Berlin to Vienna - 1945
Otto Skorzeny's last mission was to reach the Alpenfestung or 'Alpine Redoubt' in Austria and report to Führer HQ in Berlin on preparations. The CinC of the southern sector of the Eastern Front was by then Generalfeldmarschall Shörner, who was headquartered somewhere in Silesia close to the Czech border. Shörner told Skorzeny that Vienna was already falling to the Russians as they spoke and Skorzeny, whose family were still in Vienna, took off south at a furious pace. There are only a few routes across the mountains and I am reasonably sure Skorzeny crossed at Jelena Gora, heading south to Turnov, turning south east to Jicin, thence to Hradec Kralove, Brno, crossing the border at Mikulov and thence to Vienna as dusk fell, on what appears to be the tenth of April 1945. He drove around Vienna finding the defences apparently unmanned. His family had already left two days previously and so too had Skorzeny's Commando Unit Amt-IV-S, on their special train. The spearhead unit of Soviet tanks had already broken through to the center of Vienna from the South the previous night and were fighting with the remains of the SS units in the city, who kept their backs to the Danube bridges to the East. The Soviet spearhead having insufficient forces to surround the SS while the main Soviet front was still below Vienna. There are photographs of the fighting and the SS men from these hours. Photographs from late 1944 and 1945 are very rare because film stock within Germany was exhausted at this time.
The commander of the Soviet Spearhead unit, Dimitri Loza, subsequently wrote his memoirs in Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks. At dawn on the eleventh of April, Skorzeny drove back East across the Florisdorfer bridge, probably looking up at the Kahlenberg above Vienna where he had raced in hill-climbs before the war, and swung North to follow the long straight road to Linz down the banks of the Danube. Loza, commanding his unit of American supplied Sherman tanks had entered the city like Mongol horsemen, while the gates were still open, sweeping inwards in a circle from the South West and drove directly to the Center. There seems to have been little fighting except to hold the bridges, over which any evactuation would have to occur. I could find no shrapnel or empty cases in the outer reaches of the Prater (Park), which is close to the Reichsbrücke Bridge over which one of the SS units exited. The only scaring from shell fragments I could find was on some gravestones close to the entrance buildings in the Zentralfriedhof which seem to have received strikes from shell fragments. It is in this very location where the history of wartime and postwar Vienna begins in earnest, for these shell fragments are but a stone's throw from the place of Harry Lime's grave. It was here that Harry Lime was supposed to be buried, and is buried a second time after being exposed as The Third Man (1949).
The Third Man was filmed in 1947, while the ruins of Vienna were still cooling. Grahame Greene had been dispatched to Vienna to write a script. Greene, who had worked in intelligence during the war, had shared a desk with Kim Philby, and there is no doubt that Philby, a committed Communist, had related tales of his adventures in the Austrian 'Civil War' of February 1934, which included evacuating wounded fighters through the sewers of Vienna from the Karl-Marx Hof housing complex, headquarters of the Social Democrats in 'Red' Vienna. Austria, like Germany, had been zoned for occupation, as had Vienna, except that unlike Berlin, the centre of Vienna was multi-jurisdictional area patrolled by the four-power patrols. The black market roared at its fiercest fuelled by the desperation to survive and 'White Gold': Penicillin, was Lime's specialty. Just how valuable penicillin had become can be deduced from statistics in works such as Four Power Control in Germany and Austria 1945-1946 published by the Royal Institute of International Affaires in 1956. Venereal disease was pandemic and sex the only means for German, Austrian and Italian women to obtain food, and for the occupying troops to entertain themselves. Penicillin ranked with food and water and air, and probably above shelter. Harry Lime was not the first character to use sewers and enclosed rivers of Vienna. All manner of minor trades (some of them licensed) had been carried-on in the Twentieth Century, including 'fishing'. With the zoning of Vienna, subterranean Vienna took on a much greater importance the underground passages were the only way to move from one zone of Vienna to the others to traffic goods. There was even a 'real' Harry Lime, a gangster whose businesses were Penicillin and kidnap. He was killed in a shoot-out with MPs after crossing into the French sector to visit a girlfriend. The lady who single-handedly has become the historian of occupation Vienna and The Third Man (1949) is Dr Timmerman. It all started one evening when they had been to see the film with some friends visiting Vienna. The friends asked what became of the small boy in the film who points at Joseph Cotton. They pulled out the telephone book and within a few minutes had found him. Her research continued from there. Dr Timmerman finally published a superb book on the subject, a few years ago. In addition to all her research herself and her son conduct tours of Lime's Vienna and the locations used in the film, including the subterranean ones.
