America's Secret Alliance with the SS
an excerpt from: Secrets of The SS
Glenn B. Infield (C)1982
The end of the war and the collapse of the Third Reich revealed the horror wrought by the SS under Hitler. The world was shocked as reports of the Holocaust became known and photographs were published of the victims found in the concentration and death camps of Europe. The entire SS organization became a target for Allied investigators seeking war criminals and at Nuremberg, where the war crimes tribunal met, the SS was officially declared a criminal organization. SS members were even shunned by many German citizens who had helplessly observed their actions during the years of Nazi power but who had been unable to interfere without jeopardizing their own lives. Everywhere the SS was undoubtedly the most hated of Nazi organizations, and public feeling in the United States was no exception. There was an outcry for their "heads." In a freedom-loving country, the deeds of the SS were considered so horrendous that death to the perpetrators seemed the only answer. American government officials agreed--at least publicly. Eisenhower's proclamation to the Germans set the tone for the Americans in their occupation zone:
We shall obliterate Nazism and German militarism. We shall overthrow the Nazi rule, dissolve the Nazi party, and abolish the cruel, oppressive, and discriminatory laws and institutions which the party has created.
To follow these guidelines, the Americans, through the U.S. military government, decided that they would denazify the 13 million surviving German adults in their zone. Under the watchful eye of Colonel Orlando Wilson, commander of the Public Sa disclosing all aspects of their life during the Third Reich. Long prison terms were threatened to those Germans who didn't fill out the questionnaire fully and truthfully. The American counterintelligence corps, using the Nazi files found in the Brown House in Munich, checked the questionnaires to make certain that the answers were correct. Five major categories were defined and each German was placed in one of the five. They were: major offenders, offenders, lesser offenders, followers, and exonerated.
The plan seemed simple and workable. It proved complex and unworkable. After the questionnaires were scrutinized, it was discovered that there were nearly 4 million Germans in the American zone alone in the categories requiring trials! There were not nearly enough American personnel in Germany to handle that many cases. A rough estimate indicated that it would take more than eight years to complete the trials. American officials also came to conclude that the denazification program had many failings, and that if zealously pushed could do more harm to American interests than was at first understood. They began to realize that all Nazi party members did not join for the same reason. Some joined under pressure to keep their jobs, others because they believed in the party's aims. Many wealthy persons contributed large sums to the party and helped it grow, but never became members. And as the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated during the postwar years, many of the "war criminals" identified under the American denazification program became more and more valuable to the U.S. Facing all these problems, American officials decided that they would solve the sticky problem by turning the entire denazification program over to the Germans.
On June 1, 1946, all denazification trials became the responsibility of the Germans. Immediately there were two important results: The United States was relieved of the responsibility for passing judgment on the indicted Germans, and it became very obvious that the German judges were not going to be as severe as the Americans had first intended to be when the program began. Enough time had already passed that the average German citizen felt safe in deciding not to testify against other Germans; they preferred not to be seen as traitors. In fact, most of the Germans considered admitting that they had played a minor role in the Nazi party, proof that they had been loyal to their country! By right, the American officials should have been angry and disillusioned by the debasement of the process and should perhaps have reclaimed the denazification program from the Germans. But the world situation was such at the time that they were more pleased than disappointed. There was not a word of criticism when the Germans freed General Franz Halder, Hitler's army chief of staff; Edward Jadamczik, former Gestapo chief in East Prussia: Günther Reinecke, chief SS judge; and Hugo Stinnes, the Ruhr steel and coal industrialist; and when the courts classified Karol Baron von Eberstein, an SS general, a minor offender. Others who received light or no sentences were Heinrich Morgen, deputy SS judge (exonerated); SS General Felix Steiner (minor offender); SS General Wilhelm Bruckner (three-year sentence); SS Brigadier Alexander von Dornberg (exonerated); and Kurt Schmitt (minor offender).
Why didn't the United States complain about the verdicts of the German denazification courts? The ever-growing conflict between the United States and Russia was causing great concern in Washington. The huge American military force that had played an important role in the defeat of Nazi Germany had been demobilized and only a small U.S. military establishment remained in Germany. Washington had believed that Russia, too, intended to demobilize. Instead, Stalin had I enlarged his military force in eastern Europe and gave evidence of, intending to move into western Europe if the Western Allies showed any weakness. With their military strength at a minimum American officials realized that the situation was critical. It was at this time that a subtle change in the official U.S. attitude toward the SS "war criminals" took place. It was decided that the SS members who had been active on the eastern front and were knowledgeable about the Soviets and their tactics could be of help. When the Soviets seized Czechoslovakia and established the Berlin blockade, the public outcry against the SS acts during the Third Reich was ignored by the American officials and a secret alliance between the United States and the SS was instigated.
