Once again the inner mysteries of the Third Reich are the subject of controversy. As ever, there are two problems: who is telling the truth, and what are their motives? Documents are suspect. If the Goebbels diaries are genuine, did their author, or those who came after him, distort what he knew?
Memory is even less reliable: see the discredited eye-witness testimony in John Demjanjuk's trial. Here is the story of what happened when a set of documents came to light, giving details of the post-war protection of a Nazi mass-murderer that would rock the governments of Britain and the US
THE DATE on the four-page document was 30 November 1948, and it carried the signatures of two officers of the US Counter-Intelligence Corps, stationed in occupied Berlin. It arrived in London through the post, from a man in California, and it revealed potentially the biggest of all the scandals involving the Allies' post-war protection of top Nazis.
The document was headed 'Soviet Investigations: Project Uebersee/3'. Some passages had been painstakingly obliterated; since the 'SECRET' stamps had been crossed through, it could be assumed that the blocking-out of individual sentences and paragraphs had been made during an official declassification process. But what was left was still dynamite.
The author of the report, Special Agent Severin F Wallach, described measures taken by British and American intelligence agencies to protect from Soviet detection two former SS generals: Heinrich Muller, head of the Gestapo from 1935 to 1945, and Odilo Globocnik, whose last posting before the Nazis' defeat was on the Adriatic seaboard, with responsibility for anti-partisan warfare in the three-frontier area around Trieste.
Rumours that 'Gestapo' Muller had evaded death in Berlin have circulated for years. Sightings have been reported in South America, Cairo, Damascus, Moscow and East Berlin. Certainly a man with his experience had to be of considerable interest to the intelligence services of many countries. It was not surprising to find his name on such a document. But the idea that the Allies might have saved Globocnik was nothing short of staggering.
Born in Trieste of Austrian parents in 1904, Globocnik was an early 'illegal' Nazi and favourite of Himmler, and was named the first Gauleiter of Vienna in 1938. In 1941, Himmler entrusted him with a new post, SS and Police Leader of Lublin in occupied Poland, and a very special assignment - to carry out the Aktion Reinhard, the strategy for the extermination of the Jews. He built, staffed and operated the four extermination camps of Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. By late 1943, when these killing centres, plus the labour-cum-extermination camp of Majdanek, also in his charge, were closed down as the Russians approached, Globocnik had been directly responsible for the murder of at least three million men, women and children.
'Dear Globus,' Himmler wrote in November 1943, addressing him by his schoolboy nickname, 'I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 4.11.43, and your report on the completion of the Aktion Reinhard . . . For the great and unique service you have rendered to all of the German people in carrying out the Aktion Reinhard, please accept my gratitude . . .'
Globocnik was captured by British troops in Carinthia in May 1945 and apparently committed suicide a few hours later. But the events of those days were often murky and difficult to confirm. Was it conceivable, as Wallach's report stated, that in 1948 the Allies could have been willing - by then in full knowledge of the crimes in Poland, which were revealed months after the end of the war - to save this man, and to establish him with a new identity, first in Canada, then in the United States?
Our source for these documents had not the slightest doubt of their authenticity. Peter Stahl is a collector and dealer in 'militaria' and Third Reich memorabilia who lives in California. There are said to be 3,000 such people in America, and many others in Europe. Some of them, like the late Marquess of Bath, who reputedly had the largest collection in England, or Billy Price, the Texan millionaire who in 1983 privately published a handsome volume of 723 drawings and paintings by Adolf Hitler, and many other less rich and less ambitious collectors, are basically ordinary people, albeit with a quirk. Some, however, including Peter Stahl, are not ordinary. For them, collecting and dealing in these items is more than a hobby: it is a passion which dominates their lives.
Though we often spoke on the phone, I had never met Stahl. Exceptionally knowledgeable about the Third Reich, he had assisted a number of American academics in the task of finding source material, and it was a historian at one of their major institutions who five years earlier had suggested him as a useful contact.
Stahl sent me the first page of Wallach's report, and when I expressed guarded interest he sent three more. I began my research and after a further three months a three-page 'Annex', which he said had been mislaid while he moved house, also arrived. During these months his story of the provenance of the documents remained the same: he had found them in 1983, in a large file on 'Gestapo' Muller which he - or a never-to-be-named 'friend in the intelligence community' - had requested under the Freedom of Information Act from Fort Meade, the US Army Intelligence Repository in Virginia.
