While Mary Bancroft, the first child of Hugh Bancroft, was following her freelance journalistic career in Zürich, Switzerland, giving talks to the American Women’s Club of Zürich, radio talks, and writing articles for the Swiss press, she was bored and longed for adventure.
As German aggression heated up in Europe, she wrote articles analyzing speeches made by Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels, as well as articles in the German press. The Swiss watched with growing apprehension the antics of their powerful northern neighbor. Her articles drew the attention of Allen Dulles, who was living in Berlin. Dulles, at the time, was using the cover of special assistant to the American minister to Germany. Actually, he was a spy just as he had been in WWI, and, eventually, after the War (WWII), he would become head of the newly-created CIA.
Mary Bancroft had childhood dreams of excitement and adventure. By 1943, she had not only become active in espionage under Dulles’ mentoring, she was his mistress. She was involved in numerous cases of intrigue in both Switzerland and Germany.
About the time Mary Bancroft was becoming actively involved in espionage in Berlin, a little Russian boy, George Trofimoff, who was born in Berlin, was being conscripted into the “Brown Shirts” of the Nazi regime. He was taken out of his school and out of the Berlin Russian enclave of emigres and put to work clearing rubble and digging trenches.
Later, before being sent to the front lines, young Trofimoff began an epic of escape and tragedy.
The paths of these two people never crossed, but I’ve often wondered, had Mary Bancroft, the American spy, known of George’s plight, would she have enabled his escape from Germany? She would have had the ability and know-how. Eventually, he made it, anyway, but not until the War was over.
As I researched my books on Jackie Bancroft, the history of the Wall Street Journal, and later on Colonel George Trofimoff, I noticed same-place, same-time unknown convergence by the parties on various occasions. I often wondered, what would have happened if these people had run across one another, somehow been in the same place at the same time. Could they have helped each other? Would they have helped each other?
More information about the intriguing life of Mary Bancroft, a Wall Street Journal heiress can be found online at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College.
I write of the life of George Trofimoff in my book: “Observer: The Colonel George Trofimoff Story, the tale of America’s highest ranking military officer convicted of spying”.