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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 4 of 9

Continued from page 3

Kolbe made at least five trips to Bern, on one occasion getting a camera so he could microfilm material. Other times he stuffed documents in letters he asked colleagues to mail in Switzerland, pretending he was writing a paramour.

''The risks Kolbe took were incalculable,'' Dulles wrote in the affidavit, which is among his personal papers archived at his alma mater, Princeton University. ''If any envelope had been opened he would, of course, have been lost....''

Some of the reports were carbon copies that Kolbe was assigned to burn. ''He, of course, made a great show of destroying a great many of them which were of no interest to me, keeping only the most secret,'' Dulles wrote.

Once, von Ribbentrop was conferring with Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's sinister interior minister, when they called for a file that Kolbe happened to be photographing. Only Kolbe's light-footed agility allowed him to slip the dossier into its proper place before an aide entered the file room, Dulles said.

Kolbe's cables depict almost day-by-day a war without end, with the Soviets supplanting the Axis as the enemy, to the point where the old foe began to be seen as a key tool against the new one, leading to moral compromises that future generations would debate as survivors of the era die by the day.

From Axis-occupied Italy, Kolbe's reports show a beleaguered Benito Mussolini pathetically seeking an audience with Hitler while depending on Nazi occupiers to defend what was left of an army depleted by desertions. ''Mussolini is believed to be very often disheartened,'' one memo said dryly of the dictator whose people would eventually kill him.

The bureaucratic banality of the memoranda makes the content all the more creepy. A November 1944 dispatch notes that 27,000 Hungarian Jews ''still capable of walking'' would be shipped ''in lots'' to meet labor shortages in Germany. The remaining 120,000 would remain behind pending a decision about their ''final destination'' by an SS commandant named Eichmann.

In the dispatch sent to Washington, Dulles noted that Eichmann is ''not further identified.'' This was likely an early reference to Adolf Eichmann, head of the Gestapo's Jewish section. Eichmann, a true bureaucrat, had operated from behind his desk in Berlin, fussing over the details of how to efficiently exterminate 6 million people. The bean-counting butcher didn't become a public figure until he surfaced in Budapest to oversee the massacre of Hungarian Jews.

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