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How did Hitler’s scar-faced SS soldier become an Irish farmer?

Otto Skorzeny pictured in his Nazi uniform, and working on his farm in County Kildare.
Otto Skorzeny pictured in his Nazi uniform, and working on his farm in County Kildare.

Credit to  Peter Crutchley, BBC

He was Hitler’s favourite Nazi commando, famously rescuing Mussolini from an Italian hilltop fortress, and was known as “the most dangerous man in Europe”.

After World War Two, he landed in Argentina and became a bodyguard for Eva Perón, with whom he was rumoured to have had an affair.

So when Otto Skorzeny arrived in Ireland in 1959, having bought a rural farmhouse in County Kildare, it caused much intrigue.

At 6ft 4in and 18 stone, known as ‘scarface’ due to a distinctive scar on his left cheek, Skorzeny was an easily recognisable figure as he popped into the local post office.

In Irish press reports at the time Skorzeny was portrayed as a glamorous cloak and dagger figure, as Dublin-based journalist Kim Bielenberg recalls.

Adolf Hitler shakes hands with his top commando, Otto Skorzeny.
‘Military prowess’

“Skorzeny was depicted as the Third Reich’s Scarlet Pimpernel. The tone in newspaper articles was one of admiration rather than repulsion.

“He seemed to be admired for his military prowess,” he said.

But concerns about why this pin-up boy of the Nazi party had come to the country led to questions in the Irish parliament. What was Skorzeny doing there? Did he intend to start Nazi activities in Ireland?

Born in Vienna in 1908, Otto Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi party in the early 1930s. At the outbreak of WW2 he was initially involved in fighting on the Eastern Front, taking part in the German invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Otto Skorzeny with Benito Mussolini after the dictator's dramatic rescue in 1943.
Otto Skorzeny with Benito Mussolini after the dictator’s dramatic rescue in 1943.
‘Most dangerous man in Europe’

By April 1943, he had been made head of German special forces, in charge of a unit of elite SS commandos.

When Hitler’s ally Benito Mussolini was overthrown and imprisoned in Italy, Skorzeny was chosen by Hitler to lead the rescue mission.

Skorzeny and his men descended in gliders upon the remote Italian mountain-top hotel where Mussolini was held captive, overwhelming the Italian guards with the surprise attack and freeing the deposed dictator.

With this success, Skorzeny further enhanced his reputation with Hitler and was promoted to major.

He gained international renown when Mussolini was paraded in front of the media with Skorzeny at his side. Winston Churchill even described the mission as “one of great daring”.

He became the Nazis’ go-to man for such operations. Another occurred in 1944 when Skorzeny and his men captured the son of the Hungarian regent, Admiral Horthy. Securing Miklós Horthy Jr after a brief fire fight, Skorzeny’s team then rolled him up in a carpet and put him on a plane to Berlin.

On trial at Dachau.
On trial at Dachau.
War crimes trial

Skorzeny’s last major mission in WW2 was during the Ardennes offensive (more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge), in December 1944.

Skorzeny commanded Operation Greif, where English-speaking Germans dressed in American uniforms used disguised tanks to get behind Allied lines.

The plan caused confusion and panic among the Allies.

Rumours spread that Skorzeny’s men were planning to assassinate General Eisenhower, with the increased security leaving Eisenhower temporarily confined to his Versailles headquarters during Christmas week.

Ten days after Hitler took his own life in May 1945, Skorzeny surrendered to the Americans.

At Dachau in 1947 he stood trial for war crimes, but the case collapsed and Skorzeny was acquitted.

Skorzeny still had to answer charges from other countries and remained held as a prisoner of war. Typically, he escaped – with the help of former SS comrades.

He ended up in Madrid and set up an import/export agency. Although much of its business was legitimate, this was said to have been a front for Skorzeny’s involvement in organising the escape of wanted Nazis from Europe to South America.

Indisputably, Skorzeny made many trips to Argentina, where he met Argentinean President Juan Perón and even became a bodyguard to Perón’s wife Eva, reportedly foiling an attempt on her life.

Otto Skorzeny's presence in Ireland caused much intrigue in the Irish and English press.
Otto Skorzeny’s presence in Ireland caused much intrigue in the Irish and English press.
Feted in Ireland

Skorzeny travelled from Madrid to Ireland in June 1957, where he had been invited to Portmarnock Country Club hotel in County Dublin.

Kim Bielenberg reflects on the welcome Skorzeny received at the reception held in his honour.

“He was feted by the Dublin social glitterati, including a young politician, Charles Haughey, who was later to become Ireland’s most controversial prime minister.”