One of the first high-ranking SS officers contacted was Otto Skorzeny, who was in a detention camp at Dachau. Skorzeny had been cleared by an American tribunal of any war crimes, but the German denazification court wanted to try him. United States officials were confident that the Germans would free him, too, but when the denazification trial was postponed seven times under pressure from Communist groups in the American zone so that Czechoslovakia could prepare a request to have Skorzeny extradited to their country for trial, the matter came to a head. The American counterintelligence agency tipped off Skorzeny that they could delay the extradition request for a few weeks with paperwork; after that, if he was still in the camp, there was little hope of keeping him from Soviet-dominated authorities in Czechoslovakia. The Americans arranged for him to be transferred to Darmstadt where, with the help of some SS comrades who had still not been arrested, Skorzeny escaped on July 27, 1948. The escape was well planned. An automobile with American military license plates and carrying three men wearing U.S. military police uniforms arrived at-the Darmstadt prison main gate early in the afternoon. One of the occupants, disguised as a captain, announced to the guards at the camp that they had arrived to take Otto Skorzeny to Nuremberg for a scheduled hearing. Showing forged documents to the guard, the "captain" insisted he must get the prisoner immediately so that he could get back to Nuremberg before nightfall. The guard, convinced he was doing his duty, turned Skorzeny over to the trio and they got into the car. That was the last time Skorzeny was in prison.
Did the Americans help in Skorzeny's escape? The Soviet authorities were convinced that they did and were furious. One Russian report stated that Skorzeny had been flown to the United States, where he was being interrogated about his knowledge of Russian military forces. Washington vehemently denied the report and stated that American investigators were searching throughout Europe for the elusive Skorzeny. Questioned in later years about the escape, Skorzeny just laughed. "The uniforms were provided by the Americans," was all he would say, referring to the military police uniforms worn by the trio that picked him up at the Darmstadt prison camp.
If the Americans helped Skorzeny escape as the Soviets charged, what was the reason? Even among U.S. military authorities in Europe at the time there was confusion and mistrust. When the G-2 section of the U.S. Army in Europe heard rumors that Skorzeny was working very closely with U.S. counterintelligence in thwarting Soviet aggression, the assistant chief of staff immediately sent a query to the 66th Counter Intelligence Corps Group. The reply was "doubletalk" at a high level. One paragraph stated:
In view of his past as well as the notoriety received by Skorzeny in the press during past years, it is felt that any open sponsorship or support by the U.S. government on behalf of Skorzeny would probably expose the U.S. government to extreme international embarrassment. However, the possibility exists that Skorzeny has been and is being utilized by U.S. intelligence.
In a later letter, the 66th CIC reported that Skorzeny was not a source or contact for their organization but admitted that they knew his whereabouts. There is no question that Skorzeny was used by various U.S. agencies and military units during this period. The confusion arises because of lack of communication and the adherence to strict secrecy by each of the U.S. organizations hiring Skorzeny. Each was fearful that if the American public discovered that they were collaborating with a former SS officer, the resultant publicity would be detrimental to their organization. CIC agents, for example, still suspected that he had aided several high-ranking Nazis to escape from Germany during the last days of the Third Reich, perhaps even Hitler as had been rumored. They wanted Skorzeny out of prison so they could follow him in hopes he could lead them to Bormann, Fegelein, Hitler, or others of prominence. He didn't.
They did discover, however that Skorzeny and his SS comrades had an efficient escape route out of Germany and an organization to administer it. Die Spinne (The Spider) was organized by Skorzeny and other SS members long before he escaped from Darmstadt. As one U.S. intelligence report stated:
The leader of this movement is Otto Skorzeny, who is directing this movement out of Dachau. The Polish guards are helping the men that receive orders from Skorzeny.
Die Spinne established a route of "safe houses" between Germany and Italy, starting from Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt, or Bremen. From any of these cities the SS members traveled to Memmingen in the Allgäu section of Bavaria. From there two routes took the men south to Italy, one going through Bregenz, Austria, and the other through Switzerland. Rome and Genoa were the destinations. It took the CIC considerably longer to learn, however, that most of the drivers of the trucks delivering the popular American army newspaper The Stars and Stripes were Spinne members and that behind the bundles of newspapers were one or more other SS members en route to Italy. The U.S. military police never checked these trucks. Working with Skorzeny in Die Spinne were SS Captain Franz Rostel, Hermann Lauterbacher of Himmler's staff, Hasso von Manteuffel, and Helmut Beck, among others.
Despite their knowledge of Die Spinne and the escape route, American authorities did nothing to stop the exodus of SS members. By this time the Korean conflict was under way and the United States was concerned about what other action the Communists might take in other parts of the world. Many political and military officials thought that Korea was merely a ploy to attract attention while lulling the U.S. asleep in western Europe and to draw further troops from the already weak American occupation forces in Germany. The ultimate aim of the Communists, according to these analysts, was to move into western Europe and control all of Germany. Skorzeny, understanding the situation clearly, made an offer to the Americans. He was in contact with most of the German generals who had survived the war, knew where the SS officers who escaped the Allies were located, and had a long list of ex-Wehrmacht and SS soldiers, including his former commandos, who were ready and willing to help the United States against the Russians. He vowed that he could organize four or five divisions of veterans who had fought against the Soviets during World War 11 and have them ready to defend western Europe or to be transferred to Korea within a short time, if the U.S. agreed and provided the necessary funds. It was a tempting offer and one that the American authorities seriously considered during the critical period of the Korean conflict.
By this time Skorzeny had set up an "engineering" office in Madrid under the protection of dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose brother-in-law Skorzeny had saved during the Nazi period. Actually he was coordinating Die Spinne activities from the office as well as handling illegal arms sales. He also managed to close a deal between Germany and Spain for the delivery of railway stock and machine tools, a deal made possible through his SS and German industrialist connections. His commission earned Skorzeny additional wealth beyond his share of the booty he'd gotten out of Germany at the end of the war. When it became obvious that the Communists were not going to use direct military force to take over all of Germany during the Korean conflict, Skorzeny's proposal to gather a new SS army was refused. But the United States government still had use for Skorzeny and his SS comrades.
John J. McCloy, the new high commissioner, was concerned about two matters: the Korean conflict and the possibility of Soviet aggression in Western Europe; and, second, the fate of the Germans sentenced to prison by the tribunal at Nuremberg. In an effort to arrange German help for the defense of Western Europe, he permitted Krupp to hold meetings in prison with his former board of directors and legal staff in order to discuss the reopening of the Krupp plants if permission to do so was granted. McCloy then established a panel under the chairmanship of David W. Peck, presiding justice of the New York Supreme Court, to review the sentences of the Nazis sentenced by U.S. tribunals. The two initiatives merged on January 31, 1951, when McCloy signed two documents: one releasing Krupp from prison, the other restoring his property to him. The SS had won another battle, a postwar battle where the odds had appeared unbeatable. Krupp soon had his dynasty back in operation and within a matter of months was producing 18 million tons of steel. This steel was of great value to the United States during the Korean crisis since the nation's mills could not provide enough steel for the defense of both western Europe and Korea.
Skorzeny was later revealed to be Krupp's representative in Argentina, verification that the SS influence had certainly not died with the end of the Third Reich. Far from it. After the United States "suggested" that West Germany rearm and join NATO, many German generals resumed important positions in the new military force. However, because of fear of public reaction both in Germany and in the U.S., prominent SS officers played a minor role at the beginning, seeking positions outside Germany. Men such as former SS Lieutenant General Wilhelm Farmbacher; Leopold Gleim, chief of Hitler's personal guard; Joachim Dämling, former chief of the Gestapo in Dusseldorf; Dr. Hans Eisele, Buchenwald's chief physician; and Heinrich Willermann, the SS doctor at Dachau; went to Egypt at the request of the U.S. to help build up Gamal Abdel Nasser's security forces. Skorzeny spent time in Argentina as well as Egypt helping organize pseudo-SS forces for these countries. By 1953, 101 prisoners had been released from prison under the McCloy-Peck sentence review procedure, so many that Eleanor Roosevelt, the ex-president's wife, demanded an explanation from the high commissioner. McCloy merely said that he considered it a fundamental principle of American justice that accused persons have a final right to be heard. He didn't mention that his predecessor, General Lucius Clay, had already had each case reviewed. Nor did he mention the real reason that Krupp and a host of other Nazis were being released--to work with and for the United States.
