photos of Otto Skorzeny via the Taylor Library and Staatsbibliotek Berlin

Illegal Army of Nazi Veterans Remained Hidden, Influential for Decades
by Matthew Phelan  /  7/31/14

“A buried 321-page file has emerged from German intelligence detailing the existence of a secret army in Germany, marshaled by former members of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS. West Germany’s Chancellor turned a blind eye when he learned of the group—according to the file—as did the good shepherds of our very own CIA. The secret army described in the file was led by a cadre of approximately 2,000 ex-Nazi officers with a total force of 40,000 men, frequently described as elite units (“Crack-Divisionen”) reassembled with their old friends from the war.

The group’s stated goal was to protect the emerging state of Western Germany from potential Communist invasion, but in practice it devoted itself to the surveillance of domestic left-wing politicians, including Social Democrat (SPD) Fritz Erler, and prominent student activists, like Joachim Peckert. (Peckert later became a senior official at the West German Embassy in Moscow.)

Illegal Army of Nazi Veterans Remained Hidden, Influential for Decades
photo of Albert Schnez with German politicians Willy Brandt
and Helmut Schmidt in 1969 via Bundesarchive

The group’s chief organizer, Albert Schnez (directly above, at right), reportedly maintained ties with the Nazi intelligence service of General Reinhard Gehlen, as well as the League of German Youth—banned by the West German government in 1953 for its right-wing extremism—and its specialized Technical Service, which also included former Nazi officers and was also secretly funded by the American government in preparation for a war against the Soviets. Misleadingly (or maybe just euphemistically) labelled “Insurances,” the file detailing the Nazi veteran cadre was found by Historian Agilolf Kesselring while attempting to establish more complete employment records for the German intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND.

The insurance file belonged to the Gehlen Organization, Germany’s Eastern Front intelligence apparatus during WWII. The intelligence service, later transformed into the BND after forging a now infamous alliance with the CIA in the early days of the Cold War. “The alleged intelligence those recruits peddled was mostly hearsay and gossip designed to tell their American interrogators what they wanted to hear, in the hope of escaping retribution for past crimes, or for mercenary gain, or for political agendas not necessarily compatible with American national interests,” Robert Wolfe, a retired senior archivist for the U.S. National Archives, told the Washington Post.

It may take decades for better documentation on the insurance group’s activities to surface, but the implication is already very clear: It was a Red Scare conducted in the shadows by war criminals; an anti-Communist wet dream to leave even Joe McCarthy trembling and ashamed.

When news of Schnez’s secret and illegal army reached the West German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, in 1951, the insurance group’s leader was neither forced to the margins, nor corralled like the wacko-leader of a secessionist militia. He was, instead, courted and promoted for his moxie, as a biographical sketch of Schnez by Der Spiegel makes clear:

By the end of the 1950s he was part of the entourage of then Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss (CDU) and later served the German army chief under Chancellor Willy Brandt and Defense Minister Helmut Schmidt (both of the SPD). Statements by Schnez quoted in the documents suggest that the project to build a clandestine army was also supported by Hans Speidel—who would become the NATO Supreme Commander of the Allied Army in Central Europe in 1957—and Adolf Heusinger, the first inspector general of the Bundeswehr.


In other words, one could shout, “They were all in on it!” in a high pitch, with some degree of accuracy. The severity of the recently discovered collusion between senior-level West German military leaders and these former Nazi officials has been such that it’s provoked existential questions from legislators in the German Bundestag about the nature of its national security apparatus. As posed a little over a month ago following a Bundestag inquiry:

Rather, pace Dr. Agilolf Kesselring, it must now be asked, what impact did this early precursor to the Bundeswehr have on its internal Constitution. As Dr. Kesselring Agilolf mentions, inter alia, although Albert Schnez was only a colonel in the Wehrmacht, he was transferred to the Bundeswehr as a brigadier-general in 1957: an apparent reward for—it may be repeated—illegal activities. [In the original German: Vielmehr, so Dr. Agilolf Keßelring, müsse nun danach gefragt werden, welchen Einfluss dieser frühe Vorläufer der Bundeswehr auf deren innere Verfasstheit gehabt habe. Dr. Agilolf Keßelring verweist unter anderem darauf, dass Albert Schnez, obwohl in der Wehrmacht nur Oberst, 1957 als Brigade-general in die Bundeswehr eingestellt wurde—offenbar eine Belohnung für dessen—es sei wiederholt: rechtswidrige—Tätigkeiten.]

