Interagency Working Group (IWG)

RG 263 Detailed Report, Guido Zimmer

Records of the Directorate of Operations

Analysis of the Name File of Guido Zimmer

By Professor Richard Breitman, American University
IWG Director of Historical Research

Guido Zimmer was a mid-level SS officer involved in the Holocaust in Italy and in Nazi espionage. His notebooks, which are translated in the CIA's file, offer insight into Nazi intelligence activities the last year of World War II, particularly Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) efforts either to negotiate a separate peace with the West or to divide the Allies.

Zimmer's notebooks (the original in German shorthand), which covered his activities from May 1944 until March 1945, contain new information about the intelligence contacts that led to the surrender of German forces in northern Italy arranged by Allen Dulles (May 2, 1945). Dulles's negotiations, codenamed "Operation Sunrise," saved some lives and certainly added luster to his achievements as head of the OSS office in Switzerland. The story of the secret American-German negotiations in Switzerland in March and April 1945 was revealed in 1947 in a series of magazine articles in the Saturday Evening Post. Although the purpose of this publicity was probably to counteract tendentious and inaccurate Italian accounts of the surrender of German forces in Italy, stories about Dulles's wartime successes helped him later to become director of the CIA. Therefore, new evidence about the background of Operation Sunrise is historically quite significant.

Another significant element of Zimmer's file is that he was able to escape prosecution as a war criminal partly through exploiting his wartime intelligence contacts and dealings with OSS officials, who spoke up for him after the war. In that sense his history mirrors the experience of some other Nazi officials.

Born on November 18, 1911 in Buer, Westphalia, Guido Zimmer was a slim, athletic man of average height with dark brown hair and a high-pitched voice.1 He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and the SS and SD in 1936. By 1940, as a member of Foreign Intelligence branch of the RSHA, he was assigned to Rome. After Zimmer's cover was blown through a slip, he was recalled to Berlin.

In September 1943, after Mussolini was overthrown and a new Italian government tried to sign an armistice, the Allies landed troops in southern Italy. Germany intervened with its own troops and SS and police, taking control of most of the country. Killings and deportations of Jews in Italy began.

Zimmer was assigned to Genoa, where he tracked Jews down, then to Milan. His commander in Milan was the infamous SS Colonel Walter Rauff, head of the Security Police and SD for Group Northwest Italy (Gruppe Oberitalien West). (Years earlier in the RSHA criminal-technical institute, Rauff had designed gassing vans to poison Jews and other victims.) Zimmer led a small team in Milan that seized Jewish property and lived well off the proceeds. He also obtained political information from abroad and built up a network of agents who could supply Germany with intelligence if the Allies overran Italy. Like Rauff, Zimmer was involved both with war crimes and with espionage in Italy.

By the fall of 1944 espionage specialists were also thinking of ways to involve themselves in high-level diplomacy. RSHA foreign intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg had been eager to initiate discussions with the Western allies in the hope that Germany could conclude an advantageous (or respectable) peace on one front. But there were two huge obstacles: the Allies had demanded unconditional German surrender, and Hitler and his entourage were convinced that the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union was an unnatural bond that could never last. Under these circumstances, Schellenberg had to be extremely cautious in putting out feelers to the West. He had some leeway to operate--he could always claim he was trying to cause trouble among the Allies--but he did not have Hitler's or Himmler's approval.2

Schellenberg also wanted his own trusted officials to handle any overtures to the West. He helped to scuttle a proposal from Wilhelm Harster, commander of the Security Police and SD in Italy, to use an Italian industrialist named Marinotti as a secret envoy: Schellenberg and Harster were not on good terms. An operation codenamed West-Wind was rejected at the highest levels of the RSHA.3

The idea of using an Italian as an intermediary to launch German negotiations with the West in Switzerland, however, remained alive. In a November 1944 meeting of RSHA foreign intelligence officials in Verona called by the expert on Switzerland Klaus Huegel, Zimmer suggested contacting Allied intelligence in Switzerland through Baron Luigi Parrilli, formerly the representative of the Kelvinator and Nash companies in Italy. Parrilli had worked with Zimmer, but he also had contacts with Italian partisans. Rauff and other regional RSHA officials backed this approach, and after considerable delay they received approval in principle from Berlin. In mid-February 1945 they also got support from Karl Wolff, Highest SS and Police Leader for Italy.

