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In the service of the
By Shraga Elam and Dennis
In the late 1940s, Walther (Walter) Rauff, an SS
officer who was responsible for the murder of at least 100,000 people and was
wanted by the Allies as a war criminal, was employed by the Israeli secret
service. Instead of bringing him to justice it paid him for his services and
helped him escape to South America. Documents
of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that have been released over the
past several years show that the Americans were aware that Rauff's
case was not exceptional.
A CIA memorandum dated March 24, 1950 describes the relations between the
Israel agent Edmond (Ted) Cross, whose name is deleted on this document, and a
Nazi named Janos Walberg: "Subject's engagement
be [sic] the Israeli Intelligence Service would fit into the picture as
revealed by talks with X [Edmond (Ted) Cross a.k.a. Magen
or Crowder] consisting in the utilization of former Nazi elements for
observation and penetration in the Arab countries. The attempt to send the
well-known former SS Colonel Walter Rauff to Egypt
having failed, the Israeli Service with all probability (however this has not
yet been confirmed) had engaged Subject [Walberg], whose sentiments and past
would arouse no suspicions in Egypt that he is a Jewish agent."
An earlier document, from February 1950, states that Cross helped Rauff obtain the necessary papers for immigration to South
America, even though the attempt to send him to Egypt had failed. Why, though, did Israel help Rauff? This document provides a hint: "It is not
improbable that Subject's presence in Syria
was in connection with a mission for the Israel[i]
service." Rauff was indeed in Syria, serving
as military adviser to President Hosni Zaim, who sought a peace agreement with Irsael.
Rauff was forced to leave after Zaim
was deposed in a military coup.
The mission Rauff was to have carried out in Egypt is not
known, but his connection with Cross may supply more than a hint. According to
research by Ruth Kimche, a former Mossad
employee, Cross was sent in July 1948, as the War of Independence raged, to
assassinate several key figures in Egypt with the help of a group of
Jews. At the last minute the mission was called off. Cross returned to Egypt in
September, but again the plan was not executed, probably because he became
entangled in a love affair with the Egyptian Princess Amina
Nur a-Din and had to leave the country. According to Kimche, "The whole story is very reminiscent of the
Lavon Affair of the 1950s, except that fortunately for them the 1948 plan was
not implemented, apparently thanks to the Egyptian princess."
But the plan was not jettisoned, either. In 1949, as the U.S. documents show, Cross wanted to sent Rauff to Egypt.
According to another document in Rauff's CIA file, Rauff did not reach Egypt,
but a 1953 memorandum quotes the U.S.
ambassador to Egypt
as saying that a man named Rauff was in the country.
True, the memorandum describes this Rauff as a Pole,
but it also notes that he organized the extermination of Jews in Poland, making
it very likely that the reference is to the famous Nazi officer.
Rauff was born in 1906. He served in the German Navy
from the age of 18. In 1937 he was dismissed for conduct unbecoming an officer
due to adultery. A close friend and fellow former naval officer, Reinhard Heydrich, who was then
deputy commander of the SS under Heinrich Himmler,
helped get him into the Nazi organization. Initially Rauff
served in SS headquarters in Berlin.
After the conquest of Norway
in 1940 he headed the security police there for three months. That year he was
reinstated in the Navy, at his request, and commanded a fleet of minesweepers,
but in 1941 Heydrich summoned him back to SS
When Heydrich was appointed governor of occupied Czechoslovakia, Rauff
accompanied him to Prague
as his technical assistant. He returned to Berlin in June 1942, after Heydrich's assassination by the Czech resistance. Rauff was appointed head of the SS Technical Department and
was responsible for the project of extermination using gas vans. After Jews and
others were herded into the back of a gas van, the vehicle was sealed and the
exhaust pipe introduced into the back. When the engine was turned on the fumes
killed everyone in the back of the vehicle. Between 97,000 and 200,000 people,
most of them Jews, were murdered in this way. This method of mass murder was
too slow and cumbersome for the Nazis, however, who went on to develop the gas
chambers using Zyklon B as the killing agent.
