Should the US Have Spared Nazis for Their Political Usefulness?

Should Nazi officials and collaborators have escaped punishment for their crimes?  Should they have found a safe haven in the U.S. and U.K. because of their supposed value to Western security agencies in confronting the Soviet Union in the Cold War?  Simply put, should perpetrators of evil not only go unpunished but also be treated as respectable and rewarded for their usefulness to the CIA or MI6?  Equally serious is the fact that complicity with those perpetrators, and allowing elderly Nazis to live in the U.S. and U.K. and escape justice, may indicate defiance of international agreement, as well as regarding the Holocaust as inconsequential.

During World War II, two declarations, that of St. James's Palace on June 2, 1941, and the subsequent one of the U.N. on January 13, 1942, the first joint statements of goals and principles by the fourteen Allied Powers in the War, laid down that punishment for those responsible for Nazi crimes was among the first war aims.  Even before details of the Holocaust were known, Winston Churchill stated, "Resolution for these crimes must henceforward take its place among the major purposes of the war."  In contrast, U.S. officials overlooked or ignored the crimes and shielded Nazi war criminals in their pursuit of an anti-communist crusade.  Did that pursuit and its pivotal place in American foreign policy during the Cold War justify the tolerance and even support of human rights–abusers and those involved in crimes against humanity and their escape from justice?

The release of troves of documents of the CIA and MI6 confirms that they allowed the evil perpetrators to escape punishment for their crimes and used an extensive neo-Nazi network to wage a postwar campaign against the Soviet Union.  Similarly, in postwar France, the evils of the Vichy regime have often been ignored or excused.

It is not true that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The reality is that Nazi criminals received light punishment, or no punishment at all, and even received compensation because Western spy agencies considered them useful assets in the Cold War.

Judgment on all this continues.  In Britain in September 2021, there are calls for a public inquiry into whether alleged Nazi war criminals were protected from prosecution because they acted as spies or were useful for the U.K. during the Cold War.  The calls came after a BBC program found that a suspected Nazi collaborator named Stanislaw Chrzanowski, S.C., probably worked for MI6.  He grew up in eastern Poland, now part of Belarus; came to Britain in 1946 after being a prisoner of war; and joined Allied forces.

This Pole, S.C., who died in 2017, aged 96, was involved in Nazi atrocities, including the mass murder of at least thirty people, against Jews and others in his hometown of Slonim.  Fluent in three languages, Polish, Russian, and German, he worked after the war in a refugee camp in West Berlin that housed people fleeing from communism.  MI6 must have known he was a murderer, a Nazi collaborator, yet used him.  One problem with finding the truth is that British security agencies destroyed at least 110,00 files in the late 1980s and early 1990s of any foreign-born Nazi collaborator who worked for U.K. intelligence; therefore, British police did not have sufficient evidence to bring charges against S.C.  Nevertheless, it is clear not only that many Nazi suspects were safe in Britain after the war, but that British intelligence facilitated this and protected them from prosecution.

In similar fashion, in the U.S., declassified CIA files confirm the use of Nazis, allowing senior Nazi scientists and political personnel to enter or work in the U.S. and in Europe because they were considered useful in the Cold War.  These evil persons include associates of Adolf Eichmann.  Just two examples: Emil Augsburg, SS, who worked at the Wannsee Institute, the body that planned the Final Solution, was employed as a Soviet expert by the CIA in the late 1940s, and Otto von Bolschwing, SD, adjutant to Eichmann, was relocated to NYC and protected.  The CIA decided the latter's Nazi past was "relatively inconsequential, partially in view of his excellent service on our behalf."

The list is long.  Between 1945 and 1955, 765 German scientists, engineers, and technicians entered the U.S.  At least half and perhaps 80% were former Nazi members.  Probably the best known is Werner von Braun, the leader in rocket technology in Germany, and largely responsible for rocketry in the U.S. space program and the moon landing.  But he was also in charge of 20,000 prisoners on the Nazi rocket project.  Also employed by the U.S. were Arthur Rudolph, assistant to von Braun at the V-2 project, who used slave labor in the project's underground factory in Nordhausen, and Hubertus Strughold, controller of the clinic in Germany that conducted experiments on children and prisoners, who worked with the U.S. Air Force on space medicine.

Evidence from Operation Paperclip, a secret U.S. intelligence program, indicates 1,600 cases of German scientists, engineers, and technicians who were employed by the U.S., largely by U.S. counter-intelligence agencies.

A pivotal figure in U.S. policy was Allen Dulles, first civilian and longest-serving director of the CIA, who believed that "we should be free to talk to the Devil himself."  Dulles as a pre-war Wall Street lawyer and diplomat represented German firms, including Thyssen and I.G. Farben.  He became head of the operations of OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, in Switzerland.  In that capacity, he helped German bankers and industrialists, as well as senior Nazi officials, who had been involved in Nazi programs escape prosecution.  As head of the CIA, he shielded major Nazis.  One of most notorious protected was General Karl Wolff, Heinrich Himmler's chief of staff, active in approving deadly medical experiments performed on inmates at the Dachau concentration and death camp, a crime against humanity, and responsible for deporting 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp.

Among others whom Allen Dulles protected or used was Mykola Lebed, head of the secret police organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, who was convicted in 1936 of complicity in the 1934 assassination of a Polish minister and who was trained by the Gestapo.  According to Dulles, in a letter of May 5, 1952, to immigration authorities, Lebed was of "inestimable value" to the CIA in its operations to develop the Ukrainian underground movement.  Lebed, reported as "a well-known sadist and collaborator of the Germans," with the help of Dulles acquired permanent residence in New York and U.S. citizenship.

Like Allen Dulles, the fellow Princetonian George Kennan at the State Department protected some Germans.  On October 19, 1948, Kennan wrote to Frank Wisner at the CIA praising Gustav Hilger, who had been used by the CIA, and who had been chief interpreter for Joachim von Ribbentrop and chief adviser on Soviet affairs and worked for the Gehlen organization.

General Reinhard Gehlen was responsible for German military intelligence operations in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  He approached the U.S. as an anti-Soviet asset and fighter of communism.  During the Cold War, he enlisted former Nazis and others, including Alois Brunner, chief deputy of Eichmann; Emil Augsburg; and the notorious Klaus Barbie, the "butcher of Lyon," aided by American army sponsorship.  The Gehlen organization played a role in NATO and on U.S. policy, sometimes exaggerating the Soviet threat.  Gehlen was a master of disinformation and claimed he was never a Nazi but essentially an anti-communist.  Yet what he did do was help Nazis escape abroad, where they emerged as security advisers, especially Barbie, who became an adviser of military regimes in Bolivia.

There are at least three problems in assessing attitudes toward the use of Nazis or alleged Nazis.  Many records are classified for security reasons; many of the war criminals were neither German by birth nor Nazi Party members; many of them peddled false data, playing a double-game, which took time to penetrate.  Nevertheless, it is not difficult to choose between Winston Churchill and Allen Dulles on the issue of acknowledgment of and punishment for evil crimes or supposed political benefit.

Image: paul_houlde via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).

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