Weitere Kapitel dieses Buchs durch Wischen aufrufen
This chapter examines what was possibly the last of the Nazi bureaucracy’s vertical trust networks—ODESSA. This was purported to be a covert organization of the SS underground that was established toward the end of World War II and whose primary mission was to facilitate the escape of SS members and other highly placed Nazi affiliates from post-war Europe to mainly Brazil and other Nazi-sympathizing parts of South America. This process possibly involved two competing vertical trust networks, both headed by Heinrich Himmler, and a number of suspected affiliate organizations, including the Vatican, Juan Perón’s government in Brazil, Francisco Franco’s government in Spain, and various German industrial and financial magnates. Nazi functionaries who were rescued through this process included Adolf Eichmann and Joseph Mengele.
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In July 1943, after clearing North Africa of German and Italian fighting forces, the Allies invaded Sicily, effectively knocking Italy out of World War II. By the end of the month, Italy’s Grand Fascist Council put forth a “no confidence” motion on the leadership of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, after which King Victor Emmanuel III deposed, and arrested, Mussolini. 15 The former dictator was ultimately confined to the snowbound Campo Imperatore Hotel on Gran Sasso d’Italia, a secondary mountain range high in the Apennines. 16 Isolated on a mountaintop, Mussolini was becoming suicidal, while the German high command advised Adolf Hitler to retreat from Italy to the north and leave Mussolini to his fate. 17 This suggestion infuriated Hitler, who vowed not to follow what he perceived as a “defeatist” plan, nor to leave his friend Mussolini imprisoned. 18 Going against the wishes of his military advisors, Hitler ordered Heinrich Himmler to immediately prepare a plan to rescue Mussolini and return him to power in Italy. 19 Himmler and his subordinates quickly chose SS-Haupsturmführer Otto Skorzeny, the man who stood six feet and five inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds, and who was regarded by many as “the most dangerous man in Europe” during the final months of the war (van Gelder 1975: 29). 20 Formerly an engineer from Vienna, Skorzeny had become fiercely loyal to Hitler during his years in the SS, making him the perfect choice by Himmler and his subordinates. 21 The plan devised by Skorzeny and others was codenamed Operation Eiche ( Unternehmen Eiche), and the vertical trust network relied upon by Hitler to execute the plan is depicted in Fig. 7.2. 22 The plan, which called for Fallschirmjager (paratroop) forces to land in gliders adjacent to the hotel on the mountaintop, was carried out on September 12, 1943. 23 Seven of the eight gliders landed safely, with one skidding into a jagged outcrop and disintegrating, seriously wounding all ten men aboard. 24 Skorzeny disembarked from his craft, bypassed the Italians guarding the hotel, and burst into the room housing Mussolini. After accepting the surrender of the Italian troops guarding Mussolini, Mussolini and Skorzeny boarded a Fieseler Storch liaison plane that had managed to land on the slope and flew at top speed to Rome. There they transferred to a larger plane and flew to Vienna, and “[b]y midnight, the two men were exchanging jokes in a comfortable suite in Vienna’s Hotel Imperial.” 25
×Hitler was ecstatic at the news, and before the night was over, he promoted Skorzeny to SS-Sturmbannführer and awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, both before personally telephoning Skorzeny to confer his congratulations. 26 To show his gratitude, Mussolini presented Skorzeny with his wristwatch (van Gelder 1975: 29). Two days later, Skorzeny arrived at the Wolfsschanze (i.e., the Wolf’s Lair), Hitler’s field headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia (Snyder 1989: 382). There he “enjoyed a late-night tête-à-tête with Hitler,” staying over the next day when he “lunched with [Nazi Party Secretary Martin] Bormann and Himmler, took a stroll with [Hermann] Goering, and had tea with [Joachin von] Ribbentropp as the Nazi hierarchy made speed to honor the Reich’s newest hero.” 27 Later that autumn, Skorzeny was paraded before adoring crowds and splashed across the country’s newspapers by Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill paid homage to Skorzeny’s “daring” operation in a speech before the House of Commons. 28 Lastly, impressed with Skorzeny’s bold thinking and daring action, Hitler “rewarded Skorzeny with permission to expand the special forces greatly – Skorzeny was henceforth to have a special battalion for every front on which the German [ Wehrmacht] was engaged.” 29 After his rescue of Mussolini in September 1943, Skorzeny had little, if any, time to rest. His next assignment from Hitler and Himmler was to plan the kidnapping of Marshal Phillipe Pétain, the president of Vichy France. Having organized the action, Skorzeny was recalled from France just before initiating it due to indecisiveness at military headquarters. 30 Later, in the spring of 1944, Skorzeny was tasked with another kidnapping operation, in this case that of Yugoslavia’s partisan leader, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Having made a daring reconnaissance deep into Yugoslavia, Skorzeny was poised to grab Tito when he learned that a Luftwaffe corps was scheduled to conduct an airborne assault of Tito’s headquarters. 