Sigismund Payne Best:

The Venlo Incident

Die folgenden Auszüge aus Sigismund Payne Bests im Jahre 1950 erschienenen Memoiren "The Venlo Incident" enthalten sämtliche Bezugnahmen auf Georg Elser.

Sigismund Pay-ne Best (1949)
[KZ Sachsenhausen, Januar 1941, S. 93 f]

Then we heard that a new and very secret prisoner had been brought to the Bunker and occupied a very large cell, which had been made by knocking Nos. 11, 12 and 13 into one. Like me, he had guards with him day and night, but they slept in his cell and were forbidden to associate with Steven's guards and mine. It was all very well to make regulations such as these, but even if the guards were not allowed to fraternize while in the Bunker, there was nothing to prevent them doing so in the canteen and elsewhere outside, so not many days passed before we knew quite a lot about No. 13 as he was called.

The first news was that, as the guards put it, he was a "Todes Kandidat", meaning a man condemned to death; next his identity was established; he was Georg Elser, the man who, according to press and radio, was guilty of the attempt to assassinate the Führer on the 8th November, 1939, by a bomb built into one of the pillars in the Bürgerbraukeller at Munich. What did this mean? Why had he not been executed? We were all greatly intrigued, particularly because, in the papers, my name had been coupled with his and the suggestion made that I had been his employer. If it were true that he had been condemned to death, what about me - was I in the same boat? Bit by bit information leaked out and my guards came to me with the story that I was to be tried for complicity in the attempt on Hitler's life, and that Elser would give evidence that he had acted on my instructions. Of course I had had nothing to do with the business at all, and all I knew about the story was limited to the short report which I had read in the Dutch paper on the morning of my capture. As for Elser, all that I knew about him was that I had seen in one of the German illustrated papers which a guard was reading, his photograph next to mine; this was at the time when I was not allowed to read, and I had only caught a glimpse of it as I passed the guard on my promenade up and down the cell.

In the course of time I was able to establish relations with Elser and although we never met or spoke to each other, a sort of friend-ship developed between us. From what he communicated to me himself, and from information which I picked up from a number of other sources, I was eventually able to piece together his very strange story which I will teil at the appropriate time.

[KZ Sachsenhausen, Januar 1941, S. 127 ff]

On several occasions when one of my guards was away unexpectedly, owing to illness or because of some casualty in his family, one of the men doing duty with Georg Elser in Cell No. 13 would come to me for a time. Most of Elser's guards were youngish men, and it was not long before I had made friends with some of them and so established a link with my fellow prisoner in whom I was deeply interested owing to the manner in which our names had been associated in the German Press. He was not at all popular with his guards for he went out of his way to make their duty as difficult as possible by causing them all manner of petty annoyances and in particular robbing them of opportunities to rest during their off-duty hours. Unlike my guards who had a cell of their own, where they slept and to which they could retire when off duty, his men simply had a bed in his cell on which one could rest while two of them were supposed to be awake and on guard day and night. Obviously, they got little undisturbed sleep at night and wished to make up for it by day, but this Elser would not allow, and as soon as one of them lay down to rest he would at once begin to hammer, saw, or do other work which occasioned the maximum of noise. At one time he even did this at night but other prisoners objected and it was stopped.

Of course if Elser himself wished to sleep his guards had to be still as mice, as if anything or anyone annoyed him he promptly went on hunger strike. Orders had apparently been given that he was to be kept in safety and in good health, and as he was far from robust his failure to eat had to be reported to the commandant with trouble for all concerned. In some respects his guards were quite fond of him as he could be very good company if he liked, but he was firmly convinced that he was doomed to execution and took pleasure in, as it were, daring people to get on with it.

