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U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis

by Richard Breitman, Norman J.W. Goda, Timothy Naftali and Robert Wolfe;  Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005, $24.99 (softcover).

In 1998 Congress enacted and President Bill Clinton signed the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. Among its purposes was “to release to the public the remaining archival secrets about U.S. government policies concerning Nazi war crimes and criminals during and after World War II.” To implement the law, the government created the Nazi War Criminal and Imperial Japanese Records Interagency Working Group (IWG), on which the authors of this volume served and whose work with the IWG inspired them to author this collection of essays.

The book’s most interesting and potentially most important pieces deal with two intricately related questions: When did American intelligence assets become aware of the Final Solution, and what was the postwar relationship between former Nazis and American intelligence agencies.

Regarding the first question, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis contains three essays that provide ample proof that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had in its possession significant evidence that Nazi policy toward European Jewry had by mid-1942 moved from persecution to genocide, yet did little to bring that to the attention of policymakers. For example, the OSS received via British intelligence translations of dispatches written by a Chilean diplomat stationed in Prague that provided a chilling depiction of German policy, but these documents “prompted no Western action.” Why? Because, according to Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda, the essay’s authors, “Why would any British or American official pay particular attention to the views of an unknown Chilean diplomat…who adopted Nazi rhetoric so freely?” This would be a fair question if there had been no other evidence to support the Chilean’s account, but as this and other essays show, multiple sources strongly suggested the diplomat’s veracity. Allen Dulles, working in Switzerland, had important and compelling information that appears to have been ignored. Jewish sources often were dismissed as unreliable. And, even when ordered to do so, the OSS appears to have failed to properly investigate charges of war crimes and of genocide. “Ordered late in the war,” the authors tell us, “to assemble specific information on German war crimes and criminals…the OSS seems to have done relatively little in this regard, even when valuable information fell into its lap.” All of this suggests an organizational culture that was, at best, unsympathetic to the plight of those whom the Nazis persecuted and, at worst, sympathetic with the Nazis’ sentiments. Unfortunately, no essay in this volume begins to address that important and contentious issue.

This issue is closely tied to the question of the relationship between American intelligence organizations and former Nazis in the aftermath of World War II. In “The CIA and Eichmann’s Associates,” Timothy Naftali makes clear that the Central Intelligence Agency had intimate associations with several of Adolf Eichmann’s most notorious subordinates. He then asks the obvious question: “Why did the CIA have any postwar relationships at all with individuals who had worked alongside Adolf Eichmann in persecuting and exterminating millions of people?” After concluding that the CIA “got very little” from these individuals, Naftali states that “these cases demonstrate the mood of an era in which the rush to understand a new enemy [the Soviet Union] encouraged a cynical amnesia regarding an earlier foe.” Fair enough, but given what appears to have been the OSS’s willful ignorance regarding the Holocaust, another conclusion seems just as likely— but it is not even hinted at, much less explored.

This is therefore both an enlightening and frustrating work. It is edifying in that it casts light on the OSS’s intelligence operations directed against Germany during the war, but it is disappointing that the authors seem almost as uninterested as the OSS had been in following the trail of evidence before them to see where it might lead.


Originally published in the November 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here