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The Strasbourg Legacy
By William Craig
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 William Craig
All rights reserved.
Adolf Hitler's voice on the radio was unmistakable. Shrill, forceful, it assured the people of Germany that the Fuhrer was alive and well. It also promised swift vengeance on those who that day had tried to kill him. Within the borders of the Third Reich, Nazi justice was already being dispensed.
In a Berlin courtyard Count Klaus von Stauffenberg lay dead under the focused headlights of several trucks. They illuminated his bullet-torn uniform and the Iron Cross he had won for valor.
A short distance away, General Ludwig Beck, who was supposed to head the new government, slumped in a hallway. The bullet he had fired into his brain had failed to kill him. One revolver shot into his neck by a guard had been the coup de grace.
Instead of assuming command of the armed forces, General Erwin von Witzleben was at home, saying farewell to his family. The bewildered officer had no escape route planned but knew he had to flee. The secret police would find him within hours.
In Paris, General von Stuelpnagel released SS officers and men he had imprisoned and fled to the countryside. Near Metz he placed a gun at his temple and shot himself. The bullet only blinded him and he was taken prisoner by his pursuers.
The men who plotted to destroy Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime had committed the one unpardonable offense. They had failed to cut off the head that ruled the body. And now they would pay the supreme penalty: death, but not quickly in most cases. In the cellars of the Plotzensee and Prinz Albrechtstrasse, torturers were beginning to pry secrets, names, dates from victims unable to withstand the torment. It would be only a matter of days before thousands of conspirators would be dragged to extinction.
At Army Group HQ in Russia, General Henning von Tresckow was resigned to death. For more than a year he had been a traitor to the Nazi regime and when he received a private call telling him the plot had failed, Tresckow laughed bitterly, for he knew firsthand how difficult it was to kill the Fuhrer. Only months before he had secreted a brandy bottle on Hitler's plane. Inside the bottle was a bomb scheduled to detonate high over the Ukraine. But the timing mechanism failed and Hitler landed safely, totally unaware of the attempt to kill him. One of Tresckow's friends retrieved the evidence and destroyed it, leaving the general free to continue his vendetta. But when Stauffenberg's bomb failed to kill the dictator, Tresckow had no illusions. He would be found out in the roundup of enemies of the state.
After writing a last letter to his family, he walked off into a nearby meadow. When he reached a deserted spot Tresckow pulled out a grenade, held it to his head, and died in the violent explosion that followed.
General Tresckow had escaped the only way he could from the police state that would have broken him. He knew the power of the Schutzstaffel, the black-uniformed SS, and he chose not to fall into their hands. And in this moment of crisis for the embattled Reich, legions of SS men were performing their assigned tasks with the ardor they had shown ever since Hitler chose this group as his elite corps of bodyguards, both for him and for the nation. Always loyal, never questioning edicts from the leader, the SS had waged a war of extermination across Europe. They ran the gas chambers, the concentration camps, the mass shooting galleries, the experimental farms where human guinea pigs ostensibly furthered the cause of science. And now it was an easy chore for them to track down the wretches who had attempted assassination and a coup d'etat.
By the second week in August, barely three weeks after the bomb blast in Rastenburg, the secret police had pleased Hitler immensely. By that time, they had given him a list of the major plotters, and had captured almost all. Hitler praised their efficiency and urged them on to even more sadistic heights as they broke bodies to gain more information. In the SS, at least, Hitler realized he had a force that would protect him to the end.
That end seemed near. And all the time Heinrich Himmler's men were carrying out Fuhrer decrees unhesitatingly, SS leaders vigorously prepared for a life of their own, if and when Germany collapsed. Adolf Hitler was never to know this. His deputy, Martin Bormann, did know and he managed to cloak the efforts in secrecy. Bormann had given the ultimate order to his Brotherhood of Comrades, for he too planned to carry on with or without the Fuhrer. The canny peasant from Bavaria had no intention of perishing in a final Götterdämmerung.
In early August 1944, Allied armies in France had already broken out of the Normandy beachhead and begun the drive for Paris. Southwest of the French capital, General George Patton's Third Army was across the Sarthe river and rushing toward the bridges of the upper Seine. Not content with merely trapping the battered Wehrmacht in France, Dwight Eisenhower was urging his armored columns to strike for the German border itself and make it impossible for the enemy to dig into a defensible line.
One hundred and twenty-five miles east of Paris, the ancient city of Strasbourg lay directly in the path of American tankers. Swollen with thousands of German troops looking for lost units, it was a bedlam of traffic jams and angry voices. But outside the sprawling, block-long Maison Rouge Hotel all was strangely quiet. Squadrons of SS police had cordoned off the surrounding square and stood guard at the lobby entrance to keep out all without passes. The lobby was almost deserted. A few high-ranking officers wandered the carpeted halls. Waiters, all soldiers, paid them scant attention as they hustled to and from the kitchens.