It was a puzzle to everyone why he had never been brought to trial, and what was behind his story that he had planted the bomb in the Bürgerbraukeller at my behest, and that I had bribed him to do this by a promise of forty thousand Swiss francs. He told this story to all his guards though none of them who knew me believed a word of it, and I had never noticed anything since my arrival at Sachsenhausen which indicated that I was suspected of collaboration in an attempt on Hitler's life, so the whole business was very much of a mystery to me. Why should this little German workman who had been pilloried in the Press as a traitor, who had not only attempted to assassinate Hitler, but had also caused the death of a number of his associates be treated as one of the most privileged prisoners in the building?

[Informationen, die angeblich von Elser stammen, S. 128 ff] Kommentierte Übersetzung

Like myself, Elser was a chain smoker. After a bad attack of bronchitis he was for some time limited, on doctor's orders, to three cigarettes a day, and as I was then in enjoyment of almost unlimited supplies of tobacco I often sent him presents of cigarette paper and tobacco through one of his guards. In return he made various things for me, a parallel ruler, a darning mushroom, etc., and gradually he seemed to form a sort of affection for me and to look upon me as his friend. At the end of March 1943 Eccarius brought me some bookshelves for which I had asked and as these lacked a flat top which I needed for my big Stieler's Atlas. I arranged with him that Elser should make one. When I came in from exercise a few days later I found that this had been done and that I had now a space where my atlas could lie open for ready reference. I was surprised though to find that the shelf which Elser had made did not seem to be quite true but was inclined to wobble, so I took it off and immediately noticed that there was some tightly folded paper wedged under one side which, when I opened it, turned out to be a long and closely written letter. In this Elser gave me an account of his early life and the main events leading to the so-called "Bürgerbraukeller Bomb Plot" of 8th November, 1939, and his I adventures since that date.

The letter was badly worded, the writing was minute and very difficult to read, as he had used an indelible pencil which was rather faint, but when I succeeded in making out most of what he had written I was astounded and deeply interested. This was only the first of many letters which we were able to exchange during the following twelve months as one of the trusties agreed to help us. During this time I did everything I could to obtain all the information possible from Elser, and I believe that the following account is as close to the true facts as we shall ever be able to get. Several people have written about this matter before but I can safely say that no one besides myself heard the story from the chief actor himself, whilst information which I later received from other sources all tended to bear out the truth of what Elser told me.

He was born in Munich and when he was quite small his mother died in giving birth to a dead sister, and his father was killed in action shortly afterwards. An uncle, the only relative of whom he had ever heard, a railway guard and a childless widower, had taken charge of him and brought him up in a rough and ready fashion. Young Elser must have run pretty wild for he had one or two clashes with the police which nearly ended in his being sent to the German equivalent of a Borstal establishment. He seems though, to have given evidence at school of having brains above the average and one of the masters, the only person of whom he wrote with any affection, helped him to escape punishment. This man seems to have been the teacher of handicrafts and endeavoured to induce Elser to continue his studies after he left school at a technical college.

When he was fifteen or sixteen his uncle died leaving him only a small sum, quite insufficient to pay for further schooling, and he was placed in charge of the Munich municipal children's officer. He was apprenticed to a joiner who took him to live in his house and generally acted as his guardian. Here too, his insubordination was a frequent cause of trouble but his intelligence and aptitude for his work soon made him a valuable assistant and after the end of his apprenticeship his master tried to induce him to remain in his service. As soon though as young Elser was free, nothing would hold him and with his tools and other few possessions in a bag on his back he set off on the traditional wanderings of the German journeyman.

