This article originally appeared in the Jewish Free Press, Calgary

The Treacherous Mr. Trebisch*

What do the following people have in common?

The answer is that all of the above descriptions--and many more--are referring to the same remarkable individual: the notorious adventurer Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln. Born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Hungary in 1879, our hero renounced his ancestral faith, and was baptized in 1898. Forced to leave his seminary because he had violated its policies by becoming engaged while still a student, he chose to continue his vocation in the less rigid surroundings of Canada, arriving in Montreal in 1900. His Jewish origins served him in good stead when bringing the Gospel to his former coreligionists. He acquired a reputation as a popular preacher, but his constant travels across Canada put heavy strains on his health and his family life. The Trebitsches decided to return to Europe, and settled in England.

During his brief, career as a curate in the sleepy rural community of Appledore (with nary a Jew to convert), the ambitious Trebitsch began to take an interest in politics. He wagered his vicar that he could be elected to Parliament within seven years--and he achieved that goal with almost a year to spare. His British naturalization had barely been processed, when in January 1910 the charismatic orator, who had now changed his name legally to the more English-sounding" Timothy Trebich-Lincoln," was elected Liberal Member for the borough of Darlington.

During the chaotic years leading up to World War I, Trebitsch-Lincoln was able to maintain simultaneous enterprises in Rumania, Bulgaria and Turkey, while remaining on top of continual attempts at deceit and intrigue by his collaborators.

When the war broke out, he was employed briefly as a British military censor, but continued to be outspoken about his sympathies for the Germans. The British eventually accused him of being an enemy spy, though Trebitsch-Lincoln always denied the charge, blaming it on English xenophobia. At any rate, the British were so determined to capture him that they had him arrested and imprisoned even after he had fled to the United States (which was still neutral). In 1916, he was extradited to England where he served three years in prison--on charges of forgery.

It appears that the remainder of Trebitsch-Lincoln's life was devoted to avenging himself on the British. Initially, his retribution took the form of involvement in plots to restore German power and undo the repressive decrees of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition to monarchistic intrigues in Hungary, he took an active role in the 1920 putsch that strove to close down the German Reichstag and install as dictator the reactionary Wolfgang Kapp. Even though they managed to drive the elected government into flight, the junta quickly crumbled because the workers refused to accept their authority.

During the short-lived insurrection, the conspirators took up quarters in a Berlin hotel. A sympathizer named Adolf Hitler hurriedly flew from Munich in order to join the putsch. However, as soon as one of his companions recognized that the Jew Trebitsch was serving as the new régime's Press Chief, he gripped Hitler's arm and pulled him away saying "Adolf, we have no further business here."

In 1922, Trebitsch-Lincoln's anti-British schemes entered a new phase. He had concluded that the only way to topple the Empire would be by turning China into a military power that was strong enough to push the British out of India. With this goal in mind, he booked passage to China, which was then plunged into an anarchic civil war between rival warlords. He quickly found his way to the camp one of the more powerful generals, Wu-Pei-Fu, to whom he offered his ambitious proposal for turning China into a stable and modern world power. From that point on, he remained the general's close counselor. In 1924, however, Wu-Pei-Fu's career was effectively ended when his attempt to take Shanghai was foiled by a betrayal.

Then, in 1925, in a sudden reversal of temperament, the former kheyder student developed a fascination with the Buddhist teachings of internal harmony and withdrawal from the material world. Assuming the name Chao Kung, he accepted the austere regimen of a Buddhist monk, and his charisma allowed him to advance as quickly as he had in all his previous pursuits.

Trebitsch-Lincoln's withdrawal from the world was accelerated by a personal tragedy when his son was executed for a murder committed while he was drunk. Despairing at the same time of the civil war between the Communist and Nationalist forces in China, our hero was prevented by the British from achieving his ambition of settling in Tibet.

After several years in the West, where he lectured on Buddhist teachings, he returned to China where, in addition to his spiritual vocation, he served as an agent and collaborator for the Japanese. In 1938, reports were circulated that influential circles in the Japanese government were proposing that the monk Chao Kung should be appointed as the new Emperor of China.

In September 1938 the British Consul-General in Chungking reported to his superiors that Trebitsch-Lincoln was headed towards Tibet to press his claim that he was the latest incarnation of both the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama.

At the same time, he was publishing his personal ultimatum for world peace, which called for the resignation of all current governments (except those of Finland and Japan) and the convening of an international peace conference. "Otherwise, the Tibetan Buddhist Supreme Masters...will unchain forces and powers whose very existence are unknown to you and against whose operations you are consequently helpless."

In 1941 he was negotiating with the German Gestapo attaché from Tokyo, demanding an urgent interview with the Führer in Berlin in order to persuade him to end the war. As evidence of his supernatural authority, three of the wise men of Tibet would be made to appear miraculously out of the wall at his command. The proposal was taken seriously enough to be communicated to Berlin, where it was received with great animosity.

Though Ignaz Trebitsch had abandoned his Judaism early in his convoluted career, the last record that we possess of his life comes from an interview that was conducted for Unzer Lebn, the Yiddish-Russian-English newspaper published by the Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

In an issue published in July 1943, a few months before his death, the reporter describes him, residing now in Shanghai's YMCA, serene in his monk's robes. Trebitsch used the occasion to offer his views on Jewish issues. Though vehemently opposed to Zionism, he of course had devised his own plan for solving the problems of Jewish homelessness.

He would settle the Jewish refugees on Buddhist-owned territory near Shanghai, "proposing to build there a Model Settlement, a Tel-Aviv in miniature."


This article and many others are now included in the book

A Meeting-Place for the Wise
A Meeting-Place for the Wise

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My email address is: eliezer.segal@ucalgary.ca

 

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