Fully revised and expanded, this stirring account reveals how the U.S. government permitted the illegal entry of Nazis into North America in the years following World War II. This extraordinary investigation exposes the secret section of the State Department that began, starting in 1948 and unbeknownst to Congress and the public until recently, to hire members of the puppet wartime government of Byelorussiaa region of the Soviet Union occupied by Nazi Germany. A former Justice Department investigator uncovered this stunning story in the files of several government agencies, and it is now available with a chapter previously banned from release by authorities and a foreword and afterword with recently declassified materials.
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About the Author
John Loftus is a former U.S. government prosecutor, a former Army intelligence officer, and the author of numerous books, including The Belarus Secret; The Secret War Against the Jews; Unholy Trinity: How the Vatican's Nazi Networks Betrayed Western Intelligence to the Soviets; and Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis, and the Swiss Banks. He has appeared regularly as a media commentator on ABC National Radio and Fox News. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
America's Nazi Secret
An Insider's History
By John J. Loftus
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2011 John Loftus
All rights reserved.
Frank G. Wisner did not look like a spymaster.
Balding and fleshy although he was not yet forty, he appeared to those who greeted him upon his arrival in West Germany in the summer of 1948 like the prosperous Wall Street lawyer he had been. He spoke with a trace of the soft accent of his native Mississippi, and his official title, Director of the Office of Policy Coordination, was innocuous. He had chosen it himself for that reason. Wisner was a veteran practitioner of the black art of covert operations, and the newly organized OPC was in the front line of the secret war against the Soviet Union.
Wisner came to Germany at a time when Europe seemed on the brink of revolutionary upheaval. Berlin was under blockade by the Soviets and depended upon a tenuous airlift for its survival. The Communists were actively trying to overthrow the governments of Greece and Turkey. Italy was on the verge of going communist. A Russian attempt to pinch off a piece of northern Iran had just been repulsed. Half of Europe had disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. To meet the challenge of Soviet expansion, President Harry S. Truman had made substantial amounts of military and economic assistance available to nations facing internal and external communist threats. "Our policy [is] to support the cause of freedom wherever it is threatened," he declared.
Energetic, adventurous, and something of a romantic, Wisner seemed an excellent choice to lead OPC. He was a member of a wealthy Southern family and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1934. That same year he joined Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, a prominent Manhattan law firm, and soon became a partner. At the outbreak of World War II he entered the Navy but, looking for more excitement, joined the Office of Strategic Services, America's new intelligence agency. Wisner spent most of the war in the Balkans, engaged in clandestine activities in Romania and Turkey. After brief service in Germany following the surrender, he returned to Wall Street, but found the world of estates and trusts too tame. During his time with OSS, Wisner had become convinced of the inevitability of a conflict with the Soviet Union; the Cold War provided him with an opportunity to return to intelligence work.
In 1948, many believed that a Soviet attack on Western Europe was imminent. According to one retired government official, the entire American intelligence community was put on a war footing. Wisner's job was to plan an underground network of commando units to slow down the Communist advance, and then to guide allied forces in an invasion. To serve as the nucleus of his guerrilla forces, and to spearhead the invasion, Wisner would recruit those Nazi collaborators who had performed similar duties only a few years earlier for the Third Reich. Wisner was ordered to use his underground agents to overthrow the Communist-imposed governments, if possible, without overt American intervention. To accomplish these goals, Wisner was hired by the State Department as head of the Office of Policy Coordination.
The OPC charter (National Security Council directive 10/2) was sweeping. Wisner's efforts to counter the Soviet threat were limited only by "deniability," the proviso that if any of his operations were blown, the Secretary of State should be able to plausibly disavow any knowledge of his activities. His weapons included propaganda, economic warfare, sabotage, and subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups in Eastern Europe. Wisner was particularly intrigued by this last part of his charter, concerning the recruiting of an anti-communist guerrilla army and turning it loose upon the Soviet Union. He had come to Germany to lay the groundwork for this force.
Before being ordered to leave Bucharest by the victorious Red Army in 1945, Wisner had compiled a list of Romanians opposed to the Soviet Union. Among them were Nazi collaborators and members of the Iron Guard, a fascist organization noted for its hatred of Jews. Now, he was engaged in expanding his lists of anticommunist zealots, and it would soon include many accused war criminals from all across Eastern Europe.
Wisner's staff secretly made contact with leaders from four different Nazi ministries who had directed the activities of collaborators in Eastern Europe during the war. First was Gustav Hilger, a diplomat from the Nazi Foreign Office who had served as Hitler's Russian expert. Hilger had helped to plan the invasion of the Soviet Union and had worked with SS Intelligence late in the war to build an anticommunist army of collaborators. Wisner also recruited Hilger's counterpart in the SS: Obersturmbannfuehrer Friedrich Buchardt, chief of Émigré Affairs for the SS, who had worked his way up from commander of a mobile killing unit in Byelorussia. He too had used local Nazi collaborators to advantage. The third man to supply information to Wisner was Professor Gerhardt von Mende, a deputy in the Nazi Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories who had favored using Islamic collaborationist politicians to establish a network of Nazi puppet governments as a wall against the Russians.
