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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 6 of 9

Continued from page 5

Kolbe also clearly exposed the Nazi spy known as Cicero -- played by James Mason in the film thriller ''Five Fingers'' -- who was actually the butler of the British ambassador in Istanbul. Even though von Ribbentrop authorized the incredible payment of 300,000 pounds that Cicero demanded, the Nazis ultimately discounted his material as too good to be true.

When Cicero's cover was blown, the British ambassador confronted his valet, who smugly denied the allegations. He was fired, bought a villa in South America and lived in fleeting opulence until his hosts threw him in prison. The Nazis, it emerged, had paid Cicero in counterfeit.

That Washington dawdled on Kolbe's scoops doesn't diminish their significance. He tipped Dulles that German agents were hiding among POWs being repatriated to the Allies, that the Irish had let German spies set up a radio transmitter in Dublin, that the pope's holiday prayer urged Europe to unite behind the Nazis against the godless Soviets.

Kolbe also collected data on the resistance campaigns that were eating away at the Third Reich from within, and the brutal attempts to crush them. In Greece: ''Reprisals were taken for the wiping out of a German company of 120 men. Five hundred Greeks were shot, and (11) villages were destroyed.''

Kolbe's reports noted that ''anti-Semitic activity'' sometimes caused backlash in Nazi-occupied countries. In Hungary, ''The people were said to be unable to comprehend individual instances of harsh treatment of Jews or the ransacking of Jewish shops by Nazi troops. Jews have become an object of pity.''

The dispatches show that all sides were conscious of the coming Cold War well before World War II ended. The nascent superpowers were clearly looking to carve out spheres of influence. Kolbe's cables told of Germans ''fleeing headlong'' from Romania, ''looting and raping and occasionally bartering their arms for liquor'' as the Soviets rolled in to claim what would become one of their satellites.

Eerie prescience pops up throughout the Kolbe collection. The Germans even had a tip that the Allies planned to wipe out the gorgeous medieval city of Dresden -- more psychologically than strategically significant -- months before Allied bombers incinerated every Gothic spire in sight. And a Swiss official told a German envoy that Roosevelt would invade Europe soon to have a big military triumph heading into the November presidential elections. D-Day came two months later with the Allied landing at Normandy.

Kolbe's dispatches also reflect the war's impact on technology. The blistering evolution of weaponry and a multinational race to harness the atom instilled in Japan a fear that the war would be decided by superior science. ''Japanese expect Americans to use secret weapon,'' said one November 1944 report that presaged by nine months the atom bomb's debut.

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