His travels took him through most of south Germany and even into Switzerland and at first he had little trouble in finding work. For a time he said, he had a responsible job as model maker at one of the biggest Bavarian engineering firms, the manufacturers of the B.M.W. cars, but from what he wrote, all his jobs seemed to end with a row with his immediate superiors and in the autumn of 1937 he found himself back in Munich without a penny in his pocket, his tools sold or pawned, and with but faint hope of finding further employment. By that time the Nazis had such a firm grip on all matters connected with labour organization that it was practically impossible for a man who would not at least pay lip service to the party to obtain employment; above all things, Elser hated the Nazis. As was natural under the circumstances he drifted into the society of other out-of-works like himself and got mixed up with a band of Communists. Somehow or other these men were always able to get hold of funds and although he never joined their party, he did help in the printing and distribution of leaflets and so was tacitly accepted as one of the group. He really enjoyed this life with its element of danger and the feeling that he was actively engaged in a fight against authority, and all went well until one evening the cafe where he and his friends used to congregate was surrounded in a police raid, and the whole lot of them were bundled into a police van and taken to the "station". Although no definite evidence was found against any of them, as none was usefully employed, they were labelled "anti-social and work-shy" and taken off to the concentration camp at Dachau for re-education.

The first months which Elser spent here always remained for him the most horrible experience of his life. Not, as far as I could gather, because of any ill-treatment which he suffered, nor because of atrocities which he witnessed, but merely because for the first time in his life he felt the full naked force of irresponsible authority which crushed out every trace of individuality and illusion of freedom. At first he had to labour with pick and shovel like all other newcomers, but very soon his talent as a carpenter and joiner was discovered and he was set to work in the camp furniture-making factory.

Elser was very far from being of the ordinary run of workmen for he was really something of an artist who worked best from his own designs. I was often shown cabinets and other articles of furniture which he made at Sachsenhausen for the commandant and the warders, and really I have never seen their like except in museums. Amongst other things, while he was at Sachsenhausen he made a full-sized lathe cutting all gears and making all parts by hand; I also saw a length of chain that he made cut out of a single rod of wood with every link as perfectly finished as if it had been machine made from metal.

He had not been long employed in the Dachau carpenter's shop before something attracted the commandant's attention to his work, and from then on he was exclusively employed in making articles of furniture for him and his friends. As time passed he was granted many privileges including freedom from attendance at the morning and evening roll calls and eventually he was put on the SS ration strength and so received good food as well. I imagine that while he had work he was about as happy as it was his nature to be, though in his letters he kept saying how much he had hated his life at Dachau and how intense was his longing for freedom. As far as I could make out, freedom for him meant "girls", for he was a man who suffered intensely from the forced continence of prison.

One day early in October 1939 he was called to the Kommandantur where he was interviewed by two men who asked him a number of questions about his antecedents, and in particular about the names of former associates and relations. As for the latter he had none as far as he knew and friends, well he knew them as Paul, Heinz, or Karl, just as they knew him as the little Georg - surnames were not much used in the circles he had frequented.

A week or two later he was again called for and again met the same two men. On the first occasion he had been questioned while standing at attention, but this time he was taken into another office, was told to sit down, and was given a cigarette. The men were extremely friendly, told him that the commandant had shown them some of his work and that really it was a shame that so good a workman should be wasting his life in a concentration camp. Would he not like to regain his freedom? To this suggestion Elser expressed cordial agreement. Well, this could easily be arranged if he would only be absolutely discreet and obey orders without question; all that they wanted from him was that he should do a little job in his own line, and when this was finished he would be handsomely rewarded and sent to Switzerland where he would be free to live as he liked and hold whatever opinions he pleased. As Elser put it: "What else could I do but say yes. If I had refused, I should certainly have gone up the chimney that evening." This was the expression used by the inmates of concentration camps to describe the process of execution and cremation.

I do not know whether it was on this or on a later occasion that he was told the story of a plot against Hitler in which some of his closest associates were involved. Hitler was to speak at the Bürgerbraukeller in Munich on 8th November in commemoration of his comrades who fell during the 1923 Putsch, when he made his first attempt to overthrow the government. After Hitler had finished speaking it was his custom to stay a while talking to his old associates, and certain scoundrelly traitors had conceived the plan of hustling him to one side and shooting him. Although the names of the people involved in the plot were known it was not considered advisable to arrest them, as this would occasion a big scandal which, now, in war-time, must be avoided, and it was therefore intended to adopt other measures to liquidate the traitors. The idea was to build an infernal machine in one of the pillars in the cellar which could be exploded immediately the Führer left the building, which he would do directly his speech was finished; in this way all the conspirators would be exterminated, lock, stock, and barrel, and no one need hear anything more about their plot.