Vienna and indeed the whole of Austria and adjoining provinces throbbed with the volume of black marketeering, racketeering and the activities of veritably alphabet of intelligence organisations. The OSS, the CIC, the SIS, the SOE, the NKVD, the MVD, SMERSH, the Deuxieme Bureau, former SS Amt.IV, Nazi smugglers, Zionist terrorist gangs, Jew smugglers, Balkan bandits ("Die Messerstecher"), un-surrendered Wehrmacht troops (mainly in the forests). Soviet agents roamed at will across the porous borders, which were little more than thinly-manned check-points. The Soviets were a little more adept at controlling activities in their areas of occupation, but clearly posed no hazard for people such as Mengele, who returned to the Soviet Zone to retreat a trunk full of his papers before fleeing to South America. The British seemed more concerned with capturing Jews being smuggled to Palestine than with looking for wanted Nazis and both escaping Nazis and escaping Jews would sometimes be sheltered in the same 'safe-houses' before moving-on south into Italy the next morning. Escapees were just another part of the black economy, but it appears that the SS as an organisation had set up escape routes during 1945 and the forgery departments of SS Intelligence turned over to producing false documents for as many of the SS as possible. DPs flowed from DP camps as it pleased them, as did German PoWs, whom were not such much guarded as loosely fenced-in. NKVD kidnap gangs (later freelance kidnap gangs working for the Soviets on commission) roamed at will, finding those useful to the Soviets, eliminating their enemies and retrieving escaping citizens. Hungarians, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Volksdeutsche. The lady author of Journey to Vienna, Mrs Robert Henry, in 1946 meets with a Hungarian national on a train operating just such an escape route for Magyars through to Switzerland. To aid this process, the Soviets operated a one-way border where anyone could enter, but only those whom they could not keep could leave. Food, fuel, alcohol, cigarettes and valuables all flowed freely. Cloth seemed to come from Italy, probably Bolzano. Italy seemed to be cloth-rich throughout the war, as Josef Neckermann a senior official in the department of the Ministry of Economics which dealt with clothing, was being dispatched in the closing weeks of the war to Italy with a shipment of uncut diamonds to pay for shipments of cloth from Italy. The diamonds, in one of the wars most obscure and intractible mysteries, were looted from a bank vault in Arnhem by an SS unit, during Operation Market garden. The only person ever to report this was W. Stanley Moss in his book Gold is where you Hide it. W. Stanley Moss was most famous for his book Ill Met by Moonlight, which details his wartime activities in the SOE on Crete, with his friend and author Patrick Leigh-Fermor. Moss stumbles across the trail of the diamonds while in pursuit of a far bigger prize: The huge Reichsbank gold hoard. The Reichsbank gold hoard was the largest of the buried treasures variously hauled and re-buried across Europe in the closing weeks of the war and after. All of these turned up in various villages in Austria and Bavaria too numerous to mention here, even though I have visited nearly all of them in an attempt to pick up the scent of trails long gone cold. Small caches still appear today and are usually reported in the press local to the area. In wondrous paragraphs, Moss describes how while staying with friends in a villa above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the winter of 1952, they are told the tale of how large quantities of banknotes were discovered in the grounds of the large house next door. In the closing weeks of the war, the contents of the Berlin Reichsbank was shipped to the largely mythical 'Alpenfestung' to prevent it falling into the hands of the Bolshevik Horde. After a long and complicated journey, it ended up at the Gebirgsjger Kaserne at Mittenwald just south of Garmisch and became the responsibility of one of the senior officers, Oberst Pfeiffer. He chose to bury it just to the north on the Stienregel at Einsiedl on the south shore of the Walchansee, just east of Garmisch. The mountains behind Mittenwald are tall and