June 26, 2000
Newly Declassified OSS Records Shed New Light on World War II
College Park, MD. . . On June 26 the Nazi War Criminals Interagency Working Group (IWG) is making available to researchers approximately 400,000 pages of previously classified documents from the records of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, 1942-45) and of the Strategic Services Unit (SSU, 1945-46), forerunners of the CIA. The release is a major opening by the IWG, the group established by President Clinton in 1999 to expedite the declassification of records related to war crimes of the Nazi government and its allies. The OSS documents contain historically valuable material that would not have been declassified without the passage of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act and the efforts of the National Archives and the Central Intelligence Agency under that act.
The documents come from a larger OSS collection, much of which was declassified by the CIA in the 1980s. The IWG release consists of documents previously withheld by the CIA because of the sensitive information they contained on sources and methods. They cover diverse topics and activities relating to intelligence operations during the War and, because they were withdrawn from other files, are not organized by topic or activity.
The National Archives has an inventory of this eclectic collection. The documents contain general information about OSS activities worldwide, about Nazi Germany and its allies. Researchers who review the many thousands of pages will find information that is valuable to investigations in a broad range of subjects.
Among the materials researchers will find:
- New information on the Nazi roundup of Roman Jews
- 1,200 reports based on information supplied to Allen Dulles, the head of the OSS in Switzerland by the anti-Nazi German Foreign Office official Fritz Kolbe
- Reports on the U.S. Safehaven program to identify and block from flight German financial assets and other war spoils
- Reports on OSS clandestine missions into France and Norway
- Records of the OSS insurance intelligence unit (IIU)
- Prisoner of war interrogation reports
- Refugee and émigré debriefings, including interviews with civilian internees returning from the Far East
- Information related to looted art
- Reports on Japanese balloon warfare over the U.S. Pacific Northwest
A portion of the records includes messages of the SS Security Service (SD) sent from Rome to Berlin during August, September, and October, 1943, that were intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and shared with U.S. intelligence. The messages provide historical insight into what the Allied governments knew about the Holocaust, when they learned it, and what might have been done with the information they possessed. The decodes are also valuable in adding to what is known about Nazi intervention in Italy, providing detail about the early German decision to deport Italian Jews to Auschwitz. The existing scholarly literature lacks a clear consensus on exactly who ordered the deportation and murder of Italian Jews and when it occurred.
The documents also contain lengthy verbatim excerpts from "private" conversations among German POWs secretly recorded by the British and later given to American intelligence officials. In these conversations, German army, navy, and SS officers unwittingly gave British intelligence analysts commentaries on past and current actions by top Nazi officials. In some cases, these POWs also described their own attitudes toward Nazi mass killings and atrocities. Some captives continued to support the fatherland to the end, but others tried to distance themselves, focusing blame on Heinrich Himmler and the SS. These documents will provide researchers a better picture of the relationship between the German army and the SS, additional details about Nazi concentration and extermination camp operations, an assessment of German morale toward the end of the war, among many other topics.
Within the OSS collection there are previously unreleased documents concerning the OSS penetration of the German Foreign Office using the anti-Nazi German informant Fritz Kolbe. Codenamed George Wood, Kolbe maintained contact with Allen Dulles--then head of the OSS in Switzerland--and is widely considered by intelligence historians one of the best informants for the OSS. This opening contains the first complete set of Kolbe documents and shows who within the U.S. Government had access to his information.
The IWG was established by Executive Order in January 1999 to coordinate the large-scale effort of federal agencies to expedite the release of U. S. records relating to the Nazis and their allies. The President named the group's members from the major agencies holding classified records and appointed three members to represent the public. The group's purpose is to locate, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available all classified Nazi war criminal records. The Act defines Nazi War criminal records as records pertaining to individuals in the Nazi government, or in governments allied with the Nazis, who participated in racial, religious, or political persecution or to theft of the assets of persecuted people.
For press information, contact Giuliana Bullard, 703-532-1477, or Susan Cooper at the National Archives and Records Administration at 301-837-1700. Additional information is available at http://www.archives.gov/iwg/.