“According to the Evening Press account, ‘the ballroom was packed with representatives of various societies, professional men and, of course, several TDs [parliamentary representatives]’,” the journalist said.

Bielenberg believes this warm welcome may have encouraged him to buy Martinstown House, a 160 acre farm and mansion in the Curragh, County Kildare, in 1959 and assesses the impression Skorzeny created with the locals.

“He could be seen driving across the Curragh in a white Mercedes and would visit the local post office for groceries.

“Reggie Darling, a local historian, told me he remembered coming across Skorzeny on the Curragh.

“He recalled him as a big man who stood out because of the scar across his face (which was the result of a duelling contest as a student), but that he wasn’t particularly friendly and he didn’t really mix with local people,” he said.

‘Escape route’

Rumours and conjecture surrounded Skorzeny’s regular visits to Ireland over the coming years.

Documents at the Irish National Archives in Dublin reveal that he was granted temporary visas to stay in Ireland, on the undertaking that he would not enter Britain.

State records from 1958 mention his indignation at the continual refusal of the British authorities to allow him entry.

Newspaper reports in the 1960s alleged that Skorzeny had opened up an escape route for ex-Nazis in Spain and that his farm in Ireland was a place where fleeing Nazis could hide, but no evidence was found to substantiate this claim.

Skorzeny's residency issue was a matter of considerable debate Skorzeny's residency issue was a matter of considerable debate.
Skorzeny’s residency issue was a matter of considerable debate.
Questions in the Dáil

In the post-war period, Europe was still haunted by the spectre of Nazism and there were concerns that it would return as a political force.

With that in mind, the former Irish minister for health Noel Browne was very concerned about Skorzeny’s presence in Ireland and raised the matter in the Irish parliament (Dáil), in 1959.

The minister expressed concern that Skorzeny was engaging in “anti-Semitic activities”.

On another occasion Browne told the Dáil: “It is generally understood that this man plays some part (in neo-Nazi activities) and, if so, he should not be allowed to use Ireland for that purpose.”

There were a number of memos and letters involving Irish government departments, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of External Affairs, addressing concerns about Skorzeny’s presence in Ireland.

When interviewed, Skorzeny denied that he was involved in Nazi activities or politics.

He said that he would like to buy horses and that one day he wished to retire to Ireland. But that did not happen and he was never granted a permanent Irish visa.

He lived out his remaining years in Madrid, where he died of cancer in 1975.

Skorzeny never denounced Nazism and was buried by his former comrades with his coffin draped in the Nazi colours.

Skorzeny's visa application.
Skorzeny’s visa application.
Nazis in Ireland

In addition to Skorzeny, a number of high-profile Nazis, including Albert Folens and Helmut Clissman, came to Ireland in the aftermath of WW2.

In Hidden History: Ireland’s Nazis, a 2007 documentary by Irish state broadcaster RTÉ, presenter Cathal O’Shannon estimated that between 100 and 200 Nazis moved to Ireland.

O’Shannon, who was an Irish-born Royal Air Force (RAF) veteran, described how he felt that anti-British sentiment in Ireland led to Nazis receiving a warmer welcome than he did when he came home after the war.

Kim Bielenberg believes it is important to consider the context of the time.

“They must have felt reasonably welcome, and were probably left alone, or even feted, as Skorzeny was. I am not sure that the full horror of Nazi atrocities had sunk in in Ireland,” he said.

“There also may have been an attitude among certain nationalists that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Irish attitudes to Nazis changed from the 1970s on, as issues such as the Holocaust entered public consciousness.”

Hitler assassination attempt

For Bielenberg there is also a personal link to Skorzeny, as he explains.

“Skorzeny was involved in rounding up and torturing members of the German resistance after their attempt on Hitler’s life. One of these plotters was my own grandfather, Fritz von der Schulenburg”, he said.

“After he was arrested with other resistance leaders, Skorzeny arrived and pulled off their military badges. The plotters were then forced to listen to a speech given by Hitler on the radio, confirming that the fuhrer was indeed still alive and well.

“My grandfather was executed in Berlin in August 1944.”

“My mother came to live in Ireland and married the son of Peter and Christabel Bielenberg, associates of senior resistance figures. She lived in the same county as Skorzeny.

“I only discovered the house’s past and the Skorzeny link when I went to dinner there with my German family just after her death.”


