Relatives of one of the men named in newly declassified documents as Nazi sympathisers during the Second World War have spoken of their shock at discovering the allegations against their late father – and hinted that a poorly chosen friendship may have been to blame.
Martin and Ernest Kohout were traced by The Independent after the release of previously secret files in the National Archives, concerning a network of Nazi sympathisers, pointed to Hans Kohout.
The two men yesterday rubbished reports that their Austrian-born father – who arrived in Britain in the 1930s and became a naturalised British citizen, working during the Second World War for a firm “engaged on secret government contracts” – could ever have been a Nazi spy.
According to the files, Hans was a prominent figure in a network of men and women who believed they were working as informants for Hitler’s regime, but had in fact been tricked by an MI5 agent posing as a Gestapo officer.
He was one of a number of individuals dubbed “disloyal persons” by MI5. Realising that Germany was losing the war, he “had already started planning post-war espionage, considering that in another 20 years Germany will again be ready for war” according to one MI5 report. The plan centred on “industrial espionage and plans to penetrate industry with Germans or people of German origin,” it added.
Another document reveals how Mr Kohout, along with his friend and colleague Adolf Herzig, had “supplied information” about a secret radar screening technique using strips of aluminium foil, codenamed Window, “which, if it had reached the enemy would have been of vital use.”
On one occasion, an MI5 agent persuaded Mr Kohout to sell him a revolver he had bought illegally, “thinking it was dangerous to leave this in Kohout’s possession".
Yet claims that his father was a fifth columnist were dismissed by Martin, 67, from Reading, yesterday.
“My father wasn’t a Nazi sympathiser, that’s quite definite, he told The Independent. “Not that he ever said much about it, but he came here in about 1933 and worked in the aluminium industry. He worked for Fishers Foils; he was an aluminium expert.”
He added: “If you think of the Second World War, someone who was German, Italian or Austrian would be watched. That would stand to me as being logical. But as far as I knew he had absolutely no political interest in Germany whatsoever, he had no friends there, no relations there. He always considered himself to be English, he was an Anglophile.”
Summing up his take on the MI5 files, he said: “It sounds to my mind like a lot of made up nonsense.”
His older brother Ernest, 77, from Maidenhead, laughed at the revelations, describing them as “incredible.” His father was “not politically motivated in any way, and didn’t like Hitler.” But he observed: “He knew somebody who was dodgy. This chap’s name was Clayton and his wife was Swiss. I went to the house once or twice and he had pictures of Hitler up, Mein Kamf on the table.
“I was quite horrified to see it, I thought that was illegal. They would have been watched and perhaps the association connected to my father.”
He added: “I must have met them in the 50s and they were very dodgy then. And he was a nasty man as well. I don’t know how they got together.”
His father lived apart from the family during the war, as his children and wife had been on holiday in Austria when war broke out in 1939, and “so obviously he was looking for friendships,” he suggested.
But the 77-year-old concluded: “It’s a joke really because he loved Churchill and he was non-political. England was his home, he loved England – that was the be all and end all... there was nothing evil in him whatsoever, he was a true gentleman, a lovely man.”
His father would have been “horrified” if he had known MI5 had a file on him, he said. “The one thing he always said was never ever do anything wrong because they might deport you.”Reuse content