New details have emerged of how a former Gestapo general who sent tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths was protected from prosecution by US and West German intelligence after the Second World War.
SS-General Franz Josef Huber served as head of the Gestapo in Vienna and much of Austria following the Nazi takeover. He worked closely with Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, and personally ordered the deportation of Austrian Jews to concentration camps.
Yet while Eichmann was captured by Israel and sentenced to death — next weekend marks the 60th aniversary of his trial in Jerusalem — Huber was released by US forces following the war and spent the rest of his life as a free man in his native Munich, where he was a minor employee at a local business.
Newly declassified documents obtained by a German documentary make clear that was a cover arranged for him by West German intelligence. It now appears Huber was protected by the US because it believed he could be a useful asset against the Soviet Union.
“Although we are by no means unmindful of the dangers involved in playing around with a Gestapo general, we also believe, on the basis of the information now in our possession, that Huber might be profitably used by this organization,” a CIA memo from 1953 obtained by the New York Times reads.
Declassified files obtained by German ARD television’s Munich Report show that US and West German intelligence conspired to hide Huber’s past and protect him from prosecution.
He was arrested by US forces in 1945 and held for more than two years. But US military intelligence prevented his extradition to Austria, where was a wanted war criminal, and arranged for him to be dealt with leniently by the West German authorities. He was released in 1948 with a fine and suspended sentence following a “denazification” process.
In 1955 he formally joined the Gehlen Organisation, the West German intelligence service built up by the US as a counterweight to the Soviets.
It is no secret that the Gehlen Organisation was riddled with former Nazis: its founder and leader, Reinhard Gehlen, was the former head of Nazi military intelligence on the Eastern Front.
“The background is that at this time in the emerging Cold War, people were looking for tough anti-communists, and unfortunately they are all too often found them in former Nazis,” Bodo Hechelhammer, the official historian of Germany’s BND intelligence service, told the documentary makers.
The policy was not limited to Germany. In the US, the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies recruited more than 1,000 ex-Nazis as agents in the years following the war, including figures such as Otto von Bolschwing, a senior aide to Eichmann.
When the Gehlen Organisation was replaced in 1956 by the BND, which still serves as Germany’s foreign intelligence service today, Huber remained on the books.
He served with the BND until 1967, although his bosses were well aware of his Nazi past. An internal report from 1964 notes that he was “particularly responsible for the unjust measures that were taken in the area of his departments...for racial or other reasons”.
Questioned as a potential witness by investigators for the Nuremberg Trials in 1948, Huber claimed he was unaware of the Holocaust until 1944.
But as early as 1938 he gave orders “to arrest immediately undesirable, particularly criminally motivated Jews and transfer them to the concentration camp Dachau”.
During his time as head of the Gestapo in Vienna and eastern Austria more than 70,000 of the country’s Jews were murdered.