The book “NS Continuities in the BND” reviews the history of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND). The author of the book, Gerhard Sälter, shows how people from Hitler’s terror apparatus continued to pull their strings after the war.
On May 1, 1945, the Federal Council dissolved the Swiss national group of the NSDAP and shortly thereafter expelled 300 Germans. For years the organization had remained unmolested. But now, a few days before the end of the war, people no longer wanted to have anything to do with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
That didn’t last long. Soon companies such as the Schweizerhall acid factory or Holzverzuckerungs AG hired experts from IG Farben, which had been closely linked to the National Socialist policy of extermination during the war. And in Bern there were voices that said one shouldn’t be more papal than the pope. The Americans, French or English would bring hundreds of incriminated German experts into the country.
Former SS agent worked at Bührle
During the Cold War, reservations about the former Nazis quickly faded. And so, a few years after 1945, the former SS agent Franz Mayr and the right-wing extremist arms dealer and secret society Waldemar Pabst were back working for the Zurich arms manufacturer Emil Bührle. And Rudolf Oebsger-Röder, who was involved in mass murders in Poland, wrote for the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”.
A new book about the history of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and its predecessor, the Gehlen Organization, shows how this came about. In the more than 800-page work “NS Continuities in the BND,” the German historian Gerhard Sälter provides meticulous evidence of how the secret service agents systematically recruited people from Hitler’s terror apparatus from the start. “The management of the Gehlen organization wanted exactly these people, including the Gestapo, SS, SD, and task forces,” says Sälter. Active participation in acts of violence was not considered an obstacle to employment, but rather evidence of professional experience. Swiss companies also benefited from this.
Network kept recruiting
The old comrades formed networks that recruited more and more comrades. Such a network was formed immediately after the war in Rome around Walther Rauff, one of the “key figures of the Holocaust” (“Spiegel”). In 1941, Rauff developed the so-called gas vans, which the Nazis used to murder around 500,000 people. The actors around Rauff, some of whom already belonged to the Gehlen organization, others who joined later, organized the escape of Nazis to South America via the “rat lines” and recruited Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS officers, some of whom were heavily burdened, for Syria after the defeat of the Arab states in the 1949 war against Israel. They were also involved in the arms trade with the Middle East.
Peter Studer-Mayr was one of these actors. The SS Untersturmfuhrer, who was still called Franz Mayr during the war, was a member of the NSDAP and from 1940 an SD agent in what is now Iran. After the occupation of Iran by Great Britain and the Soviet Union, he was arrested by the British secret service in 1943. He later managed to escape and went into hiding.
In 1948 he was a permanent employee of the Gehlen organization and set up a subsidiary of the Terramar company, which according to the US secret service CIA was a front company for the recruitment of Syrian emigrants and the arms trade. One of his customers was the Zurich arms factory Oerlikon-Bührle. Some transactions are documented, as Gerhard Sälter writes: In 1948, an Egyptian company approached him that wanted to produce grenades and ammunition and needed machines for this. In autumn 1949, the Egyptian military attaché in Bern ordered grenades, artillery ammunition and rockets from Studer-Mayr. In August 1951 he was seen in Addis Ababa, where the former SS man and a representative from Oerlikon-Bührle were negotiating a large arms deal with the Ethiopian government. In the same year he left the BND because Terramar’s business proved to be more lucrative.
Expulsion has been postponed
A memorandum from the German secret service shows that in 1951 Waldemar Pabst also wanted to join the military mission in Syria in order “to get the Swiss arms factory Oerlikon-Bührle, which he represented, into business”. Pabst, a far-right Freikorps leader after 1918 and responsible for the assassination of socialist politicians Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, lived in Switzerland from 1943 to 1955. He maintained business and private relationships with the arms manufacturer and art collector Emil Bührle. Among his friends were Colonel-in-Chief and BGB-Nationalrat Eugen Bircher or Aliens Police Chief Heinrich Rothmund. After Waldemar Pabst’s previous life became known, Federal Councilor Eduard von Steiger declared him an undesirable person in 1944, but he managed, with the help of his friends, to postpone the expulsion again and again.
As the Zurich historian Regula Bochsler shows in her new book “Nylon und Napalm”, after the war the enterprising Pope was also involved in the arms deals of Patvag, which belonged to the founder of today’s Ems-Chemie, Magdalena Martullo-Blocher.
“Many of these networks and activities during the war were already highlighted by Peter Hug in his Bergier sub-report on the Swiss armaments industry,” says historian Jakob Tanner, professor emeritus at the University of Zurich and member of the Bergier Commission. However, the BND study would extend the view to the post-war period.
Indeed. After the controversy surrounding the extension of the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Bührle collection exhibited there, a report commissioned by the city and canton of Zurich on the background to Emil Bührle’s art collection and its business was published in 2021. The activities of Studer-Mayr or Pabst after 1945 are not included.
BND transferred employees to prevent scandal
A man named Rudolf (Rolf) Oebsger-Röder also worked in the Tegernsee branch office, where Studer-Mayr was employed. As head of the Einsatzkommando 16a, he was “directly involved in the mass murders in a leading position” in Poland, writes the historian Gerhard Sälter.
The former SS-Oberststurmbannfuhrer joined the Gehlen organization in 1948. Because the BND feared that his past would become public and cause a scandal, Oebsger-Röder was sent to Indonesia in 1958, where he worked for the BND until 1966. According to Sälter, during his time there, the BND supported the putschists led by General Suharto, who after 1965 carried out a massacre among their political opponents, killing around 500,000 people, with weapons, technology and training. It is quite possible that Oebsger-Röder coordinated this support.
Former SS man worked for the “NZZ”
In 1966, the BND parted ways with him after documents emerged proving his involvement and explicit support for the mass murder in Poland. From then on, Oebsger-Röder worked for around two decades as the Indonesia correspondent for newspapers such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the FAZ and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, as first became known in 2004. In 1967 he wrote in the “NZZ” about the Indonesian President: “What General Suharto has achieved so far in the political field, he owes to his cautious method of gentle force.” With 500,000 dead, a rather idiosyncratic assessment.
In the “NZZ” itself, none of this was ever an issue. In 2011 an article was published about Walther Rauff, the developer of the gas van. Rudolf Oebsger-Röder is also mentioned in a subordinate clause. That this “fanatical SS man” was a long-time employee of the “NZZ” – not a word.