The presence of this 'sanitized' English-
language CIC report in the middle of 'hundreds' of German pages on Muller was, Stahl was sure, a pure accident, and the fact that such ultra-sensitive material should have been released at all simply confirmed his characteristically scathing opinion that 'the clerks at Fort Meade are idiots'.
If he had found the document in 1983, I asked, why wait several years to do anything about it? And why now pass it to me, rather than his American connections? Stahl responded that he had mentioned the possibility of Globocnik's survival to historians and US government officials several times, and their unanimous disparagement convinced him he would only make a fool of himself if he showed anyone the document. And then I remembered that in 1983 he had asked me, too, whether I was certain Globocnik had died. I had referred him to Gerald Reitlinger's book, The Final Solution, which described a British soldier photographing the corpse in order 'to have a picture of the worst man in the world'.
But the previous year, he said, he read my articles about the trial of John Demjanjuk, and had re-read my book Into that Darkness, in which Globocnik figures. He decided then that 'they' (the British and US governments) could not be allowed to get away with this. If 'they' had really saved this monstrous man, and were perhaps keeping him alive to this day on the proceeds of his awful activities in Poland, then it had to be exposed, come what may.
PETER STAHL agreed that the document had to be authenticated before one could think of publishing such an accusation, and volunteered to help the experts we would turn to. He wanted nothing for himself - neither money nor publicity. His address and phone number were not to be disclosed. If the experts wanted to talk to him, he would phone them.
The first person I turned to was Dr Robert Wolfe at the National Archives in Washington, a world authority on documentation on the Third Reich and its aftermath. When he saw the document, he was horrified: if authentic, it recorded the most outrageous act his country - and Britain - would have committed after the war. True, the language seemed extravagant in places, but many CIC agents were men of foreign extraction whose English was stilted. And the patchiness of the 'sanitizing' could be due to the inexperience or apathy of the clerks who prepared documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act. In view of the then-recent disclosures of CIC's misdeeds in the case of Klaus Barbie, it seemed only too possible that the document was genuine.
And when Dr Wolfe took it to the director of the Fort Meade Repository, Colonel Walsh, his reaction was that, except for a declassification stamp which was missing (not a unique occurrence), it looked authentic. Col Walsh would assign an assistant to look for either the original, or any other documents that might substantiate it.
In the meantime, in the Public Records Office at Kew, we had found a detailed account of Globocnik's capture and suicide in Carinthia, in the mountains of central Austria, on 31 May 1945. The War Diary of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars described how an SS sergeant being held prisoner by the British at their headquarters in Paternion, up the Drau valley from Villach, had told his captors that Globocnik and five of his staff were hiding in a mountain hut, and guided a 30-strong expedition in a successful dawn raid. The captives - who included an unexpected prize, the local Gauleiter - denied any knowledge of the SS or Globocnik. They were brought down to the Hussars' headquarters in Paternion Castle, and were locked up. One man who claimed to be a merchant from Klagenfurt, however, was kept in the courtyard of the castle. The diary says:
'1130: Man who was suspected of being GLOVOCNIK (sic) was trapped into acknowledging his name by a slight movement of his head when Major RAMSAY shouted his name across the courtyard. He was ordered into arrest and poisoned himself with Prussic acid while walking 150 yds between the castle yard and the prison . . .
1200: Three subjects on viewing the body of GLOVOCNIK confessed their (SS) identities.'
So this was the account prepared within days of the incident - surely that was definitive? And yet, wasn't calling out a name a rather banal way of 'trapping' someone? Might not anyone hearing a sudden shout respond with 'a slight movement of the head'? There were no independent witnesses who knew him, only members of his own staff. Could there have been a misidentification - or perhaps a conspiracy by his own men?
Dr Wolfe had soon found in the National Archives another report by Special Agent Severin Wallach, concerning the 20 July plot on Hitler's life: it confirmed that Wallach had indeed been working in Berlin at the time when the report produced by Stahl was written. But given the urgency Dr Wolfe had impressed upon Fort Meade, their search appeared frustratingly half-hearted.
At the end of April, Wolfe decided that restraint was ineffective, and wrote an official letter, requesting all information held on Muller or Globocnik. Col Walsh was on holiday, but a few days later Dr Wolfe had a phone call from an assistant to say that they had no information at all on Muller - the head of Nazi Germany's secret police. That was incredible enough, but it was followed by a letter extending this absence of knowledge to Globocnik: they claimed to have nothing at all on the man in charge of the murder of the Jews in Poland.
