Ivar Lissner

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Ivar Arthur Nicolai Lissner
Born (1909-04-23)April 23, 1909
Līvāni, Latvia
Died September 4, 1967(1967-09-04) (aged 58)
Montreux, Switzerland
Known for World War II Nazi Spy

Ivar Arthur Nicolai Lissner (born April 23, 1909 in Līvāni, d. September 4, 1967 in Chesières sur Ollon at Montreux, Switzerland) was a German journalist and author, and a Nazi spy during World War II.

Early life and education[edit]

Born to a German-Jewish father, Robert Lissner, and mother Charlotte Lissner (née Gensz), Lissner was Baltic German of Jewish ancestry. His father was a Kommerzienrat (commerce councilor) and businessman who owned cork factories and other enterprises.[1] Before the First World War the family moved to Moscow. They were exiled in 1917 to the Volga region and returned to Moscow after the war. The political upheavals of the postwar period resulted in the family fleeing to Riga and then to Berlin, where Lissner attended high school. He studied languages, history, anthropology, and law at Greifswald, Berlin, Göttingen, Erlangen, Lyon (1931–1932), and at the Sorbonne in Paris. He obtained his PhD in Foreign Trade Law in April 1936 in Erlangen.[2]


He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) on 1 April 1933.[3] In 1935 he published a book (Blick nach Draußen, "Looking Outside") in which he presented his impressions of the achievements of National Socialism set against an international background.[4] In 1936 he was sent as a travel writer to the United States and Canada on behalf of his publishing house, Hanseatischen Verlagsanstalt. The result was his book Völker und Kontinente ("Peoples and Continents"), which became a best seller.

Lissner wrote for the Hanseatic Service, the press service of his publisher, and his articles were printed in Nazi newspapers, including Völkischer Beobachter and Der Angriff. He went on a tour to Asia, from which his book, Menschen und Mächte am Pazifik ("People and Forces in the Pacific") was created. When he returned in January 1937 he learned that his father was in danger of being exposed as a Jew; he needed to provide evidence of being a Lutheran in order to obtain an Aryan certificate. With the help of the local pastor, Lissner forged records in St. Peter's Church in Riga. The Gestapo suspected him of concealing Jewish ancestry, but could not prove it, so his father was released. After this episode Lissner began to distance himself from National Socialism, but he maintained an anti-Soviet attitude as a result of his experiences in Russia.[5]

Lissner published articles on a regular basis for Der Angriff. In 1938 he returned to Asia on behalf of Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, where he reported on the Japanese fighting on the Korean-Soviet border. He was interviewed by Japanese newspapers and provided information to the German ambassador. He also initiated contacts between the Japanese and German military intelligence, and during his stay in Manchuria in 1938 he acted as interpreter at the defection of the KGB chief for the Far East, Genrich Samoilowitsch Ljuschkow. He was given exclusive rights to the story in the press.[6] In 1939 he was a correspondent for Völkischer Beobachter and Der Angriff while in Japan. He was approached by the Abwehr (German military intelligence) as a potential recruit for the first time.[7] He established contacts with the Propaganda Department and the German Embassy in Tokyo (historian Heinz Höhne describes him as an unofficial press attaché)[8] and was a respected member of the Nazi-aligned German community in Tokyo. In September 1939 the Gestapo once again investigated Lissner's father and this time they arrested him, as they believed they now had reliable evidence. Lissner consequently lost his post in Tokyo and a proceeding was opened to exclude him from the NSDAP. German Ambassador to Japan Eugen Ott asked him informally to continue to work in Manchuria. Lissner continued to occasionally have articles published in Japanese magazines.


In the summer of 1940 Lissner was recruited by the Abwehr after they promised to release his father from prison and let him move with his wife to Shanghai, where his brother Percy was working for AEG. They also promised to restore his reputation in Tokyo. With the help of German merchants and Russian exiles in Harbin, he built a spy network that reached as far as Siberia. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris in Berlin thought very highly of his work, which provided him with detailed information about Soviet troops and commanders in the Far East. With the help of Lissner's information, Canaris was able to shine during briefings at Hitler's headquarters. By March 1943 Lissner's network was the only source of information in the Asian Soviet Union and the Manchurian region.[9][10] In August 1941 Lissner was rehabilitated, and received a medal via a letter received directly from the Reich Chancellery.[11] Lissner was still not allowed to resume his work writing for Nazi magazines and did not regain his membership in the NSDAP. His official status with the Japanese had not been reinstated, and the Abwehr could not help him.

