Yesterday, our students were honored to receive a lecture from Dr. Katrin Paehler, an associate Professor at Illinois State University. Her lecture was titled: “Spying While Female: Hildegard Beetz, Nazi Espionage, and the Quest for the Ciano Diaries.”
This piece of history involves the fascinating attempts of the political foreign intelligence service to obtain diaries that would be damaging to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. These attempts were part of the typical efforts to undercut one’s competition within the Nazi bureaucracy, but the story itself is pretty outstanding.
Hildegard Beetz worked as a secretary for the embassy in Rome where she developed a relationship with the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, whose diary her superior was trying to obtain. Ciano and Beetz fell in love, and when he was arrested for treason she helped develop a plan to exchange his freedom for the diaries. The plan never came to fruition, but she did help his wife escape and thus gained access to the diaries. When the American military intelligence came to her door she handed them a translated copy of the diary, and began her career as an American spy.
Dr. Paehler focuses on gender analysis in Beetz’s role in this fascinating story. She suggests that her gender was both her greatest strength and greatest weakness. She ended her lecture saying:
Researching women in subaltern positions of potential influence – secretaries, clerks paper pushers, and the amorphous office girls – does tell us about women and their roles in Nazi Germany…This research also helps us to understand better how organizations and their activities worked in the concrete historical context. We all know that it is the secretary who runs the place and knows where the bodies are buried. Indeed, chances are that she was the only one who knew where to find the shovel in the first place.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website:http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/