And, obviously, the CIA found about this all too and was okay with it. Thanks to  precipitated by the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, we now have copious documentation of a CIA-organized “stay behind” network organized in Germany concurrently with Schnez’s hidden army.

The European stay-behind groups—colloquially known as Operation Gladio after the Italian wing that the Guardian reasonably labelled “terrorists”— were a bunch of warmed-over fascist sympathizers, regular Nazis, and other paramilitary goons that American, British and NATO intelligence all thought would be good to pay for sabotage and guerrilla warfare campaigns across Eastern and Western Europe. As has often been the case, the target was pernicious Soviet Communism, but the collateral damage was anything vaguely Left-ish.

In a CIA memo dated October 1952, an unnamed CIA agent discusses meeting with the head of the German stay-behind group, Walter Kopp (codenamed KIBITZ-15), who has just learned of the existence of Schnez’s secret army and its collaboration with the Gehlen spy network (codenamed ZIPPER).

Schnez, the memo says, coordinated with Gehlen’s group via Otto Skorzeny: a notorious SS paramilitary colonel who the U.S. had reportedly allowed to escape from an internment camp.

Pictured here, Skorzeny famously rescued Mussolini when he was kidnapped by the Italian government, put down the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler, planned a post-War paramilitary group the Werewolf SS, and founded the Spanish neo-Nazi group CEDADE.

Skorzeny, judging from the memo, appears to have adopted most of Schnez’s clandestine military preparedness policies as the Gehlen group’s own—the closest there is to an explanation as to where Schnez’s network went, or how it would later seep itself into the formation of the legally mandated West German armed forces, the Bundeswehr.

Like a funny smell in the basement that turns out to be zombies, Fascism’s terrifying resurgence across Europe in recent years has struck some Americans completely by surprise. There was that fascistic Croatian celebration upon their qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. The growing influence seen last year of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party in Greece and the vocally anti-Semitic Jobbik party in Hungary. Then, this past May, there was the chilling sight of France’s odious National Front, the UK’s Independence Party, and various other far-right nationalist parties doing alarmingly well in the European Parliamentary elections.

Commentators have been right to point to the austerity measures following the 2008 financial crisis as having fostered the conditions for this fascist revival, but it seems shortsighted not to (at least) find some blame for NATO’s CIA-assisted stay-behind programs for their continued support of Europe’s fascist torchbearers across the 20th Century.

There is an embarrassingly popular, decorous explanation for these kinds of post-War Faustian bargains seen everywhere historians and journalists write about them: “the logic of the Cold War.” Such “exigencies” were unavoidable in a “brutal calculus between superpowers” or some other horseshit. Perhaps a more clear-minded, logical explanation might simply be that they were “bad ideas” or “big mistakes.” Describing them that way might even imply that it is someone’s job to correct them.”

“An image of a Red Cross Travel Document created for one Ricardo Klement, an alias of Adolf Eichmann. This document enabled Eichmann to leave Europe via Italy and travel to Argentina.”

German court keeps Eichmann files hidden  /  July 27th 2014
Documents could reveal that West German intelligence knew of the fugitive Nazi’s location as early as 1952

