchy of Baden, where the first girl’s school (Lyzeum) had been founded, 1893 in Karlsruhe. 1908 she received her certificate there. She inscribed at the university of Freiburg (Baden) and thus belonged to the first, pioneering generation of young women in the German academic world. As subject of her studies she choose Staatswissenschaften (roughly: Political economics), she went also to Lausanne and Berlin.
She worked as student assistant and finally wrote her doctoral thesis at the institute of Prof. Karl DIEHL, who marked her work with summa cum laude. So in 1913 Dr. SCHRAGMÜLLER left the university and begun working as teacher and social worker. 1914 WWI started.
She did not want to work as nurse or give out tea and soup at the station. She was a qualified woman and finally managed to get a permit to visit the fronts. Given her abilities in French and English she went to the West and made it to Brussels. She “antichambered”, finally met Field-Marshall von der GOLTZ and reported to him what she wanted. In the end she found herself in the Kriegsnachrichtenstelle Brüssel (Antwerpen was not yet fallen) checking confiscated mail from Belgian soldiers. She was good and so she was offered a full position and finally found herself in the company of (reserve-) officers with different (academic) backgrounds, where she was treated as equal. She moved to Lille for training early 1915, met NICOLAI of IIIb and returned to her job in the Kriegsnachrichtenstelle, which had moved into Antwerpen after the fall of the fortress: She kept this position until the end of the war.
She described her job as “the organization of systematic intelligence on the large Western theatre finally reaching as far as America; the recruitment of contacts, their instruction, the securing of their line of communication, personal debriefing, verification of their statements, and the production of reports for the general headquarters”.
Especially the debriefing she enjoyed. NICOLAI wrote: “It is significant that in the German intelligence service a cavalry officer from an old noble family and an extraordinary well-educated woman knew best about handling agents, even the most difficult and sly ones.”
After the war’s end Elsbeth went to Freiburg (Baden) to live with her family. She worked at the university again, as assistant to Professor DIEHL, published articles, helped to work on books, it is not entirely clear for how long. In the end of the 1920s the family moved to München. She began touring as lecturer to earn money. The 1930s were a hard time for the family, especially 1934 when her father died of natural causes and her brother Johann Konrad was killed in the “Nacht der langen Messer” (ger., eng.), he had been a high-ranking SA-officer and head of the police of Magdeburg. NICOLAI tried to get her a pension, but it is unclear whether he was sucessfull. She seemingly was not re-activated 1939 and died 1940: “Elisabeth Schragmüller, unemployed, doctor of Law and Political Economy, protestant, living in Munich, Akademiestraße 11, died on 24th of February 1930 at 3 o’clock”. I read somewhere that she died from a form of tuberculosis.
There is no grave. And no verified picture. In a newspaper-article from 1931 she is described as “super slim, fine and very reserved blonde with a girl-like voice and earnest objectivity”.
A very interesting woman.

I used this article: Hieber, Hanne: “Mademoiselle Docteur”: The Life and Service of Imperial Germany’s Only Female Intelligence Officer, in: The Journal of Intelligence History 5 (Winter 2005), 91-108.

For “Fräulein Doktor” in film, see here.

For a German biographical article, go here.

interesting women, Persons

Interesting Women: Elsbeth Schragmüller I

Elisabeth Franziska Catherina Anna SCHRAGMÜLLER (1887-1940) later called herself simply Elsbeth. The world knew her as das Fräulein Doktordemoiselle docteur: That’s how she introduced herself to the spies she lead.
Dr. SCHRAGMÜLLER was the only female intelligence officer in the Kaiserliche Armee. A lot of nonsene was written about her and she became a figure of fiction, and a kind of projection area for (male) phantasies of any kind. To make some points clear from the beginning, Elsbeth was no active spy in the sense that she would go to foreign countries and look for regiments moving or such. She received no Iron Cross, but nearly all of her colleagues of Kriegsnachrichtenstelle Antwerpen got one. She had no flaming affairs with moustached mysterymen and never jumped over the infamous electric fence the German military erected at the border to neutral Netherlands 1915.
She was a professional and highly effective spymaster.
There is no actual and comprehensive history of German Intelligence in the Great War for various reasons, they are explained here. (See here too.) One reason is to be seen in the course of history itself through the 20th century. The Historical Science does not float in a bubble but it is always dependent on the social surroundings and developments of the society. In the 1920s contemporary history in Germany was written as apologetic narration to proof Germany’s “innocence” to the “outbreak” of the war; the nationalsocialistic university history wrote clearly ideological statements and after WWII, given the continuity of institutions and personal, writing military history was not en vogue. Exempt was only the pure military history (division a moved to place b), but there were also apologetic subtones.
A second reason is that as a result of a bombardement just short before the war’s end the military archive in Berlin that contained the sources for such a history burnt out.
Only after 1989 new sources appeared which could shed new light on Elsbeth’s life. Russian archives prior untouchable, unreachable or even unheard of, popped up and opened themselves reluctantly for scientific users. There is still much to discover, and I really regret that I did not learn Russian when I had a chance to.
The most important source for Elsbeth’s life is the file on Oberst Walter NICOLAI (ger.), whom the Red Army kidnapped after 1945. Oberst NICOLAI was a very interesting person, head of Abteilung III b and Elsbeth’s chief.
To be continued.