LONDON - At the end of World War II, British spies were in pursuit of a charismatic, multilingual German agent who had befriended Hollywood celebrities and persuaded British and American detainees to broadcast propaganda for the Nazis.
Secret files from the MI5 spy agency declassified today reveal the colorful story of Werner Plack, a German agent who moved from the film sets and nightclubs of prewar Los Angeles to the hotels of wartime Berlin and occupied Paris.
A Nazi interrogated by MI5 described Plack as a “freelance propaganda agent.’’
MI5 said it was eager to find him because he had “taken part in the recruitment of British renegades’’ who helped the Nazi war effort.
He was involved in persuading British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse to make radio broadcasts from Berlin for an American audience in 1941 - broadcasts that caused outrage in Britain.
MI5 sources filled in a vivid picture of Plack, described as having an “elegant appearance,’’ a “strong build,’’ and “good teeth.’’
US officials told the British he had lived for years in Los Angeles, where he worked as a movie extra and for German consul Georg Gyssling, “his duties being to report to Gyssling on important film personages.’’
He also “was engaged in selling German wines to well-known members of the film colony,’’ said the report, which added that Plack “was reported to drink alcohol to excess and to possess a poor credit record.’’
Questioned by MI5 near the end of the war, Wodehouse called the broadcasts a “hideous mistake’’ and said “I never had any intention of assisting the enemy.’’
The file ends in December 1945, at which point Plack’s whereabouts were unknown.