Silver-level article

Ignaz Trebitsch Lincoln

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Trebitsch, c. 1910-1915
Oh no, they're talking about
Icon politics.svg
As usual
Country sections
United States politics British politics Canadian politics Chinese politics French politics Indian politics Iranian politics Israeli politics Japanese politics South Korean politics

Ignaz Trebitsch Lincoln (1879–1943) was born Ignácz Trebitsch (or Ignaz Thimoteus Trebitzsch in German) in Hungary to Jewish parents.[1]:10 As a young adult he was a petty thief with a penchant for stealing gold watches.[1]:14,17 In later life, he was a narcissistic con artist who went by many aliases[note 1] (often bearing several passports at once) and some remarkably diverse occupations.[note 2] He had an exceptional list of guises throughout his lifetime: 17 names, 5 religions (including as clergy in 2), 8 different occupations, and 7 countries of residence. On different occasions, he rose close to power (member of the British Parliament, participant in a failed coup, adviser to warlords) but never for long.

Many well-known con artists burn brightly before being caught and punished, e.g., Charles Ponzi, of Ponzi scheme fame (from roughly 1919 to the 1930s), Bernie Madoff (mid-1990s to 2008), Lou PearlmanWikipedia (roughly 2002-2008), and Elizabeth HolmesWikipedia (2003-2018). Trebitsch Lincoln is unusual for having both a long and a well-documented career in con artistry (from his first known watch theft before age 18 in 1897[1]:14 until shortly before his death at age 64 in 1943, a roughly 46-year span with only a brief period of incarceration). The Indian con artist Natwarlal rivaled Trebitsch Lincoln's career length, from roughly 1937 to 1996 (59 years), but Natwarlal's actions were poorly documented and were subject to mythologizing.[6]

Trebitsch Lincoln is the subject of four biographies in English,[note 3] only one of which could be regarded as reliable. The first two were autobiographies[14][15] and were likely fabulistic and untrustworthy.[1]:6-7 The third biography[16] was based primarily on sensationalist newspaper reports and upon Trebitsch Lincoln's own writings.[1]:3 The final, and reliable, biography was written by a historian (Bernard Wasserstein) and relies heavily on original documents.[1] Trebitsch Lincoln showed an extreme talent in peripatetic con artistry, perhaps not to be surpassed. His well-documented methods serve as a metric for comparison to other con artists. Despite his storied life and the substantial interest by biographers over the years, he remains relatively unknown.

Christian life[edit]

Trebitsch as Anglican curate

After Trebitsch's wealthy family became impoverished following a stock market crash, he traveled to England in the late-1890s and began his conversion to Christianity under the tutelage of the Reverend Lypshytz of the London Society for the Anglican Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews.Wikipedia[1]:14-16 After stealing a gold watch and other property from Lypshytz's wife, Trebitsch returned to Hungary and then to Hamburg, Germany in 1897 where he studied under the Presbyterian Reverend Arnold Frank and met his future wife, a Lutheran, Margarethe Kahlor (later known as Margaret Lincoln).[1]:14,18 Trebitsch completed his conversion to Christianity under Frank in 1899.[1]:19 In 1900, Frank recommended Trebitsch to join a Lutheran seminary in Breklum, Germany.[1]:19 Disappointed with the sleepy German town, Trebitsch quickly abandoned his studies and went to Canada on his own initiative, where he joined the Anglican mission to the Jews in Montreal.[1]:20 Trebitsch honed his oratorical skills as a missionary in Canada, but there was no evidence that he ever converted any Jews, his main task.[1]:23-38 Trebitsch resigned his position in Canada and returned to England in 1903. Upon arrival in England, he wrote a letter confessing to stealing Lypshytz's jewelry and promising to repay him as a means to get in the church's good graces.[1]:39 While in England, Trebitsch continued to extract funds for debts that he had incurred in Canada,[1]:40-41 and was appointed curate in the parish of Appledore-with-Ebony in Kent.[1]:41 By 1904, evidence became apparent that Trebitsch was an exceptionally poor clerical student.[1]:41 In 1904, Trebitsch's wife inherited money from his wife's deceased father, Trebitsch resigned his position in the church and the family moved to Hampton-on-Thames.[1]:43 Trebitsch also adopted the name Lincoln at this time, being known at least briefly as Tribich Lincoln and for many years hence as I. T. T. Lincoln.[1]:43

British politics[edit]

Caricature of Trebitsch speaking in Parliament from Punch (March 9, 1910, page 175)

In Hampton-on-Thames, Trebitsch began accumulating and studying books on politics and economics, as well as looking for employment in politics.[1]:43-44 Trebitsch was turned down for a job by the British Liberal PartyWikipedia but consequently met Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree,Wikipedia a Quaker industrialist and social reformer.[1]:44 Based on Trebitsch's affiliation with the Liberal Party, his professed knowledge of economics, and his facility with European languages,[note 4] Rowntree hired Trebitsch as his personal secretary from 1906-1909.[1]:45 Trebitsch was assigned to Rowntree’s pet project, researching European economics and land ownership, and he was given an essentially unlimited budget.[1]:45 Trebitsch lived lavishly in Europe this time and began what would become a multi-decade pestering of the British Foreign Office.[1]:47-53 Trebitsch used his employer as leverage to wheedle letters of recommendation from the Foreign Office to foreign embassies and governments, from which he wished to obtain free copies of large amounts of government documents.[1]:47-53 His efforts ultimately paid off with the publication of Land and Labour by Rowntree in 1910 and glowing praise for Trebitsch in the book's preface.[17]:xi

