Thursday, August 6th, 2015...10:00 am

International man of mystery??

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

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I came across this French volume the other day and assumed it was about some sort of military hero, but as I took a closer look at the cover of the book I noticed that he was apparently a Swiss officer, a Swiss diplomat, a French officer, and a vagabond??  So who was Hans Ormund Bringolf?  Clearly my interest was piqued though I couldn’t find much reputable information only vague theories and scant biographical sketches.  From these sources a picture emerged of a man who seemed to go in out and of military service while having a number of sketchy dealings.

Bringolf was first in the Swiss military cov1_0018while studying the law and earned the nickname “Lieutenant Blessed” because he had been declared prematurely dead on several occasions while on maneuvers, presumably due to his recklessness.  After earned his law degree he joined the Swiss Diplomatic service during which time he forged some checks and was

cov1_0017 expelled in 1904.  To avoid prosecution he went to America where he was a commander of a U.S. police contingent in the Philippines, though he was later jailed for fraud in Peru.   After he was released he went back to Germany where he pretended to be Baron von Tscharner, was found out and served another prison sentence.  During World War I he served in the French army in Serbia where he earned another nickname “The Lion of Manastir” cov1_0020 for his audacious behavior on the front.  This supposedly inducted him in the Legion of Honor.  However it wasn’t long before he was caught up in more fradulent actitivies.

Eventually he settled in Hallau where he wrote his memoir, this version was edited by Blaise Cendrars and translated by Paul Budry.  It would be interesting to see how Bringolf presents himself in this book for it seems more likely that a description of him as “criminal” is more apt than vagabond.  To explore his interpretation of his life story you can find this volume in Widener’s collection.

cov1_0016Feu le lieutenant Bringolf. [Traduction de Paul Budry. Version de Blaise Cendrars]. Paris, Au sans pareil, 1930.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Julio Mario Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post.



  • Hans O. Bringolf was indeed an international man of mystery. He also seemed to have used a pen name of “Jean Valjean” for the second edition of his autobiography “Der Lebensroman des Leutnant Bringolf fel.”, published in Zurich in 1928. The first edition was published in the same Swiss city the year before.

    What you have here is the second edition in French. The first one was published the same year in Neuchâtel, Switzerland (see the link below), and its preface had been signed by Rudolphe Archibald Reiss (1875-1929), another mystery man. Reiss was a German-born naturalized Swiss citizen, an expert for counterfeit banknotes and a pioneer forensic photographer. Reiss was sent to the Serbian front in 1914 in order to document the alleged use of dum-dum bullets by Austro-Hungarian troops. The former French Foreign Legionnaire, Blaise Cendrars (born as Frédéric-Louis Sauser near Neuchâtel), edited both French editions.

    R. A. Reiss, whose (if it was his at all) preface disappeared in the second French edition, died unexpectedly in Belgrade one year prior to the publication of the first edition. Hans Bringolf attended his funeral as a Swiss military attaché to the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

    FYI: R. A. Reiss is also the purported author of the typewritten manuscript in French entitled “Listen, Serbs!” (Ecoutez, Serbes!) published for the first time in its Serbian translation in 1996. So caution should be exercised regarding authorship.

    The first edition of Bringolf’s autobiography in French with alleged preface by Reiss:

  • Dusan,
    Thanks so much for the information about Bringolf and Reiss! We realized that we also have a copy of the first edition with the Reiss preface however it’s a later paperback printing of that edition, we think, without the “quelques fragments de ses mémoires” subtitle on the title page. You can see our copy here-