Memorial Day awakens old memories of loved ones who gave their lives in service to their country. Almost every family can lay claim to an ancestor or a recent family member, relative, friend or acquaintance that was lost to the ravages of war. Most often we think of them as soldiers, sailors and pilots who served in the Armed Forces.
However, there also needs to be included on this day of honoring and remembrance, a group of citizens and civilians who often took on some of the most dangerous tasks of all to aid in the battle against enemy forces. These are the secret mediators, spies and undercover agents who risked and sacrificed their lives in pursuit of valuable information that often was the impetus that could turn the tide of battle from probable defeat to unlikely victory.
Often, these cloak and dagger types were never recognized by the general public for their contributions because of the nature of the business they were involved in.
One such individual was Hungarian born Ehrich Weisz who at a young age immigrated with his parents to Appleton, Wisconsin. For a while young Ehrich lived a normal childhood and soon gained his American citizenship. His early pride and patriotism for America would later lead him to serve his country in a way no man had before or since.
As a young lad, he became interested in magic, specializing in picking locks and escaping from handcuffs and locked containers. Once while performing a show in England, he was invited to visit Scotland Yard by the inspector who would eventually create the famous spy unit known as MI-5. Thus began a career of aiding war-torn countries around the world.
One of his first enterprises involved helping Algeria in quelling an uprising by forces that wanted to overthrow that country’s government. As a world famous travelling entertainer, Ehrich was often able to travel inconspicuously to countries that would normally be unreachable. He often performed behind enemy lines where he was able to obtain valuable information.
On a more practical level, he often trained spies and other military special forces in the art of escaping not just handcuffs and restraints, but also prison cells. As a civilian, he was often hired by police units to both teach and at times utilize his skills in the battle against crime. He often demonstrated the limitations of the restraints the police used and showed how they could be overcome.
During his short lifetime, Ehrich worked both for and against Germany, aided Russia during the Anarchist’s uprising and spent considerable time collaborating with his old friends at Scotland Yards. But it was his adopted country of America where he did most of his performing and spying and earned the right to be called America’s First Superhero.
Although he died on Halloween Day at the young age of 52, few men lived as full and adventurous a life as the legend that became known as Harry Houdini, famous magician and American spy.