Report on the IRR File of Hermann Julius Hoefle
Richard Breitman, IWG Historian
Professor of History, American University
Hermann Julius Hoefle, a major Nazi war criminal who went unpunished after 1945, served briefly in 1954 as a paid informant for the U. S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps. According to a newly declassified Army Investigative Repository Records (IRR) file on Hoefle, the CIC was aware of Hoefle's SS background but failed to discover what Hoefle had really done during World War II. Several different authorities allowed Hoefle to legitimize himself in West Germany in the postwar period. The IRR file, however, covers only the early 1950s, when the army first observed Hoefle, then decided to make use of him.
Hoefle was born on June 19, 1911, in Salzburg. Trained as a car mechanic, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1930 when it was an illegal movement, and he was imprisoned because of his political activity in 1935. After Germany conquered Poland in 1939, Hoefle served on the front lines in the Nazi war against political and racial enemies - as an officer with the murderous police auxiliaries (Selbstschutzfuehrer) in the Cracow district, as the head of a forced labor camp for Jews near what would later become the Belzec extermination camp, and especially in the Lublin district, where he worked under SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik.1
Under Globocnik, Hoefle held the title Head of the Main Section of Operation Reinhard(t)2 - the codename for the murder of Jews in the General Government (most of Poland) and the theft of their property and personal effects. Globocnik was the man in charge of the program, but Hoefle was his most important subordinate. Hoefle gave basic instructions to the personnel assigned to Operation Reinhard(t)-and required everyone to sign a declaration of secrecy. He also involved himself in construction at some of the extermination camps, as well as in shipping Jews from ghettos to the camps. He helped to clear out the Warsaw Ghetto.3 Later he served as an officer at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and as a senior SS officer in Greece.4
According to information Hoefle later gave American army officials, after his capture in Austria, he remained in British internment during 1945-47. He was then released and got a job as a car mechanic. In 1948 he learned that the Polish government was seeking his extradition for war crimes. Using a network of former SS associates, Hoefle escaped to Italy, where he lived for a couple of years under an assumed name. In 1951 he returned to Austria. In March 1951 he tried to enter West Germany, but was arrested for unauthorized crossing of the border. Admitting his real name, Hoefle told a Munich court that Poland was seeking to prosecute him and that he also feared being kidnapped. In April 1951 he was given West German identification documents and allowed to live legally there.
Hoefle took up association with a number of his old SS comrades in Bavaria. He came to the attention of CIC officials as a potential source of information about the doings of former SS men and far-right-wing circles in southern West Germany. The U. S. army was interested in the extreme German right - and also in efforts by Communists to influence or infiltrate right-wing circles. They first placed Hoefle under surveillance, then brought him in to see whether he would cooperate and whether he might be useful. He was not eager, but ultimately proved willing.
A CIC assessment of Hoefle's character in February 1954 did not penetrate beyond the surface:
Subject is punctual, militant in action, truthful and trusting in a person only after his trustworthiness has been proven. Subject has been found to be most appreciative and courteous…. Based on information received from subject, he can be evaluated as fairly reliable at this time. Subject is considered 'usually reliable' insofar as past activity of the SS and Gestapo is concerned. It is pointed out, however, in the majority of cases that subject must be asked specific questions during meetings because he is prone to minimize an occurrence or event rather than to magnify it.
Hoefle had told CIC officials that during the war he had served in the Waffen-SS, that he was affiliated with the organization of partisan groups in fighting the Russians, and that he had taken part in security work in Poland in regard to German personnel. "Security work" involved the murder of some two million Polish Jews. Anyone with some knowledge about Nazi Germany and with access to his SS file in the Berlin Document Center could have exposed these falsehoods and evasions.
After giving the CIC information deemed of value in February 1954, Hoefle received the cover name Hans Hartman and was placed on the rolls for a monthly stipend of 100 DM. In June 1954, however, he was dropped without prejudice for undisclosed reasons. He thus worked for the CIC only five months.
Hoefle's IRR file is mainly remarkable for what it does not contain. Although the CIC was aware that Poland wanted to prosecute him for war crimes and although there apparently was a cursory check of Berlin Document Center records about him, no one seems to have been concerned about what Hoefle might have done as an SS officer in Poland. Army officials seemed content to accept Hoefle's sanitized version of what can only be described as a consistent record of monstrous and barbaric crimes.
The IRR file contains no information about Hoefle's later activities. In 1961 the past caught up with him; he was arrested for war crimes. He committed suicide on August 21, 1962 in a Viennese prison before he could be tried.5
1. Biographical information on Hoefle available in his SS Personnel File, United States National Archives (NA), Record Group 242, Berlin Document Center, Microfilm A-3343, SSO-102A. See also Joseph Wulf, Das Dritte Reich und seine Vollstrecker (Frankfurt, 1984), 275-87.