we follow the trail of some old but still active Nazis
A MATHS PROFESSOR GOES MISSING
In January, 1985, Boris Weisfeiler disappeared on a hiking trip in southern Chile. His rucksack, clothes, shoes, credit card and return air ticket were found by the river Nuble. Chilean police said the maths professor must have drowned trying to swim the river. Professor Weisfciler’s colleagues at Penn State University didn’t accept this story. Chileans who knew the river said it would be far too full and fast at that time of the year for anyone to try it. In 1986 the Washington Post reported that the US State Department had asked Chilean authorities for information on Professor Weisfeiler’s whereabouts.
Weisfeiler, a Russian-born Jew, had disappeared not far from a mysterious German settlement called Colonia Dignidad, founded by an old Nazi. On June 30 last year the Department declassified 250 official documents relating to the Weisfeiler case. These show that two or three weeks after the professor disappeared, a person called the American embassy in Santiago and told them the professor was alive. In 1987 the embassy heard that Weisfeiler had been arrested and taken to Colonia Dignidad where he was being held in inhuman conditions, and tortured. Another report said he had been killed.
All this information remained locked up in secret government files while Boris Weisfeiler’s family were trying to find out what had happened to him. The Committee of Concerned Scientists, of which he was a member, set up a legal fund for an investigation. Last year, Chilean courts agreed to re-open the case - one of many concerning disappearances under General Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship. On 11th October last year police raided the offices of Colonia Dignidad.
US State Department documents obtained by the Weisfeilers lawyers describe Colonia Dignidad as ‘a religious sect led by a charismatic leader similar to Jim Jones in the Jonestown (Guyana) disaster’. Schaefer, an SS veteran and army doctor, became a preacher in post-war Germany, but fled abroad to avoid charges of whipping and molesting children at an orphanage near Bonn. Some of his flock were already in Chile and others followed. They set up Colonia Dignidad on remote land in the Andean foothills 200 miles south of Santiago in 1961. The 32,000-acre farm, shielded behind high barbed wire fences, was watched over night and day by armed guards with attack dogs. Visitors were not encouraged, and residents were not permitted to leave. A German government investigation reported that the sexes were segregated, and children separated from their parents. People caught trying to leave were subjected to psychological and physical punishment, such as being held for long periods in solitary cages, beaten, and injected with drugs. Wolfgang Mueller, who did escape, claimed that as a young boy he had been sexually abused by Schaefer. Others told of sexual assaults and forced labour. Schaefer has been on the run since paedophile charges were brought against him four years ago.
Two visitors who were welcomed at Schaefer’s colony were General Pinochet, and his security chief General Manuel Contreras. Pinochet’s secret police, DINA, enlisted a former SS man. Colonel Walter Rauff, as an adviser. In 1941, as head of the technical division at Reich Security Head Office, RSHA, Rauff decided to ease the work of German forces on the eastern front, by having some 20 heavy trucks converted into mobile gas chambers, and dispatched to the einsatzgmppen (extermination squads). 'So far as the extermination of Jews in Russia is concerned, I know that gas vans were used. Did I think twice about employing the gas vans? I couldn’t say. At the time the most important consideration for me was the psychological stress felt by the men involved in the shootings. This problem was overcome by the use of gas vans.’ An estimated 200,000 people were killed in these vans.
In 1943 Rauff became SS commander in northern Italy. Captured by the Allies, he escaped a prisoner of war camp in 1946, and hid in an Italian monastery, before travelling to South America. A West German extradition request in 1963 was rejected because the crimes of which Rauff was accused were beyond Chile’s statute of limitations. The SS colonel was able to resume his career under General Pinochet. Retiring in comfort, he died in 1983 of natural causes.
Pinochet’s persecution of opponents was not confined to Chilean borders. The CIA and FBI supplied DINA with intelligence reports on Chilean exiles, and Colonia Dignidad helped it ‘draw on national and international contacts’, a declassified CIA report says. In April 1974 two Italian fascists, Prince Luis Borghese and Stefano delle Chiae, arrived in Chile and met Pinochet. Like Walter Rauff, Borghese had served in northern Italy. Captured by partisans, who might have executed summary justice for his crimes against them, he was spared on the insistence of US intelligence officer James Jesus Angleton. Della Chiaie was a younger fascist, a street-fighter who gloried in violence and was implicated in bombings in Italian cities aimed at terrorising people into submission to a right-wing dictatorship. In December 1970, after attempting a fascist coup, the `Black Prince' fled attempting a fascist coup, the 'Black Prince’ fled with his street thug protege to Spain, where Borghese’s wartime comrade in arms, SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny welcomed them.