In 1909, Trebitsch was nominated by the Liberal Party and ran for Parliament.[1]:56 Running in support of free trade,[18] his campaign was bolstered by the continued patronage of Rowntree, as well as substantial support from the Northern Echo newspaper.[1]:57 He was elected to Parliament in 1910 with exactly 50% of the vote with his principle opponent garnering 49.7% of the vote.[1]:67 Remarkable as it was that a foreigner with a pronounced accent would become an MP at this time in British history, it was even more remarkable that, unbeknownst to most, Trebitsch was not a British citizen at the time that he became a candidate for MP.[1]:57 Trebitsch only became naturalized a month after he formally announced his candidacy but later falsified this fact.[1]:57-58

Unconventionally for an MP-elect, Trebitsch went to Eastern Europe in the interim between the election and his installation as an MP. He went to show off that he had become an MP to his family in Hungary, as well as to stir up interest in creating an Anglo-Hungarian bank. The bank concept was based upon the weight of a letter he had obtained from the Foreign Office and his false claims that he had financial backing for the bank. He also presented an unbelievable claim that he had the rights to an invention that could burn any type of coal without producing exhaust. In Hungary, Trebitsch also delivered an impolitic speech, without Foreign Office approval, in which he claimed that the British Liberals did not support Hungarian independence from Austro-Hungary.[1]:68-70 Trebitsch's tenure in Parliament was lackluster and not particularly noteworthy.[1]:70-75

The 1910 Parliament was one of the shortest on record, and a new election was called in December 1910. Trebitsch decided not to run probably based on a combination of reasons: personal financial difficulty, there being no salary for MPs at that time, pressure from Rowntree over Trebitsch's unpaid debts to him, pressure from the Foreign Office regarding his impolitic speech in Hungary, and pressure from the Austrian ambassador using the leverage of the Austrian government's knowledge of Trebitsch's youthful career as a petty criminal[1]:73-77

Oil companies[edit]

I knew we were living beyond our means, but it was no use arguing the point. My husband's opinion was: "The more you spend, the more you are obliged to earn. It is no use trying to scrape and save small amounts; nobody got rich that way. Never be satisfied with what you are earning — try and earn more."
—Margaret Lincoln[1]:75

In 1911, Trebitsch was without a job, in debt, and with a large family. He had previously failed to get anywhere in his fraudulent Anglo-Hungarian bank scheme, so he decided to start his own companies. He had already begun in 1910 with two shell companies, and then in 1911 with the Amalgamated Oil Pipe-Lines of Galicia, which sold shares to investors and bought pipelines in Austrian Galicia.[1]:78-79 The company was touted as being low risk because it didn't invest directly in oil production. Although the company initially looked promising, its success was premised upon increasing oil production from Galicia, but as it turned out peak oil production had already occurred in Galicia in 1909.[1]:80-81 By 1912, the company was insolvent and had been merged into another company over which Trebitsch had no control.[1]:82-83 Trebitsch most likely siphoned off substantial amounts of money from the company, while leaving little or no accounting behind.[1]:84

Before the final word on the impending failure of Amalgamated Oil Pipe-Lines of Galicia, Trebitsch was already seeking investors in 1912 for a new company to drill for oil in Romania, Oil Drilling and Trust of Roumania. Finding investors was substantially more difficult than his first oil venture, but he managed to overstate potential return and understate the risk of drilling, going so far as to imply that owning pipelines was risky but owning oilwells was not, the opposite of what he had stated in his first venture.[1]:84-85 The Romanian enterprise theoretically could have been successful since oil was being produced there, albeit minimally, but Trebitsch's shaky funding sources and profligate spending, as well as outright fraud and embezzlement, kept the company on the brink of disaster. The final blow was when Romania entered the Second Balkan WarWikipedia in 1913, the predecessor to World War I.[1]:89-91 Trebitsch returned to England, attempted to obtain unsecured loans to stay afloat and used his membership in the National Liberal Club to commit fraud by forging a letter of guarantee from Rowntree.[1]:89-92

Alleged espionage[edit]

Trebitsch in 1916

As World War I began, having run out of creditors to borrow from, Trebitsch was in desperate financial straits, so much so that he and his family had to take up residence in a boarding house, and he was even able to convince the landlord to give him credit on the rent.[1]:93 He was able to obtain a poorly-paid job as censor in the War Office, reading Hungarian and Romanian letters. The job did not suit Trebitsch's temperament or his massive ego. Probably bored on the job, he began writing notes on the letters and was subsequently fired.[1]:94 Trebitsch continued his fraudulent borrowing schemes and finally confessed to Rowntree what he had done. Rather than receiving absolution from Rowntree as Trebitsch had hoped, Rowntree informed the duped financier who had loaned Trebitsch money and Trebitsch was subsequently reported to Scotland Yard. Coincidentally at the same time, and likely unbeknownst to Trebitsch, he was convicted in absentia in Romania for misappropriation of money and goods from the Oil and Drilling Trust of Roumania. He was sentenced to 7 months of prison time and 50,000 francs (the equivalent of about US$230,000 in 2018).[1]:95-96[19]

