The 70-year-old memorial to Nazi spies, first discovered by the Park service in 2006, is getting a lot media attention thanks to some excellent journalistic work by The Washington Post.
The story begins in 2006 when a team of power company workers were surveying an overgrown field in Southwest Washington, D.C. What the workers found was a large slab of granite with an inscription honoring six Nazi spies who were executed by the U.S. government in 1942. Eventually a history buff and resource manager for the National Park Service heard about the discovery of the Nazi spy memorial; Jim Rosenstock set out to see the memorial for himself and to discover who erected it there and why.
Washington Post writer John Woodrow Cox sat down with Rosenstock
to hear his account of how the mystery surrounding the Nazi spy memorial unfolded. Woodrow Cox writes:
Rosenstock recalled of that day in 2006 when he began to help unravel an only-in-Washington mystery, complete with World War II espionage, nationwide panic, a mass electrocution, J. Edgar Hoover chicanery, white supremacists, classic federal bureaucracy and a U.S. Supreme Court case that played a significant role in America’s modern war on terror."
The memorial was found in a part of D.C. known as Blue Plains, just west of the District-Maryland border. Until The Post
caught wind of the story from the Park Service, very few people in the area knew of its existence. The names of the six Germans inscribed on the memorial are the names of spies recruited by the higher Nazi Command to conduct a secret terror mission to the U.S.
Woodrow Cox wrote, "Adolf Hitler had been determined to show the world just how susceptible America was to a Nazi attack." Shortly after arriving on U.S. land, the spies were discovered and forced into hiding.
A Big Break for J. Edgar Hoover Sets a Dangerous Precedent
The leader of the mission, George John Dasch, turned in the rest of the men to the FBI, hoping to pocket the $82,000 he'd been paid for the mission and to be hailed a hero by the U.S. government. Instead, the FBI took credit for the arrest of the spies, and infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover saw an opportunity to make an example out of the men. What resulted was a national frenzy and problematic profiling and imprisonment of German immigrants; Woodrow Cox writes:
Hundreds of German aliens were rounded up and others, suspected of spying, were arrested. The Justice Department banned German and Italian barbers, servers and busboys from Washington’s hotels and restaurants because three of the would-be saboteurs had worked as waiters in America."
Hoover skipped due-process, and all eight men were tried by a secret military commission -- a dangerous precedent to be followed 59 years later in George W. Bush's war on terror. In mid-summer 1942, seven U.S. Army generals found all eight men guilty, leaving their punishment up to Hoover. The FBI director sentenced six of them to death, and two, including Dasch, to long-term prison sentences.
[caption id="attachment_2782" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
The military commission where the fate of the German spies were determined[/caption]
On August 8, all six spies were executed at once in what one historian called
"the most dramatic mass execution in American history since the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators." The sentencing and executions were kept secret from the public. Three days later, the men were buried in a seldom-trodden patch of land in Blue Plains, D.C.
The chair used to execute them is now tucked away in a cluttered room at the D.C. Archives.
But Who Erected the Nazi Spy Memorial?
The Nazi spy memorial says it was donated by the "N.S.W.P.P." Until the mid-1960s, the National Socialist White People’s Party had gone by a more familiar name: the American Nazi Party.
Woodrow Cox writes, "By the 1970s, though, the [N.S.W.P.P.] had begun to split apart and had lost much of its relevance, leading Rosenstock to believe the Nazi memorial dates back to that time. The group totally disbanded in the '80s, meaning the monument had been sitting on National Park Service land for at least two decades before its discovery in 2006.
The Park Service debated what to do with the memorial since it was erected illegally, but they weren't sure if it marked the graves of the Nazi spies. Rosenstock told The Post,
"We certainly did not want to be hosting a site for midnight rituals on Hitler’s birthday” and that he and others had found deer bones and candles at the monument -- which was regularly cleaned and maintained by someone. No evidence suggested that the six Germans were buried there, as their burial was kept a secret. Some members of the Park Service suggested the monument be destroyed, but ultimately, in 2010, under the direction of a museum curator, the memorial was exhumed with a forklift.
Woodrow Cox concludes the story:
"The stone, tagged OXCO-475, now spends its days beneath a protective blanket on a shelf at a storage facility in suburban Maryland. Park Service staff asked that The Post
be no more specific than that because, though they didn’t mind its long-unknown story being told, they’d prefer that its exact location remain a secret." A now secret monument for a once-secret execution.
For more details on this interesting bit of D.C. history, head over to The Washington Post to read John Woodrow Cox's full story.
What do you think of the Nazi Spy Memorial? Should it be kept a secret? Let us know in the comments below.