Glen Rock Police Detective Sgt. James Calaski found a Nazi in Glen Rock.
Not to worry, however: Mr. Calaski wasn’t on the beat when he discovered German-born Carl Schiphorst. Instead, he was acting in his non-cop capacity as a trained historian. And he found Mr. Schiphorst in the pages of Glen Rock’s police blotter from the 1930s.
Which means Glen Rock residents can sleep soundly. Mr. Schiphorst is long gone. The U.S. government deported him in the 1940s, and anyway he’s dead.
Mr. Calaski unearthed the forgotten story of Mr. Schiphorst while studying for a master’s degree in history at William Paterson University. For his final thesis, he had to write a paper relying on original sources. “I wanted to do something on German history,” he said. “I have German family history.”
He didn’t want to travel to Germany to do primary research in archives there — he had, after all, a full-time job with the Glen Rock police — so he started looking into the history of Germans in America. That led him to the German American Bund — the pro-Nazi group of American citizens of German descent founded in 1936 at the behest of the German government.
“I was amazed that I never heard about this group,” he said. “I’m kind of a history fanatic.”
He started researching the Bund. There was ample material. The group’s loud support for Hitler and its anti-Semitism led to the passage of the Foreign Registration Act of 1938, Congressional hearings, and FBI investigations. Mr. Calaski found himself reading through 22,000 pages of files.
And there, “I came across some mention of this guy named Carl Schiphorst, who lived in Glen Rock and was investigated as a Nazi spy.”
He filed that information away, and when his thesis was submitted and his degree was earned, he began to research Mr. Schiphorst.
He went through the old Glen Rock police blotters and found references to the police assisting the FBI with their investigation. He found the reports from the FBI investigation. And he put together a presentation with which he has been making the rounds of Bergen County. (See box.)
“It’s a very hyper-local story,” Mr. Calaski said. “But Schiphorst’s story is very similar to that of many other Germans and German Americans. Telling his story tells the story of a much larger narrative.”
Mr. Schiphorst had come to the United States in the mid-1920s, Mr. Calaski said. In the mid-1930s, he was a leader of the Bund’s Bergen County unit.
Mr. Calaski continues to research Mr. Schiphorst; he is writing a book about him. He tracked down some of the German’s relatives, who told him what happened after Mr. Schiphorst was deported.
“Bergen County was one of the larger Bund units,” Mr. Calaski said; there were 69 in all. “The national headquarters were in Yorkville, in Manhattan. Their largest summer camp was in Andover, New Jersey. Carl was on the board of the camp. He’s a pretty decent example of a typical Bundist.”
So what kind of spy was Mr. Schiphorst of Glen Rock?
“Not a James Bond spy,” Mr. Calaski said. “Not one of those spies that is trained by the government and secretly planted here. He was more of a spy of opportunity.”
Mr. Calaski wouldn’t reveal the full details of Mr. Schiphorst’s misdoings, preferring to save them for the presentation. But he was willing to speak in general terms about the sort of espionage in which some of the Bundists indulged.
“If you look at the history of espionage, if you’re going to steal military secrets, you look for someone who works for a defense contractor,” he said. “Or if you’re going to spread propaganda, you’ll look for someone who has connections to the community.” The Bund provided a ready resource of such people.
Sometimes, it was as simple as passing the local news on to Germany.
“Here’s an example I was able to get from reading the interrogations of downed U.S. flyers in Germany. Let’s say a local paper reports that John Smith was shot down over Germany, and that his mother Joan and father George were pretty upset. That local information might be read by somebody like Carl Schiphorst and that information might be transmitted via shortwave radio or other means to Germany. That information can be used against the downed pilot during interrogation. Imagine you hear from your interrogators: ‘Your mother Joan is very upset about you.’”
The same Glen Rock police blotter that reports the FBI interview with Mr. Schiphorst tells that “another man with a German name turned in his shortwave radio and registered with the police department,” Mr. Calaski said.
Mr. Schiphorst “is a great vehicle to tell the larger story,” Mr. Calaski said. “Everyone knows about the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and their internment in camps. Not a lot of people know about the internment of German Americans. Carl Schiphorst and his family were interned in internment camps in the United States. They were at Ellis Island for a while, and then in Crystal City, Texas. There were German Americans there, German nationals there, Japanese Americans there.”
What was it like talking to Mr. Schiphorst’s relatives?
“They were okay speaking with me,” Mr. Calaski said. “They obviously had a negative view as to what his beliefs were. They didn’t agree with the beliefs.”
So: Were there actual Bund meetings in Glen Rock?
“The evidence suggests there were. I have newspaper articles with witnesses who said there were meetings at the Schiphorst residents that included Bund uniforms and that there were Nazi flags.
“I also have a first-hand account from a former resident of Glen Rock. He said he remembers as a 12-year-old boy riding his bicycle one summer day when he passed a backyard barbecue with Nazi swastika flags hanging like we would hang an American flag at a barbecue.
“He explained where this was. I don’t have any information that this house had a connection to the Bund. I’m still researching.”
Who: Historian James Calaski
What: “The Nazi Spy from Glen Rock”
When: Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Senior Source, The Shops at Riverside, Hackensack (upper level, near Bloomingdale’s Furniture)
How much: $15; $10 for seniors
Advance tickets: bit.ly/seniorsource