Salvador Dali was twenty-nine when Hitler rose to power and became the German Nazi Chancellor.  In the remote fishing village of Port-Lligat on the Spanish Costa Brava, the Catalan painter was living the quiet life of a young artist on the brink of international success. He was an effeminate man, shy, suspicious, passionately interested in Freud’s interpretation of dreams and obsessed with childhood memories of rotten donkeys, wheelbarrows, a giraffe on fire, sperm and flickering candles. He painted a portrait of himself as a five year-old, frightened of life itself.

At that time, money was a problem. Dali was bursting with ideas. His wife Gala was thirty-nine. All the money she could lay her hands on, she immediately spent on improving their fisherman’s house in Port-Lligat.

The market for Dali paintings was extremely limited. If he would want to make it rich, he would have to commercialize himself and settle in America. Typical Dali paintings in those early years were those admirable surreal landscapes of rocks and passing clouds, in wonderful shades of grey and lilac, peopled with soft watches hanging over dead trees, like a drooping camembert cheese.

His paintings at the time, they were frozen nightmares.

At the end of July 1933, Salvador Dali wrote a private letter from Port-Lligat to André Breton, his Surrealist mentor in Paris and the founding father of Surrealism, often referred to as “the Pope of Surrealism.” In his letter, Dali reasoned that politics should become a surrealist specialty, like painting and poetry.

By politics, he meant the surrealist’s attitude to Adolf Hitler.

Dali stressed that the Nazi phenomenon deserved serious and urgent consideration, from a surrealist point of view. Although his letter to Breton gave no direct indication of his admiration for the Führer, it does hint at the artist’s fascination with Nazism.

Six months later, on 11 April 1934, Dali gave a lecture on the Art of Surrealism at the Atheneu Popular in Barcelona. The local La Publicitat daily reported: “Salvador Dali only just fell short of declaring himself a Nazi.” He doodled in pen and ink on paper—symbols and sexual references, such as bean shapes often used by Dali as a sign of birth, the stylized Masonic eye and, overwhelmingly, swastika signs. The doodles were entitled “Studies for an Ideological Puzzle.” In the opinion of Salvador Dali, people were hungry for the spiritual food that used to be supplied by Catholicism, and would now only be provided by Surrealism or National-Socialism.  When André Breton was informed that Salvador Dali was in the spell of Hitler and National-Socialism, he nicknamed his Spanish friend “the Führer of Surrealism.”

In 1939, Dali painted a large oil on plywood of a drooping telephone and a white soup plate, against the background of the Mediterranean Sea and the rocky Cap Creuz coastline. On the plate are five beans, a very small bat and a black and white photograph of Adolf Hitler. From a tree trunk in the forefront hangs Chamberlain’s umbrella. The painting was entitled The Enigma of Hitler. It was among twenty-one paintings and five drawings exhibited at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York, priced at $1,750. The day before the show closed, LIFE magazine reported that no exhibition in New York had been such a popular success since Whistler’s “Mother” was shown there in 1934.

At the outbreak of World War II, Gala and Salvador Dali managed to reach Lisbon via Madrid. They secured passage on a passenger liner that set off for New York. In the summer of 1941, the couple moved to the luxurious Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, California, close to Hollywood. The vague similarity of the Pacific coastline to the Spanish Costa Brava gave Dali the illusion that Pebble Beach was his American Port-Lligat. The area abounded with Spanish place-names: Santa Rosa, Santa Maria, Buena Vista, Santa Rita, Santa Cruz, San Diego. In nearby Carmel, Dali rented a studio with a delightful garden.

But California was no longer a paradise on earth. In America, too, the dramatic effect of the war in Europe could be felt. There was a rumor that Japanese bombers were flying toward California. People were told to stay in their homes, with doors and windows shut. Weather reports were no longer broadcast on local radio stations—the enemy could be listening. Unidentified flying objects appeared over California. Floodlights raked the sky at night.

On the morning of 7 December 1941 (8 December in Japan), the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war on Japan and, the following day, Germany declared war on the United States. With great excitement, American broadcasters told of German submarines sinking American warships and tankers along the eastern seaboard of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and as far south as Brazil.

Like a dark shadow under the sea surface and trimmed at periscope depth, invisible Nazi Type VII submarines slid through the deep blue sea, patrolling southwards as far west as Key West and beyond, past the brightly-lit beaches and amusement parks of Florida. As darkness fell, the submarines surfaced to the astonishing scene of shipping channels marked out with illuminated buoys under the star-studded night sky. The crew was allowed up on the bridge one at a time, to enjoy the view while they breathed in the scented Florida air. The winter holiday season had begun and wealthy New Yorkers flew down to the Sun Belt. From the deck of the submarines, neon signs of hotels could be read. Car headlights chased one another along the coast roads and silhouettes of passing ships were recognizable in every detail. After blacked-out Europe, Florida seemed like another world, a New World in every sense.