Fearing imminent arrest for fraud and lacking any income, Trebitsch made the desperate move of trying to obtain money for spying on Germany, also hoping to obtain absolution for his crimes by service to his country.[note 5] He managed to secure a meeting with a captain in MO5 (the predecessor of MI5), and presented an amateurish proposal of traveling to neutral Netherlands where he could spy on Germans and report their fleet movement.[1]:97 Trebitsch was rejected flat-out by MO5, but he nonetheless traveled to Rotterdam on his own initiative, where he was able to meet with the German General Consul General.[1]:98 Trebitsch apparently was allowed a freelance opportunity by the Consul to spy on British and French ships and harbors, though Trebitsch's proposal was no less amateurish.[1]:98-100 Upon returning to England in January 1915, Trebitsch immediately attempted to sell the German secret codes that he was to use but was roundly rejected for their apparent lack of authenticity.[1]:101-104 Trebitsch probably had not decided which country he owed allegiance to because none of the spy agencies had paid him. Having run out of employment options and still fearing imminent arrest, Trebitsch decided to abandon his family into poverty and flee for the United States,[1]:104-105 which was still neutral.

Trebitsch had managed to board a ship for New York City shortly after it became known that criminal charges were pending against him and that he was not to be allowed to leave the country.[1]:106 While aboard, he met a married German woman, Annie Jundt, and her sister; Trebitsch had sexual relations with both of the women and also convinced Jundt to loan him money.[1]:107 While in the US, Trebitsch contacted three of his brothers who had emigrated there and only managed to extract money from the poorest of them, who was barely surviving.[1]:108 In 1915, Trebitsch managed to sell two highly fictionalized and sensationalist articles that he wrote about himself, claiming to be one of the world's great spies, and that what he had done amounted to treason against the British.[1]:109[20] The charges of fraud against Trebitsch probably were insufficiently important for the British government to instigate an extradition request, but the admission by Trebitsch to being a German spy during wartime was enough to set the wheels rolling, and Trebitsch was tracked down, arrested and put into a Brooklyn jail.[1]:111 At his arraignment hearing, Trebitsch admitted to being a German spy but denied committing fraud.[1]:111 Trebitsch's lawyers managed to delay extradition for some time, enabling him to bribe wardens for privileges with money that Jundt supplied him. Trebitsch also wrote his first autobiography at this time, expanding on the articles that he had previously written.[1]:112-114[14] By November 1915, the final possibility of preventing extradition had apparently ended with arrival of a writ of habeas corpus from Britain, but Trebitsch had one more gambit.[1]:114 Trebitsch wrote to the Bureau of Investigation (predecessor to the FBI), claiming that he could decipher intercepted German cables.[1]:114-115 The Bureau made the mistake of taking Trebitsch's bait and gave him three German cables to decipher.[1]:116 Trebitsch dragged out the task and asked for more and more privileges and was even allowed to work each day at the Brooklyn Federal Building under escort of a federal marshal.[1]:116 Trebitsch even went so far as to request and receive, the assistance first of an accountant and then a "code mathematician"[1]:117 (presumably an actual skilled cryptographer). Six days before his first book was published in 1917,[14] Trebitsch easily escaped from custody.[1]:118 The escape resulted in great embarrassment for the Bureau and resulted in a massive manhunt for someone who was not known to have committed any crime in the US other than the escape from custody.[1]:118-120 During his time on the lam, he even gave an interview to The New York American newspaper, claiming that his enemies hated him because he was "one of the brainiest of men".[1]:119-120 After he was caught by the police, he congratulated them on capturing "the cleverest man in America".[1]:120 After almost escaping again, Trebitsch was finally deported to Britain.[1]:121 In a British court, he used the opposite line of defense that he had used in the US court, this time admitting that he had committed forgery, but claiming it was a "devilish lie" that he had committed treason.[1]:121 He later nonetheless pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and sentenced to three years' prison time.[1]:121-122 Trebitsch's certificate of naturalization was revoked in December 1918 for disloyalty to His Majesty, and he was released from prison in mid-1919.[1]:125 Trebitsch was deported by ship to the Netherlands on the expectation that he would return to his native Hungary.[1]:125 But since Hungary was occupied by Romanian forces at the time and since Trebitsch probably knew about the outstanding Romanian arrest warrant for him for his conviction in absentia, he instead went to Germany.[1]:127

German politics[edit]

Having lost the war, Germany was forced into unfavorable terms by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Kaiser Wilhelm II also abdicated and went into exile in 1918. Trebitsch arrived in chaotic post-war Germany, impoverished and bearing a grudge against the British and those in Britain that he felt had betrayed him. Shortly after his arrival, he was able to sell two anti-British articles to Deutsche Zeitung, which was published by Reinhold Wulle.Wikipedia[1]:128 Wulle was "a violent nationalist, a proponent of right-wing terrorism, and advocate of a völkischWikipedia dictatorship".[1]:129 Wulle became Trebitsch's new patron, and Trebitsch continued to write for the newspaper. Trebitsch unsuccessfully sought to interview Kaiser Wilhelm II,Wikipedia who had abdicated and lived in exile, but he successfully interviewed Crown Prince Wilhelm, as part of a scheme to agitate for the restoration of the German monarchy.[1]:129-141 In 1919, Trebitsch also became a close associate of Colonel Max Bauer,Wikipedia a rabid antisemite and monarchist.[1]:131-133

