My quest for SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks

Some people are fascinated by serial killers. Some seek out evidence of conspiracies. I’m fascinated by enigmatic scumbags. SS-Sturmbannführer (SS Major) Alfred Naujocks was one such.

In Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer described Naujocks (pronounced ‘NAW-yokes’) as an ‘intellectual SS ruffian.’ I wouldn’t say that the ‘intellectual’ part is well supported by the record. Not that he was an idiot, but Naujocks wasn’t much of an idea guy. He did excel at carrying out dirty deeds when so tasked, and thought very well under pressure. He was daring, clever and ruthless. And of all the old Nazis who needed to answer for crimes, he is one of those who eluded justice. In fact, I still haven’t been able to learn that much about him.

The body of work on Naujocks begins with Shirer’s mentions of some of his deeds. It then proceeds to an affidavit he gave while in U.S. captivity in late 1945, presented at the Nuremberg trials. Naujocks himself escaped custody before he could face the tribunal. His trail went cold until 1960, at which time a journalist named Gunter Peis penned an autobiography called The Man Who Started the War. Here are the tantalizing lines from end of Chapter One, which tells of his surrender to U.S. troops:

He pulled his chair up to the table, sat down and began to think. Soon he was typing slowly, carefully. The story he wrote at length was fascinating, incredible and very detailed. It was also quite untrue.

What follows is the story that in 1945 would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

Peis knew his storytelling work; that’s a lead that makes one want to believe, and to read on in any case. Here’s the problem: there’s no more reason to take this book at face value than there is to believe his entire Nuremberg affidavit. That’s not to say it’s all lies, just that it’s from a source with plenty of motive to lie. By 1960, as I understand it, Naujocks wasn’t in the best of health (he was born in 1911, so that would make him only 49), hadn’t been much of a success in business, and probably needed money. A lurid tale would sell better, one would think, and not many people were likely to come forward with authoritative knowledge to refute his account. Most of those who could have, one supposes, would have preferred to remain inconspicuous. The book may have been his last special operation, and surely his most self-serving.

In any case, we now know that he died in 1966 in Hamburg, where he had apparently lived unmolested. For years many had assumed he must have escaped to Spain or South America, as did many Nazi fugitives from justice, and there is now reasonable evidence now that he did not. He probably managed to lose himself in the postwar chaos and ocean of damaged or destroyed records that resulted from the bombing, invasion and final collapse of the Third Reich.

There are two other books on Naujocks. One is in German, and a very kind native speaker is reading and digesting it for me. I have an e-copy which I could feed with great effort to an online translator, but I hope that my Austrian friend will be able to point me toward the parts that answer questions. The other is not a book yet, but a manuscript by an English author, for which the agent has evidently not yet found a publisher. I wish he would self-publish it, or at least accept my offer of free and confidential proofreading, but neither seems forthcoming. Not knowing what it says, I have no way to evaluate its research or historiography.

What I have pieced together so far, and feel reasonably certain is true except where I label doubt, is this much:

Born in 1911 in Kiel, perhaps with some Baltic forebears (‘Naujocks’ originates from the Lithuanian surname ‘Naujokitis’), he joined the Nazi party in 1931 after being attacked by a left-wing gang. At that point, Hitler had not yet taken over full power in Germany. It didn’t take Naujocks long to make a name for himself as a thug. In 1934 he joined the SS-SD, the SS and Nazi party intelligence organization. He was involved in special operations in Czechoslovakia prior to its partition and absorption. He claims, unconvincingly, to have propagated the disinformation that triggered Stalin’s purges of his officer corps.

His autobiography’s title refers to the Gleiwitz (Polish: Gliwice) incident, a faked Polish attack on a border radio station just prior to (and meant as a pretext for) Hitler’s declaration of war on Poland in 1939. It is the event most notoriously associated with Naujocks, thus the one you would be most likely to see mishandled on a History Channel special (if they ever get tired of dippy reality shows about pawn shops and storage lockers). Later that year, he carried out the abduction of two British intelligence agents on Dutch soil, spiriting them back to Germany. Peis tells tales of Naujocks counterfeiting British currency and operating an espionage brothel in Berlin, which might be true. Naujocks worked for one of the most powerful and feared Nazis alive, SS-Obergruppenführer (SS General) Reinhard Heydrich, and stories differ as to how he managed to incur Heydrich’s personal wrath. Naujocks’ amusing story is that he made the mistake of listening in when Heydrich himself was using the brothel.

