• Justine McLellan

Kitty Salon, or the time the Nazis ran a brothel to spy on people

A still from the film about Kitty Salon, featuring the employees of the brothel

In 1939, the Nazi intelligence service took over a high-class Berlin brothel, Salon Kitty, to spy on German dignitaries, foreign diplomats, industrialists, high-ranking civil servants and senior Nazi Party members. The brothel was owned and run by Katharina Schmitt, who previously had tried to escape Nazi Germany but was caught at the Dutch border. Given the choice between cooperating and being sent to a concentration camp, she chose to cooperate.

The nazis installed listening devices in all the rooms, where all the conversations were transcribed by government officials. The spies figured that johns would be more likely to reveal their feelings about the reich if they were lulled by sex and alcohol; through this method, the Nazi intelligence service was able to figure out who was loyal to the regime and who harboured resentments or reticences.

When hiring additional sex workers, the nazis advertised for “women and girls, who are intelligent, multilingual, nationalistically minded and furthermore man-crazy”. The new workers were then were sent to a seven-week training that would indoctrinate them with Nazi propaganda, teach them how to recognize the rankings of military uniforms, and how to collect information from innocuous conversation.

In 1942, the building that housed Kitty’s Salon was bombed by British air forces, and the brothel was forced to move elsewhere. The Nazi secret service abandoned the operation, and gave back to Schmidt the full reign of her brothel, with the threat of retaliation if she ever revealed any of the surveillance activities that occurred during the war. She kept silent, and died in 1954 at the age of 71.

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.