In an article published last year in The New York Times Argentine Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella responded to an earlier op-ed article written by Ann Louise Bardach (NYT, 22 March 1997) pointing out a number of ‘imprecisions, distortions and innuendos’ about Argentina’s pro-Nazi record as a neutral during most of World War II’ that -in Di Tella’s view- ‘left unattended can only mislead the less well informed among NYT’s readership’.
Among other clarifications Di Tella points out that ‘there can be no doubt that until 1949, when restrictions on the emigration of former Third Reich based Nazis were removed, Argentina competed with others interested in Germany’s brainpower, as part of a process which also turned Argentina into a safe haven for some Nazi war criminals. Worthy of note though, is the fact that if Simon Wiesenthal was right when he wrote that Martin Bormann died in Berlin in 1945, an assesment shared by the relevant German and Israeli authorities, he could have never set foot in Argentina after the war, as implied by Bardach’.
Be that as it may, if a book recently published in London is ever proven to be accurate Di Tella, Wiesenthal, as well as relevant German and Israeli authorities, could all be proved wrong. This new book claims that Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary and Nazi Party Chancellor, not only survived the final collapse of the Nazi era at the Führerbunker in Berlin in May 1945, but in fact went on to live with a new identity -until as late as 1989- not in Buenos Aires as the 1960’s quip assured (‘Martin Bormann is alive and well and living in Argentina’), but as a respectable gentleman living in England after being smuggled out of Berlin by a British commando team specially picked to do the job by Winston Churchill in person.
Incredible as it may sound such is the gist of the non-fiction book ‘OpJB. The Last great secret of the Second World War’ by Christopher Creighton, (Pocket Books, London, 1997), a fascinating tale which the publishers preface by saying that ‘the following account is one of the most extraordinary stories to emerge from the Second World War’ and is issued ‘under assurances by the author that the story is true’ adding that they have not been able to ‘verify his acount by independent research’. ‘Indeed the documentary trial is often at odds with the author’s narrative. In secret intelligence work it is very difficult to come up with absolute proof and in May 1945 Berlin was the end of the world. According to Creighton, evidence went missing and in the fog of war files were adjusted by those with a hidden motive. Creighton further describes how records were compromised in order to create a legend that served a darker purpose. In the end, readers will have to make their own judgements about what they believe. What is not in doubt is that this book is a thrilling story from a remarkable man’, as the publishers admit quite candidly.
What makes ‘OpJB’ such a unique book to read is the magnitude of the new gist it casts on events which have been extensively scrutinized by others authors. Starting from the name ‘OpJB’ which stands for Operation James Bond, a name which today is inextricable linked to a certain fictional British secret agent known as 007. Such a coincidence of names is by no means accidental and stems from the fact that the man who went on to become the author of the highly succesful 007 series, Ian Fleming, was in real life a Royal Navy intelligence officer during World War II, and is also a leading figure in this extraordinary non-fictional tale.
At a first glance prospective readers could feel inclined to discard this book as an elaborate hoax, but would be well recommended to resist such a temptation and read on as Creighton may be a weird fish, but he is nonetheless also a number of things which cannot be disputed, namely a former Royal Navy special operations officer who is known to have been a personal friend of such people as Fleming, Churchill and the likes of Lord Mountbatten, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and King George VI among others.
The second fact worth bearing in mind is the author’s first hand knowledge of precise ‘inside’ details of not only ‘OpJB’, but of other well documented events taking place at the time, many of which are supported by evidence in the form of letters from such heavyweight names as Churchill, Mountbatten and Fleming.
Despite the often impressive supporting evidence the story Creighton -whose real name is John Ainsworth Davis- has to tell is mind-boggling: In a nutshell, that Churchill ordered an ultrasecret operation to snatch Bormann from the ruins of Berlin as a way of getting his hands on much of the Nazi booty to which he had access. To do so a special commando team supported by men and women of the German resistance (the German Freedom Fighters, GFF) and an assorted number of both male and female members of the British and US armed forces were assembled with the specific mission of snatching the Nazi bigwig from the ruins of the collapsing Third Reich. This highly trained commando group ventured into the heart of Nazi Berlin and, in what can only be rated as an extraordinary operation, spirited Bormann through both German and Russian lines back to safety into the British controlled area of Germany and from there to the UK where the Nazi chief was both interrogated and given a new identity. As part of a deception ploy a body of a Bormann look-alike and suitably doctored medical records were left in Berlin to cover up.
The books makes simple fascinating reading because it unveils to what extent secret intelligence work needs to be kept secret, even from people who readers would like to believe are in ‘a position to know’ including in this case such names as the top historians of this period of time, undisputed authorities such as Hugh Trevor-Roper (now Lord Dacre) or Hugh Thomas, both of whom have written extensively about the Nazi era and are -in Creighton’s view- both duped by the ruse.
In yet another twist of history Creighton claims that the then head of ultra-secret M section of Naval Intelligence, Major Desmond Morton, another key actor in this incredible story, takes Bormann back to Germany after the war were the former Nazi boss is able to sit in the visitor’s gallery at the Nuremberg trial at which he is sentenced in absentia.
Another stunning revelation would be the degree to which governments can manipulate information, doctoring all sorts of records so that the paperwork supports the facts which are being specifically being construed for reasons of state.
Finally, it is also particularly interesting to note that the battle for Nazi booty is not as new as the latest wave of probes for looted gold would suggest, but in fact were high on the Allies list of priorities even at the time of the war.
This book is a must for anyone who has ever pondered on what might have happened to Bormann, whose whereabouts have been the matter of speculation for over half a century.
It is to be hoped that ‘OpJB’ triggers off some form of response from official circles in Britain, the US, Germany and Israel so we can finally get to know what happened as the Third Reich collapsed in 1945 and what came of Martin Bormann, who according to this book was ‘alive and well and living in the UK’ until his death many years after the closing battle of Berlin.
*Journalist. Former Editor of the daily Argentine newspaper ‘Buenos Aires Herald’ and member of the Raoul Wallenberg International Foundation, Casa Argentina en Jerusalem.