One person who appeared entirely unsurprised by these developments was Peter Stahl, who had said from the start that such an embarrassing document would have been removed or destroyed after the revelations of the Barbie case. Meanwhile his files had arrived at his house, and he sent a three-page document titled 'The Development and Usage of Former Senior SS Officers'.
This was an even more disturbing document, allegedly written by Wallach's superior, Andrew Venters, whose signature was also immediately authenticated from known documents. It included a simplistic account of the political situation and the 'valuable contribution' Muller had made to Western intelligence, plus a suggestion that Hitler had survived the war and a mention of the 'vast sums' Martin Bormann had transferred abroad. And it attributed to 'the British' an outrageous suggestion that 'in the event it should prove necessary . . . to take military action against the Zionists . . . former SS men such as Globocnik . . . (could) be set up in Syria in the event they are needed as specialists in . . . coping with dissident elements.'
My immediate reaction was to dismiss it as grotesque, and cancel plans to visit Carinthia to verify the story of Globocnik's suicide. But American experts familiar with CIC reports assured me that such reporting methods were at times resorted to, to shock reluctant 'brass' into action. It seemed that finding out what really happened in Paternion in May 1945 was now doubly essential: if I could be sure that Globocnik had died there, the document was a fake, whatever the mystery in Washington. But if I could not confirm his death, Dr Wolfe would carry his search beyond Fort Meade.
Over the next three weeks, interviews first in northern Italy - Globocnik's last stamping ground before retreating to the Carinthian Alps - and around Paternion, the picturesque village where he allegedly died, produced striking contradictions and improbabilities in the eye-witness reports. In Italy we talked to Dr Pier Arrigo Carnier, whose book, Lo Stermino Mancato, containing a detailed account of Globocnik's retreat and death, based entirely on eye-witness reports - above all by former SS Major Ernst Lerch, Globocnik's favoured aide in Lublin and in Trieste - had just been republished. Dr Carnier described a violent argument between Globocnik and a British Field Security officer, Captain Josep, during which a furious Globocnik was threatened with immediate deportation to Yugoslavia. It was after this ruthless interrogation, Carnier was told by Lerch and other 'eye-witnesses', that Globocnik committed suicide.
But it was not true: there was no such interrogation, and although there was an FS officer named Josep, he did not arrive in Paternion until later. Why had the story been planted?
Frau Brabeck, the sprightly 82-year-old widow of the castle's former estate manager, was able to provide a minute description of a 'massive' man in a navy-blue suit and white shirt, nervously chain-smoking while 'to all appearances totally unguarded' as he paced up and down the courtyard. 'That's a candidate for suicide,' she had told her sister-in-law. Was it possible that a suspected war criminal had been left unguarded in an open courtyard?
Herbert Dunkl, now a local businessman, told us that he and two young friends had rushed up to the castle when they heard of the Gauleiter's capture. They had seen a group of prisoners walking toward them from the jailhouse, and witnessed a man on the Gauleiter's right collapse on the path, after which the British chased them away. But the War Diary stated that the suicide occurred on the way to the prison, and this was confirmed to us by Ernst Lerch, during a four-hour interview in Klagenfurt. He said it took place in full view of a window in his cell. He watched Globocnik die, he said. How could these tales be reconciled? Another prisoner, formerly a propaganda chief in the region, had told his daughter that the suicide took place at night, not 11.30am, and that they were woken up to identify the body. He had remembered being shocked when the prisoners were forced to watch the body being thrown into a hole in 'a pig-field', after which 'tanks' drove over it to remove the traces. But the record shows (and the British officers present confirmed to us later) that none of this was true, either: the burial took place that evening, when the prisoners had already been dispersed to interrogation centres. There were no tanks in Paternion. And Frau Maria Tschernutter had watched the hasty burial that spring night in 1945 with her young farmer husband from their attic across the road. She still lives on the same farm and, after considerable urging, she pointed out the burial corner: 200 metres away from a garbage dump, on the other side of the road.
We had tried to find the photograph of Globocnik's body mentioned by Gerald Reitlinger. Research at Kew and other archives not only turned up no trace of it, but threw doubt on the whole story - as, clearly, while the Allies already knew a lot about the concentration camps, such as Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Dachau, the extermination camps in Poland remained unknown for months. As late as July 1945, on a list of wanted war criminals at Kew which includes the name of every concentration camp commander, not one of the staff of the Polish murder camps was mentioned. Globocnik was on a British 'wanted' list in May 1945, but not for his role in Poland. For the British troops who captured him, his SS activities in Trieste were quite enough to make him a prime target.
