Danny OrbachJul 5, 2023
A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War
Pegasus Books 2022
Today I talked to Danny Orbach about his book Fugitives: A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War (Pegasus Books, 2022).
Shrouded in government secrecy, clouded by myths and propaganda, the enigmatic tale of Nazi fugitives in the early Cold War has never been properly told—until now. In the aftermath of WWII, the victorious Allies vowed to hunt Nazi war criminals “to the ends of the earth.” Yet many slipped away to the four corners of the world or were shielded by the Western Allies in exchange for cooperation. Most prominently, Reinhard Gehlen, the founder of West Germany's foreign intelligence service, welcomed SS operatives into the fold. This shortsighted decision nearly brought his cherished service down, as the KGB found his Nazi operatives easy to turn, while judiciously exposing them to threaten the very legitimacy of the Bonn Government. However, Gehlen was hardly alone in the excessive importance he placed on the supposed capabilities of former Nazi agents; his American sponsors did much the same in the early years of the Cold War. Other Nazi fugitives became freelance arms traffickers, spies, and covert operators, playing a crucial role in the clandestine struggle between the superpowers.
From posh German restaurants, smuggler-infested Yugoslav ports, Damascene safehouses, Egyptian country clubs, and fascist holdouts in Franco's Spain, Nazi spies created a chaotic network of influence and information. This network was tapped by both America and the USSR, as well as by the West German, French, and Israeli secret services. Indeed, just as Gehlen and his U.S sponsors attached excessive importance to Nazi agents, so too did almost all other state and non-state actors, adding a combustible ingredient to the Cold War covert struggle. Shrouded in government secrecy, clouded by myths and propaganda, the tangled and often paradoxical tale of these Nazi fugitives and operatives has never been properly told—until now.
Danny Orbach is a Senior Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Craig Sorvillo is a PhD candidate in modern European history at the University of Florida. He specializes in Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust.