wonder woman

The Hidden Tribute to Nazi Spies in Washington, D.C.

Since I’ve been making fun of the pervasiveness of Nazi spies on Wonder Woman, I’ve been planning a historical post about the intense real-life paranoia over Nazi spies that gripped the nation after 8 Nazi spies were arrested in 1942 in New York and Jacksonville, Florida. Six of them were sentenced to death and electrocuted in the dead of night.

I’ve heard Park Service tales of a strange memorial to these spies, but I expected to have to do a little work to put together the post.

It turns out, the story is even stranger than I imagined.

Conveniently, it’s on the front page of the Washington Post today. Thanks to John Woodrow Cox, I can just post a link and call it a day.

“Six Nazi spies were executed in D.C. White supremacists gave them a memorial — on federal land.”

“I kind of started doing a little bit of my own research,” [now-retired NPS Resource Manager Jim] Rosenstock recalled of that day in 2006 when he began to help unravel an only-in-Washington mystery, complete with World War II espionage, nationwide panic, a mass electrocution, J. Edgar Hoover chicanery, white supremacists, classic federal bureaucracy and a U.S. Supreme Court case that played a significant role in America’s modern war on terror.

It’s quite a story. You should go read the whole thing. The mystery of the marker is fascinating, the consequences the case had are chilling.

“The country went wild,” Francis Biddle, then attorney general, later wrote in a memoir.

Hundreds of German aliens were rounded up and others, suspected of spying, were arrested. The Justice Department banned German and Italian barbers, servers and busboys from Washington’s hotels and restaurants because three of the would-be saboteurs had worked as waiters in America.

Ignoring due process, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that the men be tried in secret before a military commission — a tactic, then backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that President George W. Bush would replicate 59 years later in his directive that Guantanamo Bay detainees be judged in a similar fashion.