From July 1942 until May 1943, Rauff also commanded
the Einsatzkommando (a unit of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing squads that were in
charge of annihilating Jews) in North Africa and was responsible for
concentrating the Jews in Tunisia.
In July 1943, after a brief stay in Berlin, he
was made commander of the Einsatzkommando in Corsica,
and from September 1943 until the end of the war was the SS Kommandant
in Milan. As
such, he took part in the secret negotiations that led to the surrender of the
Nazis in northern Italy.
Rauff, unlike other Nazis who participated in the
talks, was arrested by the Allies on April 30, 1945. In 1947 he escaped and was
recruited for Syrian intelligence by Captain Akram Tabara, who gave his name as Dr. John Homsi.
Rauff advised President Hosni
Zaim in Syria and was arrested on the day
of the coup against him. Rauff managed to convince
his captors that he was only an adviser and had no command powers; he was
released but ordered to leave the country.
According to one of the versions in the CIA files, Rauff
was suspected of ties to "subversive Communist activity," as the
agent of a German named Von Lipkau. After Rauff's expulsion from Syria,
he was supposed to accompany Lipkau to India to
disseminate Communist propaganda. According to one CIA report, the mission was
aborted because Lipkau remained in Tel Aviv due to
From Damascus Rauff went to Beirut, and from there
With the assistance of Israeli, and apparently also British intelligence, he
sailed for South America in December 1949. He
settled in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. A 1953
report put him in Buenos Aires,
where he probably headed an anti-Communist group. In 1958 Rauff
moved to Chile,
obtaining permanent residency status there a year later. He became a cattle and
fish merchant and was described as a rancher and an industrialist. His son, also
named Walter, was accepted to the Chilean naval academy and was the protege of Chief of Staff General Carlos Prats, a supporter of the socialist President Salvador Allende. The son denies that his father ever worked for Israel.
On December 19, 1962, Rauff was arrested in Chile after West Germany requested his
Supreme Court refused the request and released Rauff.
Allende's election as president did not change the
situation: in a friendly letter to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal Allende wrote that he could not reverse the court's 1962
In September 1973, Allende was killed in a military
coup against his democratically elected government. A few months later, the
French paper Le Monde reported that Rauff was
appointed head of Chile's
intelligence service; the report was denied by the Chilean government. Ten
years later, in January 1984, Chile
turned down an extradition request for Rauff from Israel's
Justice Ministry. A month later, West Germany repeated its
extradition request. Chile
said the case would be reopened only if it were presented with evidence of new
crimes. Extraditing Rauff would not serve any public
interest in Chile,
the court said, since he had lived in the country for many years and his
behavior was always beyond reproach.
The U.S. government got into
the act, emphasizing to Chile
its conviction that Nazi criminals must face trial. The Santiago government came under heavy
international pressure to extradite Rauff. Both
President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher addressed
the issue in 1984, but their comments did not impress Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The Nazi hunter Beate
Klarsfeld traveled to Chile to organize protests over the
issue and was arrested twice for disturbing the peace.
Then director general of Israel's
Foreign Ministry, David Kimche, visited Santiago in 1984. The
press reported that he urged his hosts to deport Rauff,
whom he described as one of the major war criminals living in a Western
country. His wife, Ruth Kimche, said on behalf of her
husband that he does not recall this; they were in Chile on a private visit, she says.
