Doppelleben - Hitlers totgesagter Top-Agent Horst Kopkow alias Peter Cordes
Er war einer von Hitlers gnadenlosesten Agentenjägern: Gestapo-Offizier Horst Kopkow alias Peter Cordes war verantwortlich für die Festnahme, Folterung und Tötung von Hunderten Spionen und Widerstandskämpfern. Kurz nach dem Krieg starb er - so hieß es jahrzehntelang. Neu veröffentlichte Dokumente erzählen eine andere Geschichte.
Horst Kopkow, geboren am 29. November 1910 in Ortelsburg, starb am 13. Oktober 1996 in Gelsenkirchen. Während der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, war er in der Gestapo (später im Reichssicherheitshauptamt) im Bereich der Spionageabwehr tätig; nach 1945 im Dienste des britischen Geheimdienstes MI6.
Kopkow wurde als jüngstes von sechs Kindern im damaligen Ortelsburg (heute Szczytno) in Ostpreußen geboren. Er schloss eine Ausbildung als Apotheker ab, trat bereits 1931 der NSDAP und 1932 der SS bei. 1934 begann er seine Tätigkeit als Kriminalkommissaranwärter bei der Gestapo. In seinem SS Personalbericht wird er als "gefestigter, ehrgeiziger Streber" mit einer "guten Aufnahmefähigkeit" sowie "guter allgemeiner Bildung" charakterisiert, der die Eignung zum SS-Hauptsturmführer hat. In seinem Lebenslauf vom 16. Oktober 1936 stellte er noch vor Angaben zur Schulbildung heraus, er "selber habe in Jahre 1935 die Reihen der evangelischen Kirche verlassen, da ich die christliche Weltanschauung grundsätzlich ablehne".
Doch Horst Kopkow war weit mehr als ein durchschnittlicher SS-Mann und überzeugter Nazi. Er war einer der schlimmsten Gegner Großbritanniens, denn als Gestapo-Mann war er für die Abwehr feindlicher Agenten in ganz Europa verantwortlich, darunter viele Briten. Wer in die Hände des SS-Standartenführers und Kriminaldirektors geriet, musste mit dem Schlimmsten rechnen: Folter, Konzentrationslager oder Tod. Er galt als so zuverlässig, dass er auch mit den Ermittlungen zum Bombenanschlag auf Hitler am 20. Juli 1944 beauftragt wurde.
1937 zog er mit seiner Frau Gerda geb. Lindenau und seinen zwei Kindern nach Berlin, um bei der GeStaPo zu arbeiten. Am 1. Februar 1939 wurde er Kriminalkommissar mit dem Auftrag, "feindliche Spione und Saboteure“ zu enttarnen. 1940 wurde SS-Hauptsturmführer Kopkow Referatsleiter IV A 2 (Sabotagebekämpfung) im neugebildeten Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA). Seine Beförderung zum Kriminalrat erfolgte am 01. November 1941. Die Hauptarbeit Kopkows bezog sich 1941 auf Sprengstoffdiebstähle und -anschläge, Eisenbahnsabotage in den besetzten Ländern und die Verfolgung von Anschlägen der europäischen Widerstandsbewegungen. Im Spätsommer 1942 übernahm er die Leitung der "Sonderkommission Rote Kapelle". Er war auch für die Ermittlungen zum Bombenanschlag auf Hitler vom 20. Juli 1944 zuständig. Bis zum Kriegsende war er für die Folterung und den Tod hunderter alliierter Agenten sowie deutscher Widerstandskämpfer verantwortlich.
Am 29. Mai 1945 wurde er von der britischen Militärpolizei gefangen genommen. Im April 1948 wurde er nach London zum Verhör gebracht. Doch leider sei der Mann schon mit Fieber in England angekommen und kurz darauf im Krankenhaus an einer Atemwegserkrankung gestorben - so die offizielle Version der britischen Behörden. Die Akte Kopkow wurde geschlossen. In Wahrheit lebte der SS-Mann. Das beweisen Dokumente, die jahrzehntelang im britischen Nationalarchiv unter Verschluss gehalten worden waren und nun von britischen Zeitungen wie der "Times" an die Öffentlichkeit gebracht wurden. Kopkow hatte sich quasi am eigenen Schopf aus dem Sumpf gezogen: Nach seiner Festnahme erklärte er seinen britischen Vernehmern, durch seine Jagd auf Widerstandsgruppen in Osteuropa verfüge er über wichtige Informationen über sowjetische Spionage-Aktivitäten. Diese Operationen seien auch gegen Großbritannien gerichtet. Die Briten horchten auf: Das Verhältnis zu den Sowjets verschlechterte sich ständig, nach den Nationalsozialisten schienen die Kommunisten zu einer neuen Bedrohung für Europa zu werden.
