Mr. Guess Who–The Strange Story of Robert Henry Best

Treason is an ugly word. Few things are more unforgivable than turning your back on your own people. And yet, in every war there seems to be people willing to jump ship and happily work for the enemy. The US has had its fair share of traitors in its more than two hundred years of history, the most famous being Benedict Arnold. Perhaps the most infamous were the people who leaked nuclear secrets to the Soviets, leading directly to their first nuclear test in 1949.

A lesser known traitor was known as Mr. Guess Who, given name Robert Henry Best. A radio broadcaster, he worked for the Nazis, broadcasting their propaganda throughout the war.

 

An American journalist in Austria

Nothing in Best’s early life gave any sign of the traitorous tendencies that would define his adulthood. He was born in Sumter, South Carolina, the son of a Methodist minister, in 1896. He graduated from Wotford College in 1917, and joined the Army later that year, where he remained until 1920. After doing his stint in the Army, he attended the School of Journalism at Columbia. After graduating in 1922, he traveled throughout Europe, eventually winding up in Vienna, Austria in 1923, where he wrote as a freelance correspondent for the United Press and other institutions.

Evidently, Best took well to life in Vienna because he remained there for fifteen years. That is, until the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. Best began to be influenced by the Nazi ideology, no doubt a school of thought growing in popularity in Austria at the time (probably out of necessity.) By July of 1941, he was seemingly so distracted by his new Nazi pals that he let his work slip, and was fired by the United Press. He tried to get a job with the German State Radio, but had no luck. Later that year, the US declared war on Nazi Germany, and Best’s fortunes changed forever.

 

Journalist gone rogue

Once war was declared, Best was rounded up with a group of US reporters and detained at an internment camp in Bad Nauheim, awaiting deportation. However, Best opted to withdraw from a group of his fellow Americans who were to be exchanged, in order to stay with his fiance. He later was able to get permission to travel to Berlin, where he was recruited to the German State Radio.

In 1942, Best started work as a commentator in the USA Zone. He broadcast under the name “Mr. Guess Who,” and criticized Roosevelt, Churchill, the Jews, and the Soviet Union (check out one of his broadcasts, where he rants against Jews and announces his candidacy as a write in candidate for Congress, here.) Eager to please his new employers, he often suggested ways they could make their propaganda more effective.

Back in his old homeland, a grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted him in absentia on charges of treason. He was captured in 1946 by British forces in Austria, and arrived back in the US later that year. He stood trial at the Boston Federal District Court on March 29, 1948. He represented himself. After a short trial, he was convicted of twelve counts of treason, after admitting that he was responsible for authoring his broadcasts. The judge gave him a life sentence and fined him $10,000. He died in prison of a brain hemorrhage on December 16, 1952.

 

Sources:

“Robert Henry Best.”  Wikipedia.org. July 1, 2014. Wikipedia. June 20, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Henry_Best#cite_ref-5