During World War II, Captain John Schmidt was known as a Nazi hunter. He worked for a Jewish lawyer who created an unofficial spy network without support from the US government. His name was Leon Lewis, and here’s how his unofficial US intelligence organization became the source of the latest and hottest Nazi news during that time.

Early Life

Leon Lawrence Lewis was born in 1888 to German Jewish immigrant parents who migrated to Wisconsin, named Edward and Rachel. The future lawyer would grow up in Milwaukee and study at the University of Wisconsin and George Washington University. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1913.

Leon Lewis counter-Nazi spy and one of the founders of the Anti-Defamation League. (Courtesy ADL via timesofisrael.com)

He would become the Anti-Defamation League’s first national executive secretary, where he handled discrimination cases in the Midwest. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, he was one of the many men who enlisted and served in the army infantry and army intelligence in England, France, and Germany. He would climb his way up to the rank of major. When the war was over, he returned to the United States. He continued his previous battle, fighting against anti-Semitism for the Anti-Defamation League, mainly in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest.

Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles

In late 1920, Lewis would take his family and move to Los Angeles. There, he would start the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee, which would later be knowns as the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles Community Relations Committee. The organization’s purpose was pretty straightforward: To gather intelligence operations and prevent many Nazi acts of sabotage and assassinations on the West coast area.

When Hitler sat as the chancellor in Germany, his Nazi followers in LA were keen to develop plans to gather together the 15,000 Germans in the place and discuss how they could spread propaganda about the Fuhrer and Nazism in general, hoping they could do so throughout the US.

Lewis could not just sit and wonder if the Nazis were planning and doing illegal actions. As a World War I veteran with experience in espionage, he began to recruit German people, or at least those with German descendants, because he knew that hiring Jews would be recognizable. He would find Nazis and their followers and turn them to the local authorities. However, he did not anticipate that the government officials would be indifferent or supportive of Nazism and fascism.

Lewis would first assign Schmidt to the field to gather valuable intelligence reports.

As for Schmidt, he would begin his assignment by hanging out at the Aryan Bookstore in the nearby Los Angeles neighborhood. He would strike up conversations with people, saying things like Roosevelt was working for the Jews and that he should be replaced with someone who was a pro-Nazi leader.

Perhaps it was Schmidt’s acting skills, blonde hair, and blue eyes that enabled him to blend well and become part of the inner circle of the local Friends of the New Germany (FNG) branch. So, naturally, he reported all the information he could gather to Lewis.

US Government’s Main Source of Info

It was through Schmidt that the Navy could arrest two Marine corporals supplying the FNG with rifles and ammunition. His work was also instrumental in ending the FNG.

For the next fourteen years, Lewis and his operatives would be the US government’s source of information against the Nazis in the country. One time, they managed to find out that the Nazis had plans of sabotaging an American aircraft factory— Nazis applied as agents in the factory, and then they were to remove bolts from the aircraft. They increased the security thanks to their intelligence report, and none of the plots ever happened.

Nazi sympathizers in front of the Field Museum in May 1931. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-073-12 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Lewis also learned about assassination plots involving Hollywood celebrities and those against him. None of their plans ever happened. Nevertheless, his spies managed to stop these murder plots and promoted anti-Semitic feelings in the Los Angeles area.