Two of the Type VII submarines, U-202 and U-584, were specially designed to land Abwehr spies in the United States in a daring raid that was codenamed Operation Pastorius, after Franz Pastorius, the first German immigrant to America in 1683. On 27 May 1942, both submarines departed from the Lorient submarine base in Brest, France for a very special mission. After crossing the Atlantic, submerged at day, surfacing at night, two teams of Nazi secret agents were to be landed on the US coast, four in Florida and four on Long Island. Two agents were American citizens, the others had lived and worked in the US previously. They had been trained by the Abwehr at the sabotage training school near Brandenburg, forty miles west of Berlin. The sabotage training school, named Quentz Farm, was headed by Wilhelm Canaris and had received a direct order from Hitler to train agents for the destruction of vital factories and communications within the United States. The agent’s mission: to destroy hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls and the cryolite factory in Philadelphia. Cryolite is a mineral used in the aircraft industry as an aid to aluminum processing. The two teams brought along four crates of explosives. They had been given counterfeit birth certificates, Social Security cards and $154,000 in U.S. currency, to be used as travel money for bribes and expenses during their stay in the United States.

On 13 June, U-202 arrived near Amagansett, on the New England coast, in heavy mist and fog. Team leader Georg Dasch, Heinrich Heincke, Richard Quirin and Ernest Burge loaded the explosives into a rubber boat. As dawn approached, they heard cocks crowing and automobile horns honking. On the beach, the four Nazi saboteurs changed from their fatigue uniform into civilian clothes. They split up and caught trains to New York City. Meanwhile, U-584 was nearing the north Florida coast with the other four Nazi agents: team leader Edward Kerling, Herbert Haupt, Werner Thiel and Hermann Neubauer. On 15 June, U-584 dropped its team of Nazi saboteurs just south of Jacksonville, Florida. Dressed in civilian clothes, they travelled to various locations in the Midwest. All eight saboteurs had arranged to meet on 4 July in Cincinnati.

But there was a mole in the group, a traitor who was determined that the travel money would stay in his own pocket.

Already on 18 June, at the first opportunity, U-202 team leader Georg Dasch, a greedy unscrupulous ex-waiter, defected. He contacted Washington and betrayed Operation Pastorius to the FBI. Within twenty-four hours, the FBI rounded up the other three agents of Dasch’s team—Heincke, Quirin and Burge—and was hot on the trail of the second team that had landed in Florida.

This is where Salvador Dali enters the picture.

I am in possession of the Catalan surrealist’s FBI file. The file is thin, since 51 pages are withheld entirely. In what’s left, a mere 6 pages, entire paragraphs are deleted or blackened. Yet the file is adequate proof that, in the summer of 1942, an unnamed FBI agent arrested Salvador Dali and his wife Gala on suspicion of being Nazi spies implicated in Operation Pastorius. The compromising four page report in Dali’s FBI file originates from Salt Lake City, Utah and reads as follows:

FILE NO. 100-3938. CHARACTER OF CASE: INTERNAL SECURITY. Report made by [XXXDELETEDXXX] SYNOPSIS OF FACTS: Suspects reported as being three German saboteurs, [XXDELETEDXX] Investigation reflects SALVADOR DALI a well-known Spanish painter engaged in portrait painting in New York City; [XXXXXXXXX     XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXTWO LINES BLACKENEDXXXXXXX]

The unnamed FBI agent continues:

At Winnemucca, Nevada, the writer searched the Cadillac automobile, bearing California license IL6460, while the occupants of said car were sleeping in the Humboldt Hotel, and found nothing of importance therein. Everything contained in said car had to do with paintings. There were paint brushes, paint oils, finished canvas oil paintings, etc. One canvas/oil painting was addressed to Mr. Salvador Dali, Marquis de Cueves. [XXXBLACKENEDXXX] The automobile driven by Dali was a 1941 Cadillac Sedan purchased on 11 JULY 1941 and had Motor No. 8362223. [XXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXONE ENTIRE PAGE BLACKENED XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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Interrogation of Dali reflected as follows: He is a native of Figueras, Girona, Spain and was born 11 May 1904. He is registered with the Spanish Consulate in New York City, No.  

654. He exhibited Alien Registration No. 2694040 and his Social Security Number is 564-

26-9921. From personal observation and interview, the following description was obtained:

                       Age                 38 yrs.

                       Height             5’ 8”

                       Weight                        135 lbs.

                       Eyes                Hazel

                       Hair                 Black

                       Moustache      Black

                       Complexion    Dark

                       Color               White

                       Speech            Cannot speak English

[XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXTWELVE LINES BLACKENEDXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX]

The FBI agent in charge concluded:

Investigation reflected that the Dali’s [XXXX]

were in no way connected with the German saboteurs, [XXXXXBLACKENEDXXXX] and were apparently on a legitimate business or pleasure trip; further investigation was not conducted, and this case is being closed upon the authority of the Special Agent in Charge.

Authorized copies of this report were dispatched to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI headquarters in Washington as well as to the FBI bureau in New York City, San Diego and Salt Lake City.  

On 23 June, FBI agents arrested U-584 group leader Edward Kerling and his team-mate Werner Thiel. By 27 June, the last two Nazi agents—Haupt and Naubauer—were in FBI custody. At a secret military trial, six of the eight Nazi saboteurs were found guilty of wartime espionage and electrocuted in a federal prison in Washington. Since they had assisted the FBI, ex-waiter Georg Dasch, who first betrayed the Nazi scheme, and team-mate and co-conspirator Ernest Burge were sentenced to life and thirty years’ imprisonment. The $154,000 in U.S. currency was confiscated and deposited in the US Treasury Department vaults.

Shortly after the war ended, Salvador Dali and his wife Gala returned to their fisherman’s house on the Costa Brava and became staunch supporters of Generalissimo Franco, the Spanish falangist dictator.

Dali’s large The Enigma of Hitler oil on plywood is now in the vast collection of the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.