The last man that Wisner needed to consult was hidden behind a different kind of wall.
Before leaving West Germany, Wisner went to Pullach, a pretty little village eight miles from Munich, where he was taken to a heavily guarded compound surrounded by high walls and an electrified fence. A brass plate at the gate bore the name "South German Industries Utilisation Company," but other signs warned, "Beware of fierce dogs."
Pullach was the headquarters of Reinhard Gehlen, Germany's most celebrated spy. During World War II he had been chief of Fremde Heere Ost (FHO), the eastern military intelligence section of the Armed Forces High Command. After the collapse of Germany, Gehlen had avoided capture by the Russians as a war criminal, and surrendered himself, his staff, and his extensive files to the U.S. Army. He was brought to America, interrogated, and then sent back to Germany in July 1946 where, as head of ORG (Organisation Gehlen), subsidized by the Americans, he directed espionage activities against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Gehlen thus became the only Wehrmacht general to function in the postwar era with his wartime staff almost intact.
Wisner and Gehlen were well acquainted with each other. At the end of the war Wisner had interrogated Gehlen when he was brought to the US and had been struck by his knowledge of Soviet affairs. Now, Wisner was impressed with the astuteness of Gehlen's reading of Russian intentions in Germany. Gehlen had warned the Americans of Stalin's plan to drive the Western allies out of Berlin, but his reports had not been believed until the Russians blockaded the city. Long before anyone else, he told Wisner that the Soviets were planning to establish the German Democratic Republic in their zone of occupation and that the "People's Police," or VOPO, was being transformed into an East German army, complete with tank divisions and its own air force.
Cementing an alliance with Gehlen, Wisner sought his help in organizing guerrilla units behind the Iron Curtain, to build a clandestine arsenal and to assist and, if necessary, instigate armed rebellion against the Soviets. Believing that it was only a matter of time before the United States became involved in a war with the Soviet Union, Wisner expected the old Nazi intelligence networks to play a major role in undermining the Soviet order. The Gehlen Organization was the key to recruiting these "Special Forces."
From his archives, Gehlen produced the names of Eastern Europeans who had served the Nazi puppet governments and would provide the nucleus for Wisner's private army. Among them were the Byelorussians of the Belarus Brigade who were hiding out in Europe's refugee camps, evading war crimes investigators who knew next to nothing about their history.
Belarus is another name for Byelorussia, also known as White Russia and White Ruthenia. Byelorussia is an ancient country, a land of superstition and festering hatreds. The southern half is underwater during the spring when the Pripet marshes are flooded; the northern region is isolated by a maze of rivers and forests. For centuries, Byelorussia's narrow roads and paths were the principal land bridge between Europe and Asia, and in medieval times it boasted of a proud and literate culture. But in addition to being a zone of passage, Byelorussia was also fated to be an area where rival peoples met, merged, and fought for control of the land.
To the east lay the great empire of the tsars, with its Cyrillic alphabet and Orthodox tradition. To the west was Catholic Poland with its Latin script and princely aristocracy. Byelorussia was alternately dominated by either Poland or Russia. Minsk, the capital, is said to have changed hands more than 150 times. Byelorussian culture was all but obliterated by conquerors who imposed their own language and religion as annexation superseded annexation. The peasants hated the Polish landlords, the tsarist regime, and above all the Jewish shopkeepers and tradesmen who bought their produce. Through an accident of history, Byelorussia had become the center of the Pale of Settlement, the densest concentration of Jews in the world by the beginning of WWII.
After their expulsion from Western Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Jews had made their way to Poland, the Ukraine, and Lithuania, where they were welcomed. These lands were beginning to stir economically, and there was a need for the enterprise and skills offered by the Jews. Over the next four centuries, Eastern Europe became the center of the Jewish world. At first the Jews prospered, but this prosperity aroused jealousy and anti-Semitism, and eventually restrictions were placed on the types of business and trades in which Jews could participate. When Poland was divided among neighboring Prussia, Austria, and Russia at the end of the eighteenth century, most of the Jews passed under the control of the tsars. A Pale of Settlement was mapped that restricted Jews to a seventy mile wide border strip along Lithuania, Romania, Poland, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine, where they lived in poverty and in fear of periodic pogroms.