Around that time Zimmer wrote in his notebook:

P[arrilli] was invited to my place for a meal today in order to discuss quietly once more the Swiss trip which he is to begin on the 20th of February. Apart from the tasks already laid down in writing, I went one step further today with reference to the conversation with Mr. Von F(ische) and SS. Col. R(auff), and am having P. make an official visit to the English and American ambassadors. There to set forth our common view on the Communist danger and in this connection to intimate that SS 1st Lt. Zi(mmer) has already tried more than once to make contact with influential Englishmen, since he is of the firm conviction that he has things to say which are most certainly of interest to England. He should further intimate that Zi(mmer), without the knowledge of his office belongs to some circles of influential people who are pursuing a definite political course that is of importance to Englishmen, provided that the decision has not already been settled to destroy Germany at any cost and leave the field open for Russia.

Parrilli's mission was codenamed "Operation Wool."4

Another German emissary preceded Parrilli in getting Dulles's attention. In January 1945 Hans Wilhelm Eggen, an SS officer close to Schellenberg, met with an American diplomat Frederick R. Loofborough. Eggen first took a hard line: Germany had no choice currently but to fight to the end, even if all Germans were killed. The result then would be the triumph of Bolshevism over all Europe. But he suggested a meeting in Switzerland between Schellenberg and Dulles to avert such disaster. Schellenberg, he said, could bring Dulles proof that the Russians were not playing fair with the West. Loofborough quickly sent a report of this conversation to Dulles. Although the OSS official did not take this bait, he did muse about the possibility of finding someone within the SS willing to sell out on a big scale.5

Dulles believed that German military forces in northern Italy were nervous. There had been some informal talks between Italian partisans and the Germans, with the Germans seeking some assurance that they would not be attacked if they should withdraw from Italy. The Germans offered to refrain from destroying Italian factories and power plants in return. But through his contacts Dulles learned that the Italian partisans firmly opposed such a deal.6

This was the general atmosphere when Parrilli showed up in late February 1945. As an Italian with major assets, he had his own reasons for wanting to avoid a German scorched earth policy in northern Italy. In negotiations with Dulles's assistant Gero von Gaevernitz, Parrilli reported that he was working for Zimmer and that German authorities were interested in sparing northern Italy from a horrible fate. Though skeptical, Gaevernitz asked for evidence of high-ranking German support. Zimmer by himself meant little.

On March 3, 1945 Zimmer, Parrilli, and Eugen Dollmann, Himmler's representative in Italy, met with OSS official Paul Blum in Lugano, Switzerland. This meeting set the stage for a visit by Karl Wolff and his adjutant to Dulles himself on March 8. Wolff had not yet concluded that all was lost, but he had convinced himself of the value of opening a line to the West.

The details of on-again, off-again bargaining during March and April 1945 (and the misunderstandings on both sides) have been revealed in previous histories of Operation Sunrise. Wolff was unwilling to take extreme risks, and that in any case he had very little influence on Field Marshal Albert Kesselring and General Heinrich Vietinghoff, who would not agree to surrender army forces until the military situation forced their hand (and after Hitler's suicide had become known). Dulles and Wolff finally brought about a surrender, but it came late: the fighting in Italy stopped on May 2. What might have been a boon to Allied forces in Italy turned out to be a saving of only five days before the end of the war in Europe. According to two historians, the lives saved were limited in number-and mostly Italian and German.7

After reviewing Zimmer's notebooks, OSS and SSU officials concluded that Operation Wool preceded Operation Sunrise--in other words, the bargain was as much a German initiative as it was an American intelligence coup.

It is noteworthy that all the German participants in Sunrise negotiations--Zimmer, Dollmann, Wolff's adjutant Wenner, and Wolff himself--survived relatively unscathed in the immediate postwar period. Here let us look at Zimmer and Wolff.