The sincerity of the Israeli efforts toward Rauff's
capture can be gauged from the fact that already in 1979 Israel sold patrol boats to Chile and then
overhauled Chilean war planes, and in 1984 was still assisting with their
Rauff died of lung cancer in May 1984. The statement
issued by the Israeli embassy sounded like a sigh of relief: "The problem
with Mr. Rauff is now solved. God has tried
The fact that Rauff supplied intelligence to Israel
has been published before, but for some reason the reports did not generate a
public debate over the moral implications of Israel's providing protection to a
major Nazi criminal, who was the subject of an international campaign by Nazi
hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Beate Klarsfeld to bring him to trial. Similarly, the renowned
U.S. Holocaust researcher Richard Breitman, who as
director of historical research for the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency
Working Group reviewed Rauff's CIA file, chose to
ignore information indicating that Israeli intelligence systematically employed
Nazis in Arab countries.
According to CIA records Rauff's handler was Ted
Cross, whose Hebrew name was David Magen. Cross was
recruited in 1948 for clandestine activity by Asher Ben-Natan,
director of operations in the Foreign Ministry's Political Department, which
served as the precursor to the Mossad. Cross was
fluent in several languages and had served in British intelligence in World War
According to an article by Gil Meltzer in the daily Yedioth
Ahronoth from a year ago, Cross - who was from a
wealthy Jewish Budapest family named Gross - was an international adventurer, a
hedonist and a womanizer. To pay for his flashy lifestyle, he dealt in drugs.
When Israel discovered that
he had also sold his services as an agent to Egypt - for the very handsome sum
of $20,000 - he was arrested and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. After his
release he went into the restaurant business and, among other things, helped
found the Wimpy's hamburger chain.
Can the Israeli government be blamed for the ties between Cross and Rauff, or was this a private initiative by the double
agent? The CIA, it turns out, did not know some important details about Rauff's connections with Israeli intelligence.
In Passover of 1993, Shlomo Nakdimon
published an interview with Shalhevet Freier in Yedioth Ahronoth. In the late 1940s Freier
was a branch director in the Foreign Ministry's Political Department, and in
the 1970s he chaired the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. He has since died. In
the interview he related how he had recruited Rauff
after friends in the Italian Foreign Ministry tipped him off about the new
arrival. Rauff was using an alias at the time.
According to Freier, then, it was the Political
Department that employed Rauff; there is no mention
of Cross in his interview.
Freier told Nakdimon that
Ben-Natan and the director of the Political Department, came to Italy
especially "in order to watch the adviser to the president of Syria enter the house of their man in Rome." Freier introduced himself to Rauff
as a representative of Israeli intelligence. For an entire month the Nazi
criminal sat and wrote a report on Syria's military deployment.
"When he didn't know the answer to a question, Rauff
called friends in Syria
for additional information," Freier said. The
Israeli government not only paid Rauff, but also
arranged for a legitimate Italian visa. Rauff, his
wife and their children sailed from Genoa to South America. He handed Freier
the last part of the report in the port.
The CIA received information that Rauff had acted on
behalf of British intelligence in Syria and gave his handlers a copy
of the Syrian intelligence service and political police reorganization plan. He
seems to have been the servant of several masters at once. According to the CIA
documents, in November 1949 Rauff arrived in Rome from Beirut
and stayed at the Pensione Telentino
under the name of Walter Ralf. Sources at the hotel said that he had little
money and lived frugally. He had no visitors and received only a few telephone
calls. A Catholic priest known for his Nazi leanings gave Rauff
40,000 lire. On December 17, 1949, Rauff set sail for
Both the ticket and his passport were supplied by either Israeli or British
In January 1950, Cross told CIA agents that Rauff had
and had severed his ties with Israeli intelligence, but had left behind many
interesting documents. Cross promised to bring them to the next meeting, but
the agents did not really believe him.
Freier said in the interview that Rauff
continued to write to him. He told Nakdimon that he
maintained contact with the Nazi "because I thought that one day I might
need him. The Arabs trusted him."
Ben-Natan, who later served as director general of
the Defense Ministry and ambassador to France
and to Germany,
now confirms that Freier employed Rauff
but says he received a report from him to this effect only post factum. In retrospect, Ben-Natan
today believes it was a mistake to forge ties with the Nazi criminal, but
emphasizes that he provided very important material.
