Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sigrid Schultz - the dragon from Chicago

Earlier this week I read this short blurb about a woman I'd never heard of before:
January 5, 1893 (1980) – Sigrid Schultz, war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, interviewed Hitler, reported on German-Russian non-aggression pact, wrote articles on German concentration camps.
(source: NWHP January calendar)
I was surprised I hadn't heard of this amazing woman's story until now, so I went looking for more information about her life and her work.

Fortunately I was able to get a copy of Kerrie Logan Hollihan's Reporting Under Fire: 16 Daring Women War Correspondents and Photojournalists, which has an entire section devoted to her. (I am a huge fan of Kerrie Logan Hollihan, and highly recommend you check out her bibliography.)

Sigrid Schultz was born in the US, but spent much of her childhood in Europe. Her father was a portrait painter and traveled Europe painting for the wealthy elite. Having grown up in Europe, Sigrid spoke perfect German and French as well as English. She studied history and international law at Berlin University. Her family was forced to remain in Germany during World War I because of health issues. As alien residents, they were required to report their movements to the authorities twice a day throughout the war. She was intelligent and curious, and while she was able to socialize with the German elite, she was not taken in by their political agenda. All of these experiences went into making her the remarkable journalist was was to become over the next two decades.

Her fluency in multiple languages and her intimate knowledge of German politics made her a perfect candidate for an opening at the Chicago Tribune, whose owner and publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick was impressed by Sigrid's persistence to pursue any story she was assigned. In 1919, she was hired in the Berlin office of the Tribune, and by 1925, she was promoted to the position of chief correspondent for Central Europe, making her America's first woman bureau chief at a foreign desk.

Her strength was as a superb investigator and reporter, and in the years leading up to WWII she was committed to finding and telling the truth about the rising National Socialist Party. This put her at considerable risk and she often had to resort to writing under a pseudonym and filing her reports under false datelines out of other European offices. Even so, she remained a target for expulsion. She'd watched as other reporters were targeted by the political elite. One technique the Germans used to silence reporters was to plant information they could then "discover" and use to put the reporter on trial for espionage.
Sigrid took great care not to be tripped up by such tactics, so one day, when her mother telephoned to say that a stranger had dropped a packet of papers at her flat, Sigrid jumped up from her desk and raced home. The packet held designs for airplane engines. Sigrid threw it in the first and watched it burn.
(source: Reporting Under Fire: 16 Daring Women War Correspondents and Photojournalists)
Later, undaunted and refusing to stand down, she confronted Hermann Göring, former WWI flying ace and now leading member of the Nazi Party, about the use of these unethical methods of silencing the press. Angered by her insolence, he nicknamed her "that dragon from Chicago."
She stressed that correspondents were not foolish enough to buy or send information meant for spies. She said agents who, judging by their seedy looks were obviously underpaid, posed the danger of concocting lies about the press. "Schultz, I`ve always suspected it," Goering said, shaking his fist at her. "You`ll never learn to show proper respect for state authorities. I suppose that is one of the characteristics of people from that crime-ridden city of Chicago." (Goering was so angry, Schultz recalled in her memoirs, that he dubbed her "that dragon from Chicago.")
(source: Chicago Tribune)"
She stayed in Germany for as long as she could, filing reports about concentration camps, government assaults on churches and other institutions, telling the truth about increasing persecution of Germany's Jews, warning about dangerous alliances with other countries, and otherwise trying to convince the world of the atrocities she was witnessing. By 1940, though, with the war raging around her, she found it necessary to leave. First she fled to Spain, but in 1941 illness forced her to return to the United States. She spent the next years writing and lecturing about her time in Germany, all the while keeping a close eye on the news reports. As soon as the war was over, she was back on the front lines, this time reporting about the fall of Germany, and covering the Nuremberg Trials, and helping the American public understand exactly what had happened.
"We were the first pressmen who landed near Weimar and entered the corpse-strewn concentration camp of Buchenwald. When our plane flew into Leipzig where the battle was raging, we nearly got trapped by SS guards in a big building we examined," she recalled. Fortunately, they did not go into the basement where, they later learned, SS guards stood ready to shoot them.
(source: Chicago Tribune)"
In the years since World War II there have been no shortage of stories about brave men and women who fought against fascism and tyranny in the midst of incredible danger and in the face of overwhelming indifference around the world. I sometimes wonder what I would be able to achieve under similar circumstances. Would I have the dedication to continue fighting when my life was threatened? Would I willingly remain in a dangerous situation for the sake of a greater goal? I don't know, and I honestly hope I never never have to face such terrible challenges. But if I do, I sincerely hope I would find the strength to be as fearless as Sigrid Schultz. What a truly remarkable, inspirational woman!

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