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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / March 11, 2001

Page 1 of 9

He was a civil servant in an uncivilized society, an underling assigned to incinerate the secret messages that circulated among his sinister superiors. He was a small cog in a big bureaucracy built by madmen to murder millions.

Fritz Kolbe hated his job. But what could one man do? Damage, he decided. Serious damage.

In the summer of 1943, Kolbe stuck a stack of papers into a pouch and took a train from Berlin to Bern, the Swiss capital. He met Allen Dulles, a Wall Street lawyer hired to build an American espionage network in a neutral nation that had become a flea market infested with spies-for-hire, amoral entrepreneurs who smuggled goods and laundered cash without choosing sides.

Kolbe charged no fee for a commodity so rare it often went unrecognized: the truth. His information was staggering. Hitler was ordering the liquidation of Jews in Rome. Stalin was installing socialism as the Red Army pushed into Europe. A spy who penetrated the British embassy in Turkey was feeding the Nazis details about the planned landing at Normandy.

There was more. He pinpointed Japanese plants building war planes, machine guns, cannons of all caliber. He told his handlers to expect a new Nazi weapon: a rocket that would roar 50 miles into the stratosphere and slam two tons of warhead into some shocked city block.

But to spymasters practiced in the art of deception, Kolbe was simply the man who knew too much. Too much to be trusted. It wasn't until well after the war that Americans could see just what a weapon they'd had in this bald-headed bureaucrat whose 5-foot-7-inch frame belied the sinewy build of a bantamweight boxer and the nervy bluster of a cornered badger.

Fritz Kolbe's 1,600 dispatches are among the nearly 500,000 documents the CIA has declassified since last June. In 1999, former president Bill Clinton appointed a commission to oversee the unsealing of such records, part of a global effort to unlock the last stash of secrets about World War II war crimes. The result? A flood of new facts about a historic time, says Gerhard Weinberg, head of the commission's Historical Advisory Panel.

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