Author: Howard E. Hobbs, PhD, Investigative Journalist
Host: Edward Davidian, Valley Press Broadcasting
Title: "The Secret Life of An American Nazi"
Date Aired: November 24, 1997
EDWARD DAVIDIAN: Dr. Howard Hobbs, you are the author of the eight part feature story "The Secret Life of An American Nazi." It is about a bizarre set of events through which German-American, Karl Leonard Falk, a Stanford University German Language major graduates in 1932. Can't find a job in the Bay Area. Then, even without funds or a passport, he turns-up in Berlin Germany working for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich in the Propaganda Ministry of Culture and Re-Education under Joseph Goebbels. Is this Falk person for real?
HOWARD HOBBS: Well, Edward he's a real historical character in flesh and blood. If I'd been dreaming him up, I couldn't have done it. At one end of the Nazi Holocaust nightmare is this American Karl Leonard Falk, the Fresno State College professor who's Fresno City Planning blitzkrieg destroyed downtown Fresno and created an enormous government presence there in the late 1950's. At the other end is Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of the Nazi Third Reich. It wasn't a far-fetched allegation which depicted the blitzkrieg policies of the president of Fresno State College in the 1970's as those of a storm-trooper and fascist.
Ironically, his critics were right on the mark. Falk was an active supporter of the fascist Nazi SA Party movement that placed Hitler in power in Berlin in 1933. Falk's contribution to the Nazi Party is wildly appreciated by Hitler who then sponsors Falk for a doctorate degree in Nazi Economics at the University of Berlin.
Then, in 1938 Falk suddenly departs Berlin. Where does he then turn-up? In rural Fresno, California where he starts work as a Fresno State College professor teaching about German Contributions to American culture. A statement contained in Falk's 1938 required text book 'Many Germans who came here made names for themselves...But just as important to our country have been the contributions of the many Germans who have helped build our country but have never won fame...they have taken an interest in city planning...given vigorous support to public education and built communities where there is great respect for law and order.'
Eventually Falk becomes president of Fresno State College. He quickly moves against students and faculty who disagree with him. He locks their doors to the student newspaper, fires the faculty, declares martial law after windows are broken and buildings are bombed.
DAVIDIAN: Have you met the confidential sources used in the Falk series?
HOBBS: Some of them, I have.
DAVIDIAN: How many of them have you interviewed?
HOBBS: I'm reluctant to get into who I did or didn't interview for the series because by process of elimination then you can figure out who the major sources were, and I have made some promises not to reveal that. On the other hand, at various times I have spoken to all of the informants in Fresno, Berkeley, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Stanford, and Washington D.C. on this story.
DAVIDIAN: Was Falk arrested and did he go to prison?
HOBBS: No. He worked very hard later to rebuild his life, and he had devoted himself to community service activities in the Fresno Zoological Society. He always was a very charming, engaging personality as part of his success, you would never suspect he had such close ties to the Nazi Party and worked under Hitler at the planning stages of the holocaust.
However, if you want to spend an evening with an eccentric character that you'll end up talking about probably the rest of your life, I guess I'd have to pick Karl Falk. He was a pretty bizarre guy. One of the things that struck me about him was his prurient interest and collection of Nazi pornography. It's just incredible. His favorite preserved momentos of the Berlin days was an issue of an anti-Semitic porno Nazi newspaper.
DAVIDIAN: What was he doing before he died?
HOBBS: He was an in-patient in 1987 at the Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto. He was being treated for a blood disease.
DAVIDIAN: Let me read the last couple of paragraphs in your series in which you quote some remarks by Adolph Hitler:
"In talks with Nazi leaders even before he became chancellor, Hitler's architecture for the New World Order was laid-out:
'We must be ruthless...Only thus shall we purge our people of their softness ... and their degenerate delight in beer-swilling ... I don't want the concentration camps transformed into penitentiaries. Terror is the most effective political instrument ... It is my duty to make
use of every means of training the German people to cruelty, and to prepare them for war ...There must be no weakness or tenderness.'
Falk learned much of his leadership technique first-hand, from Hitler between 1932-1938. The Nazis technological superiority in electronics equipment, closed-circuit TV and state-of-the-art press facilities, including a forty-one nation short-wave radio network, and the first telex transmissions of news copy, and a Zeppelin to fly newsreel film to other European capitals. Karl Falk even met the world famous propaganda film maker, Leni Riefensthal who was filming the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin for newsreel footage. For Karl Falk, the Nazis were nothing short of amazing.
