Report on the Otto Ohlendorf IRR FileNorman Goda, IWG Historian
Professor of History, Ohio University
Otto Ohlendorf, one of the most notorious SS officials in Nazi Germany, was captured and interrogated extensively after the war. Although much of the U.S. Army's investigative file on Ohlendorf was declassified in 1987, some documents were withheld and are being released under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. They primarily illuminate corrupt practices by Nazi officials and Heinrich Himmler's behavior at the very end of the war. The new material, which is of value to historians, was held back because it contained foreign government information.1
Born in Berlin in 1907, Ohlendorf joined the SA in 1925 and the SS in 1926. In 1936 he joined the SD as an economic adviser and from 1939 to 1945 he served as the chief of the Reich Security Main Office's Amt III, which studied the results of government measures on the German population. Ohlendorf is best known however, for his role as the Chief of Einsatzgruppe D, one of four mobile killing units that followed the German Army during the invasion of the USSR. Ohlendorf's unit was responsible for the southern Ukraine including the Crimea, and was responsible for the killing of 90,000 individuals from June 1941 to March 1942.2
Ohlendorf surrendered to British authorities on 23 May 1945 and testified at the Trial of the Major War Criminals later that year. In 1947, he was the chief defendant in one of the twelve subsequent Nuremberg trials held by the U.S. Army (Case No. 9, The Einsatzgruppen Case). He was sentenced to death, and in 1951, despite the American revision of many sentences, Ohlendorf was executed by hanging.3
II. Corruption in the Nazi State
One of the newly released documents is a seventeen-page British interrogation of Ohlendorf from August 1945 on corruption in the Nazi State. Ohlendorf, though a fanatic anti-Semite, considered himself an honest civil servant. Moreover, his educational background was in economics and from 1936 to 1945 he held economic and financial posts in the government alongside his other duties. Ohlendorf, the report begins, "is considered personally honest and he has always nursed a great dislike for corruption. The information… is therefore considered reliable." Ohlendorf's interrogators feared that if anything, he had held information back so that he could blackmail his fellow Nazis in the future.
Ohlendorf's extensive comments concern details of known practices, including Hitler's gifts of landed estates to his favorites,4 the corrupt practices of Reich Labor leader Robert Ley,5 and the obscene dishonesty of Hermann Göring.6 The interrogation adds episodes on less well-known figures too. Ohlendorf claimed that Josef Spacil, the head of the RSHA Office in charge of administration, spent considerable efforts placing forged British banknotes into circulation for the purchase of black market items in southern Europe. Ohlendorf further explained that Germany's main auditing firm, the Deutsche Revisons - und Treuhandgesellschaft, which audited the largest German industrial concerns, was awash with corrupt practices. Instead of providing state authorities insight into the financial health of major firms, senior auditors, who were associated with other commercial firms, used inside information for personal profit. Ohlendorf mentioned that several Nazi party district leaders, particularly in annexed Poland, also helped themselves financially. Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, created a foundation in his own name of which he was sole member, manager, and director, and cemented his political position by showering senior officials such as Göring with lavish gifts. In May 1945, Koch fled to Flensburg aboard a ship "loaded with riches." Arthur Greiser, the Gauleiter of Posen, was associated "with shady dealings in gold articles which originated from the LODZ ghetto" and procured luxurious houses and a big country estate, according to Ohlendorf.
III. The Final Days of the Third Reich
Another significant document is a lengthy interrogation of Ohlendorf by a British intelligence officer of 7 July 1945, which concerns the final days of the war, particularly regarding Heinrich Himmler.7 Ohlendorf was in a unique position to comment. Following Hitler's suicide, Ohlendorf was a senior economic official with the 23-day government of Karl Doenitz in Plön and then Flensburg. He spoke on the following during his interrogation:
- Discussions held in Berlin in April 1945 between senior SS officials including Ohlendorf, SS-General Felix Steiner, and SS-General Richard Hildebrandt. These discussions aimed at the creation of a new government that could procure a separate peace with the Allies. Himmler, these men hoped, would lead this government and Hitler would be pushed aside if necessary. "Our aim," said Ohlendorf, "was not to put up any resistance, but to let the Allies advance as far as the ELBE, having first concluded a tacit agreement that they'd halt there and thus to cover our rear for the continuation of the struggle against the East. These men, who were sober enough in all other respects, still believed that we had a sporting chance against the East."
- Reference to telephone orders by Himmler days before Hitler's suicide. Ohlendorf said that Gestapo Chief Heinrich Mueller was "ordered to stay in Berlin as long as the FÜHRER remained there, as he shared responsibility for the FÜHRER's safety." Mueller vanished after the war, and for years it was surmised that Mueller offered himself to the U.S. or USSR for intelligence purposes. Ohlendorf's comment that Mueller was ordered to remain adds weight to the probability that Mueller died in Berlin.
- There is some new detail concerning Himmler's state of mind on May 6, 1945 after Hitler's Last Testament appointed Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz as the successor while expelling Himmler from the Nazi Party. Ohlendorf described the broad extent of Himmler's "degrading" and "unworthy" efforts to gain a post in the Doenitz government and Himmler's real anger on hearing that he was an "encumbrance" who would do the new government more harm than good. Also new is mention of Himmler's belief on May 6 that Field Marshall Ferdinand Schoerner, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army, might protect him, and his consideration of joining Schoerner's army so that he could be killed in battle.
- Ohlendorf mentions a personal letter, dated 9 May 1945, which Himmler wrote and sent to British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery had accepted the surrender of German forces in the Northwest on the 4th. Ohlendorf obliquely mentioned this letter's existence at his trial in 1947 but this British interrogation provides more detail. Ohlendorf said that Himmler showed the letter to him and that he altered Himmler's text because "it had been unfortunately worded." Himmler then had an adjutant take the letter to Montgomery. Himmler, Ohlendorf said, was anxious about the answer. After leaving Flensburg on the 9th, he regularly sent a man to Ohlendorf to see if Montgomery had replied. Accounts of Himmler's final days do not mention the letter, so one can only surmise what it said. It was likely a final attempt to split the Anglo-Soviet alliance. Ohlendorf said that Himmler until the very end believed that an agreement could be struck and that he hoped to be the Allies' "confidence man in Europe." 8
3. A summary of the Einsatzgruppen Case is in Robert Wolfe "Putative Threat to National Security as a Nuremberg Defense for Genocide," Annals, AAPSS (July 1980): 46-67. The 6,895 pages of court materials from Case No. 9 are located in National Archives Records Administration, Record Group 238, Entry 92.
8. Ohlendorf testimony in Case 9 Transcripts, NARA, RG 238, Entry 92, Box 1, vol. 2, p. 510. After Himmler's capture by British forces on May 23rd, he still hoped for an interview with Montgomery. See Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (New York: Holt, 1991), p. 610.