Lissner tried to build up his own legend, claiming to be a high-ranking Gestapo officer (to the Japanese in Manchuria, he even described himself as Gestapo chief for the Far East[12]). This was reported by German officials to the government in Tokyo, and to the actual head of the Gestapo in Japan, SS-Standartenführer Josef Albert Meisinger.[13] Observers noted that Lissner regularly visited the Soviet consulate in Harbin. He was a double agent, providing the Soviets with information about the Japanese army.[14]

Lissner became aware of the danger he was in when in October 1941 Richard Sorge was arrested in Tokyo as a Soviet spy. Sorge had maintained excellent relations in Nazi circles in Tokyo, including with Ambassador Ott, who tried to downplay the affair as a Japanese police intrigue. Lissner sent the facts in a radio message on 23 March 1942. The news caused a scandal the Foreign Office in Berlin, leading to Ott's dismissal.[15] Lissner was no longer able to work in the Foreign Office, and the Abwehr could not intervene.[16] Meisinger decided that further pursuit of Lissner should be left to the Japanese secret service, to whom he denounced Lissner as a Soviet spy.


In June 1943 Lissner was arrested along with fellow journalist and friend Werner Crome, his Japanese secretary, and his German secretary. He spent two years in Japanese prisons in the hands of the Kempeitai (Japanese military police). He was severely tortured and at times wanted to commit suicide. He was later acquitted by a Japanese court and was released before the end of the war.[17]

After the war, Lissner was from 1949 editor in chief of the illustrated magazine Kristall, published by Springer Verlag.[18] He remained editor in chief until early 1956, and remained as editor until 1959.[19] He went to Munich and then to Paris, where he was a writer for Paris Match (with the title Grand Ecrivain Historique – Grand History Writer).[20] Lissner is the author of several cultural and historical books, including Wir sind das Abendland ("We Are Like the West"), Wir alle suchen das Paradies (We All Seek Paradise"), and Rätselhafte Kulturen ("Mysterious Cultures"). The books were translated into many languages and became bestsellers. He began writing his memoirs in English while in Japan shortly after the war, but they were unfinished at his death (they only go to 1940). The second edition, published in 1975, includes an epilogue by Heinz Höhne.[21][22]

Lissner was married to actress Ruth Niehaus and had a daughter, Imogen (now Imogen Jochem).

Works by Lissner (selection)[edit]

English translations[edit]

Works in German[edit]

  • Blick nach Draußen. Frankreich, USA, England heute. Hanseatische VA, Hamburg 1935.
  • Glaube, Mythos, Religion. Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach 1990, ISBN 3-8112-0641-9.
  • Haftungsbeschränkung des Einzelkaufmanns nach ausländischem Recht. Pöppinghaus Verlag, Bochum 1936 (Dissertation, Universität Erlangen 1936).
  • Mein gefährlicher Weg. Vergeben, aber nicht vergessen. Droemer Knaur, München 1975, ISBN 3-426-00396-1 (Autobiography, with epilogue Der Fall Lissner by Heinz Höhne, pp. 221–272).
  • Der Mensch und seine Gottesbilder. Walter-Verlag, Olten 1982, ISBN 3-530-52709-2.
  • Menschen und Mächte am Pazifik. 5. Aufl. Hanseatische VA, Hamburg 1943.
  • Die Rätsel der großen Kulturen. Dtv, München 1979, ISBN 3-423-01498-9 (former title Rätselhafte Kulturen).
  • So habt Ihr gelebt. Die großen Kulturen der Menschheit. Neuaufl. Dtv, München 1977, ISBN 3-423-01242-0.
  • So lebten die römischen Kaiser. Von Macht und Wahn der Cäsaren. Dtv, München 1980, ISBN 3-423-01263-3 (former title Die Cäsaren).
  • So lebten die Völker der Urzeit. Walter-Verlag, Olten 1975, ISBN 3-530-52708-4 (former title Aber Gott war da).
  • Wir alle suchen das Paradies. ein Vermächtnis. Ullstein, Frankfurt/M. 1977, ISBN 3-548-03329-6.
  • Wir sind das Abendland. Gestalten, Mächte und Schicksale durch 7000 Jahre. Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach 1993, ISBN 3-8112-1065-3 (Nachdr. d. Aufl Olten 1966).


