“The Princess, who has been described as a ‘notorious member of Hitler’s spy organization’, was believed to be in seclusion… at 2950 Vallejo Street, San Francisco, today.”
That must be one of the most surprising sentences I’ve read in quite some time. A Hitler spy who’s a titled princess is secluded in one of the best addresses in Pacific Heights? Surely a work of fiction?
Actually, it’s from an article in the Oakland Tribune, December 19, 1940. After reading it, I had to learn more.
It turns out that the princess in question was a 43-year-old red-headed Hungarian divorcee, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, who acquired her title by marriage to an Austrian nobleman, became a society columnist, gained access to the German Reich Chancellery in Berlin and quickly befriended Adolf Hitler.
She was called a gold-digger, a spy, a socialite, a hostess, and one of the most dangerous women in Europe.
Hitler, calling her his “favourite princess,” overlooked her Jewish origins, and employed her on private diplomatic missions, having her convey secret messages and set up meetings involving Hermann Goering (a personal friend of hers), Lord Halifax, Lord Rothermere, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Hitler awarded her the Golden Insignia of the Nazi Party, and in 1938 gave her a castle in Austria which had been confiscated from German theatre director Max Reinhardt (the 18th c. Leopoldskron Castle in Salzburg.)
Hitler was infatuated with her… but so was his aide-de-camp, Fritz Wiedemann, an attractive man said by one acquaintance as “exuding eroticism.”
After learning of Captain Wiedemann’s affair with Princess Stephanie, Hitler fired him as his assistant, and sent him to the United States to be the German consul in San Francisco, a city that Wiedemann loved since he visited it with Stephanie in November 1937.
When he arrived in his new post in March 1939 Stephanie came with him, and stayed while he set up residence in a rented home in Hillsborough, where he was later joined by wife Anna Luise, and their children. Stephanie returned to London where she became involved in a nasty lawsuit. Wiedemann wasn’t well received socially in Hillsborough, and in a few months, the family moved to San Francisco.
In Life Magazine’s June 26, 1939 issue, there was an extensive profile of Wiedemann, which noted that to deal with social ostracism in San Francisco, “he and Hitler are thinking of summoning Stephanie, Princess zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfurst to San Francisco. This remarkable woman, with her wide international contacts, has more than once performed miracles for the Third Reich… She can give parties to which her title will attract the potentates of the West Coast, and ‘Captain Fritz’ will casually drop in.”
When Princess Stephanie re-joined him in San Francisco in December 1939, the FBI believed that Hitler had sent her in order to help Wiedemann set up an espionage network. She moved in with him and his family as a “house guest” at their Pacific Heights mansion.
The bureau characterized her as “being extremely intelligent, dangerous and clever, and as an espionage agent ‘worse than ten thousand men,’” and under J. Edgar Hoover’s watch, had her under 24-hour surveillance.
A year later she was ordered to leave the United States, but she tried to secure an extension on her visa. She claimed she was “anti-Nazi” and “pro-American.” Local newspapers at the time tried to figure out what was going to happen to her. On December 19th and 20th, 1940, they reported that she was secluded “at Captain Wiedemann’s home at 2950 Vallejo Street, San Francisco.”
An FBI report said that she had a “nervous breakdown” on December 23, and broke with Wiedemann on December 30th, leaving his residence and moving temporarily to an apartment in Palo Alto. Time magazine reported on January 27, 1941, that “ill and half hysterical” she was arrested by U. S. immigration officers in a hideaway at Palo Alto….”
She eventually left the Bay Area on July 1, 1941, and was on the point of being expelled from the US as a German spy, but she outmaneuvered everyone by starting an affair with Major Lemuel Scholfield, head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and another affair with an important official in the State Department.
After the war she returned to Germany and began a new career in media. Following her death, a biography was written called “Hitler’s Spy Princess,” by Martha Schad.
Wiedemann also left San Francisco in 1941, never to return to the beautiful Vallejo Street home.