“Germany’s highest court rejected a newspaper’s request to access foreign intelligence service files on Adolf Eichmann, recognized as a Nazi mastermind behind the Holocaust, Haaretz reported. No reason was given for the court’s dismissal of the request, which was handed down last month. A lower court ruled last year that the BND intelligence agency was acting within the law to black out passages in files that could reveal whether West German officials knew in the 1950s of Eichmann’s location after he fled Germany following World War II. The Bild newspaper, which had sought to overturn the ruling, quoted its lawyer, Christoph Partsch, saying that the only way to achieve full access to files would be to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Israeli agents abducted Eichmann from a road near his home in Argentina in 1960 and escorted him to Jerusalem to face trial for his role in orchestrating the Holocaust as the head of the Gestapo’s Jewish affairs office. He was found guilty of war crimes, sentenced to death, and hung in 1962. The Bild has reported that West German intelligence knew of Eichmann’s whereabouts as early as 1952. In 2006 the US Central Intelligence Agency released documents showing that it corresponded with West German counterparts in 1958 saying that Eichmann “is reported to have lived in Argentina under the alias ‘Clemens’ since 1952.” The BND has claimed that most of its files are already public and that some must be withheld and blacked out due to laws on “protecting state security interests”.”

Historians have discovered that the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, destroyed files of employees who had once belonged to the SS and the Gestapo. This photo shows Reinhard Gehlen, the legendary founder of the BND, in 1972. Many former Nazis worked for him

Intelligence Agency’s Murky Past: The Nazi Criminals Who Became German Spooks
by Klaus Wiegrefe  /  February 16, 2011

“They called Johannes Clemens the “Tiger of Como.” When an SS captain bore a nickname like that, it rarely meant anything good. Clemens belonged to a squad that shot 335 civilians in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome in 1944, one of the worst massacres on Italian soil during World War II.Former chief inspector Georg Wilimzig also had blood on his hands. His 300-member squad, known as IV/2, murdered thousands of men, women and children following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

After 1945, Clemens and Wilimzig both found themselves working for the same employer — the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. It’s no secret that intelligence agencies don’t like to disclose too much information about their own histories. There is even less transparency when that history involves mass murderers among the ranks. For this reason, it is all the more remarkable that the current BND head, Ernst Uhrlau, has been pushing for years to have more light cast on the early years of his organization, as part of Germany’s ongoing efforts to come to terms with its Nazi past. Uhrlau, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been trying since 2006 to move the issue forward.

Blocked by the Chancellery
Still, the BND boss doesn’t have free reign. His organization answers to the Chancellery and, until last year, Angela Merkel’s staff blocked all his attempts. Since then, though, the government in Berlin has taken a somewhat more relaxed position toward the BND’s history — after all, it doesn’t look good if the German Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry allow research into their Nazi past, but the BND refuses. As a result, the intelligence agency will sign contracts with a historical commission during the next few days. Historians Jost Dülffer, Klaus-Dietmar Henke, Wolfgang Krieger and Rolf-Dieter Müller will look into the BND’s early years, as well as the history of its predecessor, known as the Gehlen Organization, or Org.

It’s already apparent that these investigations will not only reflect poorly on the BND, but will also raise uncomfortable questions for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and its coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). The recruitment policies adopted by the Org and subsequently the BND, which was founded in 1956, were hardly a secret even in the 1950s. During that period, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer headed a coalition made up predominantly of the CDU, CSU and FDP. The British press at the time openly mocked the “Gestapo boys” working at the BND’s headquarters in Pullach, near Munich. The then-opposition leader and SPD head Kurt Schumacher is known to have raised the subject with Adenauer, who was also the head of the CDU. Schumacher described the Gehlen Organization as “riddled” with former members of the murderous Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the SS’s intelligence agency, claiming they were “deliberately placed in low-ranking positions, to disguise them for the time being.”

Reinhard Gehlen, head of the BND’s predecessor, the Gehlen Organization, and later president of the BND, openly hired former Nazis for his intelligence agency. This 1979 photo shows the cover of his memoirs.

‘An Excellent Impression’
CIA documents turned up by the BND’s historical department show that the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, was also informed about the matter. According to these documents, Reinhard Gehlen, head of the Org and later president of the BND, told the Bundestag’s Committee on European Defense on Dec. 11, 1953, that around 40 of his employees came from the SS and SD. Although judges at the Nuremberg Trials had described both organizations as “criminal,” members of the Bundestag committee told the press after the session, speaking on condition of anonymity, that the general had “made an excellent impression.”