Elser was not such a fool really to believe that after he had been told so much he would be set free or even left alive, but since it was a question of certain immediate death or liquidation at some uncertain future date, he naturally promised to do what was required of him.

After this interview Elser was not allowed to return to his old quarters in the camp, but was put in a comfortable cell in a building used to house important political prisoners. Here, instead of his striped prison garb, he was given civilian clothes, and he was also brought good food and as many cigarettes as he wished. Next day, as he expressed a desire to finish some work which he had on hand, a carpenters' bench was brought to a large cell in the building and he was given his tools.

In the first week of November 1939 Elser was on two occasions fetched at nightfall by the same two men and taken by car to the Bürgerbraukeller where he was shown the pillar into which the bomb was to be built. This pillar was covered with an ornamental wood panelling over bricks, so all that he had to do was remove part of the panelling and extract a couple of bricks. Into the recess thus formed, he inserted the explosive, which was of a putty-like nature, the inside of an alarm clock, and a fuse. From the fuse he was instructed to make an electric lead to a push button in an alcove near the street level entrance to the building. The whole job was to him mere child's play and he was at a loss to understand why such a fuss had been made about it.

I took a great deal of trouble to get from Elser the clearest possible description of the bomb, and from what he wrote it was quite clear that the clock, which he called an ordinary Swiss alarm, had nothing to do with the fuse which could only be actuated by electric current applied from outside.

Elser's comfortable life at Dachau continued for yet a few days; he had been told that he would have to wait for his release until it had been proved that he had carried out his task properly. He was not afraid of any failure here, though he had little faith in the promise made him of freedom and reward.

On the 9th or 10th November the two men called for him again and when he got into a car which was waiting, they told him that he was now on the way to Switzerland and a life of liberty. They took the road leading to the Swiss frontier near Bregenz at the eastern end of the Lake of Constance which Elser knew well since for a time he had worked at St. Gallen just across the frontier, so at all events he could check the direction of his journey. When they reached a point about a quarter of a mile from the frontier customs post the car stopped and he was told that he would have to make his way farther on foot. He was handed an envelope which, as far as he could see, contained a large sum in German and Swiss notes; he was also given a picture postcard which illustrated the Bürgerbraukeller and on which the pillar into which he had built the bomb was marked with a cross. He was told that if he showed this to the frontier guards they would know who he was and would let him through without asking him for his papers; everything had been arranged.

He did as he was told, but neither frontier guard nor customs seemed to know anything about him or to understand the meaning of the postcard. He was asked a lot of questions and, as he had no passport or other papers, he was searched. The envelope containing the money was found and he was immediately marched off and put into jail on a charge of currency smuggling. Presumably, if the pretended ignorance of the men at the frontier was real, someone who saw the marked postcard became suspicious and, having heard of the bomb outrage at Munich, reported the arrest of Elser to a higher quarter. Anyhow, next day Elser was taken, handcuffed and heavily guarded, by prison van to an airfield and flown to Berlin. On arrival, still handcuffed, he was put into a cell and later was interrogated, being badly beaten up in the process. He was, however, wise, and said nothing about the trick which had resulted in his capture. He admitted that he had built the bomb into the pillar, but denied that he had had accomplices, stating that his action was the result of his own political opinions and his hatred of Nazi domination. His interrogation continued until deep into the night, but nothing more could be got out of him.