Falk escaped any formal hearing on his work for the Nazis during his lifetime.
However, a Philadelphia man was not so lucky and is to be stripped of his US citizenship for his service to Nazi Germany."
So, do you feel Karl Falk ever regretted that he had done those things in Germany for Hitler?
HOBBS: No. He was not that type and he didn't think he would ever get caught. In 1924, the journalist and newspaper publisher, H.L. Mencken got it right when he wrote that the difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.
The Justice Department has formally accused a naturalized American citizen, Fedir Kwoczak, of acting as a guard for the Hitler's Third Reich. Kwoczak will likely be deported. He had given a cover story to US immigration officials that he had worked on farms in Germany and Poland during World War II. Neither Kwoczak nor Falk ever gave any hint of their regrets for their discreditable acts. The beat goes on.
DAVIDIAN: 'Falk learned much of his leadership technique first-hand, from Hitler between 1932-1938.' How do you know that happened?
HOBBS: Those facts probably took more time to piece together, from a reporting standpoint, than just about anything else in the story. I can say that the account ultimately came from eyewitnesses who wrote letters and added them to Falk's Berlin University record, and from Falk's own signed resume he placed in the record at the University of Berlin in 1933-1938 which document his German travel and Nazi Party activities.
I guess beyond that I don't want to say specifically who gave me other of these details. I think you can tell from the level of detail that I was able to get a pretty comprehensive account. I have to say that no one who read the story called to say "I just can't believe it. I just don't believe that. That's just too bizarre." No one has contradicted this story. No one has denied that this happened. It did happen exactly like that.
DAVIDIAN: What does this story mean to America?
HOBBS: The meaning to me is that the story could not have been written except for one historic event that happened during president Ronald W. Reagan's administration. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down. All the documentation needed to establish the proof of those events and Falk's involvement, were, since the beginning of the Cold War in 1946 locked away in the vaults of the University of Berlin behind that wall. All requests I made over the past twenty years were denied by KGB officials. Then, last year I again contacted the University of Berlin officials. This time, an amazing thing happened. They routinely and promptly granted my request for the Falk files documenting his 1933-1938 Berlin activities.
This development has an almost literary sense to it. This was the downfall of a man who had very little going for him in 1932. But by 1933 had become more powerful than just about any American in the world in that decade.
The final realization that his deception had been uncovered nearly fifty years after it was buried was an exceptionally astonishing event. I think the level of the emotion, the extreme reaction to this news, showed the powers of denial that had gone on up until this point, which is very evident as you read the story, and then that sudden awareness of how far Falk had really fallen. It was just an overwhelming, overpowering, kind of reaction to that turn of fate, which I believe until that moment Falk believed never could happen.
DAVIDIAN: There's a picture of you at the top ot the Falk story. Where were you born?
HOBBS: I was born in the Midwest, in a small Kansas City, Missouri right on the banks of the Mississippi River. A short trip by river was the town of Hannibal, Missouri, which was my Uncle, Calvin (Cal) Clemens hometown. I really grew up with Samuel Langhorne Clemens [Mark Twain] lore and stories and visiting my Uncle Cal and hearing tall tales of the River. I guess my first interest in storytelling got started with Mark Twain.
DAVIDIAN: Did you go to school in Kansas City?
HOBBS: Yes, that's where, at the age of four, I learned to read the Sunday Funnies in the conservative newspaper The Kansas City Star.
DAVIDIAN: Who really was Mark Twain to you?
HOBBS: My Uncle, Samuel Clemens. He died in April, 1910. He had been a journalist for the family newspaper,The Hannibal Journal under his pen name Mark Twain and later as a reporter for the Virginia City Enterprise, the Sacramento Union and the San Francisco Alta California before becoming an editor for the Hartford Buffalo Express, in 1872. In Samuel Langhorne Clemens' The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) he provides Mark Twain's lively recollections of boyhood escapades in a Missouri town on the Mississippi River in the period when frontier life was still a recent memory. The companion volume The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is considered by critics not only one of the greatest pieces of satirical fiction ever written by an American but an enduring contribution to the national literature.
Well, Sam Clemems was a relative of mine who took the substance of the world around him and wove it into these social narratives. He's thought of now as an icon of Americana, I suppose. To me he is just Uncle Sam Clemens, the sarcastic realist who wrote fiction with a sense of humor that makes me laugh.
He took the materials of his life & times to tell human-interest stories filed with satire and sarcasm. F.Scott Fitzgerald wrote that Sam Clemens' was the first American writer to look back at the republic from the perspective of the west. I recall that T.S. Eliot wrote that Sam Clemens wrote a much greater book than he could have known he was writing.