Set loose in Latin America, the Italian fascist Delle Chiaie ranged from Argentina to El Salvador, helping DINA hunt dorm Chilean exiles, and assisting right-wing death squads. After Chile’s former ambassador in Washington, Orlando Letelier, was blown up on Embassy Row, together with a young American aide, Ronnie Moffat, on 21st September 1976, there was an outcry which eventually led to the conviction of DINA chief and CIA liaison Contreras. By then the Argentine military had emulated Pinochet, and launched its ‘dirty war’ to wipe out ‘subversives’. Then in July 1980, Delle Chiaie’s masterpiece coup in Bolivia brought to power a barbaric military regime which brutalised, tortured and murdered 1,000 people in its first week.
For one resident, it brought comfort and joy. Klaus Barbie, the wartime Gestapo butcher of Lyons, recruited after the war by US army intelligence to spy on left-wing trade unionists in Europe, had been given an assisted passage to South America when French prosecutors first got on his trail. In La Paz he made himself known to the military as representative for the German arms company Merex. Arms dealers can go where diplomats fear to tread. In 1978, after Amnesty International reported what had gone on at Colonia Dignidad, Merex boss, Gerhart Mertens, also linked with intelligence services, was prominent in a ‘Circle of Friends’ of the German settlement. Skorzeny was a Merex director.
Barbie had done well in Bolivia, organising torture and death squads for the right-wing military dictator Hugo Banzer, and financing them through the cocaine trade and money laundering. He even set up Transmaritima Boliviana, buying boats for a landlocked country. Then in June 1980, Bolivia's elections put a reforming coalition led by Herman Siles'Suazo into office, pledged to clean up corruption. The new government accused Barbie of massive fraud, and looked set to deport him. But on 18th July the military seized power, under Luis Garcia Meza, and Barbie could breath freely. Trade unions were abolished, newspapers closed, curfews imposed, and thousands of people arrested, tortured and killed. The Butcher of Lyons was back in business for a few years more, with the butchers of La Paz. Reports used to distinguish between ‘neo-Nazis’ or ‘neo-fascists’ and old ones, but here we see the continuity at work between them.
OTTO SKORZENY'S WEB
After the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich, a handful of senior Nazi war criminals were tried and executed at Nuremburg, The will to prosecute Germany’s bankers and industrialists was blunted by their links with American and British business. The onset of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and communism meant Hitler’s generals and their allies were perceived as NATO assets. As is now well-known, leftovers from the Ukrainian SS Galicia division and Latvian units were shipped to Britain, whence some were despatched on ill-fated missions to infiltrate the USSR. Other Nazis and fascists were assisted by various routes (Madrid and the Vatican were favourite rest stops) to warmer climes, where they formed a network available for skulduggery while awaiting their return to power -the so-called Fourth Reich. This was a hidden counterforce against peoples who aspired to raise themselves, between two world power blocs, as a ThirdWorld.
Otto Skorzeny, the commando whom Hitler sent to rescue Mussolini, and entrusted with organising Werewolf resistance to the Allies, was acquitted at Nuremburg on charges concerning his actions in the Ardennes, where unarmed US prisoners were massacred at Malmedy. His subsequant ‘escape’ from an internment camp in 1948, just ahead of an extradition demand from Czechoslovakia, was probably arranged by his American captors, so that Skorzeny could recruit fellow-Nazis to a ‘stay behind’ network to stop communism. But he was involved in a parallel network, a later favourite of thriller and movie writers, the Organisation of Former SS members known by its German initials as ODESSA. Some reports spoke of die Spinne - the spider’s web.