Next morning he was taken by lift to one of the upper floors where, in a room to which the jailer took him, he found the two men with whom all his previous arrangements had been made. They were most friendly and sympathetic and told him that his arrest at the frontier was entirely due to the unfortunate fact that the guard who had instructions to let him through had suddenly been taken ill and was therefore not on duty when he reached the frontier; he was not to worry though, everything would come all right in the end. Unfortunately, he could not be liberated at once as his photograph had been circulated to the police throughout the country and had also appeared in the Press; everyone thought that he had been guilty of an attempt on the Führer's life, and if he were to show his nose anywhere he would simply be torn to pieces for, as he could well imagine, everyone in Germany was overcome with fury at the dastardly outrage which had so nearly succeeded. For the time being he would have to remain safely under cover but he need fear no more ill-treatment, everything possible would be done to make him comfortable, and as soon as the first excitement had blown over steps would be taken to get him to Switzerland as had been promised. He was then taken to a big room on the top floor of the building which, as he later discovered was the Gestapo Headquarters in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse, where he found a bed, a carpenter's bench and the tools which he had used at Dachau. Two men remained with him as guards and from that moment he was never left alone for a moment. He was not, however, interfered with and was well fed; having been given suitable wood he set to work and made himself a zither; he could not play it but it had always been his ambition to learn.

He remained here undisturbed for about a fortnight when he was again visited by his two friends who took him down to one of the corridors where he was told to sit on a bench. He was told that an Englishman would be brought along past him, and he must look at him carefully so that he would be sure to recognize him if he saw him again. A tall dark man followed by two others passed him twice, apparently on his way to and from the lavatory. A few days later he was taken to the same place again and shown the same man. After this he was taken to an office where there was a high-ranking officer of the SS in uniform and another man, obviously an ex-student, as his face was covered with duelling scars. This man now talked to him and asked him whether he understood that his life was forfeit, and that he was nothing more than a candidate for death. This phrase was often used. He had already admitted to the police that he had built the bomb into the pillar of the cellar, and the whole German people was eagerly awaiting news of his trial and execution. He had, however, been promised life and freedom and the Gestapo always kept its word; he must though do something more to earn his security. He was then told the following story:

The German Army had already proved in Poland that it was invincible, and nothing now could save England from defeat. When that country was occupied by the victorious German Army he would have to appear as witness at a trial of the British Secret Service chiefs who, as all the world knew, were a gang of murderers and gangsters, and through their false information were really responsible for the whole war. At this trial one of the chief defendants would be the Englishman whom he had just seen; a certain Captain Best who had been captured a short time ago while attempting to leave Germany where he had been spying.

Elser would have to declare at the trial that for a long time he had been in relation with Otto Strasser in Switzerland and had acted for him as courier to and from Germany. In December 1938, Strasser had called him to Zurich where, at the Hotel Bauer au Lac, he had introduced him to the Englishman Best, telling him that in future he wished him to work for the British who were determined to get rid of Hitler and who could certainly do more than he could himself. Elser was therefore to take his orders from Captain Best who lived in Holland, and arrangements were made so that they could communicate with each other via the Dutch frontier. The Englishman handed Elser a thousand Swiss francs in notes as earnest money.

During the months that followed he had maintained regular contact with Captain Best, and had acted as courier between him and other agents in Germany; in this way the British Intelligence had received valuable information regarding German rearmament, and for his work he had been very well paid. In October 1939 he had met Captain Best at a place in Holland called Venlo, and there he had been given instructions about planting a bomb in the Bürgerbraukeller at Munich with the promise that if he did so he would receive a sum of 40,000 Swiss francs as reward. At first he had refused to have anything to do with this but Best put pressure on him and left him no choice but to do as he was told or be denounced to the Gestapo as a British agent. In the end he had agreed to do what was required of him and he was given an address in Germany where he would receive his final instructions and be given the infernal machine. He was then to tell in his evidence how he went to the Bürgerbraukeller some four weeks before the date fixed for the explosion and had little difficulty in concealing himself there so that he could do his work during the night. He built the bomb into one of the pillars as he had been instructed, but did not wind up the clock which actuated the fuse as this could only be set to work a maximum of ten days later. He was therefore obliged to pay a second visit to the cellar at the end of October in order to wind and set the clock. He had no difficulty in doing so as he went in the afternoon when the place was quite deserted.

Elser was given a typewritten copy of this story which contained a lot of further details about the work he was supposed to have done for Strasser and me, and this he was told to learn by heart. Subsequently he was several times examined to see whether he was word perfect.

The story certainly seemed very strange and really I was unable at that time to make head or tail of it. What on earth was the object of a fictitious attempt to assassinate Hitler which resulted, from what I had heard, in the death of quite a number of the people who came to hear his speech? I could have understood if it had been followed by a purge in the party such as took place in June 1934, but as a matter of fact very little publicity seemed to have been given to the whole thing in the German Press, and although I had seen illustrated papers in which the photographs of Stevens and myself were placed next to that of Elser nothing which occurred during my interrogation, except a few questions to establish that I had visited Switzerland in December 1938, tied up with Elser's story in any way. To go to all this trouble merely to bring an accusation against me seemed very much a case of using a whale to catch a sprat. Anyhow, in spite of repeated inquiries, Elser could tell me nothing more, and so I had to leave it at that.

Until Kaindl came as commandant Elser had always been provided with plenty of good wood, as he was constantly employed making articles of furniture for the commandant and for the warders, and the latter could always abstract any special wood which was needed from the commandant's private store in the wood sheds in my garden. Kaindl, however, put a stop to all this and all that he allowed Elser was some deal and other inferior timber. Elser too, had been promised by the previous commandant that he should have an electric motor for the operation of the lathe which he had made, but this was also turned down by Kaindl. As a result, life became purposeless to Elser who gradually sank into a state of profound depression, refusing to take any exercise and eating hardly enough to keep body and soul together. Early in 1944 Obergruppenführer Müller came to see him and, seeing how ill he looked, gave instructions that he was to be given sufficient wood to keep him occupied, and also arranged that he should be permitted to visit the camp brothel twice weekly.

I only saw Elser once, to my knowledge, for I did not notice him at all on the occasions when he said I passed close to him at Gestapo Headquarters. One day while I was having a shower in the lavatory he suddenly rushed in followed by two extremely agitated guards to whom he had given the slip; he later let me know that he had wanted to make sure whether I was indeed the same person he had seen at Berlin. He was a thin, pallid little fellow with very bright eyes and a shock of unbrushed dark hair; his clothes hung loosely upon him as though he had lost a lot of flesh.

At the end of August 1944 his guards were taken from him, and thenceforward he was locked in alone in his cell. At the beginning of February 1945 I heard that he had suddenly received orders to pack up and had been taken away, whether to some other place or for execution no one could say.

[KZ Sachsenhausen, August 1944, S. 160]

From the moment that Himmler was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces after the 20th July plot, great efforts were made to induce political prisoners in the camp to volunteer for military service, and intense pressure was exercised on the conscientious objectors, Bible Students, etc., who were threatened with severe treatment if they continued their refusal to join up. The latter remained immovable and in the end nothing happened to them, but a considerable number of political prisoners, including most of those of German nationality, did join up in the hope of being able to desert if sent to the front. There were also many comb-outs of SS men employed in the camp, most of whom were passed fit for active service and sent back to their units. Amongst them were three of Elser's guards, who were not replaced, so that from that time, 12th August, 1944, he was left solitary. There was also talk that my guards might also be taken from me, but when I asked the commandant he assured me that as long as he was in charge I need fear no change.

Elser's three guards, who had all at times done duty with me and who often came out to the garden when I was there, came to see me to say good-bye, and each of them asked me to give him a little note stating that he had always behaved well and had been guilty of no ill-treatment of prisoners, saying that he intended to desert at the first opportunity. I did not give them anything in writing but told them that they could use my name as a recommendation. Elser, I heard, was very low, for he rightly considered that the loss of his guards was a sign that he had lost his value to the authorities, and might soon expect to lose his life as well.