Die Argumente Kopkows überzeugten. Kurzerhand wurde der SS-Offizier im Juni 1948 für tot erklärt und mit einer neuen Identität versehen: Künftig hieß er Peter Cordes und war Manager. Im Auftrag des britischen Geheimdienstes reiste Kopkow alias Cordes durch ganz Europa. Fünf Jahre nach Kriegsende durfte er erstmals seine Familie wieder sehen. Seine wahre Identität musste vorerst verborgen bleiben, offiziell war er daher nur ein Onkel auf Familienbesuch.
Nach Geheimdienstberichten des MI6, die erst 2004 freigegeben wurden, wurde Horst Kopkow mit falscher Identität zwischen 1949 und 1950 in Westdeutschland freigelassen. Er nannte sich jetzt Peter Cordes und arbeitete für den MI6. Wie lange Kopkow noch für den britischen Geheimdienst MI 6 arbeitete, ist nicht bekannt. Der Nachrichtendienst selbst nimmt keine Stellung zu dem Fall, der für Großbritannien mehr als peinlich ist: Bislang hatten sich offizielle Stellen des Königreichs immer von der Praxis der amerikanischen Geheimdienste distanziert. Die US-Kollegen hatten Nazis und Kriegsverbrecher, von deren Wissen die Vereinigten Staaten profitieren konnten, ohne Zögern in ihre eigenen Dienste übernommen. Ob Kopkow den Briten allerdings tatsächlich in der Bekämpfung kommunistischer Spione eine Hilfe war, ist nicht sicher: Einer seiner britischen Vernehmer, der Russland-Experte Kim Philby, arbeitete jahrelang unentdeckt als Doppelagent für den KGB und lief 15 Jahre nach den Gesprächen mit Kopkow in den Osten über. In seinen letzten Jahren litt Horst Kopkow an der Parkinson-Krankheit. Kopkow starb 1996 im Alter von 85 Jahren an Lungenentzündung in einem Krankenhaus in Gelsenkirchen
Quellen: Wikipedia; www.spiegel.de
The Gestapo killer who lived twice - Horst Kopkow alias Peter Cordes
He was a notorious Nazi war criminal, responsible for countless gruesome slaughters. But Horst Kopkow cheated the gallows when Britain's spymasters put him on their payroll. Kopkow died of pneumonia in October 1996, in hospital in Gelsenkirchen with his family at his side.
Hitler's top spycatcher, a die-hard Nazi who masterminded the capture of countless agents parachuted or infiltrated into German-occupied Europe, was facing a war-crimes trial when British intelligence requested his dispatch to London to face what the letter called "special interrogation". But "when he arrived here," wrote Paterson, "he was found to be running a temperature and after two days was sent to hospital, where we regret to say he died of Bronchopneumonia before any information was obtained from him."
The officer attached a death certificate and told the war-crimes investigators that Kopkow had been buried in "that portion of the local Military Cemetery allocated to Prisoners of War who have died here". He had almost certainly cheated the gallows: a war-crimes trial would have heard evidence of murders as brutal and heinous as any in the second world war. Kopkow, a brilliant counterintelligence officer, was ruthless, cruel and cold-blooded. His victims were routinely tortured, sometimes bound and beaten to a pulp, executed with a coup de grace in the back of the head or by lethal injection and even thrown alive into the furnaces of concentration camps. And many were women.
