Last week, I left off at the point where George Dasch and Pete Burger had landed on a Long Island beach as part of a four-man German sabotage team. Neither was a Nazi. Dasch was a naturalized American citizen who at the outset of World War II visited Germany thinking it was safe to do so because America was neutral, and found out that under German law he was still a German citizen. Burger had lived in the United States for a long time, had returned during the Depression to find work, had attended college and done well, but been arrested and thrown in a concentration camp by the Gestapo for writing against the Nazi Party.
Both were in Germany when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and were drafted into a sabotage unit because they had lived in America. Unknown to the others in their group, and to each other, they each planned to defect. But then they talked to each other; Burger stayed with the rest of their team and Dasch called the FBI on a New York City pay phone and told them who he was.
They didn’t believe him!
That’s what I said. They—did—not—believe—him!
Dasch had more than $83,000 in U. S. currency when he put the phone down, almost 25 years pay at current wages. He says, “There was nothing in the way of Nazi surveillance to prevent me from taking (the money) and fading into a happy and luxurious obscurity.” He also knew he could walk away because Burger had $9,000 — two to three years pay — and would do all right on his own.
He didn’t do it.
He left Burger a note saying, “Sorry for not having been able to see you before I left.” Then, determined to do what he had come to do, he took the train all the way to Washington! Once there, he went to FBI Headquarters and told his story again.
They still didn’t believe him! Even though it had been reported that four men had been observed on the beaches of Long Island, where Dasch said he had been landed, they gave him the runaround. Finally, Assistant FBI Director D. M. Ladd agreed to talk to Dasch, but even he didn’t believe him!
In total frustration, Dasch dumped his $83,000 in cash on Ladd’s desk. Suddenly, everything changed, but not the way Dasch had expected. Now he found himself treated as a dangerous German spy. However, after Burger and the other two men in their team, along with a second four-man team, which had been landed in Florida, were arrested and brought to D.C., he and Burger began to be treated as the heroes they were.
Told by J. Edgar Hoover himself that everything had to be hush-hush for security reasons, they were put in cells with the others and told to go along with everything that happened. They were promised there would be a trial, and they would be publicly convicted, but not to worry because President Roosevelt would quietly pardon them. They were happy about the secrecy because it meant their families back in Germany would be safe from Gestapo harassment.
When the FBI announced the capture of the eight saboteurs, not one word appeared in the news saying that Dasch and Burger had voluntarily turned themselves in and supplied information. It made Dasch a little nervous to see his face in the paper as a captured Nazi saboteur, but he and Burger went along with the deception, trusting that the promise made to them would be kept.
All this is, of course, a matter of record.
A secret military tribunal took place. All eight men were adjudged guilty and sentenced to death. A chaplain went into the cells to tell each man his sentence. He later said that the other six men looked pale and stunned when told they were to die, but Burger was reading a copy of The Saturday Evening Post when he entered and told him he had been spared.
“Yes, sir,” Burger said — and went back to his magazine.
President Roosevelt, as a part of a public deception set up for Nazi consumption, commuted the sentence for Dasch to 30 years, and for Burger to life, both at hard labor. Dasch and Burger were not concerned; J. Edgar Hoover had assured them that they’d be granted a pardon, hadn’t he?
You guessed it, Johnny.
Their pardons never came! Dasch and Burger served six years at hard labor and were then deported to Germany in 1948 by President Truman.
With their secret now public, they were reviled as traitors. Some people think Burger slipped into Spain to escape the hatred heaped upon them, but Dasch bravely stayed in Germany for his remaining 44 years.
Imagine it, Johnny. Dasch went all the way to Washington to argue hour after hour that he was a German saboteur so he could help his adopted nation, but was put in prison for his trouble — and never pardoned.
He went to his grave still believing his pardon would come.
No one has ever publicly apologized for what happened.