Walter Rauff

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Walter Rauff
Walter Rauff during his arrest in Italy in 1945
Born(1906-06-19)19 June 1906
Köthen, Germany
Died14 May 1984(1984-05-14) (aged 77)
Santiago, Chile
Allegiance Weimar Republic (1924–1933)
 Nazi Germany (1933–1945)
Second Syrian Republic Syrian Republic (1948–1949)
 West Germany (1958–1963)
 Chile (since 1973)
Service/branch Reichsmarine
Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional
RankSS-Standartenführer (Schutzstaffel)
Korvettenkapitän (Kriegsmarine)

Walter (Walther) Rauff (19 June 1906 – 14 May 1984) was a mid-ranking SS commander in Nazi Germany. From January 1938, he was an aide of Reinhard Heydrich firstly in the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst or SD), later in the Reich Security Main Office. He worked for the Federal Intelligence Service of West Germany (Bundesnachrichtendienst) between 1958 and 1962,[1] and was subsequently employed by the Mossad,[2] the Israeli secret service. Recruited by Augusto Pinochet, Rauff played a role in the creation of the Chilean internal security apparatus during the military dictatorship. His funeral in Santiago, Chile, was attended by several former Nazis.[3]

Rauff is accused by Jewish sources of being responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths during World War II. Among other actions, he was instrumental in the use of mobile gas chambers for the execution of prisoners.[3] He was arrested in 1945, but subsequently escaped and was never brought to trial.[4]

From the Navy to the SS[edit]

According to the MI5 file on Walter Rauff released in 2005:

Rauff joined the Kriegsmarine (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.[5]

During his thirteen years in the Navy, Rauff became acquainted with Reinhard Heydrich and saw service in South America and Spain as a young officer in 1924.

In 1937, Rauff left the Navy following an adultery scandal, but he was discharged "with all honours", as he said in a 1972 deposition before a German prosecutor in Santiago de Chile.[6]

Between 1940 and 1941, Rauff returned to the Navy as a volunteer, commanding a mine sweeper flotilla in the English Channel. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander (Korvettenkapitän) in April 1941, shortly before he was discharged from active service, he then returned to the Reich Security Main Office. During early 1940, he headed the SD in German-occupied Norway for few months.[7]

Gas van engineering[edit]

In 1941 and 1942, Rauff was involved in the development of gas vans, mobile gas chambers used to kill, by poisoning or suffocation, those people deemed enemies of the German state: Jews, disabled people, communists and others. According to declassified CIA 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.[8]

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.[5]

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:

Ob ich damals Bedenken gegen den Einsat [sic] der Gaswagen hatte, kann ich nicht sagen. Für mich stand damals im Vordergrund, dass die Erschiessungen für die Männer, die damit befasst wurden, eine erhebliche Belastung darstellten und dass diese Belastung durch den Einsatz der Gaswagen entfiel. [...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.][6]

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, who kept Rauff fully informed on the gas van killing operations.

Persecution in Vichy-North Africa[edit]

Rauff was later involved in the persecution of Jews in Vichy France-controlled Tunisia during 1942 and 1943, by implementing the antisemitic Statute of the Jews enacted by pro-Nazi metropolitan Vichy state. 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, commanded by Rauff, was empowered to carry out "executive measures on the civilian population", the Nazi euphemism for mass murder and enslavement.[9] However, his mission to exterminate the Middle East's Jewish population was brought to an abrupt halt when the British 8th Army defeated Rommel at El Alamein in October 1942. Rommel was forced to withdraw the remnants of his army to Tunisia, where it sustained a bridgehead until May 1943, enabling Rauff's SS to start lower scale persecutions of local Jews. The MI5 file records that Rauff was posted to Vichy-Tunisia in 1942 as head of the Security Service (SD), where he led a mobile killing squad (Einsatzkommando) which conducted a "well-organised persecution campaign against the Jews and partisans".

During this time, the Jewish community was particularly hard hit. More than 2,500 Jews in Nazi-occupied Tunisia died in a network of SS slave labour camps before the Germans withdrew. Rauff's men also stole jewels, silver, gold and religious Jewish artifacts. Forty-three kilogrammes of gold were taken from the Jewish community on the island of Djerba alone.[9]

Chief of the secret police in Northern Italy[edit]

In 1943, Rauff was sent to Milan where he took charge of all Gestapo and SD 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'.[5]

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.[5]

His interrogator in the POW camp ended his report with these words:

Rauff has brought his organisation of political gangsterism to stream-lined perfection and is proud of the fact. By nature cynical and overbearing, but cunning and shifty rather than intelligent, he regards his past activities as a matter of course.[5]

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.

