The truth is, I’ve rewritten this post about five times. Who really wants to lead with an image of a German royal in official Nazi dress? What could a guy like this possibly have to say? Lately, though, I have been looking for something bigger in the “unusual connections” department. I’ve been wanting one of those Paul Harvey moments, in which a family connection leads you to a broader perspective on the world—something that reveals “the rest of the story.”1
Recently, while watching a randomly stumbled-upon TV program, I learned about diamonds stolen during World War II. These particular diamonds were purloined by American service personnel from members of German royalty with Nazi connections. The story piqued my interest, and I had to wonder—could I have any genealogical connection to this fairly recent history of stolen diamonds, some “likely Nazis,” and the German royal family?
At the end of World War II, American forces occupied theSchloss Friedrichhof—more commonly referred to as the Kronberg castle. Three American service personnel—Colonel Jack W. Durant, Captain Kathleen Nash, and Major David F. Watson—were all given unfettered access to the castle, which was turned into a kind of “R&R” officers’ club. Captain Nash was in charge of the castle’s day-to-day operations and had access to all its possessions.
The Kronberg castle was the family home of the rather wealthy and royal Hesse family. Knowing that they were being somewhat evicted from their not-so-humble abode, the Hesse clan decided that their “Uncle Wolfgang” should bury $1.5 million worth of diamonds and other valuables in a sub-basement.2 Long story short, the jewels and valuables were discovered by the Americans, who decided (in typical imperialist fashion) to copy the habits of their conscripted royal hosts, keeping the ethically questionable gems for themselves.
The conspirators are said to have divided the jewels, selling many of them piece-by-piece.3 Eventually they were caught, and their crimes were decried as “foul play” by the German nobility. Many of the jewels from this fortune are said to never have been recovered.4 I’ll spare you the details of their trial and punishment, which no doubt will make for great future debates on the ethical nature of “war loot”—especially when the loot may have been ill-begotten, or obtained off the spoils of other wars.5
But what the genealogist in me wanted to know was: Just who were these Americans? Further, did I have any connection to them beyond my interest in diamond thievery, German royals, disenfranchised Nazis, and American war criminal trials?
I began by looking at Captain Kathleen Nash Durant, the one who received the initial report of the jewels’ discovery,6 though her co-conspirator (and eventual husband) Jack W. Durant7 may have taken the lead in absconding with the Hesse family valuables. A quick perusal of both Captain Nash’s and Colonel Durant’s family lines seemed to indicate that I’m in the clear on this front. If I do have any genealogical connection to either of them, it is wonderfully remote. The government likely won’t be contacting me as a “family connection” for discovering any of those still missing jewels—not to mention the fact that I have no sub-basement to bury them in.
So I turned to their remaining accomplice: Major David Fassett Watson. Up until the incident in question, he appears to have led a pretty ordinary life.8 For some reason, his role in the theft was not covered in the news with quite as much interest as those of Nash and Durant. But as I began to peruse the branches of Major Watson’s family tree, I could tell that I was getting closer to New England, and the closer I got to New England the more I found familiar names—one of which was “Brewster.”
Now, I’m not a Brewster. But usually when you see that name, you are only a stone’s throw away from other Mayflower families. Could one of our co-conspirators be a Mayflower descendant? I wondered if I might finally have that epic story I’d been looking for. Sure enough, Major David F. Watson’s great-great-great-great grandmother appears to be a woman named Anna (Brewster) Safford.9 At first glance, Major Watson’s Mayflower lineage appears to be quite legit:
To make matters even more interesting, I found another story buried in the research on David Watson. Apparently during this time, he was romantically involved with a woman by the name of Margaret Harvey of Belfast, Ireland, to whom he sent some of his stolen royal plunder.10 I also discovered a post online—albeit only a rumor—which alleged that some of this royal plunder was buried alongside the road leading to Margaret Harvey’s house. I have not been able to verify this claim, though I’m curious what reason I might have to doubt it. Its author clarifies aspects of the story which may or may not be discoverable in the official records or old newspaper stories. They also made a the following claim:
“…Watson is my grandfather, he had an affair with Peggy Harvey and had a daughter, my mum. He sent/gave my gran some of the jewels. My gran hid the jewels in the baby powder until Watson wrote her a note telling her to give them back. Some were taken to a pawn shop on Shore Road in Belfast…”11
I was impressed. While I never found my own personal connection to any of the conspirators, the story of “the Hesse Heist” had led me places I never would have expected. I guess this is the part where genealogy becomes serendipitous. Even after being totally disillusioned by the characters involved in this story who treated each other so poorly, from the lowest participants to the cruelest of the rich and their governments, it cheered me to think that an innocent baby might have arisen from it all—a Mayflower descendant in Belfast, left behind to tell the tale. May that child always be free from a kingdom of “no” ends.12
1 Paul Harvey Aurandt 1918-2009 and “The Rest of the Story” a radio program
2 Judge Advocate General’s Department of Review, Board of Review, Holdings Opinions and Reviews, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Washington, D.C., 1948, Volume 73, page 130.
3 Ibid., page 62
4 Kenneth D. Alford, Nazi plunder: great treasure stories of World War II, DeCapo Press, Cambridge, MA., 2002, p. 151
5 Consider only the Allied effort to return Nazi plunder to its rightful owners in contradistinction to the effort to return Nazi-owned property to former Nazis. This becomes perhaps even more “curious” when one of those receiving the returned property was the family of the former brother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, Christoph Hesse 1901-1943.
6 Kathleen (Burke) (Nash) Durant 1902-1972; See also FindAGrave.com memorial no. 157494344
7 Jack Wybrant Durant 1909-1984; See also FindAGrave.com memorial no. 105810245
8 Per: www. nationalww2museum.org/ David Watson was awarded a Bronze Star by Eisenhower
9 Emma C. Brewster Jones, The Brewster genealogy, 1566-1907; a record of the descendants of William Brewster of the “Mayflower.” ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth colony in 1620 , Grafton Press, New York, 1908, page 104, and various others.
10 The Evening Star, Thursday, Feb 13, 1947, Washington, DC, page 4
11 As found in: https://blog.fold3.com/the-hesse-crown-jewels-case/
12 My own play on words from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who believed we must always act to promote a “Kingdom of ends,” by which every rational being respects each other as ends themselves.