Copies of one photograph did finally turn up, both in the Klagenfurt court records, and also in the papers kept by relatives of the former Gauleiter of the area, who were eager to help. It showed six prisoners and several British soldiers, standing next to an object on the ground, so blurred as to be barely recognisable as a human body, but identified in the caption as the corpse of Globocnik.
How was one to distinguish between memory and myth? Between truth and lies? And given that 'CIC report', which even after months of investigation no one had been able to discredit, how could one be sure the blur in the photograph was the dead Odilo Globocnik?
OF ALL THE people we saw in Austria, Globocnik's 42-year-old son Peter was probably the most impressive. He was born in January 1946 in Wolfsberg - where, prior to the birth, his mother, once the leader of Carinthia's Federation of German Girls, was interned with thousands of other ranking Nazis.
Incredibly, it turns out that Lore Globocnik was half-Jewish. She had married Globocnik in October 1944. Peter never knew his father, and his mother - who died in 1974 - would hardly talk about him. As he grew up he devoured any information he could find, but there was no one he could really ask about his father: the only Carinthian known to have been with him in Poland and to have remained at liberty, Ernst Lerch, had always refused to see him.
How did he feel about it all?
'I don't know what to feel,' he replied, sounding forlorn. 'I've listened to three old men, the only people who knew him, but they were his friends. I've read all the proof for and all the claims against the Holocaust. If I believe the 'pros' . . . then, well, I have to believe that my father . . .' He stopped. 'But if I believe the 'contras', then I'd be siding with people whose ideological and political motivation I abhor.'
Had he heard of money and valuables brought out by his father when his group retreated to Austria? His mother, he said, had their house repaired after the British, who had requisitioned it in May 1945, moved out. But he had never seen any indication of real money, and his mother had always worked. There was some furniture, he said, and showed us a large inlaid desk and an antique cupboard. 'That's all that came here,' he said, 'but there's lots more which was left at the Hotel Enzian on the Weissensee, where they stayed for a while before hiding in the mountains.' (Lerch had told Dr Carnier of a convoy of trucks coming from Italy, and to me he would not deny that they contained gold, money and other valuables.)
Had he considered the possibility that his father might have survived?
'Of course. There were always rumours. And so many did survive. Still . . . if he made a new life, perhaps even had a new family, wouldn't he have wanted to know about me?'
Peter Globocnik was the last major witness we saw in Austria. And, significantly, he demonstrated deep distrust of his father's closest aide, Ernst Lerch, who had told us what we knew was a lie - that he had actually seen Globocnik commit suicide, from a vantage- point which didn't exist.
The West German office for investigation into Nazi crimes at Ludwigsburg found a transcript of the interrogation of his mother in the course of an investigation in 1964 into a 'suggestion that Globocnik may still be alive'. It seemed curious that Lore had rejected three requests over the years to authorise the exhumation and examination of the body.
The conflicting evidence certainly left open the possibility of a substitution in May 1945. And Fort Meade's apparent reluctance to co- operate fully with Dr Wolfe led to his decision at the end of June to hand over the investigation to a young historian at the Justice Department's Office for Special Investigations (OSI) - who had investigated America's involvement with Barbie and Mengele. This was the only US government agency with the motivation, the clout and indeed the obligation to find the answers we sought.
But Peter Stahl was an increasing worry. Now he was going back on a months-old promise to send us two more pages of the report as soon as he could extricate them from his mass of documents. He had described them from memory as 'a kind of US Army transfer order', indicating that on such and such a date 'subjects' would be transferred from Berlin's Tempelhof airport to Rhein-Main airport in Frankfurt, from there to an intermediate point, and then transhipped overseas. Globocnik, whose new name and Yugoslav passport number were cited on the first page, would go to Canada, and Muller to Miami. On the second sheet - just handwritten notes, he said - was the number of an account which had been opened for one of them - Globocnik, he thought - at the Chase National Bank.
He had now found these pages, he told us the day we returned from Austria. With the OSI getting into the act, though, he thought he would hold on to them as his 'hole card', a sort of insurance policy. But I had to see these papers, and two days later I left for California.
