Commentary Magazine


Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich, by Ladislas Farago

Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich.
by Ladislas Farago.
Simon & Schuster. 479 pp. $10.95.

Aftermath deals with the thousands of Nazi war criminals who have found asylum—or at least a refuge—in South America since the end of World War II. They are for the most part living well, under their own or assumed names, and have by now gotten over the fright induced by the abduction of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Among them, according to the author, is the notorious Martin Bormann, Rudolf Hess’s successor, who as Reichsleiter could sign orders to the Nazi leadership in Hitler’s name, and who was sentenced to death in absentia at Nuremberg. Farago claims actually to have seen Bormann in February 1974—“not sick but in an advanced state of senility”—in a remote Redemptorist convent located high in the mountains of Bolivia.

Whether or not the reader accepts this claim, he is likely to find Farago’s case for Bormann alive more convincing, and certainly better documented, than the case for his death, based on the alleged discovery several years ago of a human skull and bones beneath the paving stones of a Berlin street. Authorities of the State of Hesse announced that the Invalidenstrasse remains were those of Bormann, come to light some twenty-seven years after his death: their identification was founded, among other sources, on the testimony of a court pathologist who had no credentials whatsoever as a forensic anthropologist, and on a dental chart drawn from memory by Bormann’s dentist, since deceased. Neither medical charts nor X-rays were available during these proceedings which were launched, by an odd coincidence, only a few days after publication in the London Daily Express of a series of articles by Farago claiming that both Bormann and the infamous Dr. Mengele of Auschwitz were still alive. When it was pointed out in connection with the dental sketch that a three-tooth bridge was missing, a second “dig” was undertaken and the three missing teeth obligingly came to light. How convincing this evidence was may be gauged from the fact that the criminal court of Frankfurt later refused to accept it, as did Bormann’s seven children.

Farago’s case, on the other hand, if not definitive, is certainly a good deal more plausible. According to Farago, Bormann was seen walking alongside a tank in Berlin on May 2, 1945, and three weeks later was recognized by his former driver on a street in Munich. In June 1945 a German journalist described meeting Bormann on a train heading for Denmark, a claim borne out years later when Werner Heyde, awaiting trial in jail as chief of the Reich’s euthanasia program, confessed in 1963 to having hidden Bormann after the war in the Danish castle of Benno Weiser Varon has been the Ambassador of Israel to a number of Latin American countries. Graasten. In 1948 Bormann was spotted in Bolzano by the widow of his Bavarian physician, a recognition which, we are told, was instantaneous, unmistakable, and mutual, and following which Bormann panicked and fled. Like other Nazi bigwigs, Bormann was trailed by the federal police from the day of his arrival in Argentina, and Farago provides photostats from his various dossiers along with the names of three physicians who described treating him in 1959, 1968, and 1972.

The Eichmann trial provided further evidence that, as of 1961 at least, Bormann was still alive. A police search of Eichmann’s home shortly after his capture produced three letters from Bormann. Eichmann himself spoke of Bormann during his trial as of a living person, and Eichmann’s lawyer, Dr. Robert Servatius, said on August 14, 1961, that if Eichmann was the principal culprit in the Final Solution, “Himmler had no reason to kill himself [and] Bormann can come out of hiding.” In addition, a police search of the home of Friedrich Schwend, in Lima, Peru, who during the war printed fake pound sterling notes to undermine the British currency, produced an address book in which Bormann and all his aliases and addresses were listed.

Beyond that, the official spokesman of the Holy See, Professor Federico Alessandrini, has acknowledged that “Bormann was probably one of the beneficiaries” of the Vatican’s “help for the helpless,” and the Auxiliary Bishop of Munich, Johann Neuhaeusler, dropped the “probably” and conceded point-blank that Catholic refugee organizations had been instrumental in helping Bormann escape.

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Indeed, Farago’s revelations about Bormann are considerably less important than his revelations about the part played by the Vatican in the escape of an estimated 50,000 Nazis after the war. Other books have treated this subject, but Aftermath breaks new ground with its in-depth study of the central figure behind this rescue operation, the German Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal. Hudal’s influence in German Church circles dated from his longstanding friendship with Pope Pius XII, whom he met in Rome in 1924 when the latter, then Eugenio Pacelli, was Papal Nuncio. Later, Pacelli became Secretary of State for the Holy See, and obtained for Hudal the Bishopric of Aela, making him “the senior German-speaking Bishop abroad.”

Hudal put this position to good use. As early as 1933, be began “explaining” Nazism to audiences outside Germany, welcoming the 700 members of Rome’s German colony, for example, at a Nazi May Day celebration, with the words: “We German Catholics greet the New German Reich, founded on loyalty to Christ and the fatherland.” In 1935, Hudal published a laudatory book, The Foundations of National Socialism, and in 1943 it was Hudal again who was asked by the Pope to intercede with the German commandant of Rome in the matter of the planned arrest of Italian Jews. Hudal presented the case in strictly political rather than humanitarian terms, “in the interest of the good relations . . . between the Vatican and the German high command,” and because he “feared” that “otherwise the Pope [would] have to make an open stand.” But the German commandant knew better. Although, as Ambassador von Weizsaecker reported to Berlin, “the event had taken place practically under the windows of the Pope,” the Pontiff remained silent.

From 1944 on, Hudal found a new friend in the person of the supervisor of the refugee bureau of the Vatican, Monsignor Giovanni Montini, who is today Pope Paul VI. One of the functions of the refugee bureau was to issue “identity certificates,” patterned on the Nansen passes, with no questions asked as to the true identity of their bearers, ‘in the name of Christian charity’ and as a matter of “Christian love of fellow men.” According to Farago, however, Hudal also obtained from Montini, with the Pope’s explicit permission, a limited number of regular Vatican passports for “important” Nazis, among them Bormann, who assumed clerical disguise in order to qualify as bona-fide Vatican citizens. Hudal knew that it was too late to save the Nazi regime. But he, too, saw in every Nazi he rescued a potential frontline fighter in the struggle against “godless Marxism.”

The effectiveness of the Vatican rescue operation may be gauged by the grateful words Farago cites from a speech in 1970 by Colonel Hans Ulrich Rudel, all-time ace of the German Luftwaffe and founder of the rescue organization Kameradenwerk: “One may otherwise view Catholicism as one wishes. But what during those years the Church, especially certain towering personalities, . . . undertook to save the best of our nation . . . must never be forgotten! . . . With its own tremendous resources, the Church helped many of us to go overseas. In this manner, in quiet and secrecy, the demented victor’s mad craving for revenge and retribution could be effectively countermanded.”

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