Zimmer manged to escape arrest and detailed interrogation. OSS hired him to penetrate an alleged Nazi resistance movement known as Freikorps Adolf Hitler. Then Dulles tried to assist Zimmer and his family to go to Rome. Army and OSS/SSU officials, including James Angleton, expressed concern that Zimmer was receiving preferential treatment, to which he was not entitled. They at best managed to neutralize those who wanted to do something positive for him.

Zimmer became Parrilli's secretary and applied for Italian citizenship. Zimmer contacted Reinhard Gehlen in December 1948, and he developed ties with former SS officers in 1950. The file does not clarify how deep his involvement in postwar German intelligence activity was, but a CIA evaluation of him concluded that he was not of sufficient stature to become dangerous in connection with right-wing circles.

Zimmer was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as in intelligence work and negotiations with Allied officials. The very structure of the RSHA, which encompassed the Gestapo and foreign intelligence, made it easy for officials to be shifted from one function to another. Zimmer took advantage of this shift, using his intelligence contacts and functions to earn goodwill on the side of Allied officials in Switzerland. In so doing, he and Allied officials whom he dealt with helped to sanitize his wartime record.

Wolff was a much bigger fish. In a climate where world public opinion was shocked by photos of corpses and survivors from concentration and extermination camps, there was no way for Himmler's former chief of staff--one of the highest ranking SS officers to survive--to escape early imprisonment. Wolff was moved from one internment camp to another and regularly interrogated. He almost was named as one of the major defendants at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, but he lucked out.

It seemed to him that Dulles had failed to carry out a promise or a moral obligation to help him. In early 1946 Wolff was diagnosed as paranoid and was confined in a mental institution: he thought he was pursued by Jewish demons. After considerable American hesitation about prosecuting him because of his participation in Operation Sunrise, the British proposed to try him together with Field Marshal Kesselring. But they changed their plans and instead held a little-publicized trial in Hamburg in 1949, in which Wolff's partners in Operation Sunrise wrote affidavits or testified on his behalf. He was acquitted.

After the Eichmann trial West German prosecutors turned up evidence that Wolff had helped to speed deportations of Jews to Treblinka. Although Allen Dulles's former assistant Gaevernitz came to the National Archives to try to find evidence that would help Wolff, he was convicted in 1962 and sentenced to twenty years, of which he served ten.8 OSS officials long before had turned up evidence in German records that Wolff was responsible for reprisal killings in Italy-evidence which had never been used against him.9 Wolff survived his prison term to become a prosperous West German businessman in the 1970s.

Notes of Sources Used Not from Zimmer's Name File

  1. First Detailed Interrogation Report on Five PW from 'Sipo and SD Aussenkommando Milan, 4 June 1945, p. 27, National Archives (NA), Record Group 226, Entry 194, Box 64, Folder 282.
  2. Sixth Detailed Interrogation Report on SS Sturmbannfuehrer Huegel, Dr. Klaus, 21 June 1945, p. 13, NA RG 226, E 119A, Box 71, Folder 1828. More generally on Schellenberg, see Richard Breitman, "A Deal with the Nazi Dictatorship: Himmler's Alleged Peace Emissaries in the Fall of 1943," Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995): 411-30.
  3. Sixth Interrogation of Huegel, 21 June 1945, NA RG 226, E 119A, Box 71, Folder 1828.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Meeting of 493 with Hans Ecken [sic] of the SS, 15 January, 1945, and 110 to Sasac and Saint, Washington, London, Paris, 18 Jan. 1945, NA RG 226, E 214, Box 7, Folder 38.
  6. Dulles to General Sibert, Personal and Confidential, 7 December 1944, copy in NA RG 226, E 210, Box 276, Folder 2. Sibert was then head of G-2 for the Twelfth Army Group. Bradley F. Smith and Elena Agarossi, Operation Sunrise: The Secret Surrender (New York, 1979), 57-59.
  7. Smith and Agarossi, Operation Sunrise, 184-85.
  8. Smith and Agarossi, Operation Sunrise, 188-91.
  9. Wolff to Oberbefehlshaber Suedwest, 29 Dec. 1944, copy in NA RG 226, E 92, Box 619, Folder 2.