Possible Nazi Atomic Underground Research Complex is Discovered in Austria

Vast: The facility, which covers an area of up to 75 acres, was discovered near the town of St Georgen an der Gusen, Austria last week. It is believed to be connected to Nazi weapons facility B8 Bergkristall (Above).
  • Facility was discovered near the town of St Georgen an der Gusen, Austria
  • Understood that it could be connected to another Nazi weapons facility
  • Experts believe that it was used to conduct research into atomic bombs
  • Supported by heightened radiation readings and witness testimonies  

A labyrinth of secret underground tunnels believed to have been used by the Nazis to develop a nuclear bomb has been uncovered.
The facility, which covers an area of up to 75 acres, was discovered near the town of St Georgen an der Gusen, Austria last week, it has been reported. Excavations began on the site after researchers detected heightened levels of radiation in the area – supporting claims that the Nazis were developing nuclear weapons.

B8 Bergkristall (a Nazi weapons facility)_00004.jpg
Military centre: The newly-discovered site is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, pictured above, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the first operational jet fighter – was built.

Documentary maker Andreas Sulzer, who is leading the excavations, told the Sunday Times that the site is ‘most likely the biggest secret weapons production facility of the Third Reich’.It is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the first operational jet fighter – was built. There are also suggestions that the complex is connected to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Slave labour from the camp was used to build both complexes – with as many as 320,000 inmates in the harsh underground conditions. But while the Bergkristall site was explored by Allied and Russia after the war, the Nazis appeared to have gone through greater lengths to conceal the newly-discovered tunnels.Its entrance was only uncovered after the excavation team, which includes historians and scientists, pieced together information in declassified intelligence documents and testimonies from witnesses.

Military centre: The newly-discovered site is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, pictured above, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 - the first operational jet fighter - was built.
Military centre: The newly-discovered site is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, pictured above, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the first operational jet fighter – was built.

The team is now in the process of removing layers of soil and concrete packed into the tunnels and heavy granite plates that were used to cover the entrance. Helmets belonging to SS troops and other Nazi relics are among the items that have been uncovered so far. The excavation was halted last week by police, who demanded the group produce a permit for conducting research on historic sites. But Mr Sulzer is confident that work will resume next month.

Hidden: While the nearby Bergkristall site was explored by Allied and Russian forces after the war, the Nazis appeared to have gone through greater lengths to conceal the newly-discovered tunnels near St Georgen.

The probe was triggered by a research documentary by Mr Sulzer on Hitler’s quest to build an atomic bomb. In it, he referenced diary entries from a physicist called up to work for the Nazis. There is other evidence of scientists working for a secret project managed by SS General Hans Kammler. Kammler, who signed off the plans for the gas chambers and crematorium at Auschwitz, was in charge of Hitler’s missile programmes. Mr Sulzer searched archives in Germany, Moscow and America for evidence of the nuclear weapons-building project led by the SS.He discovered that on January 2, 1944, some 272 inmates of Mauthausen were taken from the camp to St Georgen to begin the construction of secret galleries.After the war, Austria spent some £10million in pouring concrete into most of the tunnels. But Sulzer and his backers believe they missed a secret section where the atomic research was conducted.

SS General Hans Kammler

The Soviets were stationed in St Georgen until 1955, and they took all of the files on the site back with them to Moscow. Experts are trying to discover if there is a link between St Georgen and sites in Germany proper where scientists were assembled during the Third Reich in a bid to match American efforts to build the ultimate weapon. In June 2011, atomic waste from Hitler’s secret nuclear programme was believed to have been found in an old mine near Hanover. More than 126,000 barrels of nuclear material lie rotting over 2,000 feet below ground in an old salt mine.
Rumour has it that the remains of nuclear scientists who worked on the Nazi programme are also there, their irradiated bodies burned in secret by S.S. men sworn to secrecy.


This Nazi Statue is giving Uruguay a Splitting Headache

Should this giant bronze eagle and swastika be smelted or put on public display?

A bronze Nazi sculpture dried off on deck in Montevideo after being pulled back above the waves in 2006 for the first time in more than half a century.
A bronze Nazi sculpture dried off on deck in Montevideo after being pulled back above the waves in 2006 for the first time in more than half a century.

LIMA, Peru — War trophies don’t come much more imposing than the solid bronze statue that once adorned the prow of the Graf Spee, a notorious Nazi battleship that sank numerous Allied merchant vessels.

Weighing 700 pounds and with a wingspan of nearly 9 feet, the statue is a rare surviving example of the ultimate Third Reich symbol of an eagle perched atop a swastika.

It is also causing the Uruguayan government a headache after local businessman Alfredo Etchegaray had the statue salvaged from the wreck of the Graf Spee in shallow waters just off Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo in 2006.

Of course, it’s not the only Axis relic to ever pop up in these parts. An estimated 9,000 Nazi war criminals fled to South America after World War II, according to German prosecutors. The eagle is the latest reminder of the region’s unwanted links with the Third Reich.