Spying activities in the Middle East[edit]

In 1948, he was recruited by Syrian intelligence and went to Damascus, where he served as military adviser to President Husni al-Za'im when they fought against the newly established State of Israel, only to fall out of favour after a coup a year later. 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. After barely escaping from Syria, Rauff fled to Lebanon and later back to Italy, and gained a transit pass for Ecuador, where he and his family settled, later moving to Chile.[8]

Before sailing for Ecuador in December 1949, Rauff is said to have worked for a while for Israeli intelligence before Mossad was formed. The 2007 book On the Trail of Nazi War Criminals Who Weren’t Punished by Mossad operative Yossi Chen (Chinitz),[10] indicates that Rauff provided intelligence from Syria and was handled by Shalhevet Freier, of the Foreign Ministry. Rauff was paid for this work.[11]

A CIA report, dated 24 March 1950, states that Israeli agent Edmond (Ted) Cross of the Israeli Service was working to employ former Nazis for observation and penetration in the Arab countries. One of the plans included sending Rauff to Egypt. One report indicated that Rauff did not reach Egypt, but a 1953 memo stated that an operative, most likely Rauff, was in the country at that time. An earlier CIA report, from February 1950, stated that Cross helped Rauff obtain the necessary papers for settling in South America (entering by Argentina) and added: "It is not improbable that Subject's presence in Syria was in connection with a mission for the Israel[i] service". Rauff was working in Syria, as an advisor to President Hosni Zaim, but left the country after Zaim was deposed. [12][7]

Advisor to the regime in Chile[edit]

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal holding a picture of Nazi war criminal Walter Rauff in May 1973

After moving to Chile in 1958, Rauff took on two roles: one as the manager of a king crab cannery in Punta Arenas, which is one of the southernmost towns in the world, and another as a merchant in Quito, Ecuador. However, this was only his civilian career. Rauff had been brought to Chile by then Major Augusto Pinochet as an "international expert" to organize Chile's internal security apparatus. To this end, Rauff functioned as head of a whole group of German former SS and Gestapo officers that worked in various advisory functions to the Chilean military.[13]

Between 1958 and 1963, Rauff was employed by the Federal Intelligence Service of West Germany (Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND)[14] and received 70,000 DM from the agency.[15] To conceal his activities as a spy in South America, he posed as an export manager and agent for Importadora Goldmann, a company in Santiago, Chile. His point of contact within the BND was Wilhelm Beissner, also known as Bertram, who served as a paymaster for the BND and had known Rauff since their time working together in the Reich Security Main Office.[14] Rauff was eventually warned and removed from the BND before his arrest in Chile. However, he managed to recover some legal fees from the BND, totaling 3,200 DM. Additionally, he received 15,000 DM to start a new business.

Initially, the recruitment of Rauff appeared promising due to his extensive travels, but his reports ultimately proved to be of little value. He was evaluated as "untrustworthy" (charakterlich äußerst unzuverlässig), "intriguer" (er konspirierte nach allen Seiten), and "drunkard" (eng mit dem Alkohol befreundet).[16] As a result, Rauff was dismissed from the BND in October 1962, although some communication channels remained open until July 1963.[14]

In 1960, Rauff visited Germany in order to claim his pension for the time which he had served in the Reichsmarine, and he had no trouble with the German authorities.[14] In December 1962, he was arrested by Chilean authorities after Germany requested his extradition, but he was freed by a Chilean Supreme Court decision five months later in 1963 on the grounds that his crimes had been committed too long ago. 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.[7]

Former Mossad operative Yossi Chen (Chinitz) relates in his book that the agency attempted to capture Rauff in 1979,[17] even visiting him at his home. The plan was to assassinate him and then issue a press release stating: "Today in Chile, we executed one of the greatest Nazi war criminals – commander of the Gestapo’s technical department who developed and directed the mobile gas vans in which more than 100,000 Jews were exterminated. We are a group of those who will never forget the Nazis’ crimes so we decided, in the name of justice, to execute him". This plan failed.[18]

After the military coup of 1973, Rauff became more directly engaged with the new regime's internal security apparatus. He worked as direct assistant to Manuel Contreras and gave advice on the creation of the secret police Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA). Rauff was valued as an expert for the Solución Final, meaning the killing and disappearance of dissidents. Rauff planned and supervised the building of concentration camps and was involved in finding means of disposing the dead bodies of tortured and murdered dissidents. He allegedly used contacts to former German military officers to smuggle sarin to Chile. Rauff also was involved in the creation of Operation Condor. Former DINA and Chilean military personnel later detailed that Rauff was strongly involved with Contreras' work and acted as executive command officer in DINA.[13]

