25 September 1900|
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||16 February 1971
|Organization||Foreign Office (Germany)|
Fritz Kolbe was born in Berlin. He was employed as a mid-level diplomat by the German foreign ministry before World War II and had postings to Madrid and Cape Town, but his refusal to join the Nazi Party led him to be assigned lowly clerical work in Berlin from 1939. He was influenced by the anti-Nazi surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch and around November 1941, became determined to actively help defeat the Nazis.
It was not until 1943, however, that an opportunity arose when a fellow anti-Nazi in the ministry reassigned him to higher grade work as a diplomatic courier. On 19 August 1943, he was entrusted to travel to Bern in Switzerland with the diplomatic bag. While there, he tried to offer mimeographed secret documents to the British embassy. They rebuffed his approach, so he went to the Americans, who decided to take a chance on him. By 1944, they realised they had an agent of the highest quality. He was given the code name "George Wood". His US intelligence handler was Office of Strategic Services agent Allen Welsh Dulles. Altogether, by the end of the war, he passed along 1,600 documents. He was later described by the Central Intelligence Agency as the most important spy of the war. Allen Dulles wrote: "George Wood (our code name for him) was not only our best source on Germany but undoubtedly one of the best secret agents any intelligence service has ever had."
He provided details of:
- German expectations of the site of the D-Day landings,
- V-1 and V-2 programs,
- the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter,
- Japanese plans in Southeast Asia,
- exposure of German agent "Cicero", Elyesa Bazna, working as a butler in the British embassy in Ankara.
Kolbe’s reporting on the mood in Berlin and character analysis was particularly prized by the Americans, according to James Srodes, author of Allen Dulles: Master of Spies. "The information he brought, plus his personal insights were unique and powerful and intensely valuable," Srodes said.
In 1949, Kolbe tried to settle in the U.S., but could not find suitable work. In 1951, he unsuccessfully applied to return to work for the German Foreign Office. Kolbe finally found a living as a representative of an American power-saw manufacturer.
Fritz Kolbe died of cancer in Bern in 1971.
His grave is in Berlin : Luisenkirchhof III Fürstenbrunner Weg 37-67 14059 Berlin Place GU 302. The grave has two names : Fritz Kolbe (1900-1971) and Maria Fritsch (1901-2000).
In 2003 a biography written by journalist Lucas Delattre was published in France. In 2004, a German translation was also published.
Kolbe's work was officially recognized by the Foreign office of the German Federal Republic when a hall bearing his name was inaugurated in the ministry in 2004.
He was listed at the Memorial to the German Resistance in 2005/2006.
- "My objective was to shorten the war and to help spare the unfortunate people in the concentration camps further suffering."
- Germany finally honours the 'traitor' spy By Tony Paterson , The Independent, 25 September 2004. Accessed July 2011
- Delattre, Lucas (2005). A Spy at the Heart of the Third Reich: The Extraordinary Life of Fritz Kolbe, America's Most Important Spy in World War II. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-879-4.