  1. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 223.
  2. ^ Matrikel Verzeichnis der Studierenden der Univ. Erlangen; Universitätsarchiv Erlangen, in Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 225.
  3. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 225. His brother Percy joined the NSDAP at the same time.
  4. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 226.
  5. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 229. Höhne quotes Werner Crome, a friend of Lissner who was a correspondent in Tokyo during World War II.
  6. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 234.
  7. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p.238. Lissner's father urged him to work for the Abwehr.
  8. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 240.
  9. ^ Miron Rezun, The Soviet Union and Iran, 1981, p. 361.
  10. ^ Höhne, Krieg im Dunkel, p. 435.
  11. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 250. Der Führer hat entschieden, dass der Schriftsteller Dr. Ivar Lissner ... deutschblütigen Personen gleichgestellt wird. ("The Führer had decided that the German blood of Dr. Ivar Lissner is on an equal footing.")
  12. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 251.
  13. ^ Meisinger acquired the nickname "Butcher of Warsaw" for his behaviour in Poland, and was demoted to a position in East Asia in lieu of court martial.
  14. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 246.
  15. ^ Höhne, Krieg im Dunkel, p. 439. Includes the wording of the radio message.
  16. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner, p. 258.
  17. ^ Höhne, Der Fall Lissner p. 269. His suicide attempt, especially the form Lissner chose, was credited as relief by the Japanese code of honor.
  18. ^ Christian Sonntag, Medienkarrieren – Biographische Studien über Hamburger Nachkriegsjournalisten, Martin Meidenbauer Verlag 2006, p. 175.
  19. ^ Imprint of "Kristall", No. 9, 1956. As of this issue, Lissner is no longer named as editor in chief.
  20. ^ Memoirs of Corleis, who worked for him at Kristall in Hamburg in 1954 .
  21. ^ Lissner was planning to emigrate to the Unided States after the war, but was unable to obtain an entry permit or even to leave Japan in 1948, as he was classified as a Nazi embassy official. Höhne, Nachwort zu Lissners Memoiren, p. 270.
  22. ^ Lissner spoke only reluctantly about this time. British historians William Deakin and G. R. Storry were interested in his case and asked to interview Lissner, but were dismissed. Höhne, Nachwort zu Lissners Memoiren, p. 271. British historian John Chapman investigated Lissner's intelligence activities in the 1960s. Höhne quoted his manuscript The Case of Dr. Ivar Lissner in Manchuria in his book Krieg im Dunkel.
  23. ^ Frederick, John T. (March 1958). "Speaking of Books". The Rotarian (Rotary International) 92 (3): 42. ISSN 0035-838X. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  24. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (July 1958). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 106–107. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Heinz Höhne: Der Fall Lissner. In Ivar Lissner, Mein gefährlicher Weg. Vergeben, aber nicht vergessen. Droemer Knaur, München 1975, ISBN 3-426-00396-1, pp. 221–272.
  • Heinz Höhne: Krieg im Dunkeln. Macht und Einfluß des deutschen und russischen Geheimdienstes. Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach 1993, ISBN 3-8112-1009-2.
  • Ostdeutsche Biographie. 1977, p. 103.
  • Jürgen Corleis: "Ivar Lissner. 1954–1964 (Kapitel 17)". In Always on the Other Side: A Journalist's Journey from Hitler to Howards End. Selbstverlag 2008, ISBN 978-0-646-48994-0, pp. 59–61.
  • "Deckname Ivar". Der Spiegel (in German). 14 December 1970. 

External links[edit]