In the memoirs he published five years ago, Ben-Natan
has a different account. He writes that Freier
"succeeded in sending to Syria
a former Nazi officer, who upon his return brought information about the
deployment of the Syrian army." Ben-Natan
confirms that the officer was Rauff, but is not
absolutely certain which version is correct. In writing the book, he says, he
relied solely on his memory.
What did the Israelis who hired Rauff know about his
past? Were they aware of the gravity of his crimes? Asked by Nakdimon whether he knew at the time that Rauff was responsible for the gas-vans and the death of up
to 200,000 people, Freier said he was not: "I
asked him about his past, and he claimed that he had been the Gestapo official
in charge of forging British pounds in order to subvert the British economy.
Only years later did I hear on the radio that the Americans, after decoding
files of senior Nazis, stated that Rauff had been in
charge of all the engineering activity of the Gestapo."
It is difficult to believe that Freier did not know
who he was recruiting. On May 2, 1945, many newspapers reported that "the
infamous Colonel Rauff, the long-sought head of the
SS in Milan,
was captured." On October 19, 1945, Rauff, in
American captivity, signed a sworn declaration admitting his involvement in
killing Jews in the gas-vans. This document was submitted at the Nuremberg trials,
together with a letter from his subordinate, Dr. August Becker, which contained
a report about technical problems in the mass murder of the Jews. Apart from
this, Rauff's name appears 31 times in the
transcripts of the Nuremberg
trials. This information was readily available: all one had to do was contact
Dr. Robert Kempner, an American Jew who was the deputy chief prosecutor at
Nuremberg, or the Jewish observers who followed the trials. Ben-Natan, who collected material about Nazi war criminals
during this period in Europe, confirms that this
information was available.
Rauff's mention in connection with the SS project to
forge British banknotes calls into question another operation in which Freier was involved. At the end of the war, a Jew named Jaac Van Harten, one of the
central agents of the forgery project, contacted Jewish soldiers from Palestine in northern Italy and offered them large
quantities of forged banknotes in return for protection. (An article about this
episode appeared in this magazine in 2000.)
In addition to large sums of money, Van Harten was
also in possession of a large quantity of jewelry. Shmuel
Ossia, an associate of Freier,
testified that Freier interrogated Van Harten at length about his past. Ossia remembers seeing the
frightened Van Harten in the corridor during the
interrogation, which went on for a few days. Van Harten
undoubtedly related how he had helped Himmler's
special envoy, Kurt Becher, who was in charge of
plundering the property of Hungarian Jewry, and revealed what he knew about the
source of the forged British money, which later, thanks to Van Harten, would become a crucial source of funding for the
illegal immigration and arms purchasing operations of the Haganah,
the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces.
The extent of Freier's awareness of Van Harten's deeds is shown not only by the commanders of the
illegal immigration project (Aliyah Bet), but also by
the fact that in an interview to the historian Nana Sagi
in 1966, he said with feigned innocence that he did not understand how no reference
was made to Van Harten in the Kastner
and Eichmann trials. Sagi
did not ask Freier why he did not use his extensive
connections to address the issue.
The Americans arrested Van Harten in Italy, on
suspicion of abetting the escape of Nazi war criminals. The Mossad
l'Aliya Bet - the clandestine organization of the
Jewish community in pre-1948 Palestine,
which was in charge of the illegal immigration of Jews to the country - tried
to obtain Van Harten's release. Yitzhak Tamari, an
[Israeli] soldier in the [British army]
who knew why Van Harten had been arrested, protested
to the commander of the Haganah unit in Italy, Eliahu Ben Hur (Cohen). Ben Hur, who later became a major general in the IDF, told
Tamari that Van Harten had been promised protection
and a gentleman always keeps his word.
Following Van Harten's release, in 1946, Ben Hur instructed his father, Abba Cohen, Tel Aviv's fire
chief, to help Van Harten acclimatize. Van Harten opened a jewelry store on Nahalat Binyamin Street,
near the Carmel
produce market. Abba Cohen later got a job in one of Van Harten's
businesses. Van Harten died in 1973, a respected
businessman and a resident of the upscale community of Savyon
who during the war had used his money and connections to save Jews and smuggle
out valuables for them, particularly jewelry. His family stuck to this account
even after the publication of the article in 2000. The jewelry store, by the
way, closed down soon after the article appeared.
Freier also helped Van Harten
in 1947, when the British wanted to deport him. He put him in touch with the
Jerusalem lawyer Mordechai Eliash
and was probably also responsible for a letter sent to the British by Golda Meyerson (Meir), as the acting
foreign minister of the Jewish Agency, stating that Van Harten
was under the protection of the pre-State Jewish community, the Yishuv, because he had ostensibly helped save Jews.
But Van Harten was small fry compared to Rauff, who was a criminal on the same scale as Eichmann. It is thus not surprising that Klarsfeld, who invested considerable efforts to bring Rauff to trial, almost slammed down the telephone receiver
when she heard that he had been employed by Israeli intelligence and had
received its assistance in escaping to Europe.
"In 1984, when I campaigned in Chile for Rauff's
extradition, I had no knowledge of so-called 'contacts' between him and the Mossad," Klarsfeld wrote in
an e-mail. "I doubt that it could have been possible, because Rauff was well-known in the Jewish world for his role in
the gassing program by trucks and also because he persecuted the Jews of
Tunisia when he was head of the Nazi police in Tunisia, and he persecuted the
Jews in Italy when he was head of the Nazi police in Milano."
Similarly, the director of the Israeli office of the California-based Simon Wiesenthal
Center, Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, finds it improbable that Freier
did not know about Rauff's crimes. W
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Last update - 18:20 29/03/2007
Rauff vs. the Yishuv
By Shraga Elam
and Dennis Whitehead
Last year, German historians, Klaus Michael-Mallmann
and Martin Cueppers, published a dramatic item. They
maintain that German documents show that a team headed by Walter Rauff planned to exterminate the Yishuv,
the Jewish community of Palestine,
after capturing the country from the British. The 24-member Einsatzkommando
Agypten was sent to Athens in July 1942 to prepare the operation.
On July 20, Rauff flew to Tobruk
to discuss the matter with Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.
Presumably only the defeat of the Axis forces in the Battle of El-Alamein, in October 1942, saved the Yishuv.
The revelation stirred an international tempest, but from the documents it is
difficult to know what Rauff's mission actually was.
According to the documents, the team was authorized to take administrative
measures against the civilian population. The German researchers found a
similarity between the formulation of the order that Rauff
received and those leading to the murder of Jews in the occupied regions of the
Soviet Union, and concluded that the same goal was set for Egypt and Palestine.
However, in North Africa these orders were
applied more moderately, probably because of Rommel's
The German journalist Wolfgang Loehde interviewed Rauff's assistant, Theodor Saevecke, who confirmed that Rommel
opposed the plan. According to an American memorandum in the CIA files, Rauff flew to Rommel's
headquarters to discuss the annihilation of Cairo's Jews but Rommel
was disgusted by the plan and sent Rauff packing.
In their first article the German historians did not refer to the memorandum,
and in their detailed book they decided, without providing a reasonable
explanation, that it was not credible.
Rauff's file in Britain,
which was recently declassified, contains a report of his interrogation by the
British in Italy
following his arrest at the end of the war. According to the report, Rauff said he had flown to Tobruk
in July 1942 for a talk with Rommel, in which it was
agreed that the arrival of the Einsatzkommando in North Africa "had been too long delayed to be of any
value." This is diplomatic language attesting to Rommel's
objections as well as to the cancellation of the mission.