In assembling his organization, Gehlen initially avoided taking people who had been loyal to SS commander Heinrich Himmler, preferring to take officers instead. Until 1945, Gehlen, who grew up in Silesia, had headed a division of the general staff that prepared analyses about the Red Army. Shortly before the end of the war, he issued an order to film and then bury important documents. American interrogators were thrilled when Gehlen later handed over these records. The Cold War was looming, and Gehlen, who knew how to sell himself, received an assignment in 1946. He and his old comrades were asked to collect information on the Soviet armed forces once again — but this time for the US Army. The former Wehrmacht general soon oversaw several thousand employees, funded and overseen by the Americans. The only stipulation was that he had to make sure not to hire any war criminals. This was due less to moral reasons, however, than to concerns that Nazi murderers would be susceptible to Soviet blackmail.

At the same time, the US Army wanted the Germans to find out about Soviet agents’ activities in the American occupied zone. The so-called Agency 114, set up for this purpose, became one of the main points of entrance for Nazi criminals, as former BND employee Hans-Hennig Crome explains. Indeed, Crome knows what he’s talking about. In the 1960s, on Gehlen’s orders, he collected material on BND employees with Nazi backgrounds, after several of them, including Johannes Clemens, the “Tiger of Como,” were revealed to be Soviet spies. The BND suspected the KGB might also have used other employees’ pasts to coerce them into turning on the German intelligence agency. The young Crome came across Alfred Benzinger, who was nicknamed “der Dicke” (“Fatty”). A former sergeant with the Nazis’ notorious Secret Field Police (GFP), Benzinger now headed Agency 114. The agency was located in a back courtyard on Gerwigstrasse in the city of Karlsruhe, behind a doorplate advertising “Zimmerle & Co.,” a company supposedly specializing in roller blinds. At Gehlen’s behest, Benzinger used the counterintelligence assignment from the Americans to establish a comprehensive network of informers watching leftists and pacifists. A conservative and a nationalist, Gehlen sensed “Bolshevik Trojan horses” everywhere, “weakening Germany in preparation for a subversive takeover by Communists.”

Glossing over Their Pasts
Benzinger “openly recruited” former members of the Gestapo, SS and SD, as CIA agent James Critchfield later reported. Critchfield oversaw the development of the German intelligence service. According to the CIA agent, word quickly got around among former SD members that there were jobs to be had with Gehlen. Konrad Fiebig, who would later be charged with the murder of 11,000 Jews in Belarus, was one of these men. Another was Walter Kurreck from the SS death squad Einsatzgruppe D, who was responsible for tens of thousands of murders. Many of these men made statements attesting to one another’s trustworthiness, while glossing over their own pasts. A mission to commit murder with an SS unit, for example, might be euphemistically described as a “regular group deployment to the front.” Some at the BND are secretly hoping the historical commission will find that headquarters in Pullach did know at the time about these SD and SS connections, but was unaware of its own employees’ crimes. That outcome would also exonerate those who held political responsibility — meaning Adenauer. That hope is unlikely to come true, however. As Critchfield wrote, Gehlen viewed hiring possible criminals as “an acceptable political risk,” apparently due to the good relations Gehlen enjoyed with Hans Globke, Adenauer’s chief of staff.

‘Fewer Nazis than in Most Ministries’
Gehlen had nothing to fear from Globke or Adenauer. As the CIA reported prior to the German government’s 1956 takeover of the Gehlen Organization, the government was no longer concerned with “former Nazi and SS-types,” in the CIA’s words. If there was ignorance on the matter, it was only because no one wanted to know — not Gehlen, not Adenauer, not Globke and presumably many others as well. As Gehlen once told the CIA, his agency employed, in percentage terms, fewer former SS and SD members “than most ministries.” The ministries he meant were those of the German government in Bonn.”

