19 June 1906|
|Died||14 May 1984
Walter Rauff (June 19, 1906 – May 14, 1984) was an SS officer in Nazi Germany, attaining the grade of Colonel (Standartenführer) in June 1944. From January 1938 he was an aide of Reinhard Heydrich firstly in the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the SS security service, later in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA, the Reich Security Main Office, a department created by Himmler in 1939 grouping the Gestapo, SD and Kripo, the criminal police. Between 1958 and 1962 he worked for the Bundesnachrichtendienst, West Germany's intelligence service. His funeral in Santiago, Chile was attended by hundreds of old Nazis.
Rauff is thought to have been responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths during the Second World War. He was instrumental in the creation of the Nazis’ “mobile gas chamber”. His victims included Communists, Jews, Roma and the physically and mentally ill. In the late 1970s and '80s, he was arguably the most wanted Nazi fugitive still alive.
According to the MI5 file on Walter Rauff released in 2005:
- "Rauff joined the Reichsmarine (the German Navy) in 1924 as a young cadet. After a period of training as a midshipman he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1936 and given command of a minesweeper. He was a friend of Reinhard Heydrich, who also served in the Navy in the 1920s. Heydrich was hired by SS chief Heinrich Himmler in 1931 to serve as the head of the SS counter-intelligence system, and when Rauff resigned from the Navy in 1937, Heydrich took him under his wing. Rauff was given the job of putting the SS and its security service, the Sicherheitsdienst, onto a war footing".
Between 1940 and 1941 Rauff went back to the Navy as a volunteer, commanding a mine sweeper flotilla in the English Channel. He was promoted Lieutenant Commander (Korvettenkapitän) in April 1941, shortly before he was discharged from active service, he then returned to the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). During early 1940 he headed the SD in German occupied Norway.
Gas van engineering
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In 1941-1942 Rauff was involved in the development of gas vans, mobile gas chambers used to fatally poison Jews, disabled people, communists and others who were considered by the SS to be enemies of the German State. According to declassified C.I.A. documents:
- "As an official of the Criminal Technical Institute of the Reich Security Main Office, Rauff designed gas vans used to murder Jews and persons with disabilities".
The MI5 file is more explicit concerning Rauff's "technical" skills:
- "Rauff supervised the modification of scores of trucks, with the assistance of a Berlin chassis builder, to divert their exhaust fumes into airtight chambers in the back of the vehicles. The victims were then poisoned and / or asphyxiated from the carbon monoxide accumulating within the truck compartment as the vehicle travelled to a burial site. The trucks could carry between 25 and 60 people at a time".
In 1972, in Santiago de Chile, Rauff made a deposition as a witness before a German prosecutor. On the subject of the extermination of Jews in Poland and Russia, asked whether at that time he had any doubts concerning the use of gas vans, Rauff answered:
- "I cannot say. The main issue for me at the time was that the shootings were a considerable burden for the men who were in charge thereof and that this burden was taken off them through the use of the gas vans".
Rauff delegated the task of keeping the gas vans operating in the Soviet Union and other Nazi-occupied areas to an SS chemist, August Becker. Becker kept Rauff fully informed on the gas van killing operations.
Persecution in Vichy-North Africa
Rauff was later involved in the persecution of Jews in Vichy-Tunisia during 1942 and 1943, continuing to implement the antisemitic Statut of the Jews enacted by pro-Nazi metropolitan Vichy.
A month after German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s defeat of the British at Tobruk in June 1942, the SS set up a special extermination unit to follow in the wake of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The unit was commanded by Rauff who was empowered to carry out "executive measures on the civilian population", the Nazi euphemism for mass murder and enslavement.
