What were the US and Germany’s Ambassadors doing in the same hotel of San Sebastián in August 1943, in the middle of the Second World War? Were they spying each other? Were they negotiating? None of this, it was just a curious irony of fate.
In August 1943, the allies progressed in Italy despite the harsh resistance offered by the German forces. Mussolini had fallen a few days before. In the meantime, the Spain of general Franco maintained the famous “non-belligerence” facing the pressure from both parties.
That year, general Franco restored the tradition established by Queen Maria Christina during her regency, in the last years of the 19th century, of moving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to San Sebastián during the month of August (see The Diplomat). With the so called “Duty Ministry” in San Sebastián, ambassadors were also forced to move to the northern city to tackle urgent matters.
It was in this context, where the then US Ambassador, Carlton J. Hayes, and the then Germany’s Ambassador, Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, coincided, as Hayes describes in his memoirs “Wartime mission in Spain”. They were not the only ones in that hotel, the then Italian Ambassador, the marquis Giacomo Paulucci di Calboni, who was “discreetly” away from his German colleague, was also a guest.
Hayes, a university professor recruited by Roosevelt’s Administration to exercise as Ambassador to Spain, tells how he got a curious offer: “One of the hotel’s clerks offered me doing a derivation of the German Ambassador’s phone to my room”. Hayes declined the offer because “I knew that none of us would use the phone to transmit secrets”.
On the other hand, it seems that his German colleague did not turn up his nose at the offer: “Soon I discovered that my phone was the one tapped”, the North American Ambassador points out, who ends the story with an ironic sense of the “fair-play”: “Apparently the hotel’s clerk had been completely impartial, but the German Ambassador was more condescending than me”.
Curiously, Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, was the last German Ambassador to the United States. In November 1938, he was called to Berlin, in response to the withdrawal of the US Ambassador to Germany in protest against the “Night of broken glass”, and he never returned. He was also the last Ambassador of the Nazi Germany to Spain.