Spy files offer new accounts of life and death under Nazis

Secrets: Newly declassified U.S. files include early reports of Jewish exterminations and end-of-war German regrets.

July 14, 2000|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Even after nearly 60 years, the terrible despair of the young Jewish man from Riga in Latvia cries out from the pages of long-secret World War II spy files.

Gabriel Zivial, 20, has made his way to Geneva, Switzerland, where he is debriefed on Oct. 9, 1942. Henry Louis Henriod, an aid worker, tells him that they want to continue relief activities.

"Relief!" Zivial cries. "It is too late for that."

"Out of 100,000 deported people," he says, "there are at present about 3,000 men and 300 women alive."

Riga had fallen to the German blitzkrieg in June 1941. In October 1942, the German war machine is still at the height of its power. The extermination of Jews burns on out of control. Gabriel Zivial is one of the first messengers from the Holocaust to arrive in the west.

"You are probably the only person, at least in Geneva, who can give us such a detailed report of your own experience," Henriod says.

"The whole time," Zivial tells him, "from the very beginning, all those who looked more or less `Jewish' were arrested and shot."

Whether his recounting of the extermination of the Riga Jews reached anybody but the spymasters of the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency, remains unclear. His cry of pain remained secret in OSS and CIA files - and perhaps unread - for nearly 60 years.

His testimony is among the 400,000 pages of documents just now declassified by the CIA. The initial sampling released at the National Archives promises a historic hoard rich in drama.

The high drama of Zivial's early account of a Holocaust tragedy is matched in these documents by the belated soul-searching of German soldiers. Only in the ashes of their surrender do they begin to confront the death and destruction they wrought across Europe.

In March 1945, two and a half years after Zivial appeared in Geneva, the war in Europe is grinding down to its Gotterdammerung finale. British intelligence secretly records German officers in prisoner of war compounds. Their voices are muted by defeat.

"If you ask me: `Have we deserved victory or not?' " says Generalmajor Hans Bruhn, commandant of a Volksgrenadier division. "I should say: `No, not after what we've done. After the amount of human blood we've shed knowingly and as a result of our delusions and also partly instigated by the lust of blood and other qualities, I now realize we've deserved defeat; we've deserved our fate even though I'm accusing myself as well."

Allied soldiers captured Bruhn in France when they pushed through the Saverne Gap between Alsace and Lorraine to the Rhine River border of Germany in November 1944.

"Even if you take the indubitable courage and achievement of the population, we are not suffering an undeserved fate," Bruhn says. "We are being punished for letting a national resurrection, which promised so well, go to the devil."

Ghetto in Riga

In 1942, Gabriel Zivial has described the Nazi "blood lust" to Henriod, who was a representative of the Christian Refugee Relief Organizations in Geneva. Zivial says Jews from Germany, Romania and Holland were brought to Riga.

"Two trains came from Romania at the end of January consisting of cattle [cars]. An acquaintance of mine was present when the cattle [cars] were opened," says Zivial. "They found in them only frozen corpses."

The Germans herded Jews into a new ghetto quarter in Riga.

"Those who could not keep up the pace were shot and the others taken away," Zivial says. "The ghetto inmates had to carry out the corpses and received no news of those taken away."

Women carrying purses and money were shot in the street, he says.

"People in the little ghetto had to work, and there was much less room than in the old one. It was very hard. Two rooms for example were filled with 16 people. One day all the doctors and leading people in the ghetto had to come together [and] go out into an omnibus. Some of them took poison.

"At 12:30 a German SS man came along and those who had not taken poison were set free. That was the entry of America into the war."

That roundup occurred on December 7, 1941.

Zivial also recalled asking the Commandant of the Ghetto what had happened to Jews transported from Riga.

"The commandant stated that Russian prisoners of war dug trenches," Zivial says. "The male Jews had to strip, the women were allowed to keep on their chemises. Their valuables were thrown on to one pile, their clothes on to another.

"Then the first group had to lie down naked in the trenches and then they were shot with machine guns," he says. "The second group had then to lay down on the corpses and was shot in the same way."

German statements

In the British prison camp, Generalleutnant Frederich Freiherr von Broich, commander of a panzer division destroyed in North Africa, discusses German atrocities with General der Infanterie Dietrich von Choltitz, the commander who surrendered Paris to the Allies on Aug. 25, 1944.

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