Women like the heroine Violette Szabo, posthumous winner of the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre, whose courage and murder were the subject of the now-famous film Carve Her Name with Pride. Kopkow was responsible for the capture and murder of at least 100 agents trained by Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) and parachuted behind enemy lines. Almost always, investigators learnt, responsibility for their gruesome end lay at Kopkow's door. In the three years since the war ended, those who had trained and sent the agents on their missions had investigated and pieced together the fate of the agents and were determined to make Kopkow pay for his crimes. They must have felt cheated by his death; what they didn't know was that their own colleagues had cheated them. For on the day Lt Col Paterson wrote of Kopkow's burial, the Nazi was beginning a new life, with a new identity, as a servant of the crown. MI6 had decided Kopkow was an asset to be protected and employed; it had faked his death and his internment. He became Peter Cordes, a factory manager and, by the time Elizabeth II was enthroned, a spy in the employ of Her Majesty's secret service. Free to be reunited with his family, free to travel extensively in the employ of his new masters, free even to philander on numerous holidays in the Alps or the Mediterranean with his mistresses, leaving his wife and family at home.
In her living room in the north German town of Gelsenkirchen, Gerda Kopkow peers at the official British letter written 58 years ago. Gerda, aged 92, has never seen the letter before, but she knows it is an official lie. "Ja, ja, das ist mein Mann," she says eagerly as she begins to read. "But he died here in Gelsenkirchen in 1996," declares Gerda with a half-smile. Kopkow had convinced the British secret services that he had valuable information about communists, and in the post-war scramble to secure intelligence about Soviet spies, that information saved him from the hangman's noose. Gerda reads the letter and smiles again. "The British even told me I would have to pretend he was dead, and I told all my friends he was dead. But I refused to tell the children. I said they would have to pretend too. "The letter and the testimony of Kopkow's widow provide the first irrefutable evidence that British intelligence deliberately protected a wanted Nazi war criminal, and then employed him to spy for Britain. In the 1980s the world was scandalised by revelations that the US protected Nazis like Klaus Barbie, the so-called "Butcher of Lyon". Public anger in the US resulted in the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosures Act. It is now known that the CIA protected and employed dozens of Nazi war criminals during the cold war, but the British have always concealed any such duplicity.
Horst Kopkow was born on November 29, 1910, in Ortelsburg, which was then in the German province of East Prussia and is now called Szcytno in Poland. The son of a hotelier and merchant, Horst was the youngest of six children; he lost two older brothers on French battlefields in the first world war. According to Gerda, the deaths of his brothers and the German defeat had a lasting effect on the young Horst. He trained as a pharmacist but like many young Germans he became a teenage convert to fascism. By the age of 21, Kopkow was a leader of the local branch of the National Socialist Party and Gerda was a leader of a Nazi women's group. Gerda said: "We were proud to have believed it all before even Hitler became popular. We were young. It was exciting for us."
By 1933, when Hitler came to power, Kopkow had joined the SS. "The SS were the men in black," recalled Gerda, smiling. "He was proud to be a man in black and they were pleased to have him. He always wanted to be the best and he was more intelligent than those around him."
In 1937, Kopkow was promoted and moved with his wife and two children to Berlin to do intelligence work in the nerve centre of the Nazi security police — the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA). First directed by Reinhard Heidrich, the leading planner of Hitler's "final solution", the RSHA was the central SS department from which all official and secret police and security organs of the Third Reich were led. By 1939, Kopkow was a Kriminalkommissar in department IV of the RSHA, responsible for the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), headed by the notorious Obergruppenführer Heinrich Mueller. Part of department IV was the subsection IV-2-A, where Kopkow was responsible for capturing enemy spies and saboteurs. Hitler himself set out the objectives of his spy-hunters in his "commando order", which stated that "all so-called commando missions, even if they are to all appearances soldiers in uniform, whether armed or unarmed, in battle or in flight, are to be slaughtered to the last man". Once interrogated, agents were disposed of under the Nacht und Nebel decree. They were literally to "disappear" as if into the "night and fog". They were sent to concentration camps to be hanged, shot, gassed or injected with a lethal substance, and their bodies burnt so no trace of them or the way they died could be found. But traces of the British agents were found at the first concentration camp liberated by the allies in April 1945. When US troops entered Buchenwald, survivors revealed that British agents had been slowly hanged by wire attached from meat hooks in the crematorium basement.