Trebitsch's close affiliations with Wulle and Bauer had enabled him to join at least two planning meetings for what was to become the Kapp Putsch,[21][1]:146-147 Germany's second coup d'état following World War I. The meetings included Bauer, Walther von Lüttwitz,Wikipedia Waldemar Pabst,Wikipedia Hermann EhrhardtWikipedia and Wolfgang Kapp.Wikipedia[1]:146-147 The Kappists consisted of pro-monarchists, right-wingers, autocrats, military officers, antisemites, and other conservative factions.[1]:157[21]

On March 12, 1920, the German government became aware of the impending coup and fled from Berlin to Dresden.[1]:147 On March 13, rebel troupes occupied Berlin and Kapp assumed power… of Berlin.[1]:147-148 The Kapp Putsch began on March 13, 1920, and faced no military opposition in Berlin due to the withdrawal of the Weimar government. The Kappists in fact had little support: banks did not let them withdraw money,[1]:153-154 the Weimar government continued to operate in Dresden and parts of the military were still loyal to Weimar. Because of the dubious legitimacy and power of the Kappists, few wanted to join the Kapp government. Into this power vacuum, Trebitsch stepped in and accepted an appointment of press secretary.[1]:148 Trebitsch promptly seized the Berlin Telegraph Office and also became the de facto chief censor, editing all press telegraphic dispatches before they were sent abroad.[1]:148-149 When asked by a correspondent for the British Daily News,Wikipedia "Are you afraid of the truth about the movement reaching the British public?" Trebitsch replied foretelling the idea of fake news, "It all depends on the conception one has of the truth. Correspondents of British Liberal newspapers always labour under the delusion that any movement which does not originate from the Extreme Left in Germany must necessarily be reactionary. The Government is neither reactionary nor monarchist; and I object to the British Government being told that it is."[1]:152 The short-lived Kapp Putsch ended on March 17 when Kapp resigned, and shortly thereafter fled to Sweden.[1]:156 Others in the Putsch also began fleeing.

Encounter with Hitler[edit]

The alleged photo of Hitler with Trebitsch, of unknown origin, that has appeared with antisemitic writings[22][23][24]

Trebitsch was one of the last of the Kappists to leave the Reich Chancellery building on March 17, 1920. There are conflicting details, but it is likely that Trebitsch and Adolf Hitler, along with Dietrich Eckart,Wikipedia[note 6] were at least in proximity on this day.[1]:157 One account of this event was likely fabricated by the author of The Hitler Diaries.[1]:157 Wasserstein regarded the most reliable account as that of Hitler's press secretary, Otto Dietrich, whose account was included in his posthumously published memoirs:[1]:157-158[25]

While waiting there [the Hotel Adlon in Berlin] Eckart and Hitler saw Kapp's newly-appointed press chief, Trebitsch-Lincoln, going up the stairs to Kapp's rooms. Trebitsch-Lincoln was reputed to be Jewish. Eckart promptly gripped Hitler's arm and threw him towards the door, saying, "Come on Adolf, we have no further business here." Where-upon they left Berlin. Hitler often described this incident in conversation.

This is the sole reliable encounter between Trebitsch and Hitler, as Trebitsch never mentioned any meeting with Hitler in his own writings, and Trebitsch was prone to remarking on his meetings with powerful people.[1]:158

Henry Makow and other conspiracy theorists, including on Prison Planet's website, have alleged that Trebitsch was a financial backer of Hitler in furtherance of various antisemitic conspiracy theories about Hitler's rise to power.[22][26][23] The idea that Trebitsch would have financed anyone else's rise to power is preposterous based on Wasserstein's details of Trebitsch's lifelong lust for power and lifestyle of living beyond his means.[1] The conspiracy theorists have also presented an alleged photo of Hitler with Trebitsch.[22] The use of Trebitsch as an exemplar for antisemites to smear Jews for the rise of Hitler goes back at least as far as 1939 with Douglas Reed'sWikipedia book, Disgrace Abounding.[27]:249-251

The White International[edit]

After the shitstorm of the Kapp Putsch, some of the conspiracy members decided that Plan 1.0 was not crazy or grandiose enough. In exile, Trebitsch joined with Beier and Ludendorff to form Plan 2.0, The White International, joining with an international cast of rogues, monarchists, anti-communists and antisemites. The gist of The White International was to form a military and political counter-force to The Red International (Communist InternationalWikipedia) as well as to the Treaty of Versailles.[1]:159-163 By 1920, the new conspirators included Major Franz von Stephani (who was under official investigation for seven or charges of murder following WWI),[1]:163 Georg Escherich,Wikipedia and Hungarians Tibor von Eckhardt, Gyula Gömbös,Wikipedia Pál Prónay.Wikipedia[1]:166-167 Gömbös later became Hungary's first fascist prime minister.[1]:167 Prónay had a reputation for perpetrating pogroms against Jews and not unexpectedly took an immediate dislike and distrust of Trebitsch.[1]:167 The conspirators were later joined by Russian General Vasily Biskupsky,Wikipedia (or Biskupski) an ethnic Ukrainian with little allegiance to anyone but himself, and who later actually did help finance Hitler's rise to power.[1]:169-170[28] The plotters had disparate motives that mainly revolved around grievances over the terms of the Versailles Treaty but included monarchist, irredentist (Hungary), and anti-Communist motives. The lack of much substance and coherence behind the plotters combined with their refusal to keep their activities in Budapest secret led to the Hungarian government withdrawing its support in mid-1920.[1]:173