Living on a farm in Bavaria rented by Countess Use Luthje, niece of the Nazi finance minister, and banker Hjalmar Schacht, Skorzeny contacted General Reinhard Gehlen, the wartime intelligence officer with whom he had set up underground units in Russia and eastern Europe. Gehlen’s post-war American-backed spy organisation, based at Pullach, just outside Munich, became the official Federal German intelligence service, the BND, in 1955. By then, Skorzeny had married Use Luthje and moved to Madrid, where he became an arms dealer. With help and advice from Uncle Hjalmar, the Skorzenys amassed a fortune and a host of useful connections. Among those who had found the climate in Franco’s Spain better for their health in post-war years was Leon Degrelle, commander of the SS Walonie Division on the eastern front. Sentenced to death in absentia by his native Belgium, Degrelle entertained fascists from all over Europe at his luxurious seaside apartment in Malaga, and considered Skorzeny a ‘great friend’.
Skorzeny’s links with Schacht and General Gehlen (and through Gehlen with the CIA) brought valuable business assignments from foreign governments such as Argentina and Egypt, who wanted arms, investment and expertise from wherever they came. Much of the Nazis’ looted gold had been shipped to Argentina after the Vatican and the British government took their cut, and a former Nazi agent in Spain, Horst Fuldner, helped General Peron recruit German scientists and technicians. Through his connections, Nazis like Adolf Eichman found employment in Argentina. Croatia’s wartime dictator Ante Pavelic even set up a ‘government in exile’ in Buenos Aires.
When the infamous ‘Angel of Death’, Josef Mengele slipped away to Argentina, he was helped by Hitler’s ace pilot, Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel, who was involved in Argentina’s plane industry. Although Mengele retreated to Paraguay, Rudel continued in business and Nazi politics, starting a Nazi paper and returning to Germany to launch the neo-Nazi Deutsche Reichspartei. In March 1962, meeting in Venice with Italian and French fascists, the Belgian Jean Thiriart and Britain’s Oswald Mosley, Rudel helped form a European National Party. Among the 2,000 people who flocked to Rudel’s funeral in December 1982 was David Irving. Two jets of the modern Luftwaffe flew over and dipped their wings in salute to the dead Nazi hero. German Defence Minister Manfred Worner, a future NATO secretary-general, claimed he knew nothing of Rudel’s politics, but respected his ‘achievements as a soldier'.
A MARRIAGE MADE IN LANGLEY, VIRGINIA
After the defeat of the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, allied himself with Hitler, hoping Nazi victory would help rid Palestine of both the British and the Jews. (The right-wing Zionist Stern group to which future Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir belonged, also naively sought an alliance with the devil, albeit with less success.) After the war, the Mufti took up residence in Egypt. Many Germans made their way where Nazi influence had gone before, as mercenaries, businessmen or technicians.
For nationalist army officers and parties who had fought ‘democratic’ colonial powers, and found state intervention necessary to their country’s development, words like ‘national socialism’ had an appeal. So did anti-Jewish conspiracy theory (suitably adopted, to appeal to people who were also ‘Semites’), when they tried to understand why the West and the Soviet Union had backed partition in Palestine and helped bring about the Naqba (catastrophe).
But insofar as there was a marriage between European Nazism and Arab nationalism, it was an arranged one, and America’s CIA was the shadchan (matchmaker). US policy in these Cold War years was not averse to seeing British, French or other allies (and business competitors) eased out of their colonial fiefdoms, so long as Soviet influence was kept out, and social revolution did not threaten US interests.
In Egypt the Free Officers movement overthrew the corrupt King Farouk in 1952, and two years later Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser became top leader. Striking textile workers at Alexandria were ruthlessly crushed, and militants executed. Communist Party leaders were thrown in jail. The CIA wanted to help the new regime, but without being seen to dirty its hands. So it donned German gloves. Or as Miles Copeland, the CIA’s man in Cairo in the 1950s, put it, the Agency ‘had on its hands a number of Germans who were not - or in some cases not quite - war criminals’. Seeking jobs for them, it decided in 1953 that Egypt’s intelligence and security services needed help. In talks with CIA director Allan Dulles, General Reinhard Gehlen said the best man to take charge of the job would be Otto Skorzeny With a little persuasion, and promised the CIA would top up whatever Nasser paid, Skorzeny agreed, and began recruiting his team. His old friend Hartmann Lauterbacher was in touch with the Mufti, and became the BND’s station head in Cairo.