The SOE cases became the focus of a war-crimes investigation led by Vera Atkins, the SOE leader who had briefed agents and felt a personal bond with many. Under the auspices of the judge advocate general's department of the war office, she was assisted by specialist Nazi hunters, mostly German or Austrian-Jewish exiles, who were members of "Haystack" — so named because finding Nazi war criminals amid the devastation of post-war Germany was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Scouring the allied-occupied zones of Germany, by mid-1946 Atkins established that four British women — captured behind the lines in occupied France — were among 90,000 women murdered at Ravensbruck women's concentration camp. One of the SOE women, Cicely Lefort, was taken to Ravensbruck's extermination sub-camp and gassed in a van. Her fellow agents Violette Szabo, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch were worked to exhaustion, imprisoned in a punishment block and shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were burnt immediately.
Then Atkins investigated the identities of four blackened female corpses seen by a camp crematorium stoker in the oven at a little-known concentration camp called Natzweiler, in Alsace. Evidence showed that although the women had been given lethal injections, groans were heard as they were undressed and dragged towards the furnace. One woman woke up as she was being shoved into the flames and scratched her executioner's face. Eventually, Atkins established that the dead women were Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Sonia Olschanesky and Andrée Borrel, all agents with the French section of SOE. Evidence then emerged that at Dachau three more SOE women were beaten and then shot. A fourth woman, Noor Inayat Khan, also died at Dachau. After first being shackled in chains for months, she was beaten "until she was a bloody mess" and shot. Her last word was "liberté".
At the end of the war, the names of the biggest war criminals were already known to the allies, and they were tried at Nürnberg, where the Gestapo was declared a criminal organisation. Many SS concentration-camp staff were swiftly rounded up and scores of the agents' murderers were tried and executed. The defence mounted by the killers' lawyers, that these were "the lawful execution of spies", was rejected out of hand.
When Atkins began her investigation she had no reason to know about Horst Kopkow. But as she interrogated more and more Gestapo staff, she kept hearing Kopkow's name. A middle-ranking Gestapo man called Walter Herberg volunteered that agents and infiltrators were taken directly to a man called Kopkow in Berlin and then "disappeared". He mentioned two Russian women dropped by the British. "These two were taken to Kopkow's office and delivered to him personally. They were never seen again." He mentioned a Dutchman called Van de Velde. Kopkow had ordered a "harsh" interrogation, "which meant 12 strokes with an oxhide whip".
Atkins was told by other Gestapo men that Kopkow was the man who sent out the Sonderbehandlung, or "order for special treatment", for captured spies. Kopkow kept a low profile and his name rarely appeared on the actual execution orders. But day-to-day contact with Berlin went through Kopkow, who handled all the paperwork. He insisted on "receipts" for bodies. In the Natzweiler case, it emerged that local Gestapo officers had twice sought instructions from Kopkow's dept IV-2-A about where to take the women prisoners, and were instructed to take them to the concentration camp. A Gestapo man called Wassmer said all instructions for the transport of SOE women to Dachau came from Berlin, and he specified Kopkow Horst, dept IV-2-A. The Vollzugszettel (execution chit) was also received from Berlin, said Wassmer. Otto Preis, whom Atkins identified as the Karlsruhe Gestapo's "professional bumper-off", said orders for execution arrived by urgent letter from the RSHA in Berlin, countersigned by the chief and head of department (Kopkow) and then passed onto the local office handling the case. Even Sturmbannführer Hans Kieffer, counterintelligence chief in Paris, was eventually captured and told Atkins that every decision about the agents' interrogation and imprisonment — including the timing and destination of the transports to Germany — was authorised by Kopkow.
By the end of the summer of 1946, not only did Atkins wish to bring Kopkow to trial but she wanted to secure vital information from him. The fate of a number of missing agents was still unknown. But, though more and more senior SS officers implicated in the case were being run to ground, Atkins could find no trace of Kopkow. On August 23, 1946, as she wound up her German investigation and left for England, Atkins issued a last urgent "wanted" note to "Haystack" saying: "Kopkow is wanted in connection with deaths of British agents in Nazi concentration camps, particularly Natzweiler and Dachau. All reports and documents of captured agents were sent to Kopkow. And he ordered their removal to concentration camps and liquidation. If arrested please advise VMA [Vera May Atkins] in the UK. He was last known at the Reichsicherhautsauptampt [RSHA] Amt IV".