Following the squabbling and dissolution of The White International, Trebitsch and Bauer also broke apart, Trebitsch also recognized that his co-conspirators included gangsters and murderers, and did not want to become one of their victims in a Hungary which had recently been experience pogroms.[1]:175-176 Trebitsch fled to Austria with all of Bauer's records of The White International, as well as other incriminating documents.[1]:176-177

Documents for sale[edit]

Trebitsch then began trying to shop Beier's papers around for a large cash reward, offering them to Britain, France, the US and Czechoslovakia.[1]:177-178 Due to Trebitsch's reputation as a swindler, there was quite a bit of doubt among governments about the authenticity of any documents that he might provide. Newly created Czechoslovakia had been carved out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire based on the terms of the Versailles Treaty, and hence felt threatened by recent Hungarian revisionism that would attempt to reclaim parts of the new country.[1]:178 The Czechoslovak government decided to take the bait and paid Trebitsch 200,000 Czech crowns for the cache of documents with an additional 300,000 to be paid after the documents were examined.[1]:179 Czechoslovakia had hoped to use the documents for a public propaganda campaign as well as to influence diplomatic opinion against Hungary, but their campaign was initially a failure due to the unreliable nature of the source of the evidence, Trebitsch.[1]:180-184 Based on the poor reception of their initial efforts, the government refused to pay Trebitsch the balance promised, claiming that the documents were forgeries. In December 1920, the government tried a different approach and managed to get an influential 3-part series published in The Times of London based on the contents of the documents but that also included disparaging remarks against Trebitsch.[1]:185 The article was reprinted around the world and made Trebitsch notorious for his part in the conspiracy.[1]:185-186 Trebitsch came under attack from the right wing writer Ernst Graf zu ReventlowWikipedia (an antisemite and future Nazi who was associated with the Kapp Putsch) as well as from the communist paper Die Rote Fahne.[1]:186 Trebitsch unsuccessfully tried to shop some more documents to both the Japanese ambassador and to a Bolshevik agent.[1]:186 Fearing for his safety, Trebitsch fled Prague for the apparent safety of Vienna.[1]:188 In 1921, a lawyer for the Czechoslovak government lodged a formal complaint against Trebitsch with the Vienna police, and Trebitsch was quickly arrested.[1]:189 Contradictorily, Trebitsch was charged with both fraud and high treason with regard to the documents that he had sold to the Czechoslovak government.[1]:189 The lawyer for Czechoslovakia put up a rather weak prosecution as the government mostly resisted supplying him with documents in question, and the bulk of the 18-day trial consisted of Trebitsch's monologues about his favorite topic, himself.[1]:190-193 Trebitsch was not convicted on either charge. Upon his release from jail he was immediately deported.[1]:195 Possessing 6 passports, Trebitsch managed to flee to Italy.[1]:195-196 Despite warnings issued to US embassies not to give Trebitsch a visa, he managed to travel to the US again.[1]:196 While onboard a ship to the US, he convinced millionaire Albert Otto to "loan" him GBP15,000 for a business scheme.[1]:196,203 Two months after his arrival, he was arrested in New York for surreptitiously entering the US; rather than being deported, Trebitsch was allowed to exit the US on his own via the west coast.[1]:196-197

Horseshoe theory[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Horseshoe theory

Both the Kapp Putsch and The White International had superficial links with communists, which were probably exploratory at best,[1]:160-161,170 and so not really indicative of horseshoe theory. Biskupsky for example, though a former White Russian general, plotted (or fantasized) working with the Red Army to conquer Poland.[1]:170 Ideologically, both internationals were opposed to post-WWI Anglo-French dominance in Europe, but that was about the extent of their common ground.[1]:163,170


Trebitsch kept his word and left the US, arriving in China in 1922.[1]:199 Trebitsch became an advisor to Chinese warlord Yang SenWikipedia in Szechwan,[1]:202-204,214 possibly warlord Wu PeifuWikipedia,[1]:204-205 and also warlords Wu Hung Chiang and his associate Ch'i Hsieh-yuan.[1]:205,214 In 1923, with a delegation from General Ch'i, Trebitsch traveled to Europe to raise funds.[1]:208 An apparently successful preliminary deal was concluded in Zurich, Switzerland, which implausibly included Max Bauer whom Trebitsch had betrayed previously.[1]:208-209 Trebitsch reunited with his wife and two youngest sons, bringing them to China with him in January 1924.[1]:209 By mid-July of 1924, the preliminary deal had fallen apart.[1]:210-211 Perhaps fearing retribution from the disappointed warlords for their expenditures for an expensive entourage in Europe that resulted in nothing, Trebitsch managed to flee with his family to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (modern Jakarta, Indonesia).[1]:211-216 Trebitsch shortly thereafter took his wife with him back to Europe, abandoning his two sons of 13 and 19 years, leaving the elder son to earn a living on a plantation and to pay for the younger son's school fees.[1]:208 Trebitsch told his wife that he had a fool-proof method of winning at baccarat, and quickly lost whatever funds he had in Monte Carlo.[1]:217 In 1925, after failing to obtain a visa for Britain, Trebitsch left his wife in her native Germany and returned to the US.[1]:217-218