snow-capped by the time they reach the shores of the Walchansee they are sub-alpine and heavily forested. The gold bars were secreted in holes blasted into the rock, in a place in the forest only tens of minutes from the road. The ground is mainly rock which is covered only by a relatively thin layer of leaf mould and mossy earth. The lighter banknotes were buried in numerous places, further south and higher on the Klausenkopf. Eventually, after a dramatis personae many pages long, many murders, escapes, concealments, arrests, betrayals and a plot which leads us all over the Eastern Alps, the US occupation forces retrieve the gold from the ground. Shortly after this, the gold disappears. Moss follows it to Switzerland where it disappears forever.
The spoor of our quarry becomes intermingled with many other spoor at this point. For there was a second Gold hoard buried only perhaps half a mile from the first. We know little of this except for the report made by the US Army officer who was sent to retrieve it, a man called Singleton. It was buried above the road in a small bunker built in a depression in the forest. Fifty years is a long time in the forest and it was only by deduction and a grid by grid search that I was able to locate what appeared to be the location. Having a dark figure covered in wet leaf mould crash from soaking undergrowth in front of them seemed to be too much for some fungi collectors and on occasion they made a hasty and disorderly retreat. I knew how they felt, for even to this day, I still 'see' un-surrendered Wehrmacht troops flitting away through the trees out of the corner of my eye, such are the quantity and power of the images which infest this area have upon the imagination.
The man who led the US Army to this hoard was Josef Pinzl the Pig Keeper from Mittenwald. A hoard of Italian Platinum had also been discovered under Jäger Josef Veit's midden pile. This had arrived from Italy too late to be buried with the other hoards. Both Pinzl and Veit were with the US Army when the Singleton hoard was unearthed. There were large supply dumps of all manner of war material in the Alpenfestung which were looted as soon as they were abandoned: Platinum, uranium, deuterium, radium, cocaine, morphine. It was this fuel which ran the black market in Garmisch at such speed. The Singleton hoard disappears as fast as it became known to us. This was never seen again and the receipt given to Singleton, false. The gold disappears like so much else in the black market of which Garmisch was the centre. By great good fortune the Archivar at the Rathaus in Garmisch is very interested in this section of the history of Garmisch. In the Eighties his girlfriend was the housekeeper at the very house which Moss overlooked that winter, the Haus Hohe Hald, above Partenkirchen. It was just as it had been during the war, with a dark wooden interior, decorated with hunting trophies. At the time, he had not heard of the Reichsbank Gold hoard and thought nothing of it. Sadly, in the nineties, this house was gutted and converted into some field station for studying birdlife. One wonders what they discovered during the destruction, for the garden contained large quantities of foreign currency secreted in any and every watertight vessel the inhabitants could lay their hands on. This money had been retrieved from the hoard on the Klausenkopf, a sack-full at a time. The authors of Nazi Gold, Sayer and Botting, claim this was brought down the valley the road follows, on foot at night, but it is quite clear that those sent to the Klausenkopf went north from Garmisch and then crossed the forest roads East to the Walchansee. Much foreign currency was found hidden in the walls of the fields along this route and some under the floor wooden huts used to store the hay. A multitude of other hoards turn up in all manner of stories. Ribbentrop had hidden a large quantity of valuables from the Foreign Office reserves in the grounds of his residence at Schloss Fuschl, near Salzburg. Schloss Fuschl is now a splendid hotel and Ribbentrop's bunker complex beneath it still exists and may be visited by guests. Kaltenbrunner was hiding at his house above Alt Aussee, the Villa Kerry, and had hidden valuables from the SS treasury in the earth within the woods