Then, in September 1946, after interrogating a suspect held in London called Dr Josef Goetz, Atkins picked up an astonishing tip. Dr Goetz told her Horst Kopkow was in British hands. She fired off a note to her Haystack colleagues: "I imagine he must be at Bad Nenndorf," said Atkins, referring to a top-secret facility in the British zone run by MI5 and used by all British intelligence services to screen important prisoners, including informants or Nazi die-hards suspected of continuing underground resistance. Even before the German surrender in May 1945, Britain's two intelligence services, MI6 and MI5, were preparing to fight a new war against the Soviet Union. Prevented from spying against the Russians while they were wartime allies, their priority now was not to bring Nazi intelligence chiefs to justice but to pick their brains about communist networks. While Kopkow's name meant nothing at first to war-crimes hunters, it was widely known by senior intelligence staff who had access during the war to signals decodes, known as Ultra, taken from German police traffic. Kopkow's name cropped up on the decodes relating to movements of captured parachutists or saboteurs. Unknown to Atkins, and to war-crimes investigators, on May 29, 1945, British intelligence had its first coup. "To: War Room", says the telegram announcing Kopkow's capture. "Detailed interrogation of Kopkow commencing shortly at CSDIC" — a reference to the special interrogation centre at Bad Nenndorf.
On his arrest, Kopkow told his British interrogators the dramatic story of his last days of flight. When defeat was inevitable, he had headed north with colleagues to the Baltic coast, where Himmler, the Reichsführer (head of the SS), had set up a base at Flensburg. Four weeks later, still hiding in Flensburg, Kopkow was betrayed to British troops by a colleague. "He told me about that later," said his wife, Gerda, who had heard nothing of her husband during the final weeks of the war. "The last time I saw him, some months before the end, he told me we would lose. I did not believe it. But he knew it then already. Then I was evacuated with the children out of Berlin and lost contact with him. The next thing I knew he was in a British prison. I found out because his secretary came one day to me and told me that was where he was. Bad Nenndorf, I think." Kopkow's secretary, Bertha Rose, was captured with him. In prison the British allowed Kopkow to dictate his statements to her. The information concerned, almost exclusively, his knowledge of Soviet espionage operations, and it was "encyclopaedic". "As he has a very methodical brain, the structure of these statements was left to him and is his responsibility," noted an interrogator. "He was allowed almost complete freedom and was seldom interrupted."
From time to time, however, direct questions were put to Kopkow from one particular MI6 staff officer in London. The officer, who signed his name on the briefing document H Philby, took a close interest in Kopkow's case and wanted to know more about specific communist agents he named who were working against western governments. Kim Philby, as Kopkow's questioner is better known, was then head of London's MI6 Soviet desk. It was not until 15 years later that Philby himself was exposed as a Soviet spy.
As Kopkow's interrogations continued, his MI6 minders were more and more impressed with him. One said: "It was realised that it would be hardly possible to catch K out on contradictions, etc, through cross questioning as he is too intelligent for that . . . and knows all the tricks of the trade." One of Kopkow's "tricks of the trade" was to avoid self-incrimination. Happy to tell the British about communists who might now be targeting Britain, he feigned ignorance of any wartime operations involving western agents. "His knowledge of the west is far inferior [to his knowledge of communism], often secondhand with few exceptions," said one interrogator.
The "stories" of communist agents continued to spill out, and in 60 pages of interrogation Kopkow was hardly asked about his war crimes against British agents and was certainly not pressed on their fate. There is little doubt that, early in his interrogation, a deal was done with him. "His attitude is that his only chance for a milder judgement is to tell as much as possible. He also declares he is fully prepared to make any declaration of loyalty required," an interrogator noted. Gerda recalls that he was promised immunity within months of his arrest. Gerda and Horst were even allowed to meet during his captivity, in a house provided by the British. "They were very kind to us," Gerda said. "One day they bought him to me and forgot to pick him up. We had a long time together." On other occasions Kopkow was able to see his children.
"I remember seeing him once and he gave me a piece of American chewing gum," recalled his daughter Heidi, now a music teacher. "We were very, very poor at the time. I kept it for a week." In early 1946, on her first meeting with her husband after the war, Gerda found he had already renounced his Nazi beliefs. "I was still a Nazi, even then. But he said no, no. It is not so important now. I was shocked that he had changed so quickly. Then later, of course, learnt how wrong it had all been."