Hey, Abbot![edit]

Trebitsch as Chao Kung, c. 1943
Poster for Trebitsch's lectures in Shanghai in 1938

Arriving in New York, Trebitsch again convinced one of his brothers to put him up.[1]:219 Trebitsch was able to earn some money by selling highly exaggerated stories of his Chinese exploits to the New York World.[1]:219-220 Trebitsch managed to return to China in August 1925,[1]:220-221 where he converted to Theosophy in October.[1]:221-222 By November, he had already begun a pilgrimage to the Theosophist headquarters in Adyar in southern India, but wound up instead in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where he converted to Buddhism.[1]:222-224 Upon learning that one of his sons was facing execution for murder in England, Trebitsch unsuccessfully attempted to return to England to see him one last time.[1]:226 While speaking to reporters about his failure to reconnect with this condemned son, he remarked on his belief in telepathy as based upon Buddhism[1]:226 (presumably abhijñãWikipedia in the Pali scripture). By 1926, Trebitsch again returned to the US, where he gave lectures on Buddhism in San Francisco, California before leaving for China via Canada.[1]:228-229 In China, he continued to give Buddhist lectures in Peking and attempted to meet with the Panchen Lama of Tibet who was in exile there.[1]:230 This however brought him into conflict with two other British Theosophists-turned-Buddhists who saw Trebitsch as unwanted competition for the Panchen Lama's attention.[1]:232-235 In 1929, Trebitsch attempted to return to Germany but was refused a visa and he instead decamped to France.[1]:238 Trebitsch returned to China in 1930, and was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1931, henceforth to be known as Chao Kung (照空).[1]:239-241

Following his ordination, Trebitsch lived in Shanghai as a monk, writing pamphlets. In 1932 he again attempted to return to Germany, this time for the purpose of recruiting disciples and boarded a ship bound for Antwerp, Belgium. He disembarked in France when he met a group of French Buddhists[1]:245-247 and continued on from France to Germany, giving more lectures on Buddhism.[1]:247 Trebitsch was arrested yet again, this time for an old debt owed to the wife of a Dutch consul. Released from jail after declaring insolvency, Trebitsch returned to France. By then, however, he was barred from returning to Germany, as Hitler had just taken power.[1]:248-249 The 11-month journey through Europe resulted in 13 men and women following him back to Shanghai to become his disciples, after which Trebitsch declared himself abbot of the monastery of 14.[1]:249 The disciples were required to hand over all of their worldly possessions to him, initiating them into what would become a cult that also required their asceticism and complete obedience to him.[1]:250-260 In 1933, Trebitsch began planning a return to Europe in the hopes of creating a monastery there. The German consulate in Shanghai was no longer so amenable to granting a visa, so Trebitsch wrote directly to Hitler appealing for a visa, going so far as to praise Hitler's recent speeches.[1]:253 It is unlikely that Hitler ever saw the Trebitsch letter, and Germany never granted him the visa.[1]:253 Trebitsch however was able to obtain a Chinese passport under his name Chao Kung, and a Belgian visa despite Belgium having recently deported him under a different name and passport.[1]:254 In 1934, Trebitsch and his remaining 10 disciples departed Shanghai for Belgium, were held temporarily at Canadian customs before appealing to the Prime Minister and being granted special permission to proceed across Canada, then departed on a ship to Britain where they were again detained at customs.[1]:254-255 Trebitsch was detained in a prison cell for 5 days and given the choice of being deported back to Canada or being sent directly on the next ship to Belgium.[1]:257 Trebitsch foolishly refused the latter option and the group was sent back to Canada minus one defector who returned to his native Germany, making Trebitsch’s expedition for naught.[1]:257-258 At this point, Trebitsch had become increasingly delusional, e.g., by writing a letter to King George V complaining about his recent treatment in Britain and also claiming that he represented the millions of Buddhists of Asia.[1]:258 Trebitsch's followers continued to dwindle through 1935, including from the suicide of a nun who had been disciplined by Trebitsch for a minor offense.[1]:258-261 Despite this, Trebitsch continued to obtain financial support from wealthy backers in China.[1]:260

By 1937, Trebitsch had moved to Tientsin, China.[1]:264 The following year Japan began all-out war against China, marking the beginning of World War II in Asia. This included a campaign of terror against civilians in northern China, and Tientsin was no exception. Following the Japanese occupation of Tientsin, Trebitsch wrote a pamphlet titled Anti-Japanese Propaganda that stated:[1]:266-267

They molest nobody, interfere with no lawful occupation; they are kind and helpful to the people… As a buddhist Abbot I declare: Even if all the propaganda fabricated and disseminated against the Japanese were true (and they are not), those who conquered India, Burmah, Ceylon, etc. … have no right to play the role of holy indignation against a chivalrous, well intentioned and spiritually superior race like the Japanese.

