What's Between a Hitler Aide, a Jewish Refugee and Someone Who Never Really Existed?

This story revolves around three individuals, each of whom could be the initial subject for a drama.

This story revolves around three individuals, each of whom could be the ideal subject for a drama. At the heart of the story is a historical mystery that is both disturbing and fascinating. The first protagonist in the narrative is Franz von Papen, a German politician who briefly served as vice chancellor under Adolf Hitler. The second is Alfred Wiener, a Jewish refugee from Germany who did to the Nazis one of the few things a Jew could do to them: He documented their crimes in real time. The third, Sidney Warburg, never really existed. And one could add a fourth protagonist to this tale: Adam Raz, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University.

The plot is complicated and full of intriguing details, and thus hard to sum up in just a few sentences. In 1933, not long after the Nazis' rise to power, a 99-page booklet was printed in The Netherlands, which was entitled "De Geldbronnen van Het Nationaal-Socialisme (Drie Gesprekken Met Hitler )" and can be translated as "The Financial Sources of National Socialism (Three Conversations with Hitler )." The purported author was someone named Sidney Warburg, who was described in the book as a member of a well-known Jewish family which had immigrated to America from Germany and was very active in banking, philanthropic and cultural circles in New York.

The book claims to expose a plot concocted by a number of American tycoons interested in helping the Nazis rise to power in Germany. The economic logic behind the plot is somewhat fuzzy: Apparently, the tycoons hoped to profit from the cessation of payments to France that Germany was ordered to make following World War I. In any event, the person they chose to send to Germany to close the deal was none other than an American Jew, Sidney Warburg. In this little book, he described three meetings he claimed to have had with Adolf Hitler.

A few months after the book's publication, The New York Times reported that the Warburg family had apparently fallen victim to a hoax because no member of that prominent family was named Sidney, and none had ever met Hitler. The book was a forgery. At the family's insistence, the Dutch publisher halted sales of the book and destroyed all outstanding copies.

The whole affair could have ended then and there, but it was not forgotten and it haunted the Warburg family even after World War II. Someone even tried to blackmail the family: At least one copy had apparently survived and the blackmailer wanted them to pay in order to keep the whole affair out of the limelight.

In 1952, von Papen published his memoirs. He had enjoyed a pleasant life in Hitler's service and had been acquitted at the Nuremburg Trials. In his memoirs, he writes about the Nazis' financial sources and, in this context, quotes from the book by "Sidney Warburg." Although it is unclear how von Papen came upon this book, he found it convenient to echo its claim about American financiers who were interested in helping Hitler come to power; furthermore, it was convenient for him to use the book purportedly authored by Warburg because it made no mention of von Papen himself.

In the American edition of von Papen's memoirs, which came out in 1953, there is an appendix: an affidavit by someone named James Paul Warburg, a colorful figure and the nephew of philanthropist Felix M. Warburg - after whom a rural community, Kfar Warburg, is named in southern Israel. James Paul Warburg served as an adviser to FDR and also left his imprint on Broadway as the author of a successful musical ("Fine and Dandy," 1930 ). In his detailed affidavit, he declares that he is not the mysterious "Sidney Warburg" and repeats his family's claim that they were in no way involved in any funding scheme that helped the Nazis.

However, the story still refused to die. In 1982, United Press International reported that the little, forgotten Dutch book was about to be published in Germany. At some point, it had been translated into German and that version had been stored in an archive. The book was presented as a real historical scoop, augmented by its claim that the Warburg family's bank, which had in the meantime renewed operations in Germany, had transferred at least $10 million to Hitler.

A short while later, the German publisher apparently had a change of heart and decided not to publish the German translation after all. The book was subsequently translated into English as "Hitler's Secret Backers," and was published in 1999 by CPA Books (it can be purchased through Amazon.com ).

The entire story has recently taken a dramatic twist. Raz, who is interested in the economic connection between the two world wars, discovered a copy of the original Dutch edition - as far as anyone knows, the only surviving copy. Today, it is part of the Wiener collection in Tel Aviv University's Elias Sourasky Central Library.

Wiener was a German-Jewish journalist and researcher who, early on, realized that the Nazi movement's history and crimes must be documented. With the Nazis' rise to power, he fled to The Netherlands, where he probably purchased a copy of the book by "Sidney Warburg." When World War II began, he moved to London, where he died in 1964. During his lifetime, he collected some 150,000 books, posters and documents relating to Nazism and anti-Semitism.

In 1980, the Wiener collection was transferred to Israel; it is thought to be one of the most important resources in the world for research on Nazism and World War II. The book by "Sidney Warburg" is listed in its catalog. But the last page of the slim volume carries the comment, written many years ago, that the book is not for public circulation because of its defamatory nature.

Meanwhile, it is hard to imagine that the discovery of this rare book will shed any light on the true identity of the author, or on the author's reason for writing it. Although the book's wide dissemination on the Internet is for the most part serving the interests of anti-Semitic and anti-capitalist propagandists, it is quite possible that renewed attention to this affair might encourage scholars to delve into such issues as the help Hitler received from German and foreign financiers, including American tycoons, and the economic activity of international companies in Nazi Germany.

Daniel Tchetchik