'Breaking the silence' of WWII

Posted: Friday, September 17, 1999

Eduard Schulte never liked the Nazis.

Schulte, a powerful German industrialist, watched Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s with growing dismay. He eventually used his influence to spirit Jews out of Germany and leak wartime secrets to the Allies, although it cost him his financial empire and the country he loved.

His granddaughter, University of Alaska professor Priscilla Schulte, will tell his story and how he was abandoned by the Allies after the war and estranged by his family. Her presentation, ``Breaking the Silence: Perspectives from a Rescuer's Family,'' will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Egan Library at UAS.

For decades after the war, military historians puzzled over a mysterious agent who worked inside the Third Reich to aid the Allies. Identified only by a code name, he supplied key information about the Nazi death camps. The informant was Eduard Schulte and in 1986, writer and historian Walter Laqueur finally told the story in his book, ``Breaking the Silence.''

Priscilla Schulte said when she was growing up in California in the 1950s, her family didn't discuss its German heritage.

``We learned not to be German,'' said Schulte, who teaches anthropology at the UAS campus in Ketchikan.

She was born in Switzerland after the war. Her mother, an American with the U.S. State Department, was working in Switzerland and had met her father there in the late 1940s. Her father had some bitter feelings toward his family and the past, and it took years for the story of her grandfather to emerge.

``We didn't talk about it,'' she said.

Over time, bits and pieces of the story came out.

``You hear these family things, and you don't know if your family is building it up,'' she said. ``I didn't know it in a historical context.''

She remembers at one point, her father developed a close friendship with a man he learned he had been in combat with in Europe - on opposite sides of the battle lines.

Her father Ruprecht Schulte and his brother had grown up wealthy, and had every reason to believe they would inherit the family fortune. Their father was a respected international banker and industrialist, patriotic but opposed to the Nazis. He thought Hitler was trouble for Germany and he never joined the Nazi party. As the persecution of the Jews escalated during the 1930s, Schulte began sending some of his Jewish employees on overseas ``business trips,'' which provided permanent asylum.

During the war, Schulte used his banking connections to leak information about the death camps to Switzerland, but by 1944, the Gestapo was onto him. He fled to Switzerland, and the secret police went after his two sons, who were serving in the German army.

When Priscilla's father got word he was facing execution by the Gestapo, he deserted the German army and walked to Switzerland. His brother was not as lucky and died in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp.

Schulte said her grandfather wanted nothing more than to help rebuild his homeland after the war, but he was deliberately excluded. UAS History Professor Pat Fitzgerald said the Allies essentially blacklisted him, figuring that a man who had betrayed his own government was not to be trusted.

Schulte lost his fortune, and in the ensuing years, he left his wife and married another woman. All that created hard feelings between Ruprecht and his father.

Schulte said her grandfather was eventually honored by the government of Israel as a rescuer.

Her talk is part of a five-part series connected with the exhibit, ``Varian Fry: Assignment Rescue, 1940-1941,'' on display at the UAS Egan Library. Next Saturday, the documentary ``Weapons of the Spirit'' will be shown at 5 p.m. at the Egan Library.

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