Etechegaray claims to have shelled out $5 million over three decades in retrieving parts of the Graf Spee, and now wants a return on that investment.

After a lengthy legal battle, Uruguay’s supreme court has ruled that the PR mogul does own half the statue, with the other half belonging to the government.

He now wants to sell his rights and have the statue, currently under wraps in a Uruguayan navy warehouse, put on display in a museum. But he claims Germany is pressuring the administration of President Jose Mujica to keep the controversial sculpture out of public sight.

“If the government wants to bury this statue they have the right to do that, but we also have the right to get half the money for it,” Etchegaray said.

“Why shouldn’t it be displayed publicly, in an appropriate way, of course, with historical explanation? That’s what happens with the Roman Colosseum, with artifacts from the Khmer Rouge, with torture instruments used by the Inquisition.”

The German Embassy in Montevideo and the Uruguayan government’s National Heritage Commission declined to comment to GlobalPost.

Acting on Etchegaray’s behalf, Montevideo art gallery Gomensoro is now receiving offers for the businessman’s 50 percent stake in the statue, which it values loosely at up to $15 million. The reserve price, gallery owner Jose Enrique Gomensoro claims, is between $3 million and $5 million.

“It’s 100 percent certain it will sell,” Gomensoro adds. “But it’s very hard to say how much it will fetch. It could all depend on the whim of a single collector. How badly do they want it?”

That the statue is unique is beyond dispute. The only similar one used by the “Kriegsmarine,” Hitler’s navy, was on the prow of the Bismarck, a much larger warship sunk in the North Atlantic in 1941.

Picture taken Dec. 17, 1939, in front of the port of Montevideo, Uruguay of the sinking Graf Spee.
Picture taken Dec. 17, 1939, in front of the port of Montevideo, Uruguay of the sinking Graf Spee.

Classed as a “pocket battleship,” the Graf Spee was named after a German admiral and, for its era, used state-of-the-art technology. Just over 600 feet long, it had a top speed of 29 knots (about 33 miles per hour) and its main weapons were six 52-caliber guns mounted in two turrets, fore and aft.

It sank nine Allied merchant ships in the South Atlantic, as they brought vital supplies of beef, wheat and wool, from South America to the United Kingdom, in the early days of World War II.

But it was scuttled in December 1939 just off Montevideo after being damaged in the ferocious Battle of the River Plate and its captain, Hans Langsdorff, had been tricked by British intelligence into believing that it was about to be surrounded by the Royal Navy.

Residents of Montevideo watched the ship burn for three days before eventually sinking in water just 30 feet deep. Langsdorff shot himself in a Buenos Aires hotel three days later.

Uruguay eventually joined the conflict on the side of the Allies. Although after the war it also, unwittingly perhaps, provided refuge to a small number of war criminals, including one torturer known as Dr. Death.

Uruguayan diver Hector Bado points to a blemish thought to be a bullet hole.
Uruguayan diver Hector Bado points to a blemish thought to be a bullet hole.

But Gomensoro’s valuation for the eagle-and-swastika statue was trashed by William Rey Ashfield, a former head of the National Heritage Commission, who described the multimillion-dollar price tag as “delirious.”

“Really, the Uruguayan government should never have allowed any salvaging of the Graf Spee,” Rey Ashfield said. “But now that this statue is on dry land, I hope that an agreement can be worked out for it to be put on public display, but not in a triumphalist way, here in Uruguay. This is part of our history too.”

He was also skeptical of Etchegaray’s claim that Germany was opposed to the statue being displayed publicly.

“Germany is on the sidelines. If anything, the problem is that they don’t want to get involved, although they would definitely be concerned at the possibility of a private sale leading to the statue falling into the hands of neo-Nazis or being used to glorify the Third Reich.”

“It could be a good attraction for a museum. But it is a controversial piece that many people will also reject. It is a hot potato.”

Meanwhile, Etchegaray is waiting for the Uruguayan government to make up its mind about what it wants to do with its 50 percent stake in the statue. “I’m not waiting 20 years,” he said. “Deciding who owns it has already taken long enough.”


Donor, Museum differ on display of Hitler Photographs

By Dianna Cahn
The Virginian-Pilot
Published: November 29, 2014

She barely remembers the soldier’s name anymore.

But Doris Baker never forgot the keepsake he gave her some 60 years ago, when she was living in Germany.

The soldier had been among the first Americans to occupy key Nazi buildings after the war, and he’d found negatives in a photo lab at the Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

Baker was in her early 30s at the time. She opened the envelope and pulled out about a dozen black-and-white photographs of perhaps the most recognizable man of their generation.

