Ross un-American

The second Special Committee on Un-American Activities (or Dies Committee, after its chairman, Democratic Representative Martin Dies, Jr.) was authorized on May 26, 1938. It held its first hearings on August 12, 1938, and continued through 1944, although its emphasis shifted over time. In 1939 it showed an interest in Ross’s activities in America.

Alerted by reports about possible propagandistic activities by Ross the US State Department opened a file on him on January 24, 1939. By law this required Ross to submit papers for a registration statement,1 like all “propagandists employed in whole or in part by foreign governments or their subdivisions”, in the words of the Committee. 

While Ross was never summoned to appear before the Committee, questions about him were asked to a number of witnesses suspected of being involved in pro-Nazi activities, notably Fritz Kuhn, “fuehrer” of the German American Bund. The referenced report on Ross was written on the basis of these hearings as well as on the Committee’s own investigations, including the abovementioned file. For security reasons the report was published after consultation with the State Department.

The Committee never seemed in doubt about Ross having been engaged in espionage, even as far back as World War I. Yet one cannot but raise one’s eyebrows at its investigators’ findings about Ross’s activities during his 1938-1939 American journey, as the evidence they produced seems curiously insufficient to support its position and is clumsy to boot. For instance, it was claimed that Ross toured the country for “the last twelve months” with “his wife, son, and uniformed chauffeur”. Not only lasted this sojourn six months—Ross had left the US in March 1939, nine months before the Committee’s report! But a chauffeur, in uniform no less, apart from never being mentioned in his writing or shown in his film footage, would have been out of character and financially unrealistic. Part of the blame can also be put on sources consulted that contain incorrect information. For example, a cited review article of Ross’s 1936 book Unser Amerika, associates him with the Deutsches Ausland-Institut (DAI), in Stuttgart.2 But Ross had no relations with DAI. As a matter of fact, a scholar at that institute, Heinz Kloss, had issued a severe, and self-serving, attack on the book.3 Parenthetically, the German ambassador to the United  States, Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, was also unsparing in his criticism.4

Besides demonstrating Ross’s obvious relations with German consulates, such as were left after the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938, and his lectures for the German American Bund or the Deutsch-Amerikanische Berufsgemeinschaft (DAB), in addition the Committee impeached Ross’s character and credibility by such spurious claims that he was “plentifully provided with cash”, showed distorted pictures of America,5 and performed various acts of propaganda (e.g. organizing a tour for American boys in Germany). Perhaps that is the reason the Committee felt a need to prop up its case by stating that it has “evidence [of] considerable more activities on the part of Ross which has not yet been entirely explored”—which, of course, didn’t make it evidence yet. But then again, as a student of the Dies Committee stated, it is a mistake to identify Congressional investigative committees with court procedures, as a “legislative committee bent on gathering facts is armed with the weapons of the courts, but it recognizes none of their limitations.”6

Nico de Klerk

Report on Dr. Colin Ross. In: U.S. Congress. House, 76th Congress, 1st session, Special Committee on Un-American Activities House of Representatives, Hearings, vol. 11. Washington, D.C.; 1939 December 28; 7189-7199,

Topic: Propaganda
Case: American journeys


1 Bodo-Michael Baumunk. Colin Ross. Ein deutscher Revolutionär und Reisender 1885-1945. [unpublished master’s thesis]. rev. edn. Berlin; 2015 [1999]; 105-106. See Library.

2 S.K. Padover. ”Unser Amerika”: the nazi program for the United States’. In: Forum and Century. 1939 January; CI (1): 3-7. See Library.

3 This attack was self-serving, because Kloss was writing a book with a similar mix of history and propaganda, which appeared in 1937 as Um die Einigung des Deutschamerikanertums; see: Cornelia Wilhelm. Nazi propaganda and the uses of the past: Heinz Kloss and the making of a German America. In: Amerikastudien/American Studies. A Quarterly. 2002; 47 (1); 73-74. See also: Arthur L. Smith, Jr. The Deutschtum of Nazi Germany and the United States. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff; 1965; 52-53; 26-29, 37.

4 Baumunk. 2015; 103.

5 Insofar as the word picture was meant to refer to moving images, this could only have been footage that Ross had shot in the early 1920s for his feature travelogue Mit dem Kurbelkasten um die Erde (1925). The footage shot in America in 1938-1939 (no film recordings were made during his 1933-1935 journey) was to all indications unsatisfactory, if not unusable due to a failure in the cameras’ transport systems. The only people who inspected that footage in the US were Ross himself and—secretly—FBI agents. Insofar as the word picture concerned photography, see: Drew Pearson, Robert Allen. Washington merry-go-round. Indian fifth columnists. In: The Daily Illini. 1940 June 23; 69 (243); 2, See Library.

6 Quoted in: August Raymond Ogden. The Dies Committee: a study of the Special House Committee for the Investgation of Un-American Activities 1938-1944. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press; 1984 [1945]; 9.

Scroll to page top