The Shrink as Secret Agent: Jung, Hitler, and the OSS
At the height of World War II, the U.S. intelligence service recruited world-famous Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung as ‘Agent 488’ to work against the Nazis.
PARIS — By the middle of 1942, a handful of senior officers in the German army and intelligence apparatus worried that their Führer, Adolf Hitler, had gone completely insane.
That may sound, today, like an understatement. But as happens when any populist demagogue takes power, many people embraced him at first, many others were willing to makes excuses for him, and still others convinced themselves that they could live with him at least. Indeed, over the previous decade the vast majority of Germans were persuaded that Hitler understood them, and they understood him—such was the chemistry between the man and his constituents—even if much of the rest of the world found him appalling.
“He is the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul,” world-renowned Swiss pyschotherapist Carl Jung told an American reporter in 1938.
But at this moment in 1942, Hitler was drinking heavily and had become increasingly erratic. Three million German soldiers fighting through a bitter winter had failed to take Moscow and his grand plans for conquest of the Soviet Union were turning to disaster. The United States had entered the war, and was beginning to bring its enormous resources to bear. A growing group of officers around Hitler wanted to remove him from power before he brought upon the Fatherland complete destruction.
But who could diagnose Hitler’s illness?
They thought of Jung, and not for entirely laudable reasons.
For years, Jung’s famous schism with his erstwhile mentor, Sigmund Freud, had been portrayed by the Nazis as a great divide between the Jewish Freud, decadently obsessed with the role of sex in the psyche, and the Aryan Jung, who drew on more mystical, symbolic, cultural elements for his analysis. And while Jung did not see himself as anti-Semitic and often told skeptical American audiences emphatically that he was not, he nonetheless allowed many Germans to believe that he was—even as he helped Jewish colleagues to escape the Holocaust. As Robert Boynton observed in The New York Times a few years ago, “He played all sides.”
With Hitler’s sanity a growing question, and believing Jung was someone Hitler would trust, one of the Führer’s physicians telephoned Jung in Switzerland and asked him to come to Hitler’s retreat in Berchtesgarden. The idea was to observe him discreetly and provide a neutral-sounding analysis of his condition that could then be used to persuade other officers that the time had come to oust the leader of the Third Reich before he brought the German heartland to utter ruin.
Jung declined, citing his age, 67, and the difficulty of crossing borders. But he may also have thought Germany was getting, in Hitler, exactly what it deserved.
Had the doctor and the conspiring military officers studied Jung’s work a little more closely in its original form, not the bowdlerized versions available in the Reich, they might have discovered that the demise of Hitler and the destruction of Germany as a unified nation was proceeding almost precisely as Jung predicted it should.
In early November 1942, just as Britain and the United States were launching their invasion of North Africa, a Wall Street lawyer and former diplomat named Allen Dulles made his way to Switzerland as the point man for the newly established American intelligence operation, the Office of Strategic Services. It later evolved into the vast Central Intelligence Agency with Dulles as its first and longest lasting civilian director, overseeing coups in Iran and Guatemala, and finally the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. But in 1942 the OSS was a seat of the pants operation, and Dulles, based in the Swiss capital Bern, was making things up as he went along.
Switzerland was a neutral island in the middle of Europe’s vast war, and its sleepy little capital was a nest of espionage and intrigue. (Scott Miller’s book, Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII, to be published in March, gives a particularly vivid picture of the place, the people, and their times.)
One of Dulles’s earliest recruits there was an American woman, Mary Bancroft, who was living with her second husband, a French-Swiss businessman, in Zurich. She was, in the context of the times, quite notorious. Her marriage was open, and she made no secret of her many affairs. Indeed, she liked to regale people with the intimate details. She spoke bad German and worse Swiss-German, loudly, and was famously incapable of keeping secrets in any language. Not a good candidate for the clandestine service, one would think.
But Bancroft did some work as a journalist, trying to explain Switzerland to the United States and vice versa, which gave her a little cover. She was a very patriotic American. And at 39 she was full of energy. At a cocktail or dinner, she might be the only person you’d remember. “I used up all the oxygen,” she boasted years later.