For the subject peoples of Eastern Europe, the Russian Revolution was like the breaking of an ice jam in a spring thaw. From Finland to the Ukraine, they joyously threw off the Tsarist yoke. In Byelorussia, a handful of nationalists gathered in the Minsk opera house on December 17, 1917, to proclaim an independent republic. They were, however, quickly suppressed by the Bolsheviks who had planted spies among the dissidents. Lenin had announced a policy of moderation toward Russia's national groups, but the Bolsheviks had no intention of presiding over the country's disintegration. The Byelorussian nationalists appealed for help to the German army, which had occupied most of the region since the beginning of World War I. The Germans took over Minsk, and a mixed bag of nationalist politicians, intellectuals, workers, Jews, Poles, eccentrics, and an occasional Soviet informer reassembled to launch the Byelorussian National Republic (BNR) on March 25, 1918.
The new government adopted a flag with three horizontal stripes (white, red, white), ordered postage stamps, and established an administrative framework. Included in the cabinet was Radoslaw Ostrowsky, a popular young schoolteacher, who was named Minister of Education. For a few months, a semblance of democracy existed in Byelorussia, but not even the Germans bothered to recognize the nationalist regime. When the Germans withdrew at the end of the war, the BNR quickly collapsed under the onslaught of the Bolsheviks. Some members of the government fled to Vilna (then in Poland) and later to the West, where they established a government-in-exile. Others, Ostrowsky among them, joined the counter-revolutionary White armies that were trying, with Anglo-American-French support, to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. Wherever they went, however, the Byelorussian dissidents were followed by agents of the Cheka, the newly organized Soviet secret police.
Russia was almost in anarchy as civil war raged along the frontiers and across the steppes. Using the liberation of the Catholic population as a pretext, the Poles took advantage of the confusion to invade Byelorussia. Although the Russians initially suffered heavy defeats, they eventually pushed the Poles back, and by August 1920 the Red Army had advanced to the outskirts of Warsaw. With the vigorous assistance of the French, the Poles drove the Russians back into mid-Byelorussia, where the war bogged down in stalemate. The Treaty of Riga, signed in 1921, drew a line down the middle of Byelorussia, giving the western and Catholic half to Poland, while the eastern and Orthodox part went to Moscow.
Many of the nationalists returned to western Byelorussia, but life under the Poles was oppressive. The old landlords, who claimed hereditary title to the majority of what little arable land was available, were reinstated. The Orthodox religion was persecuted, and the teaching of the Byelorussian language was discouraged. Every attempt was made by the Polish authorities to stamp out Byelorussian nationalism. Only a handful of ethnic Byelorussians were permitted seats in the Polish Senate, or Diet. Among them was Jury Sobolewsky, who would later become Radoslaw Ostrowsky's vice president during the Nazi occupation. Both Sobolewsky and Ostrowsky had clandestinely joined a left-wing organization, the Byelorussian Peasants and Workers Party (known as the Gramada) that included liberals, Socialists, and Communists.
Hoping to discredit the Gramada, the OGPU, the successor to the Cheka, informed the Polish Secret Service that it was controlled from Moscow. The first enemy of the Bolsheviks in those days were the liberal and socialist movements that were their closest rivals for power. The Poles saw the Gramada as a threat to the economic exploitation of the eastern provinces. By linking the Gramada to the Communists, the Polish government recognized an opportunity to discredit the nationalist movement. On January 14, 1927, more than 3,000 Byelorussian activists were arrested, including Ostrowsky, who was accused of being a Communist agent. Ostrowsky and eighteen other defendants were acquitted following a mass trial, but the rest were sentenced to several years in prison. The Polish government's evidence was so flimsy, however, that the verdict was reversed and a new trial ordered.
The outcry from Poles and Byelorussians was so great that the embarrassed government granted a limited amnesty and called off the retrial. Still, a cloud of suspicion hung over the accused, and their civil rights were permanently suspended.
Soviet propagandists used the incident to compare Polish repression to their own treatment of minorities. Byelorussia enjoyed the status (at least on paper) of an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic – proof that the Communists had no intention of destroying Byelorussian culture and identity. The token concessions the Soviets had offered their minorities – a means of curbing internal unrest –were presented to the émigrés as illustrating the more enlightened Soviet attitude. The Gramada and BNR leaders were invited to come home to help build the new Byelorussian state.
Most of the Byelorussian leaders formally voted to terminate the BNR as a government-in-exile and move to the Russian half of their divided nation. A voluntary merger with the Communists did not seem a bad political strategy in 1930. The Soviet constitution guaranteed equal rights for minorities and clearly established the right of the individual republics to withdraw from the Soviet Union whenever they chose. It was an enticing illusion for the nationalists. Soon after their return, however, the Gramada leaders were again arrested, this time by the Communists, and were executed as Polish spies.
Excerpted from America's Nazi Secret by John J. Loftus. Copyright © 2011 John Loftus. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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