Last-Ditch Nazi Poison Plot Revealed

Two months before the end of the war, in March 1945, a captured B-17 Flying Fortress took off from a German airfield in Stuttgart and set course for the French border. Above the small town of Ayon, four German agents—three men and a woman—jumped into the night. Not long after, the plane was shot down by Allied fire and the agents were captured and interrogated by Allied counterintelligence officers. Two of them told stories that left the agents incredulous: of German saboteurs carrying poisons meant to be administered in various diabolical ways to Allied soldiers.

“The above story seems somewhat fantastic and it may be that the agents prepared it together to make themselves interesting,” the British interrogators noted in their report, recently declassified by the British National Archives. “On the other hand, both described these poisons quite spontaneously.”

The dangers the report outlined seemed serious. With the Third Reich on the brink of collapse, Nazi saboteurs had apparently arranged for a major campaign of terrorism and resistance to Allied occupation. One captured German document discusses poisoning whiskey, schnapps, and wine bottles; disguising poisons as medical items; treating plates and other items with highly poisonous substances; and accumulating solutions of strong poisons that could be injected into food: “e.g., injection of Doryl into a sausage.”

The agents of chaos were armed with a variety of clandestine gadgets to fulfill their missions. For instance, female agents were trained to kill Allied commanders using deadly “microbes” hidden in makeup mirrors. Special cigarettes were created that would give their smokers headaches; the German agents would then offer a tube of Bayer aspirin that included a tablet or two that had been poisoned. There were reports of poisoned cigarette lighters, chocolate bars, and Nescafé.

British intelligence was so worried by these troubling reports that it issued guidance that “captured agents and hidden equipment dumps should be searched for cigarette lighters, medicine, foods and cigarettes which are obviously not part of a food dump prepared for the use of the agents themselves.” Indeed, as British soldiers pushed toward Berlin they were barred “under pain of severe penalties” from eating captured German food.

Ultimately, however, the threat was limited—thanks in part to Hitler. “The Allies were very worried about what the Nazis might do, and were rather mesmerized by the idea of a last-ditch resistance by Hitler in the Alps,” explains historian David Stafford, a World War II intelligence expert and the author of Endgame, 1945. “But in the end, this turned out to be a mere Chimera. Hitler decided to make his last stand in Berlin and die a martyr’s death. So far as his egomania was concerned, Nazism was him, and when he died, it perished with him. We know that some diehard Nazis did carry out attacks after his death, but their efforts were puny and uncoordinated, and never got any traction.”

Remember Me? Holocaust Museum Launches Campaign to Identify Children Displaced During the War

During the war, millions of children were displaced from their homes and separated from their families. Relief agencies, like the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration helped those children by feeding, clothing, and housing them—and attempting to identify them and reconnect them with their families, which required that the children be photographed.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is now on a quest to pick up where the relief agencies left off, with the aid of the Internet. The Remember Me exhibit, launched this March, features 1,100 photographs of children displaced by the war. This effort to identify the children and round out their war stories is solely an online affair, and readers from around the world are encouraged to send in any information they have about those they recognize from the photo gallery.

“We’ve decided to do this project now, rather than a few years ago, because of the growth of social media and the ability to reach such a large number of people,” says Dr. Lisa Yavnai, director of the museum’s Survivors and Victims Resource Center. “And the window of opportunity to do this is closing, since the youngest survivors are in their 70s.”

In its first three weeks online, 40 children from the archive were identified, with responses coming from people across the globe. That swift response came as a surprise even to the project’s organizers, according to Yavnai. The project is posting updates on the whereabouts and life stories of those identified as they are discovered.

Anchors Aweigh

PT-305 took a journey this April that its builders at Higgins Industries certainly never envisioned when a crane hoisted the 78-foot-long boat onto a platform next to its new home, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The PT boat was then rolled into the pavilion, which is designed so that visitors can watch while restoration is completed over the next two or three years. (Guided tours will begin this summer; inquire with the museum before you visit: 1-504-528-1944.)

Lost Film Proves SS Officer’s Guilt

Lieutenant Colonel Walter Gieseke died a free man in 1974. But new film evidence conclusively shows that the former SS officer was responsible for overseeing the construction of a 1,000-mile road in rural Ukraine, a British historian announced in April. Thousands of slave laborers died from exhaustion or were executed by guards while the road was being built.

The film first surfaced in 2006, when workers began clearing out boxes of trash from the Cullompton Baptist Church in Devon, England. In one of the boxes, undisturbed for decades, was a reel of film that was given to historian Harry Bennett, who spent the last few years examining it. Bennett says he now feels confident the main figure in the film is Gieseke. The film’s origins are unclear, but it may have come from a church elder and noted film buff who has since died.

The 11-minute-long black and white footage was taken by other SS men and shows Gieseke overseeing construction of the road. Senior officers on the project are shown drinking tea, chatting with women, and puffing on cigarettes as the prisoners labor away.

“This footage shows that he was not behind a desk at all,” Bennett said, referencing a line of defense Gieseke used successfully before a 1960 war crimes tribunal that recommended he receive no sanction. “In fact other people in the footage seem to be visibly frightened of him. He certainly has power.” The road itself was one of the Third Reich’s largest public works projects and was designed to ferry German settlers to the newly occupied territories in the east.

Dig in Tokyo May Reveal War Horrors

The government of Japan has begun excavating for human remains at the site of a former army medical school in Tokyo that some experts believe was connected to the notorious wartime biological weapons program known as Unit 731. No discoveries have been reported since work got underway in February, but the very fact that an investigation is taking place at all is an indication that the Japanese government is more open to examining the darker chapters in its past.

The experiments conducted by Unit 731 have yet to be officially acknowledged by the Japanese government. But historians and former participants have amply documented the group’s use of deadly biological agents, including anthrax, typhus, and cholera, on live human subjects, mostly Chinese prisoners. Its leaders were never prosecuted.

Estimates of the number of victims vary; there may be as many as 250,000. Some remains may have been transferred from Unit 731’s base in northern China to the Tokyo site for analysis during the war. “If the bones or organs with traces of live medical experiments are found, the government would have to admit a wartime medical crime,” Yasushi Torii, the head of a group that has researched the case for decades, told reporters as bulldozers began scraping away layers of soil.

Tokyo only acknowledged the unit’s existence in a court case in 2002, without disclosing details of its work. In 2006, a former nurse, Toyo Ishii, broke her silence about what she had witnessed at the medical school site, including the burying of corpses, leading to a pledge by the government to investigate.


Originally published in the August 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.