Albert Schnez, a Nazi colonel during World War II, was the organizer of the shadow army, recruiting men and soliciting donations. He would later serve in West Germany’s reestablished military. Photo courtesy of Der Spiegel.
It sounds like the plot of a Cold War spy novel.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Germany was demilitarized by the Allies. But within five or six years of the Nazi surrender, 2,000 former officers of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS plotted to recruit a secret paramilitary force of 40,000 fighters, reports Der Spiegel.
The illegal army — which included officers who would become leaders in the Bundeswehr, West Germany’s reconstituted military — intended to go behind the backs of Allied occupation forces in case of an invasion by the USSR and was ready to fight in the streets against German communists in a civil war, according to documents discovered by a historian rooting around in the archives of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency.
The project was code-named the Insurance Company, with a “group staff” based in Stuttgart and units in several cities. Evidently the organizers had no trouble finding men eager to join, even though its members could have ended up in prison for life.
The 321-page file is “incomplete,” according to Der Spiegel, whose reporters reviewed the documents. But it does show that in 1951 the head of the paramilitaries offered their services to West Germany’s nascent intelligence service.
Eventually the West German leader, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, learned of the Insurance Company, but decided to take no action against them. Adenauer did, however, ask the intelligence agency “to look after and to monitor the group.”
He also informed the U.S. about the existence of the paramilitary organization. It appears that Adenauer and the Allies thought that the group might be useful in a worst-case scenario as anti-Communist fervor gained momentum in the early 1950s. Members of the Insurance Company spied on left-wing politicians and students.
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