Friday, May 6, 2016

Iowa's Most Famous Grinnell

In truth, I am not sure who is the most famous Iowan accused of treason, but Fred Kaltenbach (1895-1945) must surely appear on the list of candidates. Born into a German immigrant family in Dubuque, Iowa, where his father was a butcher, Kaltenbach grew up in Waterloo, and enrolled in Grinnell College in 1915. He graduated in 1920 from what is today's University of Northern Iowa, and after several years in unrelated work, began teaching high school in the late 1920s, first in Manchester, then in Dubuque. During summers he earned an MA from the University of Chicago, then spent time in early 1930s-Germany, there beginning study for his doctorate in history and acquiring a taste for the Nazi cause. When he exercised some of this enthusiasm in Dubuque after his return in 1935, Kaltenbach lost his teaching job, and decided to return to Germany where in 1939 he received his doctorate. At about the same time he gained a spot in Goebbels's propaganda machine, hosting a series of short-wave radio programs aimed first at keeping America out of the war, then at undermining American support for the war. In 1943 the U.S. government officially charged him and eight others with treason, but Kaltenbach never returned to the United States and never stood trial. Captured by the Soviets in Berlin in the last days of the war, Kaltenbach disappeared but was later reported to have died in Soviet custody, allowing the Americans finally to drop all charges against him.
Grinnell College 1917 Cyclone
As with so many subjects I have reported on this blog, I knew nothing about Kaltenbach until someone brought him to my attention. So when Steve Budd asked me about him, my curiosity was immediately aroused. From my first investigations, I found Kaltenbach's story fascinating. As some readers of this blog may know, quite a bit has been written about Fred Kaltenbach. Gerry Peterson, for instance, provides a wonderful overview of the family and Fred's own story. Several books are devoted to Americans who, like Kaltenbach, worked for German wartime propaganda, but Clayton Laurie has published an excellent study that concentrates upon Kaltenbach. Closer to Grinnell, David Hammer published a shorter version in Grinnell Magazine (spring 1991). Presenting little about Kaltenbach's experience at Grinnell, Hammer assumed that Grinnell was influential (but not guilty). I was unsatisfied with this explanation. What had happened to the young man at Grinnell?
As most studies point out, Fred Kaltenbach's earliest encounter with Germany came before he set eyes on Grinnell: summer, 1914 he and his younger brother Adolph (later known as Gustave or Gus) bicycled around Germany, and thus learned something about German public opinion on the eve of World War I. Indeed, hostilities interrupted the boys' trip, catching the two in Munich. The brothers were detained by the Germans (who took them for spies), before finally being allowed to leave for home in December, 1914. Although this experience might have shaken some, even at this early point Fred expressed obvious sympathy for his parents' natal country. About his 1914 visit to Germany, Fred later recalled, "I was swept by a powerful emotion and something inside me said 'I am going home.'" From his bicycle trip, Fred revealed how deeply he was caught up in a romantic vision of Germany. The Webster City Freeman reported in its November 3, 1914 edition that Fred had written his parents, expressing the wish "to join the German dragoons and have an opportunity to win the iron cross," as his German uncle apparently did.
Webster City Freeman November 3, 1914
The dream of the iron cross did not materialize, however, and soon the Kaltenbach boys were back in Iowa, their German adventure no more than a memory. Autumn, 1915 Fred enrolled at Grinnell College where he declared a double major in economics and political science. Before the north campus (men's) dormitories were built, Fred lived in Allbee House (1315 Park, now demolished); the 1917 campus directory has him living in the new dormitories, assigned to "Building 3," later named in honor of trustee Charles Rawson, father of Harry Rawson, the Des Moines architect responsible for planning the dormitories on both north and south campus.
Grinnell College 1918 Cyclone does not identify anyone, but Kaltenbach could be second row, middle
Grinnell College 1919 Cyclone
Having arrived at Grinnell, Kaltenbach continued to savor that 1914 trip through Germany, and several times revived memories of the adventure in public.  The Scarlet and Black reported that in early fall 1916—when Kaltenbach was beginning his second year at Grinnell and two years after he'd been in Germany—he delivered a speech to the campus Forum society, there recounting the story of his 1914 bicycle trip; a few months later (as the January 20, 1917 Scarlet & Black reported) he exhibited in the front windows of Bates's drug store in downtown Grinnell a collection of items that he and his brother had gathered in Germany during the war's first days. A more detailed account of the exhibition appeared in the Ottumwa Courier, enumerating the considerable breadth of items—including even some barbed wire—the boys had collected in Germany. No doubt over dinner or when relaxing with friends Fred found other occasions for remembering Germany, but these instances of public remembrance prove that, long after having returned home, Kaltenbach nourished an emotional attachment to his parents' home country. Not only did he continue to think and talk about it, but Fred kept close at hand an array of objects that memorialized the adventure.
Ottumwa Courier February 3, 1917
Of course other activities also claimed the young man's attention. Records indicate that Kaltenbach played intramural baseball, and that he was a member and (in 1917) president of the Republican Club. But clearly Fred was most interested in and most successful in oratory and debate. Here again one finds evidence of a special affection for things German, because when, as a junior Kaltenbach won third place in the 1918 Hyde Prize in Oratory, his subject was Alsace-Lorraine, one of the touch-stones of Franco-German hostilities that had given rise to the world war.
Scarlet and Black May 18, 1918
Kaltenbach's German self-identification shows through even more clearly in the short biography printed in the college yearbook. Reporting his participation in YMCA, the Debating Union, the Forum Society and other organizations, the 1919 yearbook (but produced in 1918, highlighting that year's juniors) provided a German version of his given name—"Friedrich" (rather than Frederick, as it appears elsewhere)—and indicated a very German nickname—"Fritz." Whether Kaltenbach himself authored the information or not, the names employed are suggestive of the young man's German identification and the extent to which classmates were aware of and recognized his preferences: his speeches were about Germany and his room in Rawson (where he lived his second year) must have been full of German memorabilia like that exhibited in the downtown drugstore. Almost certainly, therefore, there were many more occasions when "Fritz" reminded friends of Germany and his affection for that country, even if these moments did not make it into the printed record.
Grinnell College 1919 Cyclone
As America grew more anxious about the European war, the college began to reflect some of this preoccupation. By early 1918 the campus boasted three companies of student soldiers (so-called cadets), all regularly practicing military exercises on college grounds. The 1919 Cyclone profiled each of the three groups and published a photograph of Kaltenbach, identified there as 1st Lieutenant of Company C. Newspaper reports complimented the leadership qualities of the student officers, and reported that they had the same authority over student soldiers as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army had over his soldiers. At last, it seems, Kaltenbach's youthful urge to military glory was within reach.
Grinnell College 1919 Cyclone
So enamored with his training had the young man become that Kaltenbach left school after his third year, and in June 1918 enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was promptly commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the coastal artillery, but the war ended before Kaltenbach could see action overseas, thus frustrating some of those romantic aspirations. In the spring of 1919 he was demobilized, and, rather than return to Grinnell, he soon thereafter enrolled at Iowa State Teachers College from which he graduated in 1920.