By 1938, Trebitsch had returned to Shanghai with his two remaining disciples.[1]:271 In 1941, Trebitsch was approached by the chief of the German wireless station in Shanghai who sought to persuade Trebitsch to travel to Tibet, which was at the time leaderless due to the coincident deaths of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, and bring it under the control of the Germans.[1]:270-271,274-276 In 1941, Joseph Meisinger, the police attaché to the German embassy in Tokyo, paid a visit to Shanghai, and Trebitsch managed to be interviewed by him. Meisinger by then had earned the nickname "The Butcher of Warsaw" for his overseeing the execution of 16,000 Jews in 1939-1940.[1]:277[29] Meisinger prided himself on not trusting anyone, yet he was still taken in by Trebitsch's proposed scheme of becoming the leader of Tibet.[1]:278 The scheme nonetheless fell apart upon scrutiny by the German high command after a turf battle had been resolved against Meisinger.[1]:279-281

Trebitsch died in 1943 at the Shanghai General Hospital following an operation for an intestinal complaint.[1]:284-285 Using a lack of any evidence, the British TV game show QIWikipedia claimed that Trebitsch was poisoned by Nazis after writing a letter to Hitler denouncing the Holocaust.[30]


In psychology, the dark triadWikipedia refers to three related psychological pathologies: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.[31] Machiavellianism correlates with disagreeableness and lack of conscientiousness.[31] Narcissism correlates with extraversion, openness and disagreeableness.[31] Both Machiavellianism and narcissism correlate with psychopathy, which itself correlates with extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.[32] Taken together, the dark triad is characterized by callousness and manipulativeness; its characteristics include grandiosity, pride, egotism, lack of empathy, exploitation of others, cynical disregard for morality, deception, antisocial behavior, impulsivity and remorselessness.[33][34][35]

Wasserstein's analysis of Trebitsch considered him to be solipsistic,[1]:54,226 "utterly self-oriented"[1]:54 (which could be considered narcissistic), and that especially towards the end of his life, he viewed himself as a messianic prophet,[1]:54,223,250-251,263,286 Wasserstein also noted Trebitsch's increased manic-depressive psychosis as his life progressed.[1]:54,216,243,288-289 Themes throughout Trebitsch's life include his repeated abandonment of his wife and family to poverty,[1]:122,212,216,257 his repeated lust for power at all costs[1]:286 (which could be viewed as Machiavellianism) and being strongly motivated by revenge against perceived or real attacks.[1]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Mr Ignatius Lincoln — contributions to Parliament
  • Emil Maurice,Wikipedia a Nazi who was Hitler's first chauffeur and who was confirmed to have both German and Jewish ancestry. Maurice also participated in the Beerhall Putsch,Wikipedia was a founding member of the SS and was an officer in the Luftwaffe.
  • Jacob Frank,Wikipedia whose life strongly resembled that of Trebitsch's)[1]:286
  • Arthur Trebitsch,Wikipedia an Austrian antisemitic Jew who knew Hitler and financially supported the Nazi party


  1. Patrick Keelan,[1]:2,196 Trautwein,[1]:2 Heinrich Lamprecht,[1]:161 Thomas Lamprecht,[1]:179 Vilmos Ludwig,[1]:159,161 Wilhlem Ludwig,[1]:164 Dr. Dibor Lehotzky,[1]:165, 176 Theodor Lakatos,[1]:170-171 Dr. Johann Lange,[1]:171, 177 Thomas Lorincz,[1]:171 Thomas Longford,[1]:196 Leo Tandler,[1]:216,223 H. Ruh,[1]:228-229 Anagarika Pukkusati,[1]:229 Jack Fisher,[1]:235 and Chao Kung (照空),[2][3][4][5]
  2. Protestant missionary in Canada, Anglican priest, editor of an esoteric newspaper, British parliamentarian, oil company CEO, British and German censor, spy (at least by his own proclamation), journalist, press secretary, German right-wing politician, advisor to Chinese warlords, and Buddhist abbot in China
  3. Trebitsch Lincoln was also the subject of biographies in Yiddish (fictionalized[1]:297),[7] German[8][9] French,[10][11] and Hungarian.[12][13]
  4. He was fluent in Hungarian and German, but his English was strongly accented. Trebitsch was also miserably bad at Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek when he was a theology student.[1]:42
  5. This was the first documented case of Trebitsch's espionage attempts, though Trebitsch himself[14] and others have claimed the he had been a spy long before this.[1]:97
  6. Eckart was a cofounder of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, which was the predecessor to the NSDAP.