There was Hitler at the center of a Nazi march. There he was with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and again, in full military regalia, his left hand holding his belt, his right hand stretched out in the infamous Nazi stance.

There were some less familiar images as well – photos of Hitler relaxed and laughing, reading the newspaper, interacting with a child.

Those were the ones that made Baker stop and think: How do you handle pictures of one of the great mass murderers of history that portray his humanity?

Baker was a teacher and later principal for children of Special Forces soldiers posted in Germany during those post-war years.

When she made her way back home in the 1980s, the photos came with her.

In 2010, Baker, then 93, was preparing to move into the Atlantic Shores retirement community in Virginia Beach and started consolidating her belongings.

She wrote to the Virginia War Museum saying she wanted to donate the photographs. Baker recalled in her letter that the soldier’s name was Don Arndt and that he’d given a 14-print set to Baker and another set to her friend when the two women visited Arndt’s home for a weekend.

Arndt told them that aside from his own set, he would never again make prints from those negatives.

Arndt and Baker’s friend had both long since died when Baker wrote to the museum. Neither of their families could find the Hitler prints or negatives among their belongings, Baker wrote.

She hoped the museum would use the prints to teach the horrors of the Holocaust.

The Virginia War Museum sits on a large, green lot next to the James River Bridge in Newport News.

Founded by veterans at an American Legion Post, the museum began as a collection of World War I artifacts that local service members had brought home.

The collection quickly expanded to other wars, growing too large for the small post. After more than a decade, money was collected to build a new museum, which opened in 1941.

Today, the museum is packed with displays of America’s wars, marking time from the muskets and uniforms of the Revolutionary War and posters of Uncle Sam wanting you, through the firepower used by the soldiers of Saddam Hussein.

The World War II exhibit is one of the museum’s largest, including Nazi emblems, photos and propaganda, and a large painting and enlarged photograph of Hitler.

There is also a section of the barbed-wire fence and concrete pillars that surrounded the Dachau Concentration Camp.

It seemed to Baker the perfect venue to house and exhibit the photos she’d been charged with, and the museum appeared happy to have them.

“These photos will help us tell the story of the Second World War to many generations to come,” the museum’s registrar wrote in correspondence with Baker.

Dick Hoffeditz wears clean, white gloves as he pulls Baker’s 14 photographs out of a storage cabinet in the library off to the side of the museum.

The curator said most of the pictures were likely taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, one of Hitler’s personal photographers, who idolized the fuhrer.

Many were taken at the Berghof, Hitler’s Alps hideaway in Bavaria overlooking his native Austria. More than one of the images includes Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and a key wartime Nazi figure, who had his headquarters in the same compound.

But none of Baker’s images is exhibited.

Space is a severe limitation, Hoffeditz said. Like most museums, just a fraction of its holdings are on display.

The museum could replace a few exhibited photos with some of Baker’s collection, he acknowledges.

But visitors sometimes complain about the Nazi images, he said, because they think the museum is glorifying the Nazi regime.

“There’s a tremendous fear of creating the cult of personality, which Hitler certainly enjoyed during his time,” Hoffeditz said. “It’s minor compared to what can be gained by putting a face on these horrific actions.

“You have to remind people there is evil in the world, and to totally relegate it to dark storage or archival areas is a mistake.”

People forget, said Hoffeditz,that a museum is more than just an educational resource. It is also a repository, to preserve items for years to come.

A quick Internet search will turn up references to most of the images Baker donated. Several, including the photo of Hitler sitting on a bench laughing, are part of the collection at Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.

They are also part of the museum’s archive collection, likely not on display.

People have different biases, Hoffeditz said, and the museum needs to be sensitive. But as a historical caretaker, he doesn’t necessarily agree.

“Personally, I think their view is a little short-sighted,” he said. “If you lock it all up and throw away the key, you really do a disservice to history and future generations.”

Fingering photocopies of the prints, Baker, now 97, is transported back to the first time she saw them.

“I was amazed,” she says. “When I saw him laughing, I said, ‘My goodness, I’ve never seen him laughing in pictures.’ ”

At one point, the museum lost track of the photos, and Baker felt a piece of history had been lost.

“I was so mad,” she says. “I thought (the collection) should be in a place where a lot of people would see it and never forget what Hitler had done.”

She was delighted to discover recently that the photos were still with the museum, just mismarked in the computer system.

But the collection’s placement, locked away in the archives, deeply upsets her.

“They never showed it to anybody,” she says. “They closed it up, never set up any kind of opening for that. It’s awful.”

She wishes today that she’d donated them somewhere else and would take them back, if she could.

“I gave them to the wrong place,” she says. “I feel like I did a very wrong thing there.”