According to a 2007 German national television series, "Rauff’s mission to exterminate the Middle East's Jewish population was brought to an abrupt halt by the British 8th Army's defeat of Rommel at El Alamein in October 1942. Rommel was forced to withdraw the remnants of his army to Vichy-Tunisia, where it sustained a bridgehead until May 1943, enabling Rauff's SS to start the persecutions locally.The MI5 file records that Rauff was posted to Vichy-Tunisia in 1942 as head of the Sicherheitsdienst, where he led an Einsatzkommando (an SS task force) which conducted a "well-organised persecution campaign against the Jews and Partisans". The Jewish community was particularly hard hit:
- "More than 2,500 Jews in Nazi-occupied Vichy-Tunisia died in a network of SS slave labour camps before the Germans withdrew. Rauff's men also stole jewels, silver, gold and religious artifacts from the local Jews. Forty-three kilogrammes of gold were taken from the Jewish community on the island of Djerba alone".
Secret police boss in Northern Italy
Rauff was then sent to Milan in 1943 where he took charge of all Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst operations throughout northwest Italy. The MI5 file states:
- "In both these postings [Tunisia and northern Italy] Rauff rapidly gained a reputation for utter ruthlessness. In Tunis and Italy he was responsible for the indiscriminate execution of both Jews and local Partisans. His work in Italy involved imposing total German control on Milan, Turin and Genoa. His success in this task earned him the congratulations of his SS superior, who described it as 'a superb achievement'".
Rauff remained in Italy until the end of the war. The MI5 file states:
- "He narrowly avoided being lynched by an Italian mob, having barricaded himself and a number of other SS officers into the Hotel Regina in Milan. He was arrested by Allied troops and sent to a prisoner of war camp".
According to Rauff's declassified CIA file:
- "Near the end of the war Rauff, then the senior SS and police official in northern Italy, tried to gain credit for the surrender of German forces in Italy, but ended up only surrendering himself. After escaping from an American internment camp in Rimini, Rauff hid in a number of Italian convents, apparently under the protection of Bishop Alois Hudal".
Spy officer in the Middle East
In 1948 he was recruited by Syrian intelligence and went to Damascus where he served as military adviser to President Hosni Zaim, only to fall out of favor after a coup there a year later. According to one report, he tortured Jews in Syria.[clarification needed] He and his family then settled in Ecuador, later shifting to Chile.
After barely escaping from Syria, Rauff fled to Lebanon and later back to Italy, where he gained a transit pass for Ecuador.
Before sailing for Ecuador (December 1949), Rauff is said to have worked for a while with Israeli intelligence. In 1949 Israeli secret agent Edmond "Ted" Cross wanted to send Rauff to Egypt. The idea was the utilization of former Nazi elements for observation and penetration in the Arab countries. This attempt having failed, Edmond Cross also helped Rauff to get the necessary papers for immigration to South America.
Final refuge in Chile
After settling in Chile in 1958, Rauff worked as the manager of a king crab cannery in Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost towns in the world.
From 1959 to 1963 Rauff earned 70.000 Deutsche Marks from the West-German Bundesnachrichtendienst and he was warned (and removed from the BND) before his detention in Chile. He subsequently partially recovered the lawyer's fees from the BND. He had to build a spy network in South America.[clarification needed] He was evaluated as "untrustworthy" (charakterlich äußerst unzuverlässig), "intriguer" (er konspirierte nach allen Seiten) and drunkard (eng mit dem Alkohol befreundet).
In 1972 he confessed that in 1960 and/or 1962 he had been in Germany. He was arrested by the Chilean authorities in December 1962 after Germany requested his extradition, but was freed by Chile's Supreme Court five months later in 1963. Salvador Allende's election as Chilean president in 1970 did not change the situation. In a friendly letter to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Allende wrote that he could not reverse the Supreme Court's 1963 decision. Rauff’s case has been looked at in a 2013 book by Daniel Stahl, Nazi Hunt: South America’s Dictatorships and the Avenging of Nazi Crimes. Rauff's address in Santiago was known to post-war West Germany’s foreign ministry, and Hans Strack, the German ambassador to Chile, was ordered to request his extradition. Strack however, "sympathised with war criminals in exile and delayed applying for Rauff’s extradition for 14 months. When he finally did so in 1962, Chile was able to refuse extradition request because his murders had by then occurred too long ago under the country’s statute of limitations."