Mengele and the Nazi International
by Joseph P. Farrell / January 23, 2009

“Many readers at this site or listeners to my interviews have sent me emails about this story, regarding the possible “medical and genetic” activities of Aushwitz’s “Doctor of Death,” Joseph Mengele. The article, based on the research of Latin American journalist Jorge Camarasa, indicates that the doctor of death did indeed continue his medical experiments – on children – in Latin America, based in part on work he did at Chile’s notorious Nazi compound, Cologna Dignidad. This confirms a suspicion I’ve long held about the abduction of children in Latin America, and Nazi activities there. But the article signifies something else, and something vitally important, something, indeed, that I attempted to stress in my most recent book, Nazi International: that is, that the postwar Nazis were not merely tiny enclaves of war criminals huddled, panic-stricken, together in tiny enclaves in Latin America and elsewhere.

They were, on the contrary, highly organized, well-funded, had their own intelligence and security apparatus, and most importantly, were conducting and continuing the lines of research they had begun during the war. While my books have concentrated on the physics aspect of this wartime and postwar research, the possibility that Mengele continued his own research lends a gruesome reality to the Boys from Brazil scenario. It highlights, too, the possible connection of that research to their wartime Bell project and their postwar research in the same physics, for as I indicate in The Philosophers’ Stone, the medical component of the Bell project was represented by none other than Dr. Hubertus Strughold, later a highly placed physician within NASA helping to pioneer space medicine.

As I also indicate, Strughold’s role in the Bell project was to investigate ways of limiting its deadly field effects on humans, so we may assume that his research in Nazi Germany involved “experimentation” on living human subjects. While Mengele’s role in this is obscure at best – indeed, he may have had no role at all – his interest in twins would certainly be of value to an ongoing Bell project and certainly of keen genetic interest in any Nazi racial experimentation in its own right. But for Menegele to have accomplished all this – and the article gives a hint of the sheer scale of this project – he would have to have had five things: (1) lots of financial backing, (2) research facilities and laboratory equipment, (3) lots of security to maintain the project’s secrecy, (4) a “supply” of willing or unwilling human subjects, and finally (5) the ability to move fairly freely between one postwar Nazi enclave and another. We know who provided the finances (Martin Bormann), and we know who probably provided the security (Heinrich Mueller), and we know also who probably provided the administrative oversight of these postwar projects (Hans Kammler). All this is indeed an indicator that we have but scratched the surface of the scale and scope of the Nazi International’s postwar activities and research. But the known indications are enough to cause anxiety to the most sober and calm mind.

If one accepts the hypothesis of Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara in their book Dark Mission, that by the time of the Apollo moon landings, the Paperclip Nazis have gained a dominant influence in NASA mission planning, and couple this with the research I present in Nazi International and now with this new article courtesy of the British media and Jorge Camarasa, then we have the following arresting list of postwar Nazi activities: (1) medical and genetic experimentation with the obvious implication of manipulating aspects of the human genetic code, (2) significant Nazi influence inside of NASA, (3) Nazi organization of and participation in postwar terrorist activities, (4) Nazi complicity in the overthrow of Egyptian King Farouk and the installation of Gamal Abdul Nasser in that country, and then subsequent Nazi involvement even in Nasser’s alliance with the Soviet Union, (5) Nazi training of the militaries, paramilitary cells, and intelligence services in the Middle East, (6) (Neo-?) Nazi participation in the collapse of the Iron curtain in Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany, (7) Nazi participation in the founding of the Bilderberg group under SS officer and former IG Farben vice president, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, (8) thus, Nazi involvement in the creation of the European Economic Union and the political union of Europe itself, (9) Nazi intelligence penetration of the West and of the Soviet Union, and manipulation of both blocs’ policies, via the military intelligence organization of General Reinhard Gehlen, and finally (10) ongoing Nazi research in the exotic physics represented by the Bell, research conducted in Argentina, and, we may safely assume, elsewhere, after Richter’s fusion project was shut down.”

Part of the large cache of military weapons found at Colonia Dignidad, an enclave in southern Chile established by an ex-Luftwaffe medic, a convicted pedophile who supported the Pinochet dictatorship.