I HAD MEANT to surprise Peter Stahl, but he found out I was coming and his little box of a house in a Californian desert town was immaculate but also empty of life: no books or papers and - I was to find - no food or drink. Even in the bathroom there was nothing but an old cake of soap and a crumpled hand-towel. Disconcertingly, the house felt like a place that had been hastily 'sanitized'. A beautiful silver bitch, part wolf and part German shepherd, lay at either Stahl's or his son Greg's feet during most of my two days there and several decrepit German shepherd dogs wandered in and out constantly. 'I won't put down any animals,' Stahl said. It was a curious introduction to this curious man.
He is in his late fifties, tall, with cropped grey hair and a firm handshake. He talks in a torrent of words, with an educated but tight American voice, often dropping in German words in a heavy accent. He gives the impression of being a tense, guarded man, but with an overriding need to impress.
He and his son were living there under a cover name and with an unlisted phone, he said. Two years earlier he had given away to the FBI and the California authorities a couple of wrongdoers - one an arsonist who had burnt down the house of a Jew, the other a man who wanted him to help smuggle plastic handguns into the US. Both were now after him.
It was unfortunate, he said almost gleefully, that I hadn't let him know that I was coming. As soon as he had learned that the OSI were involved, he had sent the papers we wanted along with his other valuable things to relatives in Illinois for safe-keeping. He was afraid of the US Army's reaction - he was absolutely sure they wouldn't stand still to be 'investigated by this agency they loathe and despise'. And as the OSI was 'the leakiest body in Washington', he was sure the army would soon have his name and come banging on his door, demanding that he hand over everything he had. But I had to have those papers. I suggested that he come with me to Illinois to pick them up, and he agreed.
The next morning he told me he had been telephoning much of the night, trying to find the relatives, who had apparently gone off on a two-week trip, visiting various members of the family. We would just have to wait, he said.
How about the rest of the Muller file, I asked. It would help in the archives search - was it also in Illinois? No, he said. As I had said I was only interested in Globocnik, he'd sold it to a client in the Washington area. But he had protected us - he had blacked out all mentions of Globocnik. No, he hadn't kept a copy.
Dr Wolfe had been stonewalled by Fort Meade; now I felt I had been filibustered by Stahl. I had no doubt that he was lying. But why? Was the whole thing a hoax, a fake? But Stahl wanted neither money (though he was obviously hard-up) nor credit. What would be the point of such a dangerous game? He had been offered several opportunities to drop the whole matter, with no hard feelings. But he insisted that the documents were genuine, and that the only important thing was to get them published, to pin the blame on the governments who had protected such a monster.
That weekend, I discussed the situation with four top OSI officials in Washington. There was complete agreement that a document so potentially damaging to the British and US governments had to be thoroughly examined. There were details which worried them: the classification, the tone, the 'sanitizing'. But, as Dr Wolfe had also found, any of these could have various explanations.
The OSI was ready now to undertake an official investigation. Their remit included access to the Fort Meade archives, forensic examination by the FBI, and psycho-linguistic analysis of the documents. I had presented them with all the findings. They would in turn keep me informed as far as they could - withholding only details which they could not properly release. The important thing now was to get Stahl's last two pages: a name and passport number could be checked in minutes. In order to motivate Stahl, I told him that the OSI, though they - like us - had serious doubts about the documents, did not suspect him personally of any wrongdoing.
Two days later, when I was back in London, Stahl telephoned. After the good news about the OSI's positive attitude toward him, he had spent a night working his way through the boxes of documents I had seen stacked high in his garage. He had suddenly found something momentous: the identity of the man who had given him the papers. It was a well-known writer on secret-service matters, who in 1983 had wanted to get from him information on intelligence in wartime Britain, which might exist in a Gestapo microfilm Stahl owned. As the writer also had a mass of documents, he asked what Stahl would like in return. Stahl said anything on Heinrich Muller would be useful.
This writer, Stahl now told me, meeting him in a Reno, Nevada, hotel in May, had brought with him the 'Muller file', mostly in German, in which he later discovered the CIC documents. He didn't think the writer - who didn't speak German, wasn't very interested in the Third Reich, and probably had never heard of Globocnik - had even looked carefully at the file. Their negotiations broke down over money, and they had barely communicated since. (The writer subsequently denied giving Stahl any such papers, though he confirmed the meeting in Reno and remembered sending him quite different documents.)
