Frederick Wilhelm Kaltenbach was an American of German origin who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Germany during World War II.
Frederick Kaltenbach was born in Dubuque, Iowa, and was raised in Waterloo, Iowa. His father was John Kaltenbach who had immigrated to the United States from Germany four years before and who was naturalized in 1896.
After graduating from East High School, Waterloo, Kaltenbach and his brother Gustav went on a cycling tour of Germany 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.
On his return Kaltenbach enrolled in Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and studied there for three years. In June 1918, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Coastal Artillery. Kaltenbach was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army in April 1919.
He resumed his education at Iowa State Teachers College earning a Bachelor's degree in 1920. Kaltenbach worked for the next seven years as an appraiser before becoming a teacher. His first teaching post was in Manchester, Iowa. In 1931 he was offered a position at Dubuque's Senior High School teaching business law, economics, and debate. In the early 1930s he earned a Master's Degree in History from the University of Chicago.
Introduction to Nazism
In 1933, Kaltenbach won a scholarship at the University of Berlin and took a two-year leave of absence from his employment to pursue his Doctorate. While in Germany he became an ardent follower of the Nazi movement.
On his return to the United States, Kaltenbach resumed teaching in Dubuque. In 1935 he started a club for boys based on the Hitler Youth movement, The Militant Order of Spartan Knights. It held secret initiation rituals and the boys wore brown military-style uniforms. Due to the concern of parents, Kaltenbach’s teaching contract was terminated in June 1936.
In February 1939 he married a German national, Dorothea Peters, and they honeymooned in the United States. There he took every opportunity to speak in favor of the Nazi cause but after a hostile confrontation at a lecture he gave at the Russell-Lamson Hotel in Waterloo in May 1939, he hastily returned to Germany.
Propaganda for Nazi Germany
Back in Germany, Kaltenbach became a full-time broadcaster reading news bulletins for the RRG's U.S.A. Zone.
From 1940 to 1941 Kaltenbach broadcast ’Letters to Iowa’ to the United States directed at the American Midwest. His programs consisted of anti-Roosevelt, anti-British and pro-isolationism propaganda disguised in the form of fictional letters back home.
He cultivated a simple and homey style and was one of several English-speaking propagandists for Germany that were referred to by the nickname, ‘Lord Hee Haw’. He opened each program with ‘Greetings to my old friend, Harry in Iowa’, and delivered his propaganda messages in the form of advice.
Kaltenbach’s objectives were to prevent President Franklin D.Roosevelt's re-election to a third term of office, to block the pro-interventionist faction in the U.S. and to stop the enactment of the Lend-Lease Bill. He sought to persuade Americans that supporting Britain was a lost cause and that taking sides could only embroil the United States in a ruinous and unnecessary war with Germany.
After the United States entered the war against Germany on December 11, 1941, Kaltenbach’s broadcasts aimed at undermining U.S. morale and the national will to prosecute a protracted war with Germany.
Disillusionment with Nazism
In the months following Kaltenbach’s U.S. indictment for treason in 1943, the frequency of his radio broadcasts diminished and his position as the leading American broadcaster was taken by two fellow collaborators, Mildred Gillars and Douglas Chandler.
From 1944, Kaltenbach’s health declined as he began to suffer from heart problems and asthma. He also became disenchanted with Hitler and Nazism, often refusing to broadcast and going on strike, sometimes for months at a time. This alienated his fellow American collaborators and resulted in confrontation, especially with the British collaborator William Joyce.
Towards the end of the war, Kaltenbach attempted to ingratiate himself with anti-Nazi elements and religious elements associated with Pastor Martin Niemoller.
He could still be heard intermittently in North America and by American forces in Europe up to early 1945.
Charges of treason
On July 26, 1943 Kaltenbach along with Max Otto Koischwitz, Jane Anderson, Edward Delaney, Constance Drexel, Robert Henry Best, Douglas Chandler and Ezra Pound was indicted in absentia by a District of Columbia grand jury on charges of treason.
After Germany surrendered May 8, 1945, his wife reported to the U.S. Army that her husband had been arrested at the family home in Berlin by Soviet troops on May 15, 1945. The Soviets refused American requests to surrender custody and later reported that Kaltenbach had died in a detention camp at an unspecified date in October 1945.