A Haunting Secret Revealed

Somehow Elfriede Rinkel kept her dark secret for more than 40 years. The truth revealed, the U.S. government has sent her back home.

Rinkel was a dog handler at the women-only Ravensbrück concentration camp during World War II but didn’t divulge that essential fact when she applied for a visa and immigrated to the United States in 1959. When Rinkel married a German Jew in 1962 and settled in a quiet San Francisco neighborhood, she apparently didn’t tell her husband, Fred, about her former occupation either. Fred Rinkel, who lost both parents during the Holocaust, died in January 2004, and last August the 84-year-old widow was deported back to Germany. Her crime: lying on a visa application.

Rinkel left California without telling her brother, a U.S. citizen, why and has resettled with a sister in the German coastal city of Viersonorf. German authorities said they will not pursue her case.

Asked if she could have refused to work at the camp, Rinkel told the San Francisco Chronicle: “There was no other way out. That was impossible in those times.”

To date, Rinkel is the only female former Nazi to have been prosecuted and deported at the behest of the federal government’s Office of Special Investigations, which since its creation in 1979 has successfully prosecuted more than 100 individuals charged with Nazi persecution crimes.

Recent cases have led to the successful deportation of one naturalized American and the pending removal of at least one other. A federal judge has revoked the citizenship of 81-year-old Anton Geiser of Mercer County, Pa., who served as a member of the SS guarding prisoners at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Arolsen concentration camps. Geiser admitted he escorted forced laborers from work sites, guarded prisoners from a watch tower and was ordered to shoot escaping prisoners, but claims he never acted upon that order.

As part of his defense, Geiser insisted the policy in place when he immigrated to America in 1956 allowed former camp guards to enter the country as long as they were not war criminals. His lawyers have appealed the judgment.

In another case, 81-yearold Johann Leprich, who was convicted of hiding his membership in the Nazi Party, has been freed after the federal government failed to find a willing country to which he could be deported. Leprich joined the Waffen-SS in 1943 and served as a guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp. Leprich immigrated to the United States after the war and became a U.S. citizen in 1958.

Mass Grave Uncovered

A grim reminder of the Third Reich’s program to liquidate those with mental and physical disabilities has been discovered in the small German town of Menden-Barge.

A mass grave at the town’s Catholic cemetery has yielded the remains of 22 children and 29 adults. Some of the children’s skeletons show signs of physical disability, and none of the exhumed remains were buried in coffins.

Church historian Theo Ostermann told a local television station that area residents believed as many as 200 dead were buried at the site. A former church official said he watched as bodies were transported to the cemetery in horse-drawn carts and unceremoniously dumped into the grave.

Ostermann added that during the unveiling of a war memorial at the site several years ago he had heard a woman reveal that the dead came from a clinic in the neighboring town of Wimbern. Adolf Hitler’s personal doctor, Karl Brandt, was in charge of the clinic. Brandt headed the Nazis’ notorious Aktion T4 “euthanasia program” in which thousands were put to death because of mental or physical disabilities.

Prosecutor Ulrich Maass said his office would try to determine whether the dead were indeed murdered at the Nazi clinic. A memorial service for the 51 victims is planned at the end of the investigation.

The Nazis began to institute so-called racial hygienist policies in 1933, when the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was instituted. This law allowed the state to prescribe compulsory sterilization to people suffering a wide range of hereditary disabilities. An estimated 350,000 were sterilized under this law between 1933 and 1939.

Tokyo Rose Dead at 90

Her sultry, heavily accented voice was instantly recognizable to millions of GIs across the Pacific, a painful reminder to lonely soldiers, sailors and Marines that they were indeed a long, long way from home. Yet for all her notoriety, the siren of the Pacific died in relative obscurity last September, all but forgotten by those she had tormented more than half a century before.

Iva Toguri D’Aquino, the alleged turncoat American citizen better known as “Tokyo Rose,” died September 26 of natural causes in a Chicago hospital. She was 90.

Born Ikuko Toguri in California in 1916, D’Aquino was one of approximately 12 female radio announcers in Japan who broadcast demoralizing tales of lost battles and cheating wives to American servicemen serving in the Pacific. Stranded in Tokyo with a sick relative when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, D’Aquino remained in her ancestral homeland and found work as an English-language typist. Her fluency in English eventually led to a position as an announcer on “The Zero Hour,” a live radio program that specialized in propaganda and American music.

Taken into custody at the end of the war, D’Aquino claimed she had been forced to participate in the broadcasts. The U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps and the FBI investigated the case, but she was eventually released due to a lack of evidence.

Journalist Walter Winchell, dissatisfied with that outcome, lobbied through his newspaper column to have D’Aquino extradited to the United States, where she was charged with eight counts of treason. Although D’Aquino remained steadfast in claiming her innocence, she was found guilty of one count of treason and served six years in federal prison before being released in 1956. She also was fined $10,000.