The focal point of attention that day was the third floor. Requisitioned weeks before by the SS, it now held nearly a hundred German industrialists and military men, who had arrived for twenty-four hours of intensive conferences. Their agenda was starkly simple: the planning for survival after defeat.
In Conference Room A more than fifty men sat around a gleaming mahogany table while the speaker, a short, red-faced officer, resplendent in his black SS uniform, read from a memorandum:
"Lufthansa flights to Spain have brought out more than three hundred million deutschemarks in American dollars and British pounds. Of the pounds more than half are counterfeit but so perfectly done that no problems are anticipated in marketing them.
"As to the report on bogus corporations, at this moment more than six hundred have been established, a third in the Middle East, some in Spain, but most in Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. I cannot give you precise information on their locations since such lists could fall into the wrong hands. A master list has been made, three copies have been secreted and in time will be utilized. Any questions?"
A civilian, scowling under bushy eyebrows, stood up.
"My company would like more explicit news on distribution of its assets. We don't want to disperse any more funds without it."
The SS officer stared coldly at the questioner. "You're a corporation lawyer, aren't you?"
When the man nodded, he went on abruptly: "Let's straighten this out right now for everyone in the room. All money funneled through the economic section of the Schutzstaffel will find its way into overseas development. None of it will stick to the fingers of any man in the organization. We didn't come to Strasbourg to rob you. We came to set up a future for all of us after the Third Reich ends. We're all in this together." The SS man glared around the table. "Any more questions?"
There were none and the meeting droned on with a discussion of the establishment of research institutes to produce new weapons for the time period 1950 to 1960.
In Conference Room C, down the hall, a less formal atmosphere prevailed. Only five men had gathered here, around a table heaped with food and drink. Two were from the Reichsbank, Hitler's national repository for loot from conquered countries. The other three men held high office in the SS; the senior of this group, a tall, extremely thin man, whose hooked nose dominated his pinched, lean face, was talking rapidly, gesturing with his right hand in a broad sweep. "I tell you the front's been ripped apart. The only reason the Americans haven't broken deep into Germany is because they ran out of gas. That damn Patton is better than Rommel." He shook his head in frustration and picked up a piece of ham, which he chewed energetically. "What's the latest on the Max Heiliger account?" he suddenly asked. He was referring to a special SS account in the Reichsbank.
One of the bank officials clapped his hands in glee. "I don't know what to do with Max anymore. He's so fat he's about to explode." Everyone laughed until the hook-nosed man shook his head. "That could be bad with time running out on us. Aren't the pawnshops doing their job?"
"The pawnshops are begging off now. They have too much to sell and not enough buyers from the general public."
"Damn it, they're getting a chance at the best jewelry in the world from those Jews in jail. And what about all the gold from the Auschwitz teeth?"
The banker was almost apologetic. "Too much. You're sending us more than we can handle. The vaults are filled to the ceilings."
The hook-nosed man nodded to an aide. "Take this up with the appropriate section. Tell them to melt the gold down faster and ship to Swiss banks, you know the places.... Spread the wealth so we can get our hands on it later. Otherwise, Patton himself will capture it."
While his assistant solemnly wrote down the instructions, the hook-nosed man went back to the table and piled a plate full of potato salad. As he took his first mouthful, the crump of exploding bombs drifted through the windows from the west. The hook-nosed man ignored the intrusion and went on with his meal.
Many SS leaders knew they faced war crimes charges. Convinced also that defeat would lead to chaotic conditions within Germany, these Nazis felt they could remain unnoticed inside the enemy camp while the Allies hunted down the most famous criminals, like Goering, Ribbentrop, and the rest of the hierarchy. Then in the apathy born of victory and sated emotions, hard-core SS men could make a more leisurely departure from occupied territories.
Thus ODESSA — Organisation der SS Angehörigen (Organization of SS Members), a secret underground escape group — came into being. On maps of the world, men sketched projected routes to freedom. They all led south, through Austria to Italy, through France to Spain, and then on to South America or the Middle East. Individual way stations were not marked as yet. These safe places would come later, as SS experts refined details. In the meantime, they were content to lay out broad outlines and disburse monies necessary to make the underground work successfully. The Maison Rouge conference was merely a beginning.
Nine months later the war was over, the victors swarming over a prostrate Germany. And what the SS planners at Strasbourg had predicted, happened. The roads, villages, and cities of the country became clogged with human refuse, the uprooted, dispossessed, and faceless. Into this dispirited mob went the most notorious men of the dead Fuhrer's regime, the thousands who had run his police state and killed millions of innocent victims.