Mary Bancroft was also an “analysand” of Dr. Jung and part of the group around him known as the Psychological Club. Some members—maybe most of them—loathed her. But Jung liked her and so did his “second wife,” Toni Wolff, who asked Bancroft to write a paper for the group.
Dulles, then pushing 50, not only liked Bancroft, he put her in direct touch with a senior German intelligence officer, Hans-Bernd Gisevius, who was in possession of extraordinary and deeply granular information about the inner workings of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and some of the several plots to kill or remove Hitler.
Dulles also took Bancroft into his bed.
And Bancroft told Jung… everything. Then she reported back to Dulles what Jung told her, often briefing Dulles during “the ritual cigarette after lovemaking,” as she wrote afterward. Much of this before Dulles and Jung had ever met face to face.
According to Jung biographer Deirdre Bair, “Dulles was aware of the gossip about Jung’s alleged sympathy for the Nazi cause as well as the allegations of his active collaboration. From his many different intelligence sources, he ordered a thorough appraisal which he believed proved such allegations unfounded and untrue.”
It’s doubtful that Dulles spent much time poring over Jung’s academic works on the collective unconscious, introversion and extroversion, symbolism, alchemy, or other topics, but he almost certainly took the time to read an interview with Jung published in 1938, just after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain crumbled before Hitler, acceding to Germany’s claims on the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning American foreign correspondent H.R. Knickerbocker, who had spent years covering the Soviets and Germans, asked Jung to sit down for Cosmopolitan magazine (a rather different publication in those days) and share his thoughts on the three most infamous dictators of the time: Hitler, the Italian Benito Mussolini, and the Soviet Josef Stalin.
As Dulles himself wrote afterwards, Jung’s “judgment on these leaders and their likely reactions to passing events was of real help to me in gauging the political situation.”
Indeed the Cosmopolitan interview showed a level of foresight any observer then, or now, would appreciate, especially when he described the way a dictator can engage—and be engaged by—his people.
Jung saw Hitler as a mystic, a “medicine man,” channeling the unconscious as well as conscious desires of the German people, and saw similarities with some of his patients who heard voices telling them what to do:
“He is like a man who listens intently to a stream of suggestions in a whispered voice from a mysterious source and then acts upon them. In our case, even if occasionally our unconscious does reach us as through dreams, we have too much rationality, too much cerebrum to obey it… but Hitler listens and obeys… He is the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul until they can be heard by the German’s unconscious ear. He is the first man to tell every German what he has been thinking and feeling all along in his unconscious about German fate…”
And Jung understood well the dangers of nationalist populism, even in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan society:
“Don’t you know that if you choose one hundred of the most intelligent people in the world and get them all together, they are a stupid mob? Ten thousand of them together would have the collective intelligence of an alligator… In a crowd, the qualities which everybody possesses multiply, pile up, and become the dominant characteristics of the whole crowd. Not everybody has virtues, but everybody has the low animal instincts, the basic primitive caveman suggestibility, the suspicions and vicious traits of the savage.”
But what surely was most interesting for Dulles, who believed even in 1943 that the Soviets were as great a threat as the Nazis, was Jung’s prescient prescription in 1938 for how to deal with Hitler, this shaman who listened only to his inner voices, ignoring advisors and and critics.
“Turn his attention away from the West,” said Jung. “Let him go to Russia. That is the logical cure for Hitler…”
Knickerbocker asked what would happen to Germany then.
“Ah, that’s her own business. Our interest in it is simply that it will save the West,” said Jung, almost three years before Hitler launched his ill-fated Operation Barbarossa. “Nobody has ever bitten into Russia without regretting it.”
In fact, Jung had concluded that the only way for Europe to have peace was for Germany to be divided. A nation as led by these dictators was a huge mob, “a lizard, or a crocodile, or a wolf.” It is “a monster,” he said. “That’s why I am for small nations. Small nations mean small catastrophes. Big nations mean big catastrophes…”
No, he was not going to be a party to saving the Reich, with or without the Führer. But he would use the information he had learned from others plotting Hitler’s overthrow for the benefit of the Allies.
By early 1943, Jung and Dulles had met in person, according to Deirdre Bair’s 2004 biography, Jung, which first focused attention on his relationship with the OSS. By then Dulles and Jung were engaged in a “still-experimental marriage between espionage and psychology,” the psychological profiling of political and military leaders.
Dulles gave Jung the code name Agent 488 and sent a telegram to David Bruce at the operational headquarters of the OSS in London suggesting he pay careful attention to the information as well as analysis Jung was producing. Among other things, Jung predicted Hitler would commit suicide as the end came near.
“Without specifying,” Bair writes, “Dulles told Bruce that Jung’s opinion was based on ‘dependable information,’” most likely from some of those who had been plotting to oust Hitler, “and perhaps from unidentified patients.
“Jung knew that Hitler was already living underground in his East Prussian bunker and that anyone who wished to see him had first to be disarmed and X-rayed. Guests invited to dine had to sit in silence as Hitler did all the talking, and the resulting ‘mental strain’ had already ‘broken several officers.’”
Jung believed that the leaders of the army were too disorganized to carry out a coup even though Bancroft had told him all about Gisevius (with whom she had started another affair), and about Gisevius’s involvement with German military and intelligence factions plotting Hitler’s demise.
In February 1944, Carl Jung was out walking and had a bad fall, breaking his leg. A few days later he suffered a heart attack and found himself bed-ridden for the next several months under the protective gaze of his “first” wife, Emma. By the time she allowed Mary Bancroft to visit him in mid-August, much had happened.
Enormous armies were closing in on Germany from the east and the west, racing to see who could conquer the most territory and determine the future shape of Europe. The Allies had landed on Normandy’s beaches in June and were on their way to liberating Paris before charging on toward Germany. The Soviets were pushing through the Balkans. And the German officers who had plotted for so long to eliminate Hitler were determined to make their move.
In mid-July 1944, Gisevius had decided to return from Switzerland to Germany, knowing that the last, best effort to overthrow the Führer was about to take place. He met with the leader of what was called “Operation Valkyrie,” Claus von Stauffenberg, and realized that part of the plan was to cut a deal with the Soviets. It was thought they might be more tolerant of the horrendous atrocities committed by the Nazi Reich.
Eight days later, on July 20, 1944, the massive bomb that Stauffenberg had left in a conference room with Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair, the Fürher’s secret command center, somehow failed to kill him. But it spelled death for the many conspirators plotting against him.
When Bancroft met Jung on Aug. 19, she was stunned by his physical frailty, but impressed by his still voracious curiosity. He quizzed her “at white heat” about the failed plot at the Wolf’s Lair. He said that he had not heard in any reports the names of the two most senior officers he knew were plotting against Hitler: Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, and Gen. Hans Oster, so he hoped there might be new attempts to kill Hitler. But at the same time, the mystic side of him saw the surprising failure of the well-conceived plot as Hitler being given a chance once again “to lead the German people to destruction.”
And thus it came to pass.
By the spring of 1945, the Third Reich was no more, Germany was in ruins, and the challenge for the Western Allies was to persuade the German people to surrender to them more quickly than to the Russians.
Jung wrote a note to Dulles that he passed on to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, saying that Nazi propaganda could no longer be effective, constructed as it was around a moral hole, or vacuum, and praising Eisenhower’s own proclamations to the German people, which gave them hope.
Shortly after the war, Allen Dulles told one of Agent 488’s longtime disciples, “Nobody will probably ever know how much Professor Jung contributed to the Allied Cause during the war, by seeing people who were connected somehow with the other side.” But Dulles said there was no way to reveal them: Jung’s services were “highly classified,” they “would have to remain undocumented,” and so they are.
But that has not prevented Jung’s views from becoming part of our collective unconscious, helping to make us wary of dictators and demagogues, and warier still of those who embrace them.