The name of the writer was now added to the list of those whose requests for material from Fort Meade would be looked at by the OSI. Meanwhile Stahl kept the transatlantic phone lines busy with more news: aware of my frustration during our visit, he had not dared to tell me that the 'Muller file' had been paginated - up to 427 - and that, fearful of leading the army back to him, he had whited out both the pagination and the declassification stamps on the papers he sent me. He was 'really sorry' about this, but the good news was that he had sent another copy of the original Xeroxed documents, including the two final pages, to a safe place 'in the Bay Area'. Now that he'd remembered who gave it to him, there was no further danger, and he would get them to me.
Our main contact at the OSI also had news: their three-man team had found, within a couple of days at Fort Meade, that there was indeed a Heinrich Muller file, but rather than showing him in the service of the West, these 40-odd pages (not 400-odd) indicated that he was suspected of working for the Russians. Added to the file, however, they found a note of recent date, obviously inserted by Fort Meade staff, that Dr Robert Wolfe had requested a Heinrich Muller file and had been informed that there was nothing on record. And the very next day an OSI investigator found three frames of microfilm relating to Globocnik. They had no visible relation to Stahl's document - but they showed again that the archive's initial denial was either a mistake, or a lie.
THE FBI's report was inconclusive: the many-times copied document did not lend itself to forensic examination, but the typewriters and typefaces were of the correct period. The OSI now had some information about the putative signatories of the documents, though they were both dead. Severin Wallach and Andrew Venters, his operations officer who countersigned the first report and was the author of the 'Annex', had worked as a team in Berlin at the relevant time. And it was quite normal for a Special Agent to prepare a report while the Operations Officer wrote an 'Annex' - an explanation or extension of the report.
The OSI also had a list of those who had requested material on Muller in the last five years, which was the limit of Fort Meade's register. The writer whom Stahl had mentioned had requested material on other subjects in that time, but nothing on Muller. They were beginning to build a picture of Peter Stahl. If the document was forged, they thought perhaps he had been used - a victim rather than a perpetrator.
Did they now think it was a forgery, I asked. 'I have a gut feeling that it is,' my OSI contact said, 'but we have no proof. We cannot specifically fault it.'
On the other hand, I had located Major Ken Hedley, who as a lieutenant in the 4th Hussars had commanded the party which captured Globocnik, and was now living in Ireland. He in turn would lead us to two other officers, Brigadier Guy Wheeler and Ted Birkett, who was the junior intelligence officer on that raid.
In May 1945 the 4th Hussars, who had crossed over into Carinthia after the last hard fighting in Italy, were euphoric that the war in Europe had ended. 'It was a beautiful spring, the place was full of delightful popsies, and we were alive,' was Ken Hedley's memory of that May in Paternion, where they had taken over the castle as their billet. There were warnings of possible 'Werewolf' activities, of SS hiding out in the nearby mountains, and a list of wanted men headed by Gauleiter Friedrich Rainer and SS General Odilo Globocnik.
'I was driving my jeep up a mountain road when I suddenly saw a Wehrmacht major in full uniform standing in the road,' Hedley told me. 'I had my pistol out quick as a flash but 'No, no,' he said, 'You don't need that - we are on your side now.' Turned out to be a thoroughly decent follow, major in the Brandenburgers - very good chaps.'
The Brandenburgers - an Abwehr special regiment, similar to the Commandos - had already reported to British Intelligence at Spittal, had heard they were looking for the Gauleiter and SS people, and volunteered their help in order to 'buy their ticket home'. And they delivered: the little jailhouse in the castle grounds was soon occupied by a string of SS men picked up in the mountains.
On the evening of 30 May the Hussars, having discovered 'a rich liquor cache', were throwing a party at the castle. The festivities were well under way when the lock-up sergeant - 'I think he'd seen too many American films,' Hedley said - marched in and whispered to Hedley that one of the prisoners wanted to make a statement. Hedley went along, with two fellow officers - one of them Major Alex Ramsay, of Special Forces, who spoke seven languages - as witnesses.
'The young sergeant was from an SS mountain unit,' Hedley said, 'and he told us he'd been taking food up to a very special group hiding out in a mountain hut. General Globocnik was there with his staff, he said, and he could lead us up.'
