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John Dolibois: Intelligence officer whose role before the Nuremberg trials gave him a rare insight into the Nazi personality


The defeat of Germany in 1945 brought with it the fall of a class of once powerful military commanders, government authorities and political henchmen who had formed the Nazi regime. Few US intelligence officials came to know those men more intimately than John Dolibois. His work as an interrogator was used in the war crimes trials at Nuremberg and provided insights into the Nazis' psyches.

Dolibois had gone to the US from his native Luxembourg as a boy and joined the Army in the Second World War. He served briefly in a tank unit before his superiors realised that his fluent German meant they could more effectively employ him in military intelligence.

After witnessing the Dachau concentration camp, he found himself in Luxembourg at a hotel-turned-jail in the town of Mondorf-les-Bains. The prison was dubbed "the Ashcan" and housed many of the highest-ranking Nazi officials awaiting trial at Nuremberg, among them Hermann Göring, Karl Donitz, Albert Speer and Julius Streicher. There was a knock on his door; it was Göring. "I did a very poor representation of an intelligence officer," Dolibois said. "I stood there with my mouth open."

Göring asked if Dolibois was supposed to ensure that the Geneva conventions were respected. He was in fact an interrogation officer, but he declined to correct the misunderstanding. That decision, along with his fluency in German, helped him establish an extraordinary level of trust with many of the prisoners. Dolibois recalled that they divided themselves into three camps – military brass, civil servants and party leaders – and that interrogators used the divisions to their own advantage. "The only pressure we used," he said, "was, 'Well, look, if you don't want to co-operate for your own good, we'll just send you over to the Soviet Union. They have ways of getting information. Would you rather go there?'"

Dolibois also assisted with psychiatric evaluations, helping administer Rorschach inkblot texts. The tests produced revealing, sometimes disturbing results, said Eric Zillmer, co-author of The Quest for the Nazi Personality. Göring looked at an inkblot, laughed and said he saw two dancing figures clapping hands. Streicher identified a "flying dog from Borneo", adding that "it is also lifeless."

By the end, Dolibois said, he had "seen enough prisons and prisoners." He spent his postwar career at Miami University as an administrator. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan made him ambassador to Luxembourg, a post he held for four years.

John Dolibois, intelligence officer: born Bonnevoie, Luxembourg 4 December 1918; married Winifred Englehart (died 2009; two sons, and one son deceased); died Wyoming, Ohio 2 May 2014.

© The Washington Post