Why not return to Grinnell and finish there? Apparently he did not choose the teachers college in order to become a teacher, since, although he did later take a position teaching high school in Manchester, Kaltenbach spent the first seven years after graduation as an appraiser for farm mortgage bankers in Waterloo. Teachers college was no doubt less expensive than Grinnell and closer to home, but the decision not to return to Grinnell still begs an explanation. Might Germany's humiliating loss in World War I have made Fritz leery of returning to Grinnell where he was known for his German interests?
Grinnell Herald-Register July 12, 1945
In the years after he left college, Kaltenbach's name rarely surfaced in Grinnell. How many Iowans listened to his short-wave broadcasts is unknown, but some in Grinnell, where in 1915 German-born residents made up the second-largest group of immigrants, might well have tuned in. Kaltenbach's occasional on-air references to Ottumwa or Waterloo apparently caught the attention of listeners (some of whom wrote to the government, offering help in identifying the broadcaster), but apparently during the whole of his Nazi broadcast career Kaltenbach never once mentioned the town of Grinnell or Grinnell College. A short article in the July 12, 1945 Grinnell Herald-Register reported that Kaltenbach—here called "Lord Hee-Haw" (as British authorities had christened the Iowan radio voice) had been arrested by Soviet troops. The article's sub-title identified Kaltenbach as a "former Grinnell College student," and briefly summarized his biography, an indication perhaps that most Grinnell readers were not familiar with the man.

In view of his truncated career at the College and the apparent unfamiliarity of Grinnellians with the man, did Grinnell make a difference in Kaltenbach's life story? Without doubt numerous forces—including his parents' origins—played their parts in making "Lord Hee-Haw" the man he became, but Grinnell definitely contributed significantly. Although Kaltenbach gave voice to an emotional connection with his parents' homeland even before he came to Grinnell, at college that affection matured and gained rational articulation, practiced on the oratorical and debate stage. So Germanophilic did Fred become that even fellow-students recognized him as "Fritz." This emotional commitment grew harder with his collegiate research, and found expression in his interest in Alsace-Lorraine and his concern with self-determination in the lands the Nazis later reclaimed. Moreover, the romantic appeal of military glory, already evident when as a teenager in Germany he wished to earn the iron cross, also received a boost at Grinnell from participation in Company C and the leadership role he exercised there.

In short, the Grinnell record indicates that, long before the butcher's son reached Hitler's Germany, he had already erected a mental shrine to Germany. Burnished and refined during his years at Grinnell, Fred Kaltenbach's devotion later found a generous reception in the Nazi propaganda establishment from which his voice reached around the globe and back into the Iowa heartland.

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