When Hans Strack, the German ambassador to Chile, was ordered to request Rauff's extradition, Strack, a supporter of exiled war criminals, forwarded the application for his extradition over 14 months later. The delay allowed Chile to refuse the extradition request because the length of time elapsed since his crimes overran the country's statute of limitations.[3]

Allegedly, CIA officials could not determine Rauff's exact position. Pinochet's regime resisted all calls for his extradition to stand trial in either 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.[19]

The last request to extradite Rauff to West Germany was presented by renowned Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld in 1983,[20] but it was rejected by the Pinochet regime, which alleged that Rauff had been a peaceful Chilean citizen for over twenty years and stated that the case was closed since the Supreme Court's 1963 decision. Klarsfeld organised protests in Chile and was twice arrested for causing disturbances.[7] Following her brief detention, the director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, David Kimche, officially requested Rauff's expulsion in a meeting with Chilean Foreign Minister Jaime del Valle, but the request was turned down.[21]


Suffering from lung cancer, Rauff died in Santiago on 14 May 1984 from a heart attack. His funeral was the occasion of a Nazi celebration.[1][22][23] According to his MI5 file, "he never showed any remorse for his actions, which he described as those of "a mere technical administrator".[5] A German-language biography of Rauff written by Martin Cüppers was published in 2013.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Wanted Nazi Walther Rauff 'was West German spy'". BBC News. 27 September 2011.
  2. ^ "In the Service of the Jewish State". Haaretz. 29 March 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Tony Paterson (27 January 2013). "How the Nazis escaped justice". The Independent.
  4. ^ CIA RAUFF, WALTER-Possible Leads 8 July 1977
  5. ^ a b c d e f "MI5 - 5 September 2005 releases: German intelligence officers - Walter Rauff". File KV 2/1970. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ a b "Aussage des Walter Rauff - Botschaft der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Santiago" [Rauff's Deposition, West German Embassy, Santiago de Chile]. NS-Archiv (in German). (RK Sk 1600). 28 July 1972.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b c d Shraga Elam; Dennis Whitehead (29 March 2007). "In the Service of the Jewish State". Ha'aretz.
  8. ^ a b "More CIA Name Files Released - Walter Rauff" (PDF). Disclosure - Newsletter of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group. November 2002.
  9. ^ a b Jan Friedmann (23 May 2007). "World War II: New Research Taints Image of Desert Fox Rommel". Spiegel Online International. Archived from the original on 2016-02-07. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  10. ^ ""The Pursuit of Nazi War Criminals": Mossad Research in Yad Vashem's Archives Now Open for Public Viewing". Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  11. ^ Adaret, Ofer (11 September 2017). "Not Just Mengele The Mossad's Botched Assassination Attempts on Nazi War Criminals". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  12. ^ Adaret, Ofer (29 March 2007). "In the Service of the Jewish State". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  13. ^ a b Wilfried Huismann: Pinochets deutscher Pate. In: Tagesschau (online). ARD, September 3, 2023 (German language).
  14. ^ a b c d Bodo Hechelhammer (BND) (23 September 2011). "Mitteilung der Forschungs- und Arbeitsgruppe "Geschichte des BND" (MFGBND) Nr. 2 - Walther Rauff und der Bundesnachrichtendienst" [Communication from the Research and Working Group "History of the BND" (MFGBND)- Walther Rauff and the BND]. Federal Intelligence Service of West Germany (Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND) (in German).
  15. ^ Wanted Nazi Walther Rauff 'was West German spy BBC 27 September 2011
  16. ^ "Politische Publikationspraxis". Frankfurter Allgemeine. 27 September 2011. p. 4.
  17. ^ Haas, Saar (15 September 2017). "Not Just Mengele The Mossad's Botched Assassination Attempts on Nazi War Criminals". YNet News. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  18. ^ Adaret, Ofer (11 September 2017). "Not Just Mengele The Mossad's Botched Assassination Attempts on Nazi War Criminals". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  19. ^ This interview was included in the Emmy-winning film The Hunter and the Hunted and shown on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a Public television in the United States on 21 October 1981.
  20. ^ Wanted Nazi Walther Rauff 'was West German spy' 27 September 2011 BBC
  21. ^ "Rauff case poses serious threat to Pinochet regime", in Council on Hemispheric Affairs (New York City), Press Release, March 19, 1984.
  22. ^ Klaus Wiegrefe (27 September 2011). "SS Colonel Walter Rauff - West German Intelligence Protected Fugitive Nazi". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  23. ^ Isabelle Clarke; Danielle Costelle (2007). La Traque des Nazis [The hunt for Nazis] (DVD - Playback Region 2) (in French). ASIN B001210W1I.


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