Dragon Lady: The Life of Sigrid Schultz

On New Year’s Day in 1935, Sigrid Schultz witnessed raucous celebrations in Germany’s Black Forest. Shooting rifles into the air, the members of the fast-rising National Socialist party celebrated their leader’s rising hegemony over the German political landscape. Their leader was Adolf Hitler and they were Nazis.

Schultz recorded all she saw and sent it via telegram to her editor at The Chicago Tribune:

“…year two of Hitler’s Fuehrer Germany finds Germany comparable to a mass of cooling lava after a volcano eruption with some people getting burned and nobody certain where the lava will finally settle…”

An American, Schultz had been the Chicago Tribune’s Central Europe Bureau chief for nearly ten years by that time—the first woman to hold the post in a major news organization. Her reputation for fair and fact-based reporting had gained her the trust of Hermann Göring, the man who would be Hitler’s second in command. From this position of trust, the journalist was able to report—and forewarn—of the Third Reich’s insatiable hunger for power and unquenchable thirst for violence.

 It was nothing short of remarkable that an American woman was allowed entre into the inner sanctum of the Nazi party. Sigrid Schultz had been born in Chicago and emigrated to Paris with her family at eight years old because her father, a Norwegian immigrant and an artist, had secured several commissions there. Her parents separated within a year and Shultz later wrote in an affidavit explaining her foreign residence that she only saw her father three more times.

 Demonstrating a natural aptitude for language, Shultz spoke English, French and German, her mother’s native language. She secured positions as a language teacher in Berlin during the First World War when, according to some sources, her mother fell ill and they could not return to America. When the Chicago Tribune was seeking multilingual in-country reporters, Schultz secured the job, rising to bureau chief by 1926.

But with the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party, Schultz’ job became more dangerous. While she saw clear evidence of Hitler’s evil intentions for war and Jewish extermination she had to remain impersonal in order to maintain her position of access—especially after other Allied journalists had been expelled from Germany. Taking extreme risks, Schultz filed her most explosive and revealing reports under a pseudonym while traveling outside of Germany.

 Göring came to suspect Schultz and was enraged by her intrepid reporting, calling her “The Dragon Lady of Chicago.” He had several attempts made on her life yet she outsmarted him every time. Eventually the reporter was forced to leave Germany after being injured in an Allied air raid. She recuperated in Spain but contracted typhus and was forced to return to the US to recover eventually coming to live in Westport. She did attempt to re-enter Germany and resume her reporting but her visa was denied.

Schultz was allowed to accompany troops in their invasion of Normandy in 1944 and covered the liberation of France for the Mutual Broadcast Network and the Chicago Tribune. She was also among the crowd to witness the atrocities committed at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Before returning to the United States Schultz also reported on the Luneburg and Dachau trials—where the officials and jailors of the Bergen-Belsen and Dachau Concentration Camps stood trial.

Sigrid Schultz lived in Westport another forty years. From her home Elm Street, she continued to write tirelessly about anti-Semitism and the dangers of national extremism. A treasured neighbor and friend, Schultz was well known throughout the town and was a woman of many talents—including as the writer of a number of international cookbooks.

Today a group of Westporters who remember Sigrid Schultz are working to place a commemorative plaque at the site of Schultz’ former downtown home, which was bulldozed, along with others, to create a public parking lot.