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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

KALTENBACH, Frederick Wilhelm

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Photo from 1932 Dubuque Senior High yearbook. Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Frederick Wilhelm Kaltenbach broadcasts to American troops urged them to refuse to fight during World War II.

KALTENBACH, Frederick Wilhelm. (Dubuque, IA, Mar. 28, 1895--Siberia (?) Oct. 1945). Kaltenbach was born in Dubuque but raised in Waterloo, Iowa. After graduating from East High School where he distinguished himself in debate, Kaltenbach and his brother Gustav toured Germany on bicycles and were there when WORLD WAR I broke out in August 1914. They were detained on suspicion of espionage until December 1914 when they were released. Despite this experience, Kaltenbach became an admirer of Germany and its people. (1)

On his return, Kaltenbach enrolled in Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and studied there for three years. He played intramural baseball and in 1917 served as president of the Republican Club. He again distinguishing himself in debate and oratory winning third place in the 1918 Hyde Prize in Oratory. His topic was "The Problem of Alsace-Lorraine and he gave the German arguments as he believed they would be given by the German representative at the peace conference. (2) He enlisted in the at the end of his junior year as the United States entered World War I. In June 1918, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Coastal Artillery. Kaltenbach was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army without seeing overseas duty in April 1919. (3)

Kaltenbach resumed his education at Iowa State Teachers College. Resuming his oratorical triumphs, he took third place in the school's fall oratorical contest in October 1919. He spoke on William Pitt's "Affairs of America" in November and won first place and was selected as a member of the Philomathean Literary Society, the most prestigious of the men's societies. On November 10, 1919, he spoke on "Interference in Russia" during the Armistice Day program taking the stand that the United States should avoid becoming involved in the Bolshevik revolution. (4)

On February 2, 1920, Kaltenbach spoke on "The Church of Tomorrow" during an oratorical contest. He won the Mead trophy for his literary society and the right to represent the Teachers College at the Interstate Oratorical Contest in Wisconsin in May. Unfortunately, at that contest, representatives from other schools took the prizes. In February, he was selected to present the first affirmative position for the school debate team on the question of railroad regulation. The affirmative team defeated Simpson College in March and the team received medals from President Seerley at a chapel service. Kaltenbach's extraordinary work led to his election as president of the Philomathean Literary Society. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Education in 1920. (5)

Kaltenbach worked for the next seven years as an appraiser for Leavitt & Johnson Trust Company in Waterloo before becoming a teacher. His first teaching position was in Manchester, Iowa. In 1931 he was offered a position at DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL teaching business law, economics, and debate. (6) For a short period of time he sponsored the Hi-Y until his authoritarian nature alienated the boys.

               While I would be willing to again accept the sponsorship,
               I believe sentiment among the boys in otherwise. (7)

In the early 1930s he earned a Master's Degree in History from the University of Chicago. (8)

During the 1934-1935 school year Kaltenbach, a member of local American Legion, suggested the formation of a group for young men between the ages of 18 and 21. A committee from the Legion met with Kaltenbach on several occasions and then worked to enlist support from local fraternal, religious, and civic organizations. At one of the last meetings, a serious problem arose when Kaltenbach stated the young men should always wear brown shirts. This seemed unusual enough that the Legion dropped its support. (9)

Kaltenbach went ahead and organized the MILITANT ORDER OF SPARTAN KNIGHTS that met outside of school for picnics, hikes, and boxing at the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.). He demanded the boys wear brown shirts and participate in shooting practice at SWISS VALLEY with .22 rifles. Parental concern about the activities almost cost Kaltenbach his teaching position which was saved with Legion support. (10)

Kaltenbach was asked by the Legion to explain his ideas. At the end of his speech, a local Legionnaire who felt Kaltenbach was un-American attacked him and a fight resulted. (11)

Parent concern involving the club led to Kaltenbach's dismissal from the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT by an action of the board on May 13, 1935. (12) Gerald "Red" MCALLEECE, an athletic teacher, summed up Kaltenbach as "a loner." (13) Finding that the American Legion had led the local investigation, Kaltenbach visited Charles Landon, the local Legion commander, in his store and, according to Landon said,

             I want to thank you and the American Legion for
             what you have done for me and some day I'll
             be back to return the favor. (14)

Kaltenbach left for Germany soon after his firing. He began reading Nazi press releases in English in 1936 and received a doctorate from the University of Berlin in 1939. (15) His marriage to Dorothea Peters, one of Hermann Goering's aviation magazine editors, gave him access to the highest levels of Nazi leaders. (16)

In the fall of 1939, Kaltenbach returned to the United States at the expense of the German government to visit his dying father in Waterloo. While there, he was paid $25 to speak to the local Rotary Club. Jeered at the close of his speech, Kaltenbach left for Germany never to return. (17)

Kaltenbach's voice was heard from Berlin on Monday evenings when he presented his "Dear Harry" program, a monologue named for one of his boyhood friends. (18) Tuesday evenings he presented a series entitled "German Contributions to Making America." Kaltenbach also broadcast with another American collaborator, Max Koischwitz as Jim of 'Jim and Johnny', a program in which the title characters traded propaganda-laden wisecracks. On Saturday he broadcast "Military Review" and "Fritz and Fred." He was also involved in the production of "Invasion Calling," "Jerry Calling," and "Stalag Hour." (19)