D’Aquino settled down and rebuilt her life in America, moving to Chicago to work for her father in a small import shop. She felt comfortable enough in the mid-1970s to petition President Gerald Ford for a pardon, citing evidence that two prosecution witnesses had lied during her trial. Ford accepted her request and pardoned her in 1977.

Lost Sub Found?

The son of the former commander of USS Grunion, an American submarine reportedly lost after an encounter with a Japanese freighter in July 1943, believes he has located the sub’s seemingly intact remains off the coast of Alaska.

John Abele, whose father, Mannert Abele, was Grunion’s commander, says recently obtained underwater sonar images provide possible proof that the sub and its 70-man crew found their final resting place at the bottom of the Aleutian Sea.

A report written in the 1960s by a Japanese naval officer and recently translated by a Japanese model ship builder, described a confrontation between a U.S. sub and Kano Maru, a supply freighter that had been separated from its convoy by thick fog.

The battle between the two vessels occurred on July 31, 1942, some 10 miles northeast of Kiska. The officer, the freighter’s captain, wrote that Grunion launched six or seven torpedoes during the engagement. Most of the torpedoes either missed or bounced off the freighter, but one penetrated the ship’s starboard machine room and disabled both the engine and communications system.

As the American submarine surfaced, the freighter’s captain ordered return fire with the forecastle 8cm gun and the 13mm guns on the bridge. A shot from the 8cm gun apparently struck the sub’s conning tower and, according to the freighter’s captain, sank Grunion.

Various submarine aficionados say they doubt a shot from the Maru’s deck gun sank Grunion, insisting instead that the sub probably sank after being flooded by a catastrophic accident of some sort. That theory explains why the submarine did not implode once it reached crush depth and appears intact on the ocean floor.

Last fall the Abele family hired Williamson and Associates, a marine survey firm based in Seattle. The company sent sonar experts and equipment to Dutch Harbor. Aboard a crab boat, the search team explored the frigid waters in the area mentioned in the Japanese officer’s report.

In mid-August 2006, sonar identified a 290-foot long object wedged into a terrace on the slope of an underwater volcano. While Grunion measured 312 feet long, the sonar team believes the bow of the sub may have plowed into a thick layer of sediment as it settled. The vessel sits nearly 1,000 meters from the surface.

A second expedition is scheduled for this summer. A remote-controlled underwater camera will be deployed during that visit, with the hope that the object discovered last fall will be positively identified as Grunion.

Disturbing Find in Tokyo

A neighborhood on the west side of Tokyo is the scene of a recent grisly discovery. The Toyama No. 5 apartment complex and a nearby park might be the site of a mass burial ground for victims of Japanese medical experiments during World War II.

A wartime nurse has broken her silence to report that she helped bury dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies at the site in the weeks following Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945.

Some experts believe the dead were victims of Tokyo’s institutional program of experiments conducted on live prisoners of war. The Japanese Imperial Army’s notorious Unit 731 conducted research in biological and bioweapons warfare based mainly in China, injecting prisoners with typhus, cholera and other diseases.

According to the Associated Press, former nurse Toyo Ishii said she and colleagues from an army hospital in the vicinity buried corpses and body parts at that site.

Ishii worked at the facility in 1944 and has claimed that the hospital had three morgues in which bodies with numbered tags floated in a pool of formaldehyde-like solution. Body parts were also preserved in jars.

In 1989 an uncovered mass grave nearby yielded dozens of possible medical experiment victims. Unit 731 occupied facilities in a compound not far from the recent discovery.

Japan’s health minister, Jiro Kawasaki, pledged to pursue Ishii’s claim; however, in public statements the minister seemed in no rush to start an investigation. In what appears to be a continuation of Japan’s denial of any participation in such medical experiments, Kawasaki told AP: “People still live there, and we can’t visit each family to remind them of the bones….Just imagine how they feel about it.”

After the war, a public housing complex was built on the site for the families of doctors and hospital officials. That was later replaced by Toyama No. 5.

Hitler’s Biographer Dead at 79

Joachim Fest, a German journalist who gained notoriety as the first German to write an extensive account of the life of Adolf Hitler, has died in his hometown of Kronbergim-Taunus.

During World War II, Fest volunteered for the Wehrmacht in order, he once said, to avoid being drafted into the Waffen-SS. After being captured by American soldiers, Fest spent some time as a POW. He attended universities in Berlin and Frankfurt and became a journalist, working in radio, television, newspapers and magazines.

Fest’s 1973 book Hitler: A Biography was a comprehensive look at the life of Hitler and his rise to power. His other acclaimed works include: The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership, which profiled 18 Nazi figures; Plotting Hitler’s Death: The Story of the German Resistance; and Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich.


Originally published in the February 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.