In 18 years of reporting for the United Press in Vienna, Robert Henry Best developed an obsessive hatred of Jews, the New Deal and Communism. He lived with an aging, dope-addicted "countess"; after she died in a lunatic asylum, he married a young German governess.
When World War II broke out, he was interned at Bad Nauheim along with other U.S. correspondentsbut with special privileges. He refused repatriation, telling colleagues that he could serve as a mediator after Hitler won the war. Then he joined William ("Lord Haw Haw") Joyce, since hanged for treason, and the American Douglas Chandler, now appealing a life sentence for treason,* in the Nazi propaganda service.
His South Carolina accent was heard in more than 300 Radio Berlin broadcasts, composed largely of rancid outpourings against "the paranoiac in the White House," "Clown Churchill," "the Jew Deal," the "Bolshevik Beast."
"Do It Again." Captured by the British after the war's end, Best was brought back to the U.S. to stand trial for treason. When he was indicted in Boston, he ranted that the proceedings against him were part of a worldwide conspiracy against God and man, that he needed no other counsel than "the holy trinity of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." Judge Francis J. W. Ford ordered a plea of not guilty entered for him.
He readily admitted authorship of the recordings of his broadcasts which the prosecution played in court. He acknowledged all the counts against him, and he admitted intent to commit each individual act. "If I had it to do over again," he shouted, "I would do it again . . . They can hang me a thousand times, but I was not a traitor."
When his court-appointed defense counsel asked him if he had intended to betray his country, he replied emphatically: "Certainly not. The idea never occurred to me." But the Government had already introduced a letter from Best in which he wrote to a Nazi radio official: "It would be well for you to emphasize the importance of my work for Germany in its fight against Bolshevism ... at the price of having myself branded as a traitor and exposed to the penalty of death."
Happy Birthday. Last week, on Best's 52nd birthday, the trial ended. His sister Louise, a Methodist missionary teacher who had come up from Brazil, gave him a box of chocolates. His brother Aaron, principal of a Durham, N.C. high school, gave him a carton of cigarettes.
Four hours later, as Robert Best stood with his hands clasped behind him, the jury pronounced him guilty. Louise Best threw an arm around her brother's shoulder. "Don't worry about me, madame," he said. "You are now the sister of a convict." His sentence could be as low as five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, or as high as death.
* Treason charges against two other U.S. citizens who broadcast for the Nazis during the war were dropped by the U.S. last week. The case against Constance Drexel, 64 (no kin to the Philadelphia Drexels), was dismissed for lack of evidence; the indictment against Frederick W. Kaltenbach, onetime Dubuque, Iowa high-school teacher, was dismissed after Russian authorities notified the U.S. that he died in a Soviet concentration camp in 1945.