CIA Wiretap Records Reveal Link Nazi Criminal Rademacher Spied for West Germany
A wiretap operation conducted by the CIA against the BND, West Germany's foreign intelligence service, in the early 1960s revealed that the BND employed a senior Nazi war criminal, Franz Rademacher, to spy for it in Syria, CIA records show. Rademacher, a foreign ministry official during the war, submitted a notorious travel expense claim in 1941 -- 'Liquidation of Jews in Belgrade.'
A man named Franz Rademacher submitted what is likely the most notorious travel expense claim in world history. Rademacher, a division head in the German foreign ministry during World War II, traveled to Belgrade in October 1941 at the request of the local foreign ministry representative who was asking for the city's Jews to be deported.
Rademacher wanted to see whether the so-called problem "could be resolved on site." With both the SS and the Wehrmacht pushing to kill Jews, all sides quickly reached an agreement to shoot 1,300 Jewish residents. Upon his return, Rademacher filed a travel expense claim citing the reason for his trip as: "Liquidation of Jews in Belgrade."
Although experts were long aware of the document, it drew a great deal of attention last year, when a commission of historians, addressing the history of the foreign ministry during the Nazi years and the decades after the war, featured that travel expense report prominently. Horrified, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared the document proof that the ministry had allowed its employees to "claim murder as a business expense."
Westwelle's horror presumably would have been greater still if he had known about CIA documents in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., now analyzed by SPIEGEL. The CIA wiretapped members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence service, in the early 1960s and found that the fugitive Rademacher was working as a German agent, delivering reports from Syria. Presumably, he received a salary at the taxpayers' expense. The CIA's wiretap transcripts further indicate that the BND prevented Rademacher from turning himself in.
If true, this would be another example of the BND actively preventing the prosecution of a Nazi war criminal. It recently emerged that this also happened in the case of Walther Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas chamber.
Rademacher was actually one of the few diplomats to be investigated immediately after the end of the war. The ambitious son of a train conductor from Neustrelitz in Mecklenburg, northern Germany, he took over the foreign ministry's so-called "Jew department," known as "Deutschland III," in 1940. He procured anti-Semitic literature by the crate and soon gained a reputation as an "expert on Jews."
In this new position, Rademacher played a significant role in designing the "Madagascar Plan," the proposed deportation of around four million Jews to the African island, where they would languish, guarded by the SS and police.
Role in Deportation of Jews
That plan was eventually abandoned, but Rademacher was later involved in the deportation of Jews from France, Belgium and the Netherlands to the extermination camps. Sometimes the foreign ministry played a role in demanding that the governments Germany allied itself with surrender their Jewish citizens; sometimes the SS contacted the foreign ministry to inquire whether it had any objections on foreign policy grounds to a specific deportation. Rademacher contributed significantly to this efficient cooperation between his ministry and the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
All this made the Allies consider putting the senior foreign ministry official in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. In 1952, a German court sentenced the stocky man with a high forehead to three years and five months in prison, but the judges released him from custody until the appeal hearing, supposedly seeing no danger that he would flee. Rademacher seized his chance and departed for Syria via France.
By 1957 at the latest, the CIA had Rademacher in its sights there, but German authorities too were aware of his location. American historian Christopher Browning discovered years ago that Rademacher had signaled, through an intermediary, that he was considering turning himself in. He seemed to vacillate between remorse and stubbornness, but had once admitted to an Allied interrogator that he had "committed a huge crime" and didn't know how he could "ever make up for it."
According to one CIA source, Rademacher was hoping Hans Globke, a close advisor of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and higher ranking than the BND thanks to his position as head of the Chancellery, would be able to exert influence. Prior to 1945, Globke had had a role in creating anti-Semitic laws in the interior ministry, and Rademacher claimed to be in contact with him. But in the end, Rademacher stayed in Damascus.
BND Hired Nazis to Expand Arab Networks
It's possible he was already then working for the BND, which was in the process of expanding its network of agents in Arab countries and drew partially upon former Nazis to do so. According to one CIA report, the German intelligence service was definitely interested in Rademacher "for many years" before apparently hiring him on in the spring of 1962.
The Algerian War was in full swing, and many former Nazis shared the Algerian revolutionary leaders' hatred of the West and, of course, of Israel. Rademacher was part of a circle of comrades who delivered weapons to the insurgents. Some of them also worked for the BND, and at least some of those were under CIA observation.
On May 21, 1962, the CIA reported from Munich: "Recent telephone conversations have revealed that Franz Rademacher was recently put on the UPHILL payroll," with "Uphill" being the code name for the BND.
According to the CIA documents, BND employee Hans Rechenberg, also a former Nazi functionary with very good contacts in Algeria, recruited Rademacher. Apparently, he first asked Rademacher to make an exonerating statement about Adolf Eichmann, the chief logistician of the Holocaust who was at that point on trial in Israel. As department heads, Eichmann and Rademacher had worked together to annihilate the Jews.
Rademacher, though, was afraid of facing the same fate as Eichmann, who had been abducted from Argentina by Israel's intelligence agency Mossad. Once again, he started to consider turning himself in to German justice authorities. This, Rechenberg felt, was not in the BND's interest, because then Rademacher would be "worthless," as Rechenberg explained in a telephone conversation with his boss, recorded by the CIA.
The original transcript of the conversation reads, in German:
"Rechenberg: I've been thinking, we always wanted to write a huge book at some point about the final solution to the Jewish question -- and we could have Rademacher do it, from there. Then he'd have something to do. 'Rademacher on Eichmann,' that even makes a pretty good book title.
Rechenberg: And I'll send him all the material Then we've given him something to do, and he can stay down there."
It's unknown whether Rademacher ever wrote a history of the Holocaust for the BND. The CIA reports, although admittedly incomplete, indicate he stuck to delivering reports on Syria.
Arrest in Syria
He can't have provided very many reports, though, because in July 1963, Syria arrested Rademacher on suspicion of espionage. Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet later claimed credit for feeding Syria, its enemy, documents incriminating Rademacher. Presumably this was done as a way to punish the Nazi murderer, and the ploy was successful.
Rademacher remained in a Syrian prison for over two years, by his own account with at least seven of those months spent in a dark cell. He suffered two heart attacks and by the end of it wanted nothing more than to go back home.
In 1966, Rademacher flew to Nuremberg, escorted by German foreign ministry officials. Police arrested him on arrival and he was soon back in court, but died in 1973, before the end of his trial.
Several observers noticed that the public prosecutor had done only sloppy research and that the court was making a noticeable effort to acquit Rademacher of as many of the charges as possible.
Whether the BND was behind this, trying to keep its former agent from talking, is a question to which not even the BND seems to know the answer now. Extensive portions of the agency's archives are only now being reviewed, said the BND's headquarters in Pullach, near Munich. The intelligence service responded to recent inquiries with the explanation that the BND archives "currently have no pertinent files accessible for research" on Rademacher.
In other words, that could change.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein