From Dictatorship to Democracy The Role Ex-Nazis Played in Early West Germany


By , Georg Bönisch, Thomas Darnstaedt, , and

Part 3: 'Staunchly True to His World View'

Theo Saevecke embarked on a career in law enforcement at the BKA. He had joined the Nazi Party in 1929, when it was still very small, and eventually reached the rank of Hauptsturmführer in the SS. While with the SS, Saevecke organized forced labor operations involving Tunisian Jews and ran the Milan office of the security police, where he was responsible for hundreds of executions.

After the war, the senior official openly described himself as a "former old National Socialist." He remained staunchly true to his worldview. As a CIA contact noted, Saevecke would "literally stop at nothing to suppress the communist movement, against which he has felt an elementary hatred since the 1920s." While with the BKA, Saevecke was in charge of the police effort surrounding the 1962 SPIEGEL scandal, before going into retirement.

Because it was to be expected that the expertise of former Nazis would be in demand once again, the Allies had initially obtained an express power of veto from the BfV. The Berlin Document Center routinely investigated job applicants -- albeit not with sufficient thoroughness -- for evidence of former Nazi Party and SS membership. BND founder Gehlen also shunned the men from Himmler's organization at first.

Until the fall of the Third Reich, Gehlen, a general in the German army during World War II, had maintained a department at Wehrmacht headquarters that wrote analyses about the Red Army. In 1946, the Americans recruited him to continue his old activities, but this time for the US Army. Washington also feared that secret agents with a Nazi past could be blackmailed by the Soviets or the intelligence agencies of other countries.

'If He Can Help Us, We'll Use Him'

But the Americans did not insist that Gehlen provide them with access to the personnel files of his employees. When a critical member of the US Congress questioned then President Harry S. Truman about cooperation with Gehlen, Truman grumbled: "This guy Gehlen, I don't care if he screws flies. If he can help us, we'll use him."

A panel of historians has also now been appointed to investigate the question of why the BND recruited former Nazi thugs. Why did the agency use someone like Konrad Fiebig, a former member of an SS paramilitary death squad known as an Einsatzgruppe who was later charged with the murders of 11,000 Jews in Belarus, as a courier? And what exactly did his superiors know about the crimes?

Of course, former Nazis helped each other out. For example, one former SS member said that Krichbaum expressly asked him to "report former SD people who no longer have a profession, because they could become active again."

An especially large number of tainted agents were associated with an organization known as Dienststelle 114, with offices in the back courtyard of a building on Gerwigstrasse in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe. Officially, the office housed a company called Zimmerle & Co., a maker of roller shutters. The original purpose of the organization was to find out, on behalf of the Americans, what Moscow's agents were up to in the American occupation zone. But conservative nationalist Gehlen used the counterespionage mission to develop a system of informants against pacifists and communists. The word was soon out among former Nazis that there was good money to be made in Gehlen's organization.

The ex-Nazis were no longer committing murders at the BND. However, experts suspect that the former SS officials, who had once held the ranks of Sturmbannführer, Obersturmführer and Oberführer, introduced the crusader mentality into the BND that gave the agency the reputation of being a stronghold of people living in the past. Anyone who occasionally traveled to East Germany, made left-leaning political statements or even struck a neighbor with connections to the BND as suspicious ran the risk of being placed under surveillance, having his mail opened or his telephone conversations wiretapped by the BND.

'Willing Servants of the Regime'

Even top politicians were placed under surveillance, including the later head of the SPD parliamentary group, Herbert Wehner ("an extremely dangerous enemy of the state") and the later President Gustav Heinemann, who was observed after being classified as a suspicious "element."

Hardly anyone in law enforcement was not tainted with a Nazi past. Most, says current BKA President Jörg Ziercke, were "supporters and willing servants of the regime."

This tradition continued on the inside of the agency, even if the personnel at the BKA adjusted to the new conditions. The officers devoted special attention to people known as "country travellers," who were still referred to as "gypsies" during the Third Reich.

A 1967 manual reads: "The penchant for an unattached vagrant lifestyle and a pronounced aversion to work are among the special attributes of a gypsy." As much as a decade after the end of the war, the BKA included the prisoner number tattooed on the arm of a presumed delinquent in its search profile.

Dieter Schenk, the former head of the criminal division at the BKA, is sharply critical of the agency, saying that for years it was dominated by "toadyism, wagon wall behavior and an authoritarian style of leadership." These are the secondary bad habits of a bureaucracy that has something to hide, and in which yesterday's and today's officials cannot look each other directly in the eye.

No ministry in West Germany was spared the army of surviving accomplices, helpers and accessories. "This continued activity of the old National Socialists is a fundamental affliction of the inner constitution of the Federal Republic," Karl Jaspers, the philosopher of West Germany's formative years, said in 1966.

When the old affliction was no longer painful, parts of the government that were seemingly above suspicion began recalling their own problems. In 2007, the Federal Ministry of Transportation issued a thin report on its own past. It turned out that thousands of outwardly virtuous railroad workers were willing accessories to the genocide of the Jews.

Responsible for the Nazis' Starvation Policy

Meanwhile, a historian had compiled a list of 62 people with Nazi pasts for a study on the precursor agency to the Federal Consumer Protection Ministry. During World War II, employees of the Reich Agriculture Ministry were responsible for the Nazis' starvation policy in eastern Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.

In 2009, then Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück (SPD) established a seven-member panel of historians whose results were to be released to the public. Their job was to examine "how the Reich Finance Ministry contributed to the plundering of the Jews and the financing of the arms buildup and the war." The Federal Ministry of the Economy commissioned a similar study in the following year.

It has already been revealed that half of all state secretaries, section heads and subsection heads in the 1950s were former members of the Nazi Party.

According to research by Norbert Frei, a historian in the eastern city of Jena, about a third of the people working in the federal government's ministerial bureaucracy in 1953 had been fired by the Allies directly after the war. They were considered no longer usable at the time. The fact that most of them returned, and that some even went to court to get their old jobs back, is tantamount to a coup d'état.

The former Nazis who had been deprived of their power took advantage of a provision of the new constitution to secure power, influence and a good pension until the end of their lives. During the debate over the constitution in the Parliamentary Council, the public servant lobby was the only group in society that managed to file legal and financial claims for compensation. This isn't exactly surprising, given that public servants held the majority of votes within the council.

In this manner, German civil servants had managed to quickly and painlessly sweep aside their pasts. The German judges didn't even need a new law to help them along.


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