Germans not as well known to the public as Krupp were released from prison for a reason which was even more secret. Wilhelm Höttl, an SS officer who worked with Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the SD who was sentenced to hang at Nuremberg; Gerhard Pinckert, a member of a terrorist group commanded by Skorzeny; Alfred Benzinger of the Secret Field Police; Fritz Schmidt, Gestapo chief at Kiel; and other SS officers were quietly discharged from Landsberg and other prisons or the indictments pending against them were dropped. Most of them disappeared from sight under assumed names but they definitely did not go into hiding. They became secret intelligence agents for the U.S., first for the military forces, later for the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency. Of all the strange alliances between the Nazis and the U.S. during the postwar years, this was the most secret.
The idea for the alliance actually began in 1944 when Hitler's chief intelligence officer on the eastern front, Reinhard Gehlen, came into disfavor with the Führer. At the time Gehlen was chief of Foreign Armies East and greatly respected by General Heinz Guderian, his superior officer. When Gehlen reported to Guderian that the Russians were planning a huge winter offensive and warned that the attack would crush the Nazi armies in the east, Guderian had him repeat the prediction to Hitler personally. The Führer raged that Gehlen's report was wrong and that he should be sent to a lunatic asylum. Guderian, angry, vowed that he, too, would go. Both men were subsequently relieved of duty by Hitler but not before Gehien had decided that the war was lost. Convinced of this, he made plans to protect himself and his staff after the surrender he knew would come. At the same time, he planned to lay the groundwork for the rebuilding of Germany. His plan was simple. He made copies of all his important documents dealing with intelligence work on the eastern front, put the copies into 50 steel cases, and buried them in the Bavarian mountains. He was aware that the U.S. had no intelligence organization operating behind Russian lines because the Soviet Union was an ally. He was convinced, just as Hitler was, that the United States and the Soviet Union would not remain allies long after the end of World War II, that the two nations would eventually fight each other over the control of Europe.
Gehlen and a skeleton staff of his Foreign Armies East hid out in. the Bavarian mountains after the war ended until they could surrender to the American troops in the area. When Gehlen walked into the U.S. Army headquarters in Fischausen in May 1945 and announced who he was, he expected to be treated as a VIP prisoner. Instead he was sent to a prison at Miesbach and ignored. It wasn't until Soviet agents came to the American zone asking for him by name that the American officials paid any attention to Gehlen. It was then that they discovered that Gehlen knew a great deal about the Soviet forces, and that he had voluminous files detailing their disposition, organization, and leadership. By this time it was becoming more and more evident to the Americans that the Russians, instead Of cooperating with the Western Allies in the difficult problem of governing the large areas of Europe that had been liberated from the Nazis, were determined to seize control of as much of that territory as possible. Not only did the United States find itself vulnerable because of its military demobilization but because it had no intelligence operation. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been disbanded under orders from President Truman and as yet no other organization had been established to replace it.
So when the Russians showed an interest in Gehlen and demanded that he be turned over to them, General Edwin Luther Sibert, G-2 of 12th Army Group, interrogated Gehlen. When the German general offered to place himself, his Foreign Armies East-staff, and his intelligence files at the disposal of the United States under certain conditions, Sibert immediately notified General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff The offer was tempting, but once again the thought of collaborating with Nazi officers so soon after the end of the war and the realization of the public outcry that would provoke if such a collaboration were discovered, made the two men hesitate. Finally Smith decided that Washington should make the decision. Gehlen and three of his officers were flown to the United States in Smith's plane.
Even in Washington the decision was not quick. It took nearly a year before Allen Dulles, formerly the station agent for the OSS in Switzerland; Loftus Becker; Dr. Sherman Kent; General Lucius Clay; J. Edgar Hoover; and others decided that it would be in the best interests of the United States to take Gehlen up on his offer. Moral considerations would have to take a back seat, and they so advised the Pentagon.
One of the restrictions placed on the German general, however, was that he would not use SS men in his operation. Gehlen was based at Pullach, a small town south of Munich, and he immediately began rebuilding his intelligence organization by reestablishing his network of agents in the Soviet zone of occupation and in the Soviet Union itself. Without the knowledge of Sibert and Smith initially, Gehlen combed the American prison camps for former German intelligence agents and-managed to have them released so they could join his organization. Among these agents were many SS men. By the time the Americans discovered that Gehlen had duped them it was too late. The American intelligence chiefs had become too dependent upon his organization for information about the Soviets to disown it. After the CIA was formed in 1947, the Gehlen group joined it as the Soviet intelligence arm and worked with the CIA until 1956 when the organization transferred to the new West German government as its intelligence section.
So within months after the public learned about the SS atrocities and the worldwide condemnation of that hated organization, the United States was actively collaborating with surviving SS members in a number of ways. This was one of the most closely guarded secrets shared by the SS and the United States government following the war.