Among those arriving in Egypt was SS Major Leopold Gleim, who had been Gestapo officer responsible for Jewish affairs in Poland. SS General Oskar Dirlewanger, who had commanded a penal brigade, took charge of training Nasser’s guards, assisted by SS Major Eugen Eichberger, who had participated in Nazi extermination squads in the Ukraine. Recommended by the Mufti, Johannes Von Leers, who had worked with Goebbels, took the Muslim name ‘Omar Amin’ and a post in Egypt’s Information Ministry, with special responsibility for ‘Jewish Questions’. Louis Heiden, alias Louis al-Hadj, translated Mein Kampf into Arabic, and the Egyptian government also published an .Arabic version of the notorious Czarist secret police forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Franz Bunsche, another ex-Goebbels hack with Skorzeny’s team, might have had a better-seller with his work, The Sexual Habits of Jews, if he’d turned it into a series of postcards.
For Egyptian Jews and Communists (many' of whom were also Jews), falling into the hands of Gestapo-trained torturers was not so amusing. An Israeli campaign of sabotage and provocations, misusing idealist young Egyptian Jews, did not exactly help the Jewish community. Whether Nasser believed the nonsense produced by Nazi propagandists, or merely thought it would impress people in the West, is unclear. In the period before Suez the Egyptian leader did consider clandestine peace contacts, some via the British Jewish Labour MP Maurice Orbach. But the Protocols continued to circulate, and their influence can be seen in some supposedly Islamic material. Antisemitic and racist groups have been funded by some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. In 1962 Egypt’s military attache in London entertained the British Nazi Colin Jordan. Ill-advised as such dalliances are from an Arab standpoint, it has suited both Western imperialists and Arab reactionaries to exaggerate the power of the ‘Jewish lobby’,rather than see anger directed at the West and its interests.
US policy received a couple of blows in 1955 when, stung by heavy Israeli ‘reprisal’ raids for fedayeen action, Egypt turned to the Soviet bloc for arms and aid. Nasser went to the Bandung conference of‘non-aligned’ nations, and recognised the People’s Republic of China. Egypt emerged from the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli invasion shambles holding its canal, international status, and courtship from both superpowers. German companies like Krupp and Siemens invested in Egypt’s development, while Gehlen’s Org, now the official West German intelligence service, BND, expanded through the Middle East. Alois Brunner, wanted for war crimes including deportation of Jewish children to Auschwitz, moved from Cairo to become BND station chief in Syria. The US had hoped Egypt would join the pro-Western Baghdad Pact, but the 1957 Iraqi Revolution tore Baghdad out of the Pact. Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic in 1958, but Iraq’s General Kassem obstinately pursued his own policies, even letting Iraqi Communists out of prison and into his coalition.
In 1963, Kassem was overthrown in a CIA-supported coup by Ba’athists allied to Nasser. Egypt’s Nazi-trained and officered secret service played its part in the coup and the bloody massacre of thousands of Iraqi workers and leftists, which foreshadowed the even bigger slaughter in Indonesia two years later, and the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973. Among Iraqi officers whose careers were advanced by the CIA coup was Saddam Hussein.
ISRAEL: IS IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS?
Israeli propaganda naturally made much of the Nazi presence in the Middle East, as though it explained Arab hostility, rather than merely exploiting it. The capture of Adolf Eichman in Argentina in 1960, and his trial in Jerusalem, highlighted Israel’s claim to defend Jewish people and bring retribution upon our enemies. But as relations with West Germany improved, Israeli agents were told to lay off fugitive Nazis. Reports on Mengele’s whereabouts were filed away for no action. Mossad was concerned about German scientists and engineers developing Egypt’s weapons technology and sent ex-Sternist Yitzhak Shamir to Paris to organise a two-pronged campaign. Scientists and their families received threats and parcel-bombs, newspapers received sensational articles about a Nazi plot to wipe out the Jewish state with new fiendish weapons of mass destruction.
After each world war defeat, Germany’s military-industrial complex took itself abroad to work its way around restrictions on rearmament. But in response to Israel’s concerns, Gehlen’s BND helped an Israeli agent, Wolfgang Lotz, infiltrate German circles in Egypt, where he spied on the government and waged cloak and dagger war on the weapons scientists. In 1963, Israeli agents met Otto Skorzeny in Spain, and enlisted his help. This liaison may have been facilitated by the BND’s Gehlen, or the CIA’s James Angleton, who handled links with foreign services, and managed good relations with assorted Nazis, fascists and Zionists. A German rocket scientist visiting Skorzeny was told the two inquisitive gentlemen with him were ‘NATO officers’.
