Hitler’s Traitor: Martin Bormann and the Defeat of the Reich, by Louis Kilzer, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 2000, $29.95.
Louis Kilzer’s book, Hitler’s Traitor, is well named. Treachery and treason were rife at senior levels in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Among the high-ranking military officers who plotted Hitler’s death and other senior officials who sought to make unauthorized peace deals with Western and Soviet contacts, however, Martin Bormann clearly stands out as the traitor nonpareil of World War II. The author makes an excellent case in support of his premise, and the reader is led inexorably to the same conclusion by a chain of evidence that seems unbreakable.
Bormann, although a latecomer to the Nazi Party, gained credibility with Hitler and party officials through his practical abilities to get things done. He became the deputy of Rudolf Hess, who later was deputy Führer of the Third Reich. With the loss of Hess on his clandestine mission to England in 1941, Bormann became Hitler’s top aide and later was granted authority to issue orders in Hitler’s name. According to Kilzer, despite his elevated stature within the Reich, Bormann was leading a double life, his second persona being that of “Werther,” the Soviet Union’s most strategically placed spy.
The intelligence provided by Werther flowed to the Kremlin via “Lucy,” Rudolf Roessler, a German-born Soviet spy based in Switzerland. The bulk of this material had to do with military operations against the Soviet Union, and its quantity and quality impressed Moscow. The book traces in fascinating detail how this information was used by the Soviets in planning and executing their defenses against the German invaders. It also shows how the Soviets, even with near perfect intelligence, were unable to avoid serious setbacks early in the war.
The perspectives offered by this book answer many questions about the Soviet spy ring in Switzerland in World War II and about military campaigns in the Soviet Union. But, as is the case with many books of this type, it also leaves many questions unanswered. Despite his efforts, for example, the author is unable to show how Werther managed to communicate so extensively with Lucy over a period of years without being detected. The logic of Kilzer’s reasoning supports his conclusion, but more facts will have to come to light before all doubt is erased.
John I. Witmer