31 The “start and stop” nature of Skorzeny’s activity took a turn in late July 1944, when members of the German resistance initiated a plan to assassinate Hitler at his East Prussian headquarters. Although Hitler survived the attempt, hours passed until word of his survival reached Berlin, where, as discussed in Chap. 5, members of the resistance were seizing control of government offices. Before they could take control of Berlin, Skorzeny organized the SS in Berlin and persuaded various army contingents to remain loyal to Hitler (van Gelder 1975: 29). Then, in his role as a policeman, he stopped a wave of executions so that resistance members could be tortured into confessing the extent of the plot. It was then that Skorzeny put officials to work collecting documentary evidence (van Gelder 1975: 29). Skorzeny was again called before Hitler on September 10, 1944, when Hitler outlined for him the Third Reich’s deteriorating situation on the eastern front. 32 Not only were the Russians nearing Germany, but two months earlier, Rumania had defected to the Allies and declared war on Germany. Fearing the same decision was being contemplated in Hungary, Hitler ordered Skorzeny to assist in devising a plan—one that would become known as Operation Panzerfaust ( Unternehmen Panzerfaust)— to seize Budapest and prevent a defection. 33 In only a few days after this meeting, Skorzeny was situated, in civilian clothes and posing as “Dr. Wolf from Cologne,” in Budapest. Over the next few days, Skorzeny took great interest in the Burgberg, the fortification that was the seat of the Hungarian government and the residence of Admiral Nicholas von Horthy, the regent of Hungary. 34 After some reconnaissance and discussions with the local Gestapo office, Skorzeny learned that Horthy’s son, Nicholas, was in contact with Yugoslavians, hoping to arrange Hungary’s surrender to the Soviet Union. Skorzeny decided that the surest way to prevent Hungary’s defection was to kidnap Nicholas. 35 Given his course of action, Skorzeny, then an SS-Sturmbannführer, was about to engage in the type exchange—in this case an uncodified informal service in return for an expected informal payment from his superiors, Himmler and Hitler—explained in Breton and Wintrobe ( 1982, 1986), and that relied on the type of vertical trust depicted in Fig. 7.3. 36 Having contacted his special forces, which were billeted in the suburbs of Budapest, Skorzeny swung into action:
On October 15[, 1944], the day Niki [i.e., Nicholas] was scheduled to meet with his partisan contacts, the Germans, under command of Skorzeny’s Chief of Staff Adrian von Fölkersam, slipped into position in the streets around the house where the meeting was to take place … Then Dr. Wolf drove into the square … Moments later, a pair of German MPs strolled by, apparently on routine patrol. Suddenly they dropped their casual air and dashed toward the house … Hungarian soldiers [near the house] opened fire with a machine gun. One of the Germans fell, and Skorzeny darted out and dragged him by the collar to safety behind his car … Then Skorzeny heard Fölkersam’s men running up the street. The SS detachment stormed into the square, overpowering the Hungarians … Skorzeny and his men dashed into the house to find Niki Horthy already in the custody of Germans who had hidden themselves in the building earlier that day. 37
×On October 15[, 1944], the day Niki [i.e., Nicholas] was scheduled to meet with his partisan contacts, the Germans, under command of Skorzeny’s Chief of Staff Adrian von Fölkersam, slipped into position in the streets around the house where the meeting was to take place … Then Dr. Wolf drove into the square … Moments later, a pair of German MPs strolled by, apparently on routine patrol. Suddenly they dropped their casual air and dashed toward the house … Hungarian soldiers [near the house] opened fire with a machine gun. One of the Germans fell, and Skorzeny darted out and dragged him by the collar to safety behind his car … Then Skorzeny heard Fölkersam’s men running up the street. The SS detachment stormed into the square, overpowering the Hungarians … Skorzeny and his men dashed into the house to find Niki Horthy already in the custody of Germans who had hidden themselves in the building earlier that day. 37 Before Skorzeny could celebrate his success, Radio Budapest interrupted its regular programming to broadcast a response from Admiral Horthy, who declared that he had already penned an armistice and that hostilities between Hungary and the Soviet Union had ceased. 38 Skorzeny then shifted his focus to the Burgberg, where, a few hours later, Skorzeny, von Fölkersam, and an SS column including armor smashed through barricades protecting the citadel. Skorzeny’s force quickly overwhelmed the Hungarians and captured Admiral Horthy. 39 Admiral Horthy was shortly whisked to Germany where he remained for the remainder of the war. In his place, a regime loyal to Hitler continued Hungary’s war with the Soviets. 40 Yet again Skorzeny had delivered as promised to Hitler and others at the top of the Nazi bureaucracy. And again, it was their time to produce the informal rewards that energetic and entrepreneurial subordinates in that bureaucracy expected.