By the 1970s, Israel itself grew big in the defence and security business. Military exports overtook diamonds, textiles and citrus as earners, and retired or serving Israeli officers turned up in numerous countries, among them Argentina. During the junta’s ‘dirty war’ when at least 11,000 people were ‘disappeared’ by the military, it is estimated that at least 5% of victims were Jewish, although Jews only constituted 1% of the population. This might partly be explained by the targeting of left-wing intellectuals and professional people, but there is other evidence that Nazi training had left its mark on the Argentine officer class and its outlook. Former prisoner Nora Strejilevich recalls: ‘They assured me that the “problem of subversion" was the one concerning them most but the “Jewish problem" ranked second and they were collecting information.’ During raids on homes the security forces became especially vicious if they found a family was Jewish. In prison Jews were made to crawl on their knees, as Jacobo Timerman recounts, humiliated and tortured. Amnesty International reported that torture centres were decorated with swastikas and portraits of Hitler. The military saw nothing incongruous about condemning Timerman as, among other things, a ‘Zionist’, and doing business with the Zionists in Israel.
Israel was selling arms to Argentina. What else was it selling? A 1976 CIA report said officers from an Israeli intelligence centre in Rio de Janeiro had ‘gone to Buenos Aires to give training to the Argentines. In the course of these contacts the Israelis recommended greater involvement in joint anti-terrorist operations.’ The junta, of course, claimed Its ‘dirty war ‘ was a war against terrorism. A report into the ‘dirty war’ commissioned by Argentina's Jewish representative institution, the DAIA, says Jews were interrogated about alleged ‘Jewish campaigns’ and about the community, its institutions, buildings, staff and ideologies. ‘The victims state that torturers evidenced a surprisingly accurate knowledge on some of such issues, and some of them even spoke Hebrew or Yiddish.’
Where US operations or direct arms exports were restricted by Congress, Israel was ready to fill the gap. After Bolivia’s 1980 coup, and brutal repression, the US government, followed by Britain and other European Union countries, and several in Latin America, broke off diplomatic and trade relations, and the IMF refused to renew loans. Israel, together with South Africa, Argentina, Paraguay, Egypt and the USSR, maintained relations, and went further, offering arms and military aid to the brutal dictatorship that was shielding Klaus Barbie. That the ‘butcher of Lyons’ was brought to justice three years later owed nothing to Israel. ‘We must be guided in our relationships by the one criterion that has guided governments of Israel since the establishment of the state, namely: “Is it good for the Jews?”’, wrote former military intelligence Brigadier Haim Vivien Herzog, before becoming president of Israel. Perhaps he even believed it.
LOOKING AT CONNECTIONS
In 1992 the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, and 29 people killed. Two years later a car bombing at the AMIA, Jewish welfare society premises killed 86 people and wounded hundreds.
It was assumed that Middle Eastern terrorists were responsible for both bombings, and the finger pointed at Iran. But Argentine Jews suspected an Argentine connection. ‘The key question in the case is: who provided local intelligence and support?’ said Horacio Lutzky. ‘That means looking into the Nazi underground, and we all know of the deep influence Nazi ideas have on the Argentine, police, military and security agencies.’
As Argentine democracy attempts to probe the truth about Nazi gold and the ‘dirty wars’, the Far Right lashes out, and new links are revealed. When police investigating the AMIA bombing raided an army barracks at the end of 1995 they uncovered a military coup plot, and found literature produced by the White Aryan Resistance, a US-based Nazi outfit. People remained sceptical, suspecting those arrested, mainly NCOs, were small fry. In 1996 it was revealed that Justice Minister Rodolfo Barra had been a member of a violent Nazi youth movement. On 24th September, 2001, the trial began of 15 former police officers and five civilians charged with supplying the van that was packed with explosive in the AMIA bombing. Who was responsible for the bombing, and why, has yet to be established. Some doubt it ever will.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, adults told me Nazism was past history, and neo-Nazis insignificant, not worth bothering about. Sadly, their optimism has proved mistaken. Starting in Boris Weisfeiler’s ill-fated footsteps, our hike through history to a Buenos Aires courtroom has found hidden connections between yesterday’s horrors and today. The collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War are bringing new contradictions and strange alliances. We will need to confront them with open eyes.
(first published in Jewish Socialist magazine, Spring 2001)