Under Augusto Pinochet's regime, Rauff may have served as an advisor in Chilean intelligence, DINA. Allegedly, CIA officials could not determine Rauff's exact position. General Pinochet's government resisted all calls for his extradition to stand trial in West Germany or Israel. In the meantime Rauff disappeared and was discovered by the documentary filmmaker William Bemister in Los Pozos, Santiago de Chile, in 1979, and interviewed. This interview was included in the Emmy-winning film The Hunter and the Hunted and shown on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Public television in the United States on October 21, 1981.
The last request to extradite Rauff to West Germany was presented by renowned Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld in 1983, but was flatly rejected by the Pinochet government, which alleged that Rauff had been a peaceful Chilean citizen for over twenty years and that the case was closed since the Supreme Court's 1963 decision. Klarsfeld organised protests in Chile and was twice arrested for causing disturbances. Following her brief detention, the Israeli government's foreign affairs director, David Kimche, officially requested Rauff's outright expulsion in a meeting with Chilean Foreign Minister Jaime del Valle, but the request was turned down.
Rauff died from lung cancer at the age of 77 in Santiago on 14 May 1984. His funeral was the occasion of a Nazi celebration. According to his MI5 file, "he never showed any remorse for his actions, which he described as those of "a mere technical administrator".
A German-language biography of Rauff appeared in 2014.
- Ex-Nazis—ex-NSDAP members and ex-Nazi officials, who after World War II had to go through a denazification process or were subjected to the Nuremberg process, while many others managed to escape trial.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk Wanted Nazi Walther Rauff 'was West German spy' 27 September 2011
- The Independent, 27 January 2013
- "Walter Rauff" in "5 September 2005 releases: German intelligence officers", MI5-Security Service (Dead Link). Rauff left the Navy following an adultery scandal, but he was discharged "with all honours", as he said in a 1972 deposition before the German prosecutor in Santiago de Chile .
- "Walter Rauff" in Disclosure, Newsletter of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, November 2002 issue, .
- MI5 file, above cited .
- Walter Rauff's deposition before the Public Prosecutor, West German Embassy, Santiago de Chile, 28 June 1972 (English translation) .
- Tony Paterson, article cited.
- "Walter Rauff" in Disclosure, above cited.
- Shraga Elam and Dennis Whitehead, "In the service of the Jewish state", Ha'aretz, 31 March 2007
- Article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 26. September 2011, page 4
- "Rauff case poses serious threat to Pinochet regime", in Council on Hemispheric Affairs (New York), Press Release, March 19, 1984 .
- Isabelle Clarke and Danielle Costelle, La Traque des Nazis, soixante ans de traque (film documentary) (French).
- Armin Wagner. Review of Cüppers, Martin, Walther Rauff: In deutschen Diensten. Vom Naziverbrecher zum BND-Spion. H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews. June, 2014.
- Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group", Walter Rauff", Disclosure, Nov 2002.
- Shraga Elam and Dennis Whitehead, "In the service of the Jewish state", Ha'aretz, 31 March 2007.
- Shraga Elam and Dennis Whitehead, "Rauff vs. the Yishuv", Ha'aretz, 7 April 2007.
- Security Service - MI5, "5 September 2005 releases: German intelligence officers", file ref. KV /1970a, "Walter Rauff".
- Jan Friedmann, "New Research Taints Image of Desert Fox Rommel", Der Spiegel Online, May 23, 2007.
- Tony Paterson, "'Chivalrous' Rommel wanted to bring Holocaust to Middle East", The Independent (London), 25 May 2007.
- Walter Rauff deposition before the Public Prosecutor, West German Embassy, Santiago de Chile, 28 June 1972 English translation. Dead Link.