On October 2[, 1944], Skorzeny was back at Hitler’s headquarters to bask once again in the Führer’s gratitude. Hitler promoted him to [ SS-Obersturmbannführer], decorated him yet again – this time awarding the German Cross in gold – then took him by the hand to a secluded corner and asked him to recount the operation, detail by detail. 41 These two operations spearheaded by Skorzeny (and others) epitomize, as well as, if not better than, those episodes recounted in Chap. 4, the effectiveness of vertical trust networks in promoting the aims of those at the top of the Nazi hierarchy. They include the rendering of an informal service, resulting in rapid promotion and receipt of highly coveted medals and awards. As such, this one might have been presented there if not for what would arguably be the biggest mission of Skorzeny’s life involving a vertical trust network—that, told in this chapter, of shepherding Nazi officials, who were sought by worldwide authorities for war crimes and crimes against humanity, out of Europe and into the New World.On October 2[, 1944], Skorzeny was back at Hitler’s headquarters to bask once again in the Führer’s gratitude. Hitler promoted him to [ SS-Obersturmbannführer], decorated him yet again – this time awarding the German Cross in gold – then took him by the hand to a secluded corner and asked him to recount the operation, detail by detail. 41
See also Snyder ( 1989: 259).
Schellenberg’s work for Odessa would be short-lived, as he was arrested by the British in Denmark in June 1945, where he was attempting to arrange for his own surrender (Breitman et al. 2005). He would later stand trial at Nuremberg for his part in the murder of Soviet prisoners of war who had been employed as secret agents by the Nazis in Operation Zeppelin. In early November 1949, Schellenberg was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison (Schellenberg 1956).
Fuldner was born in Argentina to German immigrants on December 16, 1910 (Goñi 2002: 65).
By the time Fuldner concluded his work, hundreds of German, Austrian, French, Belgian, Dutch, Slovakian, and Croatian war criminals and Nazi collaborators found safety in Argentina (Goñi 2002: 63).
Breitman, Goda, Naftali, and Wolfe ( 2005: 113–114) assert that being on the side of the Reich Central Security Main Office (RHSA) that had been opposed to Kaltenbrunner, Müller, Skorzeny, and others likely worked to minimize Schellenberg’s punishment at Nuremberg.
As in the case of the umbrella organization, Odessa, some, such as Walters ( 2009), doubt the existence Die Spinne.
See also van Gelder ( 1975: 29).
In his position with military intelligence, Gehlen surreptitiously copied intelligence files on the Soviet Union to microfilm in order to increase his value as a captive of the Allied forces (Simpson 1988). Gehlen was able to leverage his post-war liberty (in 1946) as a result of this decision (Höhne and Zolling 1972).
One or both of the vertical trust networks depicted in Fig. 7.1 received valuable assistance from individuals situated in the middle of the SS hierarchy. For example, SS-Haupsturmführer Siegfried Becker, who, in serving Himmler, once plotted with Perón to overthrow the Allied-leaning government of Bolivia, helped to channel Nazi funds to Argentina (Goñi 2002: xxiii).
This particular episode represents a neat and concise example of how voluntary exchange worked in the Nazi bureaucracy.
The ranks listed in Table 7.1 range from SS-Scharführer to SS-Oberführer, representing a swing from the 20th percentile to the 75th percentile of the SS.
Encyclopedia Britannica ( www.britannica.com).
See (TL Editors 1991: 149).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 150).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 150–151).
As a result of dueling, Skorzeny’s face bore a scar from his left ear to his chin (van Gelder 1975: 29).
See van Gelder ( 1975: 29).
As with prior depictions of vertical trust networks, that in Fig. 7.1 is not exhaustive in that there were key individuals between Himmler and Skorzeny (e.g., Ernst Kaltenbrunner), and others beneath Skorzeny.
Skorzeny photographed the area, from within a Heinkel 111 reconnaissance plane flying 15,000 feet above, in the days before the scheduled operation (TL Editors 1991: 149).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 149–150).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 151–152).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 165).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 169).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 169–170).
The vertical trust network depicted in Fig. 7.2 illustrates Skorzeny’s dual role as a subordinate, in this case to Hitler (and others), and, simultaneously, a superior, in this case to SS-Haupsturmführer Adrian von Fölkersam, whose SS career resembled that of Skorzeny’s in terms of Churchill’s description of Operation Eiche (see Mortimer 2012).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 170–171).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 172).
See TL Editors ( 1991: 173).
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- The Last of the Third Reich’s Vertical Trust Networks?
Franklin G. Mixon Jr.
- Chapter 7
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