before making his way up to one of the Huttes above the Toplitszee (the Wildensee Hutte, if I remember). Eichmann hid out in Alt Aussee and yet more valuables were discovered in various places including under the barn at Bla Alm, in the valley above Alt Aussee. Decades later, renovation work in the church revealed yet another hoard behind the alter. Small caches are still being discovered even today. Eichmann met with Höttl for the last time at the Donner Bridge in Alt Aussee, but he did not require any help from Eichmann: He had himself hidden part of the 'Gold Train' valuables (probably gems) in the brick factory at Feldkirche, a few hundred yards from the border with Liechtenstein. The 'Gold Train' was an entire train load of valuables looted from the Jewry of Budapest in the closing months of the war. Ian Fleming, a member of SOEduring the war, evidently knew of some of them since he mentions them in his novels. He does, however, give misleading information, stating that the printing plates for the forged British five pound notes were recovered by the Soviets when they over-ran Berlin, when in fact they had been evacuated to Bavaria. Furthermore, he states that the Mondsee contained the 'Himmler Hoard' when in fact the Mondsee did not contain anything. These are just the main finds. The full list would fill an extensive catalog and maps used to plot the position and movements of the participants quickly became a rat's nest of coloured lines and circles, as confusing and scattered as the last days of the Third Reich itself. Skorzeny, after leaving Vienna, spent the remaining days of the war on his special train in the sidings at Radstadt. He discharged his men and attempted to make sure that those from Allied countries had what they needed to make their escape. His memoirs are a little short on detail with respect to these days, for obvious reasons. He does not mention meeting with SS Oberfhrer Josef Spacil at Schloss Fischorn, just outside Zell am See at a village called Bruck. Spacil had control of all manner of RHSA funds and valuables which he had assembled there, probably including some of the remaining contents of the Berlin Reichsbank which had simply been removed at gun point after the main hoard had been shipped to Mittenwald. Much of Hitler's and Himmler's correspondence and files were burned in the furnace at Schloss Fischorn. With the Third Reich in flames Spacil was handing out what remained to just about anyone. Skorzeny was a recipient and appears to have hidden large reserves somewhere on the mountainside above Radstadt. As the Americans approached he and his men left the sidings and made their way to the Radstadter Hutte, which was a much smaller and more spartan affaire than the mountain restaurant we find today. The rest is in his memoirs.
One case of gold bars did not make it into the burial chambers on the mountainside with the rest of the Reichsbank hoard however. They would remain hidden for fifty years until an Austrian Scuba diver and authority on the Alpenfestung, Herr Zauner of Halstatt stumbled across the case in the fine sediment of the bed of the Walchansee. Zauner, a huge bearded bear of a man, is an old hand at recovering articles from the lakes and has a superb collection in his office in Halstatt. Gold falls through the sediment to a considerable depth, but other lighter articles discarded into the lake by those remaining in the Alpenfestung remain closer to the surface. Many SS officers and Nazi functionaries discarded the unwanted trappings of their office into the lake as they changed into civilian clothes or other uniforms. Small pieces of the jigsaw can be pieced together from document stamps (surprisingly well preserved) and silver Honor rings marked with the unit symbols and initials of the wearer. Herr Zauner's uncle was, in fact, a member of Skorzeny's Amt IV-S Unit. Zauner has just published thirty years of research in his book Verschollene Schtze im Salzkammergut: Die Suche nach dem Nazi-Gold. Herr Zauner's 'biggest' find was made as a boy, not long after the war. He and his friends pulled a complete artillery piece from the waters, brought it back to working order and tested it in the woods, to the consternation of the locals, who were reasonably sure the war was over.