Twenty-five-year-old SS Unterscharfuhrer Siegfried Kummerer's record, we found out later, was not quite as innocuous as he told his captors. A member of Carinthia's illegal Hitler Youth in the Thirties, when Globocnik was one of the top men in the movement there, he served after the Anschluss as a guard at Dachau and Mauthausen. After a brief period of combat in an SS mountain division in Finland, he was transferred for 'special training' to Lublin - Globocnik's command - and then, yet again under Globocnik, to Italy. Why would such a man betray his own commander?
A speedily organised group - three Hussar officers, the two intelligence officers, and the Brandenburger major, plus 24 soldiers - started up the mountain at 2.30am.
Ernst Lerch had told us that the fugitives stood guard at night - he had the first watch, Major Michalsen (who, in Poland, had been in charge of the Jewish transports) the second, and Major Hofle (Globocnik's executive officer) the third.
'Guards?' said Ken Hedley. ' Nonsense. It was as quiet as a grave when we got up there.'
They surrounded the house before dawn, and were ready to burst in when one man came out in shirtsleeves, stretching. 'My sergeant,' said Major Hedley, 'brawny chap, gave him a good kick in the behind to move him out of the doorway and he said - would you believe it? - 'You can't behave like this to me - I'm the Gauleiter.' Well, that was a nice surprise.'
Wheeler recalled another man coming out - he remembered him as 'small, fat, insignificant'. This was supposedly Globocnik, who was in fact inches taller than Rainer.
During a perfunctory interrogation, all the fugitives denied having anything to do with the SS. The Brandenburgers - apparently unsupervised - searched the hut and found two poison containers, one of them empty. The man Wheeler had seen coming out - whom Birkett clearly remembered as wearing 'lederhosen, a Jager (hunting) jacket and particularly nice mountain boots, which I coveted' - said he was a merchant from Klagenfurt, named Konig, and gave references there.
Hedley, eager to get his prize locked up, went down first with Rainer. 'I rather liked him,' he said. 'We talked most of the way down. He seemed a nice man.' The rest were brought down later, and were put in the lock- up, except for the 'merchant', who, after walking down with Birkett, was kept in the castle courtyard. Birkett, who spoke fluent German, talked to him for some time 'about Austria, the future, things like that. He seemed perfectly happy - an intelligent, quietly spoken man. We were preparing to let him go.'
But Kummerer, standing nearby, stopped them. 'No, no, you mustn't,' he whispered urgently to Hedley. 'That's Globocnik, you want him. Don't let him go.'
So they decided to set a little trap: Ramsay would go up to a little balcony and shout Globocnik's name, while Hedley and Birkett watched for his reaction. And sure enough, when Ramsay shouted the name in 'parade- ground tones', the prisoner - 'though he didn't falter in his stride, I'll give him that,' said Hedley - fractionally moved his head.
'I told him: 'You've given yourself away - you moved your head; you're Globocnik,' Hedley said. 'And I told the sergeant to lock him up with the others, and went up to have a bath.' Birkett and the Company Sergeant Sowler walked the prisoner out through an archway and up the path. Almost at the lock- up, Birkett was just behind him when he saw him 'hit his mouth with his right hand. He immediately collapsed on the ground.'
Lerch had told us that he watched from his cell window, and saw him bite on the pill, fall down, turn blue and die immediately. This, Birkett and Hedley said, was nonsense: he was not in sight of any cell window, he didn't turn blue, and he didn't die immediately. There was time to call Hedley from his bath, and the doctor arrived and gave two injections. 'He said it was useless,' Birkett told us. 'He'd be dead in a moment. There was a tremendous hullabaloo. Ramsay came running, and said we'd get a rocket for letting him kill himself. I said Why? Good riddance, saves a lot of trouble.'
When I showed Birkett the photograph with the blurred image of the body which I had found in Klagenfurt, he recognised the British soldiers but found the corpse quite unfamiliar. 'Funny,' he said, 'he's wearing a suit. I could have sworn it was lederhosen.' He shook his head, perplexed. 'Couldn't have been a switch, could there?'
The other prisoners were called out and given a body-search after they had identified the dead man. 'Two of them - Hofle and Lerch - handed me poison capsules,' Birkett said.
Ramsay, who always had a camera, took photographs of the British and the prisoners, with the body in the foreground, and Birkett remembered him straddling the corpse to get a close-up of the face. Ken Hedley had several of these photographs, but none in which the face of the corpse was identifiable. Birkett had once had a full set of enlargements, but they had disappeared. Neither Hedley, Wheeler nor Birkett could recognise Globocnik on several photographs we showed them.