I, myself, don't write fiction. The reason is I don't think I have that kind of imagination. I couldn't dream up, certainly, some of the bizarre events that happen in this story. But what I can do, about all that is left for someone to do, is to write the Karl Leonard Falk story. I think. That's why I stayed on it for some years.
DAVIDIAN: Where did you go to college?
HOBBS: My formal academic intellectual training - well, the Ford Fellow internship in the California legislature, and then postgrad doctoral work in economics education at the University of Southern California out in Los Angeles. There is a Fellowship in ethics at the Hoover Institution For The Study of War and Peace at Stanford in Palo Alto, and, of course, economics and journalism work at Fresno State College in Fresno. And reading law at William Blackstone School of Law in Chicago, as well.
DAVIDIAN: That's a Classical education. I wonder, why did you pick USC?
HOBBS: I think I always wanted to go to a scholarly university in Southern California with a great endowment. One with classical Greek architecture, a great cavernous library, and great professors. That was my idea of what college was all about. I always thought there would be plenty of time to see the world. I wanted to see it, but I somehow felt, start with the foundation that comes from thinking and then go out. Then you'll be armed to absorb what you see around you. Most of my graduating class went into education or the family business and professions. It was exactly what I had been looking for.
DAVIDIAN: What did you study there?
HOBBS: I specialized in economics, economics and education. And I was fortunate to have received a Summer Fellowship in public policy & ethics at the Hoover Institution for the Study of War and Peace at Stanford University in 1979 where most of my my USC doctoral dissertation research was augmented.
DAVIDIAN: How did you get to the Daily Republican Newspaper?
HOBBS: After college, I read law at the historical Blackstone School of Law in Chicago, founded in 1890. Later on, I worked for law firms in California. The big leap in my career came in 1983 when I decided to move from writing U.S. Supreme Court appellate briefs to writing about law and government policy at a national law journal published by a newspaper called The Daily Republican, in Palo Alto, California. To me in journalism, that's where you could be a storyteller and a reporter at the same time suddenly seemed to be taking me well beyond arcane legal theories and into mainstream news writing. They called me in for an interview and eventually I was hired as the general editor.
DAVIDIAN: Did you read law at USC, also?
HOBBS: Yes, at the Asa Call School of Law Library at USC.
DAVIDIAN: What years did you get out of USC and what year did you start as the general editor of the national newspaper The Daily Republican?
HOBBS: I graduated from USC in 1981 and was a research attorney at the large defense law firm of Dawson & Ninnis in Fresno after that.
DAVIDIAN: When did you take over as the general editor of the Daily Republican?
DAVIDIAN: Why did you decide on the series title Secret Life of An American Nazi ?
HOBBS: It works for me as the title. I was trying to suggest that at its core there is a moral theme in this story. It's not just a book about a secret Nazi Party operative who came to Fresno and was able to subvert the democratic process and the College educational program there. It's also really a story about human nature, stupidity, temptation and its long-term consequences the people who still live with that discordant legacy in a city that will never be the same again.
DAVIDIAN: Your current job at the Daily Republican Newspaper?
HOBBS: I'm the general editor of the news service.
DAVIDIAN: How long have you done that?
HOBBS: It has been my avocation since September of 1983.
DAVIDIAN: How did you have time to write this eight part feature story and to do that at the same time?
HOBBS: I don't know myself sometimes, but typically my day begins in the morning around 1:30 am and work until about 2:00 pm. I'd try to cram a full day's work into that period of time. An additional six hours a day of intense writing is about all that I can do. That filled up my life pretty fully. I don't necessarily recommend that regimen.
DAVIDIAN: When did you start this story?
HOBBS: I began the research on Karl Falk back in 1958 when he was the head of the Social Science Department at Fresno State when I interviewed him and noticed the Fredrich Wilhelm University of Berlin [Universitis Litterariae Fredrichae Gvillelmae Beloninensis MCMXXXVI] 1936 diploma mounted on the East wall of his Fresno State departmental office.
Close inspection of the Latin & German lettering on the face of Falk's diploma led me to the stunning realization the title of his 1936 dissertation [Wirtschatfliche grundsatz und probleme der Amerikanischen tagespresse] constituted an attack on American First Amendment rights of free speech and press, e.g. newspapers.
I asked him about the title. He became visibly annoyed and quickly moved to terminated the interview after making terse personal comments I interpreted his way of making an ad hominem diversion to avoid answering my inquiry.
I followed the story over the years as he assumed the reins of Fresno State presidency and was riding rough-shod over his political opponents on campus and shutting down the campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian.
During this melee and free wheeling martial law he ordered he appeared at a Fresno County Bar Association meeting an delivered a shocking admission of his prior involvement in the Third reich.
I knew that Falk had worked for Nazi Germany in the 1930's but that was a closely guarded secret I had gotten too close to. Now, it was coming-out and it was going to be a big story and there was going to be more. So late in 1971 I agreed to do the research for documentary proof for a book on it. I continued to do research on and off up through last year. A lot of new information only came to the surface after Berlin was opened to the West under Ronald Reagan's administration.
I actually was, only then, able to obtain official cetified records of Karl Leonard Falk's employment and travel records from 1933-1938 in Berlin and his Berlin University transcripts of that time. So it was then that I sat down to translate the Nazi documents and began writing the first paragraph of a series of eight feature stories that were carried on the front page of the Daily Republican Newspaper in 1997.
DAVIDIAN: How would you characterize the reaction to Karl Falk's activities working for Adolf Hitler reported in your feature story?
HOBBS: It's been incredible. I guess I had lived with so much of this information so long that I'd forgotten what a jolt it was going to be to readers. There is a tremendous amount information in there, and I think it explains things and shows the gravity of the threat to the local economy and the magnitude of the moral obscenity that somehow slipped past almost everbody before. I've never gotten a response anything like that I've ever written before. It has generated some controversy. There are some individuals who are exceptionally unhappy with the opening up of the secret Nazi Party past of Karl Falk to the public record.
The Fresno State administration, I think, for reasons I do not fully understand, are still trying to prevent Falk's history from coming out. Some there, do not want anyone to know the facts about the criminal Nazi connections of its former College president who was the architect of its present University Campus and organizational layout. That may be the crux of it.
But, Karl Falk has been identified in the official Nazi records, and the official photstats of Nazi Party letters of commendation to Falk for service rendered at the University of Berlin attesting to Falk's personal involvement in those activities, they seem to want to say "Well, no, he didn't really do any of that." So, based on what I've been able to ascertain, Fresno State officials have reacted very passively to the story. What does this tell us about the future of Fresno State?
DAVIDIAN: There was a story a couple of years ago in the Fresno State Daily Collegian newspaper defending Karl Falk. Is that true, and do you get in conflict with them?
HOBBS: The facts speak for themselves. Pressure is still being exerted by Campus officials on Collegian student writers to kill this story and keep it buried.
The trouble is, some people don't understand their own history at the Daily Collegian. Karl Falk actually walked-all-over student and faculty free-speech rights when he locked-out the student editors and writers. Locked them out of their own newspaper offices. Shut them down and told them to go home. That was in 1971 after a Collegian editorial appeared on the Daily Collegian opinion page that was thought to be critical of Falk's limitations on free-speech at Fresno State. If the student editors and writers on the Daily Collegian persist in defending Falk after that, it just seems some people at Fresno State are still confused about what it means to have freedom of the press and what it means to have the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. God help them.
As I mention in the Falk feature, we should always be concerned about the role of the campus government or any government in the limitation of free speech on the Campus or anywhere else. Falk's policies and conduct are in-defensuble. The Collegain student writers know that, but they are still being coerced to spin the story away from the truth that cannot be denied.
I think you see in the Falk Berlin history from the 1930's and in Falk's 1950's Fresno City Hall adventures and in the 1970's Fresno State history some legitimate concerns. We were concerned about the use of the martial-law to quell student dissent on both the street of 1930's Berlin and misuse of municipal authority to deconstruct local government and, eventually, the imposition of martial law on the 1970's Fresno State Campus to subvert democratice processes. These, it seems to me are a particularly significant and legitimate pattern of absolutism that is a good source of public debate in our news and feature pages. Because the Daily Collegian is not an independent news service, it reflects the news and the views of the state. When, the Daily Collegian attempts to stifle public debate about the secret life of Karl Leonard Falk in the rise and fall of the Third Reich, it should come as no surprise to anyone.
I am also very interested in the impact that Karl Falk had on broader economic issues in the City of Fresno. I think that has been a legitimate subject for opinion and debate and that it will continue to be just that.
On the other hand, what I'm interested in are the facts and the criminal conspiracy that underlay all of this, and I think that's incontrovertible. As far as the story goes, it is of little interest to me whether Falk's activities in some sense boosted some sectors of the Fresno economy. I mean, you can argue that the welfare state, by increasing the distributions and velocity of money, contributes to the local economy, but that doesn't mean we're going to condone the expanding the welfare state at the expense of the private sector, or does it?
DAVIDIAN: How about Falk as a sneaky public figure in Fresno City government?
HOBBS: This is a drama that was largely played out outside of the view of the public, with the exception of Falk's taking over as chairman of the Fresno Housing Authority and his role on the Fresno Planning Commission. At one point in 1958 Falk had 12 members of his college staff appointed to various City and County agencies all dealing with city planning and re-development.
I think what has been remiss is the kind of attention - City taxpayers should have noticed what was going on in downtown Fresno in the late 1958 thru the late 1960's.
Admittedly, we were all perhaps a little bit slow to realize the magnitude of the kinds of dramatic changes that were happening and the opportunity for corruption on a scale that had never been seen in Fresno before.
DAVIDIAN: What do you think of the press's performance during this whole story?
HOBBS: I was part of it, I have to admit. I guess I'd like to say that I was particularly proud of the Daily Republican newspaper slugging away on this story and trying to write the facts that seemed difficult to grasp from the street-level.
I can tell you that there were numerous, numerous attempts by powerful people at the College, and in Fresno in general, to get me off this story and fired from our jobs. There was a great deal of good coverage that came out of the press from that period. And I believe there were some members of the press who were all too easily manipulated by the Falk PR forces. There were some who, for ideological reasons, wanted to believe the Falk line, whatever the facts really were, it did not matter.
DAVIDIAN: If you had more pages to devote to all of this, what would you have included in this story that you didn't?
HOBBS: The original draft did have more pages that were cut down. I did go into, in the original drafts, more detail in the attempts of Falk to obfuscate the facts we were coming-up with.
For example, on this meeting with Falk in which I asked him about his Nazi dissertation in 1936 about 100 pages got cut out on that. But I suppose I could have gone on forever writing about that Falk manuscript which I later obtained from Berlin.
There are still some mysteries hanging out there. The whole thing began to unravel with this mysterious publication of his dissertation as a Nazi book and distributed by the Third Reich which in itself is a fascinating story. If I had endless time and space, I had the time and funds, perhaps, I could have just kept working along those themes for years to come.
DAVIDIAN: Do you have another feature you're thinking of writing?
HOBBS: At the moment I don't. I've been working on this for five years, and it was an intensely draining experience -- not only because of the work schedule I described earlier, but just because of the adversarial nature of so much of the reporting. It was a very hard story to report with the array of forces lined up against me fueled by the Falk forces that are still out there. I'm just thrilled to have it done. I'm just so happy that it did get out, again, looking at all of the money that was spent to keep it from coming out over the past 50 years. None of it has ultimately worked and the real Falk story has been uncovered and is now out there, and I feel great about that.
DAVIDIAN: What do you think of this process, having to talk it out?
HOBBS: I like the facts to speak for themselves. I don't like to be the one to draw too many conclusions because I think people will be more moved and will react more powerfully if they draw the conclusions; if the facts are there and it points to some obvious things that they can decided for themselves.
DAVIDIAN: If you were to list one thing about this Falk story that has gotten the most attention, what would it be?
HOBBS: It's the level of Falk's criminal morality. Again, I've known what's going to be in this story for some time, so I wasn't prepared for the strength of the reaction to it. It think it's a measure of how successful the very extensive Falk PR campaign was that so many Americans to this day think he either really didn't do anything for the Nazi's or if he did something it was very minor and only a technicality.
I think you see in the Falk story a very clearly set forth and logical case that reveals the real Karl Leonard Falk as the ultimate opportunist building little Nazi crimes into a massive overthrow of the Fresno State College mission and the take over of the City of Fresno. That seems to have attracted the most attention. But, the least citizen action.
DAVIDIAN: What are you surprised that people haven't picked up?
HOBBS: Yes. That's just it. I'm surprised that the people of Fresno have not taken more interest in the story of the Fresno government takeover in the 1950-1960's by an agent of the Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. To me, it raises broader policy questions concerning the direction of local Fresno City Hall, today and for the future. When will the people wake up to what's happening to their City, right now?
DAVIDIAN: Where do you think Fresno City Hall will end up?
HOBBS: I think they'll eventually recover their meaningful mission as stewards and trustees of the public trust. But, some City elected officials are a long way from stewadship as they now comport themselves.
DAVIDIAN: Thank you for discusssing the development of your Falk Series story with us today.
HOBBS: Thank you. It was a pleasure.