At Cult’s Enclave in Chile, Guns and Intelligence Files
by Larry Rohter / June 17, 2005

“The authorities in Chile searching for victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship who are said to be buried at the enclave of a secretive, apocalyptic religious cult of German émigrés have unearthed a large cache of weapons and intelligence files. “This arsenal is going to end up being the biggest ever found in private hands since the restoration of democracy in 1990 and in the history of Chile,” the deputy interior minister, Jorge Correa Sutil, told reporters on Wednesday. “Believe me, what has been discovered so far is of a dimension that can only be explained in a military context.” The enclave, Colonia Dignidad, was founded in southern Chile in 1961 by Paul Schäfer, a former Nazi Luftwaffe medic turned fundamentalist preacher. He fled around 1997 after being charged with the sexual abuse of more than two dozen boys in his care. He was convicted in absentia of pedophilia, arrested in Argentina in March and sent back to Chile, where he is now in prison, facing charges of kidnapping, forced labor, fraud and tax evasion. Colonia Dignidad enjoyed official protection during the 17-year dictatorship of General Pinochet, and had close relationships with the Chilean Army and the state intelligence agency, known as DINA.

According to a 1991 government report on human rights abuses, Mr. Schäfer allowed DINA agents to hide political prisoners in the enclave and may have taken part in torturing detainees. Human rights advocates in Chile said they hoped the files found at the site would help explain the relationship between Mr. Schäfer and state security forces, as well as the fates of some Pinochet opponents. The material is being examined by a judge and has not yet been made public, but Chilean news reports said the documents included files on hundreds of people that the government and Colonia Dignidad regarded as enemies. More than 250 people still live at the enclave. Among the cult’s other victims may have been Boris Weisfeiler, an American mathematics professor who disappeared 20 years ago while hiking near Colonia Dignidad. A Chilean military informant later provided an account, found plausible by the American Embassy, saying Dr. Weisfeiler, a Russian-born Jew, had been killed on Mr. Schäfer’s orders.

The weapons seized include machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and mortars. Some were said to be of World War II vintage, and were accompanied by manuals written in German; others were more modern. The discovery may solve another mystery: From the mid-1970’s, the United States and other countries cut off weapons sales to the Pinochet dictatorship, which nonetheless managed to stay well armed. Diplomats and rights groups have long suggested that Colonia Dignidad acquired weapons for the Chilean military through trading companies that the sect controlled. Citing military sources, the Chilean daily La Nación reported Thursday that the arms at Colonia Dignidad were buried there between 1976 and 1978, when Chile nearly went to war with neighboring Argentina in a border dispute. Government officials said the discovery of the arms would strengthen their case against Mr. Schäfer and associates who are also in jail by giving prosecutors grounds to invoke a racketeering statute. “Colonia Dignidad was an illicit association dedicated to committing sexual, tax and economic crimes and had a paramilitary purpose,” Mr. Correa Sutil said.”

Bone with bullet hole found by Russians in 1946 came from an unknown woman, not the German leader
by Uki Goñi / 26 September 2009

“In countless biographies of Adolf Hitler the story of his final hours is recounted in the traditional version: committing suicide with Eva Braun, he took a cyanide pill and then shot himself on 30 April 1945, as the Russians bombarded Berlin. Some historians expressed doubt that the Führer had shot himself, speculating that accounts of Hitler’s death had been embellished to present his suicide in a suitably heroic light. But a fragment of skull, complete with bullet hole, which was taken from the bunker by the Russians and displayed in Moscow in 2000, appeared to settle the argument. Until now. In the wake of new revelations, the histories of Hitler’s death may need to be rewritten – and left open-ended.

American researchers claim to have demonstrated that the skull fragment, secretly preserved for decades by Soviet intelligence, belonged to a woman under 40, whose identity is unknown. DNA analyses performed on the bone, now held by the Russian State Archive in Moscow, have been processed at the genetics lab of the University of Connecticut. The results, broadcast in the US by a History Channel documentary, Hitler’s Escape, astonished scientists. According to Connecticut archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni, it was clear from the outset that something was amiss. “The bone seemed very thin; male bone tends to be more robust,” he said. “And the sutures where the skull plates come together seemed to correspond to someone under 40.” In April 1945 Hitler turned 56.

