Associated Press reporter Joseph Morton’s final date line was January 26, 1945 – Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, twelve miles from the city of Linz, Austria. According to the Associated Press, he is the only journalist that the Axis powers executed during the Second World War.
The Dawes Mission
Joseph Morton wasn’t an official part of the Dawes Mission that the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) created, but he suffered all of the hardships that their agents endured and he died with some of them at Mauthausen-Gusen.
From his base in Bari, Italy, Joseph Morton covered the headquarters of the 15th Air Force and the United States Office of Strategic Services for the Associated Press. He convinced the OSS to let him join an October 7, 1944, intelligence mission in Slovakia, the first OSS unit to operate in Central Europe.
The OSS, forerunner of the CIA, created the Dawes Mission in response to the Slovak National Uprising, a Slovak resistance movement launched against the Nazis in August 1944. Using the city of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia, as its base of operations, the Slovak resistance movement worked to overthrow the Slovak State of Jozef Tiso which collaborated with the Nazis. The OSS supplied the Slovak resistance movement and rescued downed Allied airmen.
The Mission Expands
Lt. J. Holt Green, a 35 year old South Carolina textile worker headed the first group which was known as the Dawes team. It included 12 OSS agents and 18 airmen. On October 7, 1944, three additional OSS teams arrived. Although the operation was secret, the OSS permitted Joseph Morton to write a story about the evacuation of some of the rescued flyers.
Morton sent the Associated Press a message that he was leaving to cover the “greatest story of his life.” When he arrived in Slovakia, Morton immediately wrote a story and sent it back on the plane that had flow him there, but the censors buried the story. The outside world never heard from him directly again.
Escape to the Prasiva Mountains
The Slovak National Uprising against the Nazis raged on into the fall of 1944, but the Nazis soon crushed it. The agents of the Dawes Mission were forced to flee the rebel capital Banska Bystrica, and march into the Prasiva Mountain range where Russians, Americans, and several thousand rebel troops played a deadly game of hide and seek with the Germans. They endured severe winter conditions, but some managed to evade German patrols with help of a 23 year old Slovankian woman by the name of Maria Gulovich.
The Dawes Mission Meets Maria Gulovich
Since she was fluent in five languages including Russian, Hungarian, Slovak, German, and a little English, the Czech resistance assigned Maria Gulovich to work as a translator for the resistance. During the Slovak National Uprising she worked in rebel headquarters translating documents from Slovak into Russian for Russian military intelligence.
During the summer of 1944, the resistance fighters introduced Maria to American OSS agents who were there to assist the Slovak uprising and rescue downed American airmen. The Americans asked Maria to join them as their translator and guide. She agreed and helped the Americans obtain supplies and intelligence as they made their way through the Slovak countryside
The Edelweiss Anti-Partisan Unit Hunts the Dawes Agents
The elite German Edelweiss Anti-Partisan unit was sent to the mountains to track down the Dawes mission. A blizzard enveloped Maria and the Americans as they climbed Mt. Dumbler, the highest mountin in the Low Tatra Range in central Slovakia. Years later, she remembered that the wind blew so hard that it upended people and freeze dried their hair and eyebrows. They kept moving, especially after passing 83 partisans frozen stiffly to death on the mountain.
By December 1944, Marie and the Americans had been holed up at the Homolka cabin above the village of Polomka where one of the American officers was born and where his cousin still lived, for two weeks. They had planned to leave the lodge on Christmas Day, but stayed over a day waiting for an airdrop of supplies that were overdue.
Joseph Morton and the Dawes Agents are Captured
Maria, two Americans and two British fugitives left the lodge on December 26, 1944, seeking food and shelter and medical supplies at a resort hotel farther up the mountain. While they were gone the Edelweiss Anti-Partisan Unit, 300 strong, under Commander Ladislav Niznanzy, surrounded the hunting lodge and captured the Americans. Morton’s translator Josef Piontek, wrote in his diary that he watched the Nazis burn down the cabin and the flames swallowing a thick stack of notes belonging to Morton who he noted “fed on the news more than on food.”
Between November 6 and December 26, 1944, 15 Dawes agents were captured along with two American civilians, two British officers and one private, and a Czech officer who had joined the group. Maria and her party escaped.
In January 1945, Werner Mueller, one of Berlin’s top linguists and Dr. Hans Wihelm Thost, an interpreter for the Reich Security Main Office, were ordered to Mauthausen-Gusen to interrogate a group of captured English and American officers, including Joseph Morton. After the war, Dr. Thost testified that the Camp Commandant, Frank Ziereis, and his deputy interrogated and tortured the prisoners with sadistic composure and pleasure. When the Germans had gotten as much information as they could, they shot the prisoners. The Americans were executed on January 24, 1945, and cremated.
Joseph Morton lived and died for his craft. His memory lives on in his legacy at the Associated Press, in his impact on the lives of Maria Gulovich and Ladislav Niznanzy and through his family.
- Bard, Mitchel G., Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps, Westview Press, 1996
- Downs, Jim, World War II OSS Tragedy in Slovakia, Jim Downs, 2002
- Jason, Sonya N. Maria Gulovich, OSS Heroine of World War II: The Schoolteacher Who Saved American Lives in Slovakia, McFarland, 2008