A “mentally sick person”

George S. Messersmith’s dispatch both recognizes Ross as an influential propagandist and reflects the increasing distrust towards German and Austrian public figures by American officials.

Messersmith was appointed America’s ambassador (“Minister”) to Austria after the establishment of the Ständestaat (corporate form of governance) in the spring of 1934. Until 1937 he believed in the “internal collapse thesis” of National Socialism (showing his underestimation of its destructive forces), even though he had nonetheless closely observed, when he was consul in Berlin between 1930 and 1934, the threatening developments in both German-speaking societies.

Besides a review of Ross's September 1935 lecture at Vienna's Urania (see The careful propagandist), Messersmith's despatch reported on his own first impressions of Ross’s book Amerikas Schicksalsstunde, on Fritz Ross’s role in his brother’s career, the Ross brothers’ current status in Austria, and, above all, assumptions about and signs of Ross being “an agent of the German Government”. He is skeptical of the brothers’ claim of being German refugees, noting that Ross continues to write for German newspapers. But he is also somewhat paradoxical. Although he objected to the anti-American statements in Ross’s Urania lecture (which, he reports, offered a “completely unbalanced picture” and “deliberate misrepresentation”, “[a]ccuracy and truthfulness were never essential features of his lectures and articles”) and repeatedly stated that Ross was mentally ill, Messersmith also admitted that Ross is an “intelligent man” and a good lecturer. Nevertheless, he decided to leave the hall directly after the lecture rather than argue about the “misrepresentation” of his country. A glance through Amerikas Schicksalsstunde, finally, convinced Messersmith that Ross’s propagandistic aspirations posed a serious danger to America.

Katalin Teller

George S. Messersmith. Vienna. Despatch No. 610 to Secretary of State [Cordell Hull], Washington. MSS 0109 [1935]. George S. Messersmith papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.

Topic: Propaganda
Case: Speaking engagements


1 On Messersmith’s activities in Germany and Austria, and on his correct and erroneous judgements regarding Nazism see Jesse H. Stiller. George S. Messersmith: Diplomat of democracy. Chapel Hill; London: University of North Carolina Press; 1987; esp. 49-103.

2 Thomas R. Maddux. Review of: George S. Messersmith, Diplomat of democracy by Jesse H. Stiller. The International History Review. 1989 February; 11 (1): 163-167, 164.

3 Fritz Ross was married to one of the Ullstein daughters, who was of Jewish origin. And even though consequently his position at Berlin-based Ullstein came into question after the enactment of the Schriftleitergesetz (Editors’ Law), in January 1934, it is hard to believe that he called himself a refugee (not to mention Colin Ross who was committed to Hitler’s policy almost from the very beginning after the latter’s rise to power).

4 According to our findings, Messersmith was the first one to suspect Ross of espionage, or at least hostile activities.

Scroll to page top