So the possibility of a mistake still existed: a loud shout of the name; a fractional movement of a head; a man dying, watched from a non-
existent vantage point by his closest aide; and the identification made only by his staff - all men profoundly implicated in the crimes in Poland, all men who knew about trucks full of money and valuables which they had brought into Carinthia during their escape from northern Italy and which had since disappeared.
A statement by Dr M C Leigh of the Army Medical Corps, sent to Vienna by the Foreign Office, and here re-
translated from German, was carefully phrased. 'Dr Leigh says that he is not in a position to confirm Major Hedley's statement that Globocnik's identity was incontestably established. All he can say is that the man Major Hedley described as Globocnik died in his presence.' Dr Leigh is now dead. Could the British have been fooled?
PETER STAHL was being totally unhelpful. The last pages were refused, then promised again, but did not arrive. The OSI were stymied: they could not authenticate the document, but except for that 'gut feeling' they couldn't declare it a fake either.
Finally Stahl did send a 'Muller file' and new copies of the original papers, this time with pagination restored - or added - but still without the declassification stamps. These bore no resemblance to the file he had described: in fact they were photocopies of records from the Berlin Document Centre. He said it was his lawyer's fault: he didn't read German, and sent the wrong papers.
In Washington, several former CIC officers had been contacted and, while some were understandably reticent and all were appalled at the prospect of further scandalous disclosures, none seemed to consider that it was impossible. Severin Wallach, Viennese by birth and a lawyer by profession, was described as a brilliant and solitary man, convinced of the Soviet threat. He had run 30 to 60 agents at any one time, and conceived a number of projects which he 'kept very close to his chest'. And Venters, the alleged author of the 'Annex', was apparently prone to high-flown language.
A former CIC officer whom I visited in Germany, who had worked closely with both men for years, provided an authoritative 'bottom line'. 'It is extraordinary,' he said. 'Whoever produced this had to have been in - or closely advised by someone from - Region VIII. The format is right, the methodology is correct and, given the personalities of the two people who allegedly wrote this, even the tone and the breadth of the concept fits.'
But there were two fundamental flaws, he said. First, it would have been impossible to run such a project from Soviet-infested Berlin - it would have had to be done from Frankfurt, at the US Zone headquarters. Second, the author's knowledge of Wallach and Venters was superficial. Venters was a sophisticated man. Such 'Annexes' were indeed sometimes written to set up a framework of support for projects. Familiar as Venters was with the army hierarchy, he might have 'lectured', but not in this simplistic manner, which would insult the intelligence of his superiors. Worse, in psychological terms, was the mistake about Severin Wallach: true, he was politically to the right. 'But my God,' said this officer, 'he was a Jew - almost all his family had been killed by the Nazis. Not in a million years would Severin Wallach have lifted a finger to save Globocnik, or Muller either.'
Just two days later, in Austria, I had the proof I'd sought for seven months. With the help of a former SOE officer, I located Major Alex Ramsay's widow in Vienna. She knew all about the raid, and had one photo from those her husband took in Paternion on 31 May 1945. It, too, was a picture of the corpse, and behind it were three prisoners - Hofle, Michalsen and Helletsberger. But here the face of the body on the ground - in dark suit and white shirt - was unmistakably that of Globocnik, and he was unmistakably dead.
THE FINAL PAGES never came. If Peter Stahl ever had them, he has kept them to himself, although he has subsequently tried - and failed - to provoke the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles into publicising the papers he sent me.
Many questions raised by the behaviour of various parties to the investigation remain unanswered. Why, for instance, were the OSI's efforts so half-hearted, with only one investigator left to pursue the matter, largely in his own time? Why did Fort Meade lie to Dr Wolfe about the existence of files on two important Nazis? Why has there has been no attempt in Washington to discredit the forged documents officially, even though Ramsay's decisive photograph was immediately passed to the OSI?
The American authorities have little doubt about the identity of the forger, nor that with his passion for the Germany of yesteryear, his special talents and his pathological hatred for the American - and British - establishments, he is a dangerous man. How is it that no move has been made to launch an official investigation of him? Do the US authorities really take such a light view of the forgery of government documents? Or is there another reason? Is there another secret they need to hide?
Gitta Sereny is the author of 'Into that Darkness', an examination of Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka. She is currently completing a book on Albert Speer, to be published next year.
Additional research by Don Honeyman.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies