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Business and the Holocaust
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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART I: THE PERFECT SPY

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / March 11, 2001

Page 3 of 9

Continued from page 2

''I remember helping him burn some papers at night,'' says Peter Kolbe. ''Me, a seven-year-old boy, up all night burning papers.''

Kolbe left his son with friends in colonial Africa and boarded a freighter for new duties with the Third Reich. The Nazis had opened three concentration camps and were euthanizing the disabled. Jews had been stripped of all rights.

In Berlin, Kolbe worked as an assistant to Karl Ritter, the Foreign Office liaison to Germany's supreme military headquarters. Message traffic crossed his desk from 40 Nazi outposts throughout the Pacific and European theaters.

Kolbe tried to get information to the Allies early on through his church acquaintances, primarily a man named Schreiber, the director of a monastery outside Stuttgart. They had no luck.

It wasn't until 1943 that Kolbe, with the help of a woman in the Foreign Office named Maria von Hammerding, got on the list of couriers assigned to deliver the diplomatic pouch between Berlin and the German Embassy in Switzerland.

Kolbe made surreptitious contact in Bern with businessman Ernst Kocherthaler, a German Jew living in Switzerland with a Spanish passport. The two had become friends when Kolbe was a vice consul in Madrid.

They went to the British embassy, but the British spurned Kolbe as a plant. He'd recall that the British laughed when he said he wanted no money. Nobody sold out for free.

So Kolbe turned to the Americans. He met with Dulles, a tweedy and charming New Yorker who had worked in the foreign service in Europe during World War I. He was now working for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. The OSS had been heavily dependent on British intelligence, but Dulles was determined to build his own network.

Kolbe showed Dulles mimeographed telegrams that had the stamps, seals, and initials of authenticity. They included blunt assessments of German morale, statistics on sabotage by the French resistance, minutes of meetings between foreign envoys and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Dulles, too, was skeptical. ''I thought that at first that these documents were given to me in the [German] hope that we would cable them verbatim and furnish the Germans with an opportunity for breaking our cipher,'' he wrote in a 1948 affidavit seeking a US visa for Kolbe.

Still, Dulles enlisted Kolbe and gave him a code name: George Wood. His dispatches were dubbed The Boston Series -- for no apparent reason other than it was likely the next name on an often whimsical list of code words.

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