Was Austria a paradise for War criminals?

Austria

Was Austria a paradise for War criminals?

 

Austria under National Socialism describes the period of Austrian history from 12 March 1938 when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany (the event is commonly known as Anschluss) until the end of World War II in 1945.

Austrians were generally enthusiastic supporters of union with Nazi Germany. Throughout World War Two, 950,000 Austrians fought for Nazi Germany’s armed forces. Other Austrians participated in the Nazi administration, from death camp personnel to senior Nazi leadership; the majority of the bureaucrats who implemented the Final Solution were Austrian.

After World War II, many Austrians sought comfort in the idea of Austria as being the first victim of the Nazis. Although the Nazi party was promptly banned, Austria did not have the same thorough process of denazification that was imposed on Germany. Lacking outside pressure for political reform, factions of Austrian society tried for a long time to advance the view that the Anschluss was only an imposition of rule by Nazi Germany.

 

Austrian police officers and right-wing extremist informants who came from the SS

The Ministry of the Interior wants to research Nazis in the police and Stapo. An insight into a hitherto little illuminated topic.

The former SS general and Gestapo chief of Vienna, Franz Josef Huber, worked for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) after World War II.  This is confirmed by research published last Monday by the “New York Times” and the BR political magazine “Report Munich”.

Huber, a native of Munich, was responsible for the mass deportation of Vienna’s Jewish population as head of the so-called Central Office for Jewish Emigration. This SS office was set up by Adolf Eichmann, who was executed in Israel in 1962 for his crimes.

Huber, on the other hand, was recruited as an agent after World War II by the precursor of the BND, the “Gehlen Organization” – and was no exception. In most cases, it was enough to be a staunch anti-communist and to have a wartime network at one’s disposal.

The deeds committed during the war hardly played a role. The research of “Report München” proves that the BND recruited Huber in December 1955, although the agency was aware of Huber’s Nazi past in all its details.  He was with the BND until at least 1967. Immediately after the war, Huber was at the service of the US. This was not unusual; many Nazis hoped to escape prosecution or Communist and Jewish revenge units this way. It was a strategy that worked.

Viennese policeman arrested Anne Frank

The Viennese policeman Karl Josef Silberbauer, who arrested Anne Frank in 1944, also worked for the BND or the Gehlen organization.

The SS man was considered an interrogation specialist and was transferred to the Netherlands in 1943.  The girl had hidden with her family and other Jews in a house in Amsterdam, where she wrote her world-famous diary. The Franks were betrayed in 1944 and taken to a concentration camp. Anne Frank died of typhus in March 1945, shortly before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

After the war, the former SS-Oberscharführer Silberbauer was again active as a police officer in Vienna.  He was tracked down by the “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal in the Austrian capital in 1963. However, a case opened against Silberbauer was dropped in 1964 because, according to the competent court, he had acted on orders. Silberbauer died in 1972, and was listed as an important “special connection” by the Gehlen organization. Silberbauer acted as a recruiter of potential intelligence agents in Austrian Nazi circles.

Ministry of the Interior reworks history

The Silberbauer case should probably also occupy the Interior Ministry in Vienna in the coming months. There, the role of the Austrian police in the so-called “Third Reich” is just beginning to be reappraised. So far, there have been hardly any research results on this subject; for example, the active role of the Vienna Police Battalion 322 in the Holocaust has not been researched in great detail.

This reappraisal of the city’s own history, which Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) announced last year, will also take into account the role of Nazi police officers after 1945.  In Germany, a commission of historians launched in 2011 is working on the history of the BND.

It is also hardly known how many former Nazi criminals worked for the BVT’s predecessor, the State Police (Stapo).  Only one case has been rudimentarily documented so far.  When the former ex-Sturmbannführer of the Flemish SS, Robert Jan Verbelen, was acquitted by a court in Vienna in 1965, former resistance fighters and young anti-fascists angrily took to the streets in downtown Vienna.  During a demonstration in Antwerp, windowpanes of the Austrian consulate were broken, the Belgian government summoned the Austrian ambassador, and newspapers declared Austria a “paradise for war criminals.”

Informant and deeply rooted in the far-right scene

Verbelen had in fact been sentenced to death in absentia by a Belgian court in 1947 for 101 counts of murder. He had been present at the murder of members of the resistance. Verbelen emerged and disappeared in 1945 in Austria, where he also obtained citizenship in 1959.  In April 1962, Wiesenthal transmitted information about this to the public prosecutor’s office, and Verbelen was promptly arrested. Belgium requested his extradition.

The ex-Sturmbannführer successfully referred to his Austrian citizenship, and so he had to stand trial before an Austrian court in November 1965. The court found him guilty of several acts, but acquitted him on the grounds that he had acted under orders. The Supreme Court reversed the acquittal, but Verbelen never had to appear in court again.

As early as 1947, Verbelen was accepted into the American intelligence service CIC.  He worked for the U.S. until at least 1955. Later, he also worked as an informant for the State Police. Verbelen was considered an indispensable informant on right-wing extremist activities. He was probably helped by the fact that he himself was deeply rooted in the far-right milieu and gave lectures at the FPÖ or the NDP, which was banned in 1988.

Source: Austria newspaper (Markus Sulzbacher, 9.4.2021)

Photo and additional info: Wikipedia

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