How Nazi Germany’s ‘most diabolical’ SS officer evaded postwar justice

One of Nazi Germany’s top Holocaust perpetrators traded rocket-making secrets for freedom, according to an investigator who researched the postwar trail of SS general Hans Kammler for more than a decade.

During the Third Reich, Kammler oversaw construction of the concentration camp system, including the killing facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Later in the war, he took over Germany’s “secret weapons” program, forcing tens of thousands of laborers to construct and live in underground factories.

“The Holocaust would not have been as ‘efficient’ were it not for Kammler,” said Dean Reuter, author of “The Hidden Nazi: The Untold Story of America’s Deal with the Devil,” recently published in paperback. “He was integral to the evolution of mass murder.”

For decades, it was assumed Kammler died by suicide or was killed shortly after liberation in April 1945. Reuter’s book, however, demonstrates that Kammler was “delivered” to US authorities by rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who feared Kammler’s secrets — and colleagues — would fall into Russian hands.

“Kammler and the Americans created the deal wherein he gave them the rocket team and they erased his past,” Reuter told The Times of Israel. “As part of that deal, we covered up his death and the world accepted that he died,” said Reuter, whose book was published in hardcover in 2019.

Opening with the hypothesis that Kammler did not commit suicide but relocated to South America, Reuter examined records showing Kammler was questioned by top American investigators in November 1945. Although von Braun possessed scientific know-how, Kammler — as von Braun’s direct superior — knew a lot more about stashed-away personnel, supplies, and documents.

SS General Hans Kammler (public domain)

“[Kammler’s] knowledge is probably only second hand, but he knows what fields have been covered and where documents, stocks and pilot plants are hidden,” read a British intelligence report. “Some of these were secreted in the Russian Zone. It would be dangerous for us if he revealed this to the Russians.”

‘He was the most diabolical’

Kammler began his Nazi career modestly, working on construction projects for the air ministry. Having joined the party in 1931, however, he was a rigid ideologue.

In 1934, Kammler wrote a treatise about the expansion of Germany eastward, where the population would need to be dominated by ethnic German colonists. Holding a doctorate in civil engineering, Kammler believed the “subjugation” would require the murder of 20-30 million people.

SS general Hans Kammler (second from right) and other SS officers visit Auschwitz (public domain)

To help bring the Holocaust to scale, Kammler shifted from traditional building projects to implementing the architecture of genocide. Specifically, he oversaw Auschwitz-Birkenau’s transition into a death camp where 1 million Jews were murdered.

While building the death camp Birkenau next to Auschwitz, Kammler — whose signature appears on preserved work orders — demonstrated stunning efficiency. For example, he decided to turn underground morgues into gas chambers, adding a small freight elevator to transport corpses up to the crematoria.

No detail at Birkenau was too small for Kammler’s input, from the size of prisoner barracks to perimeter fences. The SS officer was nicknamed “dust cloud” for his frequent visits to the camp and unforgiving pace.

“His work was carried everywhere and duplicated throughout the Reich,” said Reuter. “He was the most diabolical.”

‘We might have had a different outcome’

After he transformed Auschwitz-Birkenau into the Reich’s largest death camp, Kammler partnered with SS head Heinrich Himmler on the construction of “secret weapons.” Eventually, the so-called “Vengeance-2” (V-2) rocket program became the crown jewel in Kammler’s slave labor empire.

“The V-2 rockets were massively important,” said Reuter “They were so advanced they did not look like they belonged on the World War II battlefield.”

London after a V-2 rocket attack from Germany, 1944 (public domain)

At 46 feet long each, the V-2 rockets built by Kammler’s laborers reached 55 miles into the atmosphere of northern France and landed in London with terrifying explosions. Supersonic in speed, the rockets were churned out in massive quantities and could travel up to 300 miles.

Fortunately for the Allies, Germany’s V-2 rockets were not ready for use until October 1944, four months after the D-Day invasion. The Nazi system prioritized too many disparate projects simultaneously, ensuring that relatively few of them took off.

“We knew the Germans were testing these rockets,” said Reuter. “If they had gotten these to the launchpads in time, we might have had a different outcome in the war.”

‘Somebody came in and cleaned the files’

As part of “Operation Paperclip,” US authorities sought to capture German technical experts to use in the space program. Beginning in 1945, an estimated 5,000 German scientists and technicians were brought to the US, including “severely tainted men who were involved in the Holocaust and the use of slave labor,” said Reuter.

Wernher von Braun and President John F. Kennedy at a rocket launch (public domain)

Despite the “taint” attached to Nazi scientists, bringing rocket experts like Wernher von Braun to the US was considered vital as tensions with the Soviet Union escalated. German scientists helped the US build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and — eventually — outpace Russia to land on the moon.

With his record of building death camps and operating slave labor, Kammler was never a candidate for “rehabilitation” in the US. Instead, believes Reuter, Kammler gave US forces what they wanted and the former SS general was allowed to flee Germany along the notorious “ratline” out of Europe, through which thousands of Nazi war criminals fled to Argentina and other countries.

In addition to Reuter’s hypothesis that Kammler fled to South America, “there is also a possibility he was used as an intelligence asset in Europe, like Klaus Barbie or the other people we used and shipped off,” said Reuter, adding that not even Israel’s Mossad or the Simon Wiesenthal Center hunted for Kammler.

In 2012, the US Department of Justice responded to a request from Reuter to view records on Kammler by sending the author a set of “highly redacted” documents. Seven years later, before “Hidden Nazi” went to press, Reuter made another Freedom of Information Act request and was told the government had no records about Kammler.

“As one archivist said to me, it was like somebody came in and cleaned the files,” said Reuter.