Kaltenbach's homey style and frequent mentions of Iowa were carefully planned propaganda techniques to gain listener confidence. British listeners who compared his speech pattern with William Joyce, “Lord Haw Haw,” a British broadcaster for the Nazi, gave Kaltenbach’s his title of “Lord Hee Haw.” (20)

Every broadcast that Kaltenbach made after December 11, 1941, was recorded, and by the following October more than 126 long-playing records were available for the use of federal prosecutors. (21) As early as January, 1943 Kaltenbach and five other broadcasters for the Axis nations were expected to be indicted, (22) The expectations were realized when District of Columbia grand jury indicted Kaltenbach and seven other Americans for treason on July 26, 1943. (23) Kaltenbach refused to make “apologies for doing my allotted bit to help the German people to a better future”. “I am not an enemy of the American people” he reiterated, “but I shall remain an impossible enemy of those forces in America who wish to deny Germany her rightful place in the European sun”. He closed by using Patrick Henry’s words: “If that be treason, make the most of it.” (24)

In the months following Kaltenbach’s indictment, the frequency of his radio broadcasts diminished along with his influence. (25)

From 1944, Kaltenbach’s health declined; he began to suffer heart problems and asthma. His wife later claimed that he became disenchanted with Hitler and Nazism and often refused to broadcast sometimes for months at a time. Towards the end of the war, Kaltenbach attempted to establish a link with anti-Nazi elements and religious elements associated with Pastor Martin Niemoller. He could still be heard occasionally in North America and by American forces in Europe up to early 1945.

According to his wife, Kaltenbach was arrested by Russian combat troops in Berlin on June 14, 1945, and sent to a detention camp in Soviet territory. Negotiations began with the Soviets. (26) In June 1946, the Soviets suddenly admitted having Kaltenbach and promised to release him within a week to ten days. When the deadline expired, a Red Army major general notified U.S. Army headquarters in Germany that Frederick W. Kaltenbach had died of natural causes in October 1945 somewhere in the Soviet Zone. (27)

In September 1946, the Justice Department notified intelligence officials in France and Germany to look for Kaltenbach among repatriated POWs returning from the Soviet Zone. During the following two years, however, no sign of Kaltenbach emerged. Army officials finally concluded that Kaltenbach had died and that “more definite” details would probably never be available. The State Department agreed with the army’s assessment and suggested that Kaltenbach’s case be closed, the FBI complied, and the U.S. District Court dismissed the indictment against Kaltenbach on April 13th, 1948. (28)



1. "The Kaltenbachs: A Solid American Family, With a Shadow," Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa, Online: https://library.uni.edu/collections/special-collections/university-archives/kaltenbachs-solid-american-family-shadow

2. Scarlet and Black, Grinnell Yearbook, May 18, 1918

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Freeman, Don, "Radio Quisling Faces Death," Telegraph-Herald, June 24, 1945

7. Ibid.

8. Fred W. Kaltenbach. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_W._Kaltenbach

9. Freeman

10. "Speaker Gives Hitler's Stand to Club Members," Telegraph Herald, December 11, 1933, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qbxBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=u6kMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5778,2066416&dq=frederick+kaltenbach&hl=en

11. Freeman

12. Freeman, Don. "Ex-Dubuque Teacher is Hunted Over Europe," Telegraph Herald, June 24, 1945, p. 13. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YCdiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OXYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3103,3052281&dq=radio+in+dubuque&hl=en

13. Freeman, Don, "Radio Quisling..."

14. Freeman, Don, "Ex-Dubuque Teacher..."

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Freeman, Don, "Radio Quisling..."

18. Kennedy, W. A.

19. Laurie, Clayton D. "Goebbel’s Iowan:Frederick W. Kaltenbach and Nazi Short-Wave Radio Broadcasts to America, 1939-1945." Online: http://www.traces.org/kaltenbach.html

20. Riddell, Amy. "Wars Produce Heroes, Heretics," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 23, 1988, p. 46. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=UY5dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j1wNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3626,4672380&dq=dubuque+in+world+war+i&hl=en

21. Laurie

22. "Indictment of Six Americans Planned Soon," Telegraph-Herald, January 13, 1943, p. 1

23. Laurie

24. Traces: We Bring History to Life. Online: http://www.traces.org/index.htm

25. "Hitler Mouthpiece an Iowan," Cedar Rapids Gazette, Oct. 3, 1994, p. 2. Online: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=CR&z=CRGB&p_theme=cr&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EAFE7A7500C8205&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

26. "Suspected of Treason," Lawrence Journal World, February 19, 1946, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=KQBGAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hukMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1659,3416920&dq=frederick+kaltenbach&hl=en

27. Laurie

28. Tigges, John. "Dubuque's Claim to American Traitor Came During World War II," Telegraph Herald, August 16, 2005, p. 1C