Zauner's office once in Halstatt (which is tiny village), it is in the centre in the square. He has a quite extraordinary collection of objects on display.
The work of Herr Zauner had been brought to my attention by the owner of a mountain restaurant on the shores of the Toplitszee, above Bad Aussee. It was another quest entirely which had brought me to the shores of this incredible lake: The quest for the origins of a British Five Pound Note, a forged one. I had purchased it from a London numismatist some years before, whose father had contributed material to an obscure numismatic reference work entitled Nazi Counterfeiting of British Currency During World War II: Operation Andrew and Operation Bernhard by Bryan Burke. After a lengthy search I found a copy. A measure of its rarity can be seen from the fact that Herr Zauner, who possesses an extensive library on his subjects, had never heard of this volume and after consuming some of the photographs, declared it the definitive work on the subject. It differs from other works in that it was written by a numismatist and not a historian, which means that details apparent to the former but not the latter are included in the work. The production of forged Sterling banknotes was an activity performed by RHSA Bureau VI and had something of a chequered history. Hitler forbade the project to be used for attacks on confidence in Sterling, mainly because of the fear of retaliation. With that, the next most important activity and one which consumes large quantities of hard currency is intelligence and espionage. An SS officer named Schwendt set up a system for pumping the forged Sterling notes through the German intelligence system. The whereabouts of the location of the kidnapped Mussolini was discovered as a result of the generous distribution of these notes, enabling Skorzeny to rescue him. Italy probably received the largest quantities of these notes, and is the prime source of them today. Even sixty years after the event, the Bank of England have no sense of humor over this issue. If the notes are discovered, they will issue a note of detention and confiscate the forged banknote. Some of the plates used in the printing operation were discovered in Germany in the early eighties and were auctioned in Germany since they could not be brought to England. The actual forging operation was incredible even in a time of extraordinary happenings. Many of the staff were found in KZ or jails and were given their first legitimate employment. After moving to new locations in the south during the chaos of the final months, they were instructed to dump all its remaining printing plates and cases of notes in the Toplitzsee, which is over a hundred meters deep, and walled by huge cliffs offering now shore. Actual survey of the lake is impossible as there is a false bottom of fallen timber. It is not possible for a diver to penetrate this even if he can reach that depth, since it moves like pack-ice and holes made through it can close without warning. Zauner was on the expedition to penetrate the depths, which was successful in retrieving more bank notes. The Toplitzsee was a Kreigsmarine research station during the war and there are a lot of discarded munitions and other experimental apparatus lying within and around the lake. There is a large collection surrounding the Fischer Hutte. Zauner thinks he saw a Ju52 or part of it down there but it was not possible to make out what it was. A number of different groups of individuals attempted to return to the Toplitzsee after the war and several died in mysterious circumstances. Chasing the facts of these incidents to ground is not as easy as finding the graves. Naturally, the notes were siphoned off at every stage, and a number of individuals must have made off with sizeable fortunes. Schwendt undoubtedly lost some of his fortune when he confessed to American investigators to having a hoard of the banknotes at his villa in Feichten, (close to the Reschenpaß). The centre for Swendt's distribution net in northern Italy was Schloss Labers in Merano, presently in the Vintshgau, the South Tyrol. Schloss Labers, a delightful retreat in the vineyards above the town was converted into a hotel after the war and the Italian family who own it are very knowledgeable on this subject. Meran was made fashionable as a spa town by Imperial patronage in the shape of "Sissy", Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and beautiful villas line the slopes all around it. A beautiful place to retire to with a fortune. Höttl took employment as a schoolmaster in a boarding school in Alt Aussee after the war but clearly had a much larger income. Schwendt too did well out of the war, as did many other intelligence and espionage officers who dealt with the 'unvouchered' funds which intelligence organisations use to fuel their networks of informants. Remarkably, both Höttl and Schwendt regularly returned to stay at this hotel after the war. Sadly both are dead now.
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