In any case, Heydrich was one of the worst possible people any German could piss off, which meant Naujocks was lucky not to be shot in the neck. Heydrich instead saw Naujocks kicked out of the SS-SD and sent to the Eastern Front with the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), one of the Waffen SS’ elite divisions. Wounded in action, he was sent back to Germany. In the meantime, a couple of daring Czechs had managed–at the cost of their lives and many others–to assassinate Heydrich, thus removing the practical obstacle to Naujocks’ re-employment with the SS-SD. He is implicated in murder/reprisals against the Belgian and Danish resistances in 1943-1944. With the writing on the wall for Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Naujocks surrendered or deserted to the Americans, gave the aforementioned affidavit, escaped, did whatever he did for twenty years besides sell his story to Peis, and died in 1966.

And I may soon know more. Or have reason to believe more. Because whatever the truth of Peis’ tale, there is little doubt that it would take minimal amendment to make his lead accurate: if the Allies had learned the full truth in 1945, they would have hanged Alfred Naujocks.

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10 thoughts on “My quest for SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks”

  1. This odd little piece reminds me that enigmatic scumbags are indeed fun to read about (though I lack the energy to do my own research on them). If you decide to tackle another enigmatic scumbag, I’d be interested in anything you can turn up on the fascinating figure of Johnny Abbes Garcia, who enjoys the quirky distinction of having served as thug-in-chief to both Rafael Trujillo and Papa Doc Duvalier. (I think his personal slogan was: “I refuse to be confined to any single portion of Hispaniola when it comes to torturing the supposed enemies of my employers.”)

    I’ve seen scattered references to him in conjunction with my reading on Trujillo and Duvalier, but the Wikipedia entry on him is pretty thin, and most of the other search results I’ve turned up are in Spanish. So if you could get cracking on installment #2 of your enigmatic scumbag series, that would be great.

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    1. Heh, Mike. Well, I’d have an easier time on Abbes García, since I read Spanish (and French). Sounds like a seriously enigmatic scumbag, though the next one in my sights actually scumbagged his way into noun status: Major Vidkun Quisling. Wiki is often very thin on these; my blog post about Naujocks contains more information than Wiki has, and will probably one day be cited there, at least as part of discussion. That happened with my piece on Gary Thomas Rowe, the KKK infiltrator.

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  2. I am always amazed at how these “scumbags” managed to meld back into society without notice and live on. Did the resistance organizations and others who secretly opposed the Nazis just hang it up at wars’ end? Did the victims not thirst for revenge on their former tormentors? Was there no underground movement underway after the war to ferret out these vermin and deal out justice? Too many lived on to crow about their exploits.

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    1. I think the reasons they got away with it varied, but one of the largest was that too wide a net cast would potentially have gutted a significant % of the postwar German managerial and warrior classes. Which meant that the Allies, who wanted a strong pro-Western West German state, seemed to feel they needed to know when pushing too hard might have been the right moral thing to do, but would have run counter to their geopolitical interests. History shows, at least to me, that those nearly always end up trumping morality.

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  3. Nicely said and written. I am currently reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by Shirer. I am researching or rather just looking up every character as I come across them in the book. Currently on Naujocks, pg 519 of the book. I’m amazed at how this guy escaped and lived peacefully until his death. Please let us know if you find anything else out. Thanks for your current information.

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    1. Thank you, Mark. That is where I first learned about Naujocks. If I spoke German, or if it were easier to translate books, I’d get farther; also if that British author’s book were to be published. As it is, it’s sitting at supposedly one of the rockstar literary agents of the western world awaiting a publisher…where it has sat for years. Hopefully one or the other will work out.

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  4. A week ago I borrowed “On Borrowed Time: How World War Began” (1969) by Leonard Mosley from our local library. This is an extraordinary book narrating the diplomatic, political and military manoeuvers that lead to the war. It is a study in the vanity and tragic folly of Europe’s Allied leadership.

    I could not put down the book. There was so much I learned about the weakness and hypocrisy, arrogance and stubbornness, naīveté and stupidity of Allied and Axis leadership. Mr Mosley’s thoroughly researched book shows that if the appeasement of Germany had ceased earlier, a world war might have been averted.

    I was intrigued when I read about Operation “Canned Goods” (German attack on radio station at Gleiwitz) carried by SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Alfred Helmut Naujocks. In the footnotes at the bottom of the page 434, Mr Mosley mentions that “Naujocks and Müller are wanted for war crimes, but are still at large.”

    I searched the web and I learnt that he died in Hamburg on April 4, 1966. Strangely I was reading about Naujocks exactly 51 years (April 4, 2017) after his death. The search led to your page.

    I think Mr Mosley made a small mistake in writing that both Obergruppenführer Heinrich Müller and Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks escaped justice. Only Heinrich Müller disappeared from the Hitler’s bunker. No one knows his whereabouts!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Rami. Yes, that’s the given date for Naujocks’ death. I wish I read German, as I could then make more sense of the only published biography about him. He’s a weird figure, but he interests me.

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