Newly discovered documents show that in the years after World War II, former members of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formed a secret army to protect the country from the Soviets. The illegal project could have sparked a major scandal at the time.
For nearly six decades, the 321-page file lay unnoticed in the archives of the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency — but now its contents have revealed a new chapter of German postwar history that is as spectacular as it is mysterious.
The previously secret documents reveal the existence of a coalition of approximately 2,000 former officers — veterans of the Nazi-era Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS — who decided to put together an army in postwar Germany in 1949. They made their preparations without a mandate from the German government, without the knowledge of the parliament and, the documents show, by circumventing Allied occupation forces.
The goal of the retired officers: to defend nascent West Germany against Eastern aggression in the early stages of the Cold War and, on the domestic front, deploy against the Communists in the event of a civil war. It collected information about left-wing politicians like Social Democrat (SPD) Fritz Erler, a key player in reforming the party after World War II, and spied on students like Joachim Peckert, who later became a senior official at the West German Embassy in Moscow during the 1970s.
The new discovery was brought about by a coincidence. Historian Agilolf Kesselring found the documents — which belonged to the Gehlen Organization, the predecessor to the current foreign intelligence agency — while working for an Independent Historical Commission hired by the BND to investigate its early history. Similar commissions have been hired by a number of German authorties in recent years, including the Finance and Foreign Ministries to create an accurate record of once hushed-up legacies.
Kesselring uncovered the documents, which were given the strange title of “Insurances,” while trying to determine the number of workers employed by the BND.
Instead of insurance papers, Kesselring stumbled upon what can now be considered the most significant discovery of the Independent Historical Commission. The study he wrote based on the discovery was released this week.