[KZ Sachsenhausen, Januar 1945, S. 163]

Elser too had gone, taken away by two men from the Security Police, as we all supposed on his last journey. It is difficult to describe the general atmosphere of insecurity which surrounded us, and even I began to have my doubts as to my expectation of a long life.

[KZ Buchenwald, Februar 1945 S. 187 f]

My meeting with Rascher was particularly interesting because he could fill in many of the gaps in my knowledge of the circumstances which had led to the capture of Stevens and myself, and the way in which it had been intended to involve me with Elser as the author of the attempt on Hitler's life in November 1939. According to what he had heard at the time, there was originally no connection at all between the two events, and the plan to capture Stevens and me had resulted from the arrest of Major Solms, through whom the Gestapo had got on the track of the conspiracy which we had been investigating. No action had been taken against the general whom we had hoped to meet as Hitler, at that time, was seeking to avoid any unnecessary friction with the General Staff; several of the minor people, however, had been arrested and in particular a colonel who should have visited us in Holland in the first instance, and who was the man who had made the first direct contact with Dr. Franz, had been intercepted and his place taken by two Gestapo officials. [...]

As regards the Bürgerbraukeller bomb, Rascher said that everyone knew that this was a Gestapo fake, but he could not say exactly what had been behind it. From all that he had heard he believed that Goebbels had been at the back of it and that the intention had been to arouse public enthusiasm in Munich, where there was a sad lack of war-like spirit, by the pretence that British agents had attempted to assassinate the Führer. When I asked whether it had been the intention to kill a number of party members as had actually occurred, he said no, this had been an accident as normally they would have left the building at the same time as Hitler. For this reason the whole matter had been rather hushed up, for far from arousing any enthusiasm in Munich, there had almost at once been rumours that this was just another Reichstag fire affair, and that the people who had lost their lives had been murdered by the Gestapo.

Rascher said that he was quite sure that at the time of our capture Schellenberg knew nothing about the Munich affair except what had been reported in the papers; he had, however, spent the night with a doctor friend of his in Düsseldorf, who had suggested that it might be a good idea to involve the two British Intelligence Officers in the matter, and to say that they had organized the attempt against Hitler's life, and had been caught as they were trying to escape from Germany. When Schellenberg got back to Berlin next day he put this plan before Himmler who did not, however, think much of it, though he said that he would suggest it to the Führer without whose consent nothing could be done. As the capture of two Englishmen on neutral territory was a matter which concerned the Foreign Office, Himmler first mentioned the idea to Ribbentrop, who turned it down, and then to Bormann, who was most enthusiastic and told Hitler about it at once. A week or so later, Schellenberg was called to an audience with Hitler and having explained his plan in detail, received the Führer's sanction and was decorated with the First Class of the Iron Cross for his bravery in venturing into a neutral country.

I asked Rascher what had they planned to do. "Oh, there was to have been a big trial in Germany at which you would have confessed to the attempt to assassinate the Führer, but Goebbels made such a mess of things and allowed such contradictory reports to be published that the idea had to be dropped." It seems though that Hitler, having once sanctioned the plan, no one could go to him and suggest that it should be called off, so Elser and I were just put into cold storage and left to await a better day. [...]

[KZ Dachau, 9.4.1945, S. 205 ff]

The other news was, that immediately on our arrival, Georg Elser, who had been in the building for some weeks past, was taken out into the garden by Stiller and shot in the back of the neck. The man who shot him had been brought from one of the condemned cells and had been executed immediately after and both bodies had been taken at once to the crematorium. This apparently accounted for our long wait at the entrance to the camp.

Foto: Jehovas Zeugen Geschichtsarchiv (Selters) Der Häftling Paul Wauer war im KZ Dachau Kalfaktor.
Wouwer had known Elser well and had shaved him daily at Sachsenhausen; he said that when Elser first reached Dachau he was in a very low state and daily expected execution, but latterly he had become more cheerful as it was rumoured that the entire SS staff of the camp intended to bolt before it was reached by allied troops, in which case the prisoners would not be evacuated further. When Gogalla came with us to the camp he brought with him a number of orders from Gestapo H.Q. in Berlin which resulted in a renewed tightening up of discipline and, unfortunately, the execution of a number of death sentences. One of the orders which he brought with him, later came into my possession, and since it deals with our arrival and the death of poor little Elser, I am giving the translation now:


- IV - g. Rs
Please quote date and above reference
your reply
(Rubber stamp)

KLD Dep. VIa-F-Sb. ABw
Received: 9-4-45
Daybook No. 42/45

the 5. April 1945
(in pencil)

State affair!

Express Letter

To the
Commandant of the K.L.
SS-Obersturmbannführer Weiter

On orders of the R(eichs) F(uhrer) SS and after obtaining the decision of the highest authority the prisoners scheduled below are immediately to be admitted to the K.L. Dachau.

The former Colonel-General Halder
  "         "   General Thomas
Hjalmar Schacht
Schuschnigg with wife and child
The former General v. Falkenhausen
The Englishman Best (Wolf)
Molotov's Nephew Kokorin
The Colonel, General Staff, v. Bonin

As I know that you only dispose of very limited space in the Cell Building I beg you, after examination to put these prisoners together. Please, however, take steps so that the prisoner Schuschnigg, who bears the pseudonym Oyster under which name kindly have him registered, is allotted a larger living cell. The wife has shared his imprisonment of her own free will and is therefore not a 'prisoner-in-protective-custody'. I request that she may be allowed the same freedom as she has hitherto enjoyed.

The RF-SS directs that Halder, Thomas, Schacht, Schuschnigg, and v. Falkenhausen are to be well treated.

I beg you on all accounts to ensure that the prisoner Best (pseudonym Wolf) does not make contact with the Englishman Stevens who is already there.

v. Bonin was employed at the Führer's Head Quarters and is now in a kind of honourable detention. He is still a Colonel on the Active List and will presumably retain this status. I beg you therefore to treat him particularly well.

The question of our prisoner in special protective custody, 'Eller', has also again been discussed at highest level. The following directions have been issued:

On the occasion of one of the next 'Terror' Attacks on Munich, or, as the case may be, the neighbourhood of Dachau, it shall be pretended that 'Eller' suffered fatal injuries.

I request you therefore, when such an occasion arises to liquidate 'Eller' as discreetly as possible. Please take steps that only very few people, who must be specially pledged to silence, hear about this. The notification to me regarding the execution of this order should be worded something like this:

On ... on the occasion of a Terror Attack on ... the prisoner in protective custody 'Eller' was fatally wounded.

After noting the contents and carrying out the orders contained in it kindly destroy this letter.

Signature: illegible."

"Eller" was, of course, the pseudonym of Elser just as mine was "Wolf" and Stevens's "Fuchs" (fox).

It is perhaps worth noting that the above letter, although written to the camp commandant, was contained in an envelope addressed to Untersturmführer Stiller with a note that, in the event of the tatter's death, it should be destroyed unopened. Stiller appears to have been a direct representative of the SD at Dachau and thus, although a subordinate, possessed of more real authority than the commandant. This was directly in line with Nazi policy which, as is the case in Soviet Russia, always took care that every man holding a position of any importance was kept under observation. There was another man, a Hauptscharführer, who appeared to spy on Stiller in turn. [...]

Quelle: Sigismund Payne Best: The Venlo Incident, London 1950.

Informationen, die angeblich von Elser stammen: Englischer Originaltext

Informationen, die angeblich von Elser stammen: Kommentierte Übersetzung

KZ Sachsenhausen

Sigismund Payne Best