Heinrich Himmler put on an eye-patch and posed as a farmer. Seized at a roadblock by British troops, he finally admitted his identity and asked to see Eisenhower. His interrogators thought he might divulge SS secrets if they treated him well and in fact Himmler hinted several times that he could tell much about Bormann and others. But the sudden appearance of another British officer changed all that. The new arrival ordered Himmler stripped and searched, and in panic the SS leader bit into a cyanide capsule concealed in a tooth cavity and fell to the floor in agony. Despite the use of stomach pumps and emetics, Himmler died in fourteen minutes.
Rudolf Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, was as unlucky. Discovered working as a farmhand near Bremen, he freely confessed his role at the most infamous camp in the history of the world. Fully cooperative with his captors, Hoess balked only once. When asked to sign a typed confession, he remained adamant until one offending passage was changed. Hoess refused to take credit for killing three million inmates. He had been on leave of absence while a portion of them died in the shower rooms.
But the list of captives was pitifully small. More than fifteen thousand men who had played vital roles in the extermination of so many simply vanished: Franz Stangl, commandant at Treblinka; Josef Mengele, doctor at Auschwitz; the Maurer brothers, mass killers in Russia; Adolf Eichmann, charged by Hitler with responsibility for the final solution of the Jewish problem; and Martin Bormann, heir to the throne, supposedly seen on a Berlin street, dead from artillery fire, later, "seen" near the Danish border heading for a waiting boat, a wraith wrapped in shadows.
And then, as postwar problems took precedence, the Allied powers tired of the chase. The Nuremberg Trials disposed of the most visible Nazis, and the hangman's noose choked the breath from a few of the men who had murdered millions. Meanwhile, mutual distrusts between Russia and the West intervened, and statesmen now juggled nuclear weapons in treaty discussions.
In the submerged world of the SS, men began to stir and the highways to safety became visible to those seeking safe passage. The money so carefully allotted years before provided a guarantee of immunity. More than seven hundred and fifty overseas companies were now funneling funds back into the escape networks. In the towering Alpine resort area close to the Austrian border, secreted millions were dug from the ground, pulled up from lakes, withdrawn from friendly banks. Men who had waited two years, four years, for the signal stealthily moved south, always under the direct protection of bodyguards, former SS soldiers, who themselves had functioned so anonymously in the camps that hardly anyone lived who could identify them as guards once manning machine guns or dropping Zyklon B tablets into gas chambers.
Adolf Eichmann went put through Austria, into Italy, where a monastery provided sanctuary until he boarded a ship bound for Argentina. Franz Stangl used the same route of escape. So did Mengele, Johannes Richter. So, too, did Martin Bormann and hundreds of others.
Behind them, in Germany itself, these leaders left a cadre, thousands of Kamerads who had sworn the oath of allegiance to the Brotherhood of the SS for life and would obey any summons calling them back to service. In the interim, they had been told to gradually resume normal lives within the new nation of West Germany.CHAPTER 2
On the night of March 11, 1945, a German submarine, the U-155, broke the surface of Tokyo Bay and turned eastward toward a rocky coastline. A mile offshore, crewmen launched a boat and headed into a beach. They had no trouble finding the landfall, for the sky was a flaming, smoking red from the previous day's bombing of Tokyo by American B-29s, which had left the Japanese capital in ruins and more than 100,000 people dead in the rubble.
In ten minutes, the German sailors touched the shore and immediately dragged three heavy boxes inland for a quarter of a mile. Beside a deserted cottage, under a forlorn mimosa tree, they dug three deep holes, buried their cargo, and slipped back to the waiting boat. Behind them two men lingered for a moment. One was Hauptmann Erich Lottman, an SS officer. The other, Colonel Kantaro Onishi, commanded a garrison of secret police in the Tokyo district. Six years before they had been friends in Berlin, when Onishi was an observer at Gestapo training schools. Now they hurriedly scribbled on pieces of paper, which they exchanged and countersigned. Lottman saluted briskly and offered his hand in farewell. Onishi took it and bowed low in friendship. Then Lottman was gone and within a half hour the U-155 had dived for the deep waters of the Pacific.
With the war ended and Japan soon competing for world economic markets, Kantaro Onishi prospered. Always a man who cultivated the important people, he swiftly rose in the business world. By 1972, he was recognized as an industrial genius, president of an enormous electronics firm and a director of banks, museums, other corporations.
Excerpted from The Strasbourg Legacy by William Craig. Copyright © 1975 William Craig. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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