In search of “Heinrich the Fowler”

This morning, while working through Sigrid Schultz’s articles from 1936, I stumbled on a creepy story. There are, of course plenty of creepy stories from Berlin in 1936, but this was creepy in a different way.


The article opened this way:

“A mystical ceremony in honor of the 1000th anniversary of the death of King Henry, founder of the Germany monarchy, was held today in the 1000 year old crypt of the Dom of Quedlinburg by the most militant fighters for the purely Nazi creed and Weltanschauung [world outlook].*

“They gloried Field Reichfuehrer Hitler as the reincarnation of King Henry who ‘united the Germans and refused to accept anointment by the Christian church.’ Their speeches sounded like so many appeals to the Fuehrer to assume the royal purple prepared for him by Henry.”

Schultz went on to describe thousands of Nazis gathered in the hall of the medieval abbey, which had been decorated to look like the “a royal hall of a German king”, where they received a history lesson about the reign of King Henry from Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the dreaded SS. According to Himmler, Henry pulled together the remnants of a Germanic empire that had been damaged by Christianity, created a disciplined army from what were formerly “rough youths”, and conquered neighboring countries. Not surprisingly, Himmler’s Henry sounded a lot like Hitler. **

The whole thing felt to me like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. And it made me wonder about King Henry. ( For some reason, I didn’t trust Himmler as a historian. Go figure.) So off I went to see what I could find.



It turns out that Henrich I (c. 876 - July 2 936) was important.***

Charlemagne’s  empire had crumbled into political chaos after his death in 814 thanks in large part to the Frankish custom of dividing kingdoms between their sons. As a result, his descendents fought for control over smaller and smaller kingdoms. Heinrich, also known as Heinrich the Fowler,**** reversed the process, melding the warring duchies of Germany into an uneasy confederation.

Heinrich was still trying to bring order to political chaos when he faced a new enemy: the formidable Magyars of Hungary invaded and repeatedly laid waste to Saxony. In 926, He got lucky. His army captured a Magyar prince. With the prince as a bargaining chip, Heinrich was able to make a deal: he would return his captive and pay tribute to the Magyars for nine years, during which time the Magyars would not raid German lands.

I don’t know what the Magyars thought Heinrich would do with that nine-year respite, but he put the time to good use. He built fortified towns along the frontier. He revived an old Saxon tradition of a peasant militia—the agrarii milities. And he modernized the Saxon army, creating a formidable cavalry that he led against the Slavic tribes on his borders. At the end of the nine years,  Heinrich refused to pay additional tribute. When the Magyars resumed their raids, he routed them in a decisive victory on March 15, 933.

With the Magyar threat at an end, Heinrich continued to expand and consolidate his territory. Perhaps the most important political decision he made was adopting the then unusual principle of primogeniture.  As a result, his oldest son, Otto, inherited the entire kingdom, which became the foundation for the Holy Roman Empire.

*The gloss is from the newspaper article. I would have assumed that most modern Marginalia know the term. And if they don’t, it would be easier for them to look it up than it would have been for the typical Chicago Tribune reader in 1936.

**I must admit, I am curious about Schultz’s sources for the story. Was one of her secret sources from the Nazi party in the crowd? Or did Himmler invite the foreign press to attend? Issue a press release?

*** It also turned out that he had crossed my path before in Paul Collin’s The Birth of the West —a book jam-packed with historical figures I was unfamiliar with and did not subsequently remember. This is why I seldom weed my non-fiction shelves. I never know when I will need to remind myself of something.

****According to popular stories, he was mending his bird nets, or alternately setting bird traps, when he learned that he had been elected King of Franconia It is an appealing story, but Collins rightly wonders why he wasn’t at the conclave where he was elected.

Going Viral, 1930’s Style

These days I spend a fair amount of time reading memoirs of people who were in Berlin at the same time as Sigrid Schultz, particularly memoirs written by her fellow journalists. They give me a slightly different perspective on what it was like in Berlin. They often share nuts and bolts of working with German press officers and censors, in the Weimar Republic as well as under the Nazis. Occasionally, Sigrid appears on their pages in a cameo role. (That always makes my day.)

And now and then one of them tells a  good story that I can’t wait to share:

On July 16 1931, Louis Lochner, the head of the Associated Press Berlin bureau attended a stag luncheon* hosted by Ambassador Frederic Sackett. In the course of conversation, Ambassador Sackett mentioned that he frequently had conversations with President Hoover via transatlantic phone call—a rarity at the time. The purpose of the calls was to discuss business related to Germany’s economic situation and America’s response to the same, included the general moratorium on Germany’s war debt which Hoover had just announced. Then Sackett casually added that he and the president often spoke in American slang to confuse anyone eavesdropping in the line. Journalism gold!**

As soon as he could reasonably excuse himself, Lochner headed to a phone booth, dictated a “short crisp story” to his office and instructed them to relay the story to New York.

Wire services like the Associated Press held an unusual position in the world of foreign correspondents. They provided news coverage for papers that could not afford their own correspondents. Even major papers relied on the wire services for “spot news”: small news stories that were of immediate interest and updates on important stories. As a result, a human interest story like the one Lochner cabled that day was potentially read by millions of readers.

And read it was. Not only did readers enjoy it, but editors and columnists across the country had fun inventing what the president and ambassador might have said. Here’s a sample from a column by Frank Sullivan that ran in The New Yorker on July 25, titled “You tell ‘em, Mr. Ambassador.”