  1. 1.000 1.001 1.002 1.003 1.004 1.005 1.006 1.007 1.008 1.009 1.010 1.011 1.012 1.013 1.014 1.015 1.016 1.017 1.018 1.019 1.020 1.021 1.022 1.023 1.024 1.025 1.026 1.027 1.028 1.029 1.030 1.031 1.032 1.033 1.034 1.035 1.036 1.037 1.038 1.039 1.040 1.041 1.042 1.043 1.044 1.045 1.046 1.047 1.048 1.049 1.050 1.051 1.052 1.053 1.054 1.055 1.056 1.057 1.058 1.059 1.060 1.061 1.062 1.063 1.064 1.065 1.066 1.067 1.068 1.069 1.070 1.071 1.072 1.073 1.074 1.075 1.076 1.077 1.078 1.079 1.080 1.081 1.082 1.083 1.084 1.085 1.086 1.087 1.088 1.089 1.090 1.091 1.092 1.093 1.094 1.095 1.096 1.097 1.098 1.099 1.100 1.101 1.102 1.103 1.104 1.105 1.106 1.107 1.108 1.109 1.110 1.111 1.112 1.113 1.114 1.115 1.116 1.117 1.118 1.119 1.120 1.121 1.122 1.123 1.124 1.125 1.126 1.127 1.128 1.129 1.130 1.131 1.132 1.133 1.134 1.135 1.136 1.137 1.138 1.139 1.140 1.141 1.142 1.143 1.144 1.145 1.146 1.147 1.148 1.149 1.150 1.151 1.152 1.153 1.154 1.155 1.156 1.157 1.158 1.159 1.160 1.161 1.162 1.163 1.164 1.165 1.166 1.167 1.168 1.169 1.170 1.171 1.172 1.173 1.174 1.175 1.176 1.177 1.178 1.179 1.180 1.181 1.182 1.183 1.184 1.185 1.186 1.187 1.188 1.189 The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln by Bernard Wasserstein (1988) Yale University Press. ISBN 0300040768.
  2. Can War Be Abolished? by Chao Kung (1932) Kelly and Walsh.
  3. Dawn or Doom of Humanity by Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln, afterword by Chao Kung (1937) Shanghai Times.
  4. La Tragédie Humaine by Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln, afterword by Chao Kung (1935) Shanghai.
  5. 1,000 Questions to You! by Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln, afterword by Chao Kung (1935) Shanghai: League of Truth.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Natwarlal.
  7. טריביטש־לינקולן : פרשת חיים סוערים (Tribitsch Linkoln) by Joseph Nedava (c. 1956) S. Zimzon.
  8. Trebitsch-Lincoln Das Leben des Grossen Spions und Abenteurers by Joseph Nedava (1957) Union Verlag.
  9. Ignatius Trebitsch-Lincoln oder vom Talmudschüler zum Buddha-Priester by Henryk Kesler (1989) VfA. ISBN 388611063X.
  10. Bouddha contre l'Intelligence Service by Maurice Laporte (1934) Alexis Redier.
  11. Trebitsch Lincoln, le Plus grand Aventurier du Siècle by Imré Gyomaï (1939) Les Éditions de France.
  12. Szélhámosok: Kalandorok by László Frank (1966) Gondolat.
  13. Az Igazi Trebitsch by Endre Gömöri (1986). Kozmosz Könyvek.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Revelations of an International Spy by Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln (1916) R. M. McBride & Co.
  15. The Autobiography of an Adventurer by Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln (1932) H. Holt and Company.
  16. The Self-Made Villain: A Biography of Trebitsch Lincoln by David Lampe & Laszlo Szenasi (1961) Cassell & Co.
  17. Land and Labour: Lessons from Belgium by B. Seebohm Rowntree (1910) Macmillan and Co.
  18. Debate on the Address. HC Deb 23 February 1910 vol 14 cc214-326 Commons and Lords Hansard
  19. Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency by Eric W. Nye
  20. "Revelations of I. T. T. Lincoln, Former Member of Parliament Who Became a German Spy by I. T. T. Lincoln (May 23, 1915) The World Magazine.
  21. 21.0 21.1 See the Wikipedia article on Kapp Putsch.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Hitler Took Offer Ludendorff Refused by OJ (March 17, 2012) (archived from November 30, 2016).
  23. 23.0 23.1 Re: Hitler-was-a-British-Agent — Greg Hallett — Tavistock Connection comment by TheCaliKid (December 22, 2008, 03:13:30 pm) Prison Planet (archived from August 18, 2018).
  24. Adolf Hitler, Begründer Israels by Hennecke Kardel (1974) Verlag Marva. ISBN 3858000019. (In a badly translated English edition Adolf Hitler — Founder of Israel: Israel in War With Jews, the photo appears on page 52.)
  25. The Hitler I Knew by Otto Dietrich (1957) Methuen, p. 163. Reprinted by Skyhorse Publishing, ISBN 162914388X, p. 135.
  26. Bankers Planned World Wars to Destroy Germany by Henry Makow (August 3, 2007) (archived from September 14, 2018).
  27. Disgrace Abounding by Douglas Reed (1939) Jonathan Cape.
  28. Who Financed Hitler: the secret funding of Hitler's rise to power 1919-1933 by by James Pool (1997) Gallery Books 2nd ed. ISBN 9780671760830. p. 26.
  29. See the Wikipedia article on Joseph Meisinger.
  30. Most Interesting: The Best of the QI App as Chosen by Users by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson (2011) Faber & Faber.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy by Delroy L. Paulhus & Keven M. Williams (2002) Journal of Research in Personality 36(6):556-563.
  32. A behavioral genetic investigation of the Dark Triad and the Big 5 by Philip A. Vernon et al. (2008) Personality and Individual Differences 44(2):445-452.
  33. The Restoration of the Self by Heinz Kohut (1977) International Universities Press. ISBN 0823658104.
  34. The dark triad and normal personality traits by Vincent Egan (2006) Personality and Individual Differences 40:331-339. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.006.
  35. Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy by Jennifer L. Skeem et al. (2011) Psychological Science in the Public Interest 12(3):95–162. doi:10.1177/1529100611426706.