Herbert John Burgman

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Herbert John Burgman (April 17, 1894 - December 16, 1953) was an American broadcaster for National Socialist Germany during World War II. He was convicted of treason in 1949 and sentenced to imprisonment for 6 to 20 years.


Burgman was born in Hokah, Minnesota, and served with the U.S. Army from 1918 to 1920. He was posted to Germany and served in the American zone in the Occupation of the Rhineland.

In 1921 he joined the State Department in Berlin and worked as a clerk and economic statistician in the U.S. embassy to Germany.

When World War II began on December 11, 1941, he chose to remain in Germany rather than return to the U.S. with the repatriation of the embassy staff. He had married a German national in 1924, they had a son born in 1925, and by 1941 he was a committed National Socialist.

During World War II Burgman broadcast for "Radio Debunk", the "Voice of All Free America" under the pseudonym Joe Scanlon.[1]

Arrest and trial

Burgman was arrested at his home in Rumpenheim, Frankfurt, in November 1945. He was then held in detention along with Mildred Gillars and Donald S. Day by the Counterintelligence Corps at Camp King, Oberursel, until his conditional release on December 24, 1946.

Burgman was rearrested on the instructions of the Justice Department on November 22, 1948, again held in military custody at Frankfurt and was returned to the United States on February 4, 1949, to face trial.[2]

On April 1, 1949, Burgman was arraigned on 69 counts of treason at the Washington U.S. District Court. On May 9, 1949, Judge Henry A. Schweinhaut ordered that a new mental examination should be made.[3] Burgman was subsequently assessed as being mentally competent and his trial began on October 11, 1949,[4] with the original 69 counts of treason being reduced to 20.

The prosecution relied on the large number of his programs recorded by the Federal Communications Commission stationed in Silver Hill, Maryland to show his active participation in propaganda activities against the United States and eye witness evidence of him broadcasting for Germany.[5]

Burgman admitted broadcasting wartime propaganda for the Germans, but his defense contended that he actions were due to mental illness.[6][7] It was also argued that he made his broadcasts in fear of the Gestapo.[8] Burgman had a heart attack during his trial and appeared in a wheelchair at some of the proceedings.[9]

He was convicted of 13 acts of treason on November 15, 1949.[10]

A motion for a new trial was rejected on December 15, 1949[11] and on December 20, 1949, Judge Alexander Holtzoff sentenced Burgman to imprisonment for 6 to 20 years.[12]

On Feb 8, 1951, the use of electrical transcriptions of his wartime broadcasts in his treason trial was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.[13]


Burgman served his sentence at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His health deteriorated and on May 12, 1952, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.

He died there of acute pulmonary edema due to heart disease on December 16, 1953.[14]


  1. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DIxdEZS5ShsC&pg=PA219&lpg=PA219&dq=%22Radio+Debunk%22&source=bl&ots=qcY_v3eM_C&sig=HBCmdzAEQepn7ts40B2te0VNf_o&hl=en&ei=C-OpTPj3FdS7jAf8j6HaDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=%22Radio%20Debunk%22&f=false
  2. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/215793722.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Feb+5%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=1&desc=Former+Berlin+Embassy+Clerk+Here+to+Face+Treason+Charge Former Berlin Embassy Clerk Here to Face Treason Charge - The Washington Post, Feb 5, 1949
  3. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/213508072.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=May+10%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=3&desc=Court+Orders+Sanity+Test+for+Alleged+Traitor Court Orders Sanity Test for Alleged Traitor – The Washington Post, May 10, 1949
  4. http://news.google.co.uk/newspapers?id=gVwbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=TE0EAAAAIBAJ&pg=5220,5453644&dq=herbert+burgman&hl=en Another Accused Traitor in Dock - The Pittsburgh Press, October 14, 1949
  5. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/213680702.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Oct+20%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=8&desc=Two+German+Women+Testify+That+Burgman+Boasted+How+Much+His+Broadcasts+Hurt+U.S. Two German Women Testify That Burgman Boasted How Much His Broadcasts Hurt U.S. – The Washington Post, Oct 20, 1949
  6. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/213687882.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Oct+22%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=15&desc=%27Mentally+Ill%27+Plea+Pressed+By+Burgman 'Mentally Ill' Plea Pressed By Burgman – The Washington Post, Oct 22, 1949
  7. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/216182882.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Nov+1%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=4&desc=Burgman%27s+Insane+Acts+Told+by+Wife Burgman's Insane Acts Told by Wife - The Washington Post, Nov 1, 1949
  8. http://news.google.co.uk/newspapers?id=qZAuAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ipkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4521,4279675&dq=burgman+gestapo&hl=en TRAITOR GIVEN 6 TO 20 YEARS - The Montreal Gazette, December 29, 1949
  9. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,856368,00.html TREASON: No. 12 – TIME Magazine Nov. 28, 1949
  10. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/216190782.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Nov+16%2C+1949&author=By+Bill+Brinkley+and+Joseph+Paull+Post+Reporters&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=1&desc=Burgman+Guilty+of+Treason%3B+Jury+Out+Nearly+Five+Hours Burgman Guilty of Treason; Jury Out Nearly Five Hours - The Washington Post, Nov 16, 1949
  11. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/213813812.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:AI&date=Dec+16%2C+1949&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post+%281923-1954%29&edition=&startpage=3&desc=Court+Bars+New+Trial+For+Burgman Court Bars New Trial For Burgman - The Washington Post, Dec 16, 1949
  12. http://news.google.co.uk/newspapers?id=TV4iAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZqoFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2964,2433917&dq=herbert+burgman&hl=en Burgman Is Sentenced To Prison As Traitor - The Owosso Argus-Press, December 20, 1949
  13. http://openjurist.org/188/f2d/637/burgman-v-united-states BURGMAN v. UNITED STATES. 188 F.2d 637
  14. http://www.sos.mo.gov/images/archives/deathcerts/1953/1953_00042600.PDF?debugMode=false&numberMarked=0
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