“The Ambassador: So he says: ‘No sir, I wouldn’t give the Heinies one thin dime.’

The President: Nertz! What did you and he do then—phht?

The Ambassador: No, but we darn near did. I didn’t wan to tip my mitt to him so I just tried a little bluff. I says to him: ‘O. K., if you don’t want to play ball, then roll your hoop. Take your playtoys and beat it. Come on, bum, ooskrat. Twenty-three skiddo! Scram! Pick out a nice spot and go lay an egg there.’

The President: Boy, was that giving him the Bronx cheer! Did it work?

The Ambassador: Did it work, Mr. President! I’ll say! He came off his high horse in a split second. ‘All right,’ he says, ‘you win. You outfumbled me. I’ll pay the taxi. What do the pretzel-benders want? How much time?’ So I says: ‘Never mind, we’ll take care of that. You just put your John Hancock on this space here.’

The president: Clever, clever you, Mr. Ambassador.

The Ambassador: It’s the army game, Mr. President. Never give a sucker and even break’.”

(As far as I’m concerned, the funniest part is the two men addressing each other as Mr. President and Mr. Ambassador.)

According to Lochner, Ambassador Sackett thought the whole thing was a hoot. ( Not Lochner’s exact words, but I like to keep in the spirit of the thing.)


*No idea why it was a stag luncheon. Now and then some of “the boys” tried to keep Sigrid out of an event, but there was no sign of that in Lochner’s account. Possibly the ambassador’s wife simply wanting a day off from hostessing and turned her husband loose to entertain on his own. In the diplomatic protocol of the day, that would have meant no women were invited. Not even a female “newspaperman”.

**Historian’s gold, too, for that matter. If I were writing a different book I’d be hoarding that detail.

Mrs. Ruth Shipley, Chief of the US Passport Office


Every formal communication or article about Ruth B. Shipley, whether written by journalists during her lifetime or by scholars in the decades since her death, refers to her as Mrs. Ruth Shipley. She was formidable. She was powerful. And in the end, she was controversial. In 1951, Time magazine described her as “the most invulnerable, the most unfireable, most feared and most admired woman in Government.” And yet, she is largely forgotten today.*

Mrs. Shipley* was the Chief of the State Department’s Passport Division for 27 years, from 1928 to 1955. She did not simply run the department—she personally approved and disapproved passport applications, often based on her own sense of whether an applicant would, as Reader’s Digest described it “be a hazard to Uncle Sam’s security or create prejudice against the United Stats by unbecoming conduct.” As a result, many Americans whose names we do remember corresponded with her about their travel plans.

Shipley took her duties seriously. In 1933, she led a successful campaign to prevent a magazine from using the word “passport” in a advertising campaign for its promotional literature. She believed such use “cheapened…the high plane to which a passport has been raised.*** In 1937, she changed Passport Division policy and began issuing passports in a married woman’s name without caveat,  if the woman requested it. Previously married women’s passports were issued with her name followed by the phrase “wife of”.****

The functioning of the Passport Division was affected by larger issues of American politics. The Neutrality Acts of the 1930s restricted the ability of American citizens to do business abroad, and Shipley’s office became responsible for monitoring Americans’ international travel. A duty she exercised with a heavy hand and a lack of imagination regarding the consequence of some of her decisions. Since her decisions were not subject to judicial review, they were difficult to overturn, particularly since she did not offer reasons for the denial of any particular passport. (When she insisted on including the phrase “ on Official Business” on the passports of OSS agents, effectively "outing" them to enemy governments, the agency’s head, “Will Bill” Donovan, had to go all the way to President Roosevelt to get the decision reversed. )

Shipley's single-handed control over the passport process put her in the center of political controversy at the height of McCarthyism and the Red Scare.  In 1950, Shipley helped draft legislation that made it illegal for members of communist organizations to hold an American passport. As a staunch anti-Communist, she used the power of her office to restrict the travel of left-leaning Americans whether they were avowed Communists or not. Critics claimed, with some validity, that she was denying passports on arbitrary and personal political grounds. Her supporters defended her actions as important in the fight against Communism.

In 1955, Mrs. Shipley reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a Cold Warrior of some note, asked her to continue in her post, but she chose to retire, perhaps because the power of her position was being dismantled through a series of judicial decisions that required the passport division to implement due process procedures and a review system.


*In all fairness, many equally powerful male civil servants are also forgotten today outside of specialist circles. It is easy to forget how easily we forget.
**I see no reason to change the convention
***Obviously a short-term victory. I wonder what she would think of, say, the National Park System’s passport program.
****The impact of marriage on not only passport status but even citizenship prior to the 1930s is a complicated and infuriating subject. The fundamental idea was that a woman’s citizenship was tied first to that of her father and then to that of her husband. Don't get me started.


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A couple of notes about the blog:

1.  Those of you who subscribe to the blog may have noticed that it disappeared for several weeks.  (At least, I hope you missed me.) Apparently my used of a diacritical marker in a Slavic place name in an earlier post The Free State of Fiume upset the subscription software.  I kept writing posts, but they weren't going out by email.  And it took me a while to notice.  It's been fixed.  This post should go out in an orderly way.  And the new system will include links to the last few posts so it will be easy to catch up with any you missed.

2.  I am deep in the first "real" draft of my latest book. And I've got to admit, it's going slowly.  My manuscript is due May 1, 2023, which feels like tomorrow as far as I'm concerned.  I love writing these blog posts, but for the foreseeable future I'm going to cut back to one post a week.

Thanks for reading.