Bellantoni had flown to Moscow to inspect the gruesome Hitler trophies at the State Archive, which included the skull fragment as well as bloodstains from the bunker sofa on which Hitler and Braun were believed to have committed suicide. He was allowed only one hour with the Hitler trove, during which time he applied cotton swabs and took DNA samples. “I had the reference photos the Soviets took of the sofa in 1945 and I was seeing the exact same stains on the fragments of wood and fabric in front of me, so I knew I was working with the real thing.” The samples were then flown back to Connecticut. At the university’s centre for applied genetics, Linda Strausbaugh closed her lab for three days to work exclusively on the Hitler project. “We used the same routines and controls that would have been used in a crime lab,” she said. To her surprise, a small amount of viable DNA was extracted. She then replicated this through a process known as molecular copying to provide enough material for analysis. “We were very lucky to get a reading, despite the limited amount of genetic information,” she said. The result was extraordinary. According to witnesses, the bodies of Hitler and Braun had been wrapped in blankets and carried to the garden just outside the Berlin bunker, placed in a bomb crater, doused with petrol and set ablaze.

A general view of what Russian officials claimed to be a fragment of Adolf Hitler’s skull, at an exhibition in Moscow, Wed April 26, 2000. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/AP

But the skull fragment the Russians dug up outside the Führerbunker in 1946 could never have belonged to Hitler. The skull DNA was incontestably female. The only positive physical proof that Hitler had shot himself had suddenly been rendered worthless. The result is a mystery reopened and, for conspiracy theorists the tantalising possibility that Hitler did not die in the bunker. For decades after the war the fate of Hitler’s corpse was shrouded in secrecy. No picture or film was made public. As the Soviet Army secured control of Berlin in May 1945, Russian forensic specialists under the command of the counterintelligence unit Smersh (an acronym for “Death to Spies”) dug up what was presumed to be the dictator’s body outside the bunker and performed a post-mortem examination behind closed doors. A part of the skull was absent, presumably blown away by Hitler’s suicide shot, but what remained of his jaw coincided with his dental records, a fact reportedly confirmed when the Russians showed his surviving dental work to the captured assistants of Hitler’s dentist. The autopsy also reported that Hitler, as had been rumoured, had only one testicle. But Stalin remained suspicious. In 1946 a second secret mission was dispatched to Berlin.


In the same crater from which Hitler’s body had been recovered, the new team found what it believed was the missing skull fragment with a bullet exit wound through it. The Russians also took fragments of Hitler’s bloodstained sofa. Even this failed to satisfy Stalin, who clamped a secrecy order on all matters related to Hitler’s death. Unknown to the world, Hitler’s corpse was interred at a Smersh centre in Magdeburg, East Germany. There it remained long after Stalin’s death in 1953. Finally, in 1970, the KGB dug up the corpse, cremated it and secretly scattered the ashes in a river. Only the jawbone, the skull fragment and the bloodstained sofa segments were preserved in the deep archives of Soviet intelligence. The bunker was destroyed in 1947 and eventually paved over. Then, in 2000, the Russian State Archive in Moscow staged an exhibition, The Agony of the Third Reich. The skull fragment was displayed, but only photographs of Hitler’s jawbone were on view. The head of the archive, Sergei Mironenko, said he had no doubt the skull fragment was authentic. “It is not just some bone we found in the street, but a fragment of a skull that was found in a hole where Hitler’s body had been buried,” he said. In the wake of Bellantoni and Strausbaugh’s findings, Mironenko’s confidence was clearly misplaced. But could the fragment of skull belong to Eva Braun, who died at 33 and was laid alongside her beloved Führer in the same crater? “We know the skull corresponds to a woman between the ages of 20 and 40,” said Bellantoni, but he is sceptical about the Braun thesis. “There is no report of Eva Braun having shot herself or having been shot afterwards. It could be anyone. Many people were killed around the bunker area.”

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