"He always told us he'd been freed because of the help he gave a British major," said Gerda, who could not recall the British major's name. There is no trace of such a story in the files, but one British major Kopkow was closely associated with was Frank Chamier. While Kopkow was under MI6 interrogation at Bad Nenndorf, traces had been uncovered of a British prisoner seen by survivors and camp guards at both Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps. On one occasion, a witness remembered the man's name slightly misspelt as "Frank Chaumier" and another witness said the same man gave a curious alias: Frank of Upwey 282. He was thought to have been a parachute agent. He had been badly tortured and his fate was unknown. Atkins inquired of MI6 if "Frank of Upwey 282" or "Frank Chaumier" was one of theirs, but the service denied any knowledge of him for over a year. In fact, Major Frank Chamier was the only British MI6 agent known to have parachuted into Germany. He was captured and fell directly into Kopkow's hands in April 1944. Upwey was his home telephone exchange near Weymouth.
War-crimes investigators were eventually given access to Kopkow. "When Chamier's name was first mentioned to Kopkow he nearly fainted, muttered "Ich weiss nichts davon" [I don't know about that] and asked for a glass of water, which was taken as a clear sign that he knew he could hang for Chamier's murder alone. After further questions, he admitted his involvement with Chamier's interrogation, but Kopkow became "very evasive", especially when pressed about methods used to elicit information from him. He said Chamier died in an air raid on Berlin. MI6 readily believed Kopkow. However, the war-crimes interrogators "were satisfied that Kopkow was lying", said a report. In her one meeting with Kopkow in January 1947, Atkins's priority was to find out where the agents she had failed to trace were taken. Kopkow solved the last part of her puzzle by revealing that the agents last seen in Silesia were taken to Gross Rosen concentration camp, in western Poland, not far from where he grew up. It was evident to Atkins that he knew because he had given the orders. To avoid the possibility of closer questioning, Kopkow was now spirited out of Germany altogether and taken back to the so called London Cage, a converted London mansion in Kensington used by British intelligence for special interrogations.
Horst Kopkow, however, still had reason to fear for his future. In June 1947, Hans Kieffer, his immediate deputy in Paris, who captured the British agents in France, was executed for war crimes and stated again on the traps of the gallows that he carried out orders from Kopkow. And even now Atkins's successors in Germany were drawing up new charge sheets. By now the investigators had known that Kopkow had been "provisionally released for special employment under an 'I' [intelligence] agency" but they were still led to believe he would be prosecuted. But when they wrote to London requesting that Kopkow be urgently re-interrogated about the cases of the murdered women, they received the letter stating that Kopkow was dead. The war-crimes case against Kopkow was now closed. What happened to him next is unclear, as the files on his case remain closed beyond 1948. It is likely, though, that his real work for MI6 now began. And he was soon sent back to continue this work in the British zone of occupied Germany, where he could live as a normal citizen with a new ID and a new name.
"We didn't see him again until 1950," said Gerda, recalling that the family, living in Dortmund, in the centre of the British zone, were suddenly told to go and live in Gelsenkirchen nearby. Then Horst Kopkow miraculously reappeared and told his family he was now Peter Cordes. "I think the British fixed it all," said Gerda. Because friends, neighbours and even schoolteachers had all been told that her husband, Horst Kopkow, was dead, Kopkow lived in the house with his wife and three children but was known as "Uncle Peter". "We even had separate beds," said Gerda, throwing up her arms as she remembered the confusion.
How long "Peter Cordes" worked for British intelligence after the war, or what this work involved, is also murky. His family today cannot say. Nor can anyone else. When Kopkow's family wrote to the German military archives for information in 1986, they received a letter saying the request had been passed to the secret state archives for Prussia and no more was heard. And Kopkow himself destroyed his papers before he died, leaving only a carefully sanitised CV for his family to hand out after his death, should questions be asked. Intelligence sources do not deny, however, that Kopkow continued to work for British intelligence into the 1950s, when numerous operations were launched to build up spy networks inside the eastern bloc.
As cover, Kopkow found regular employment with a textile manufacturer, eventually becoming the factory director. He also travelled widely, but always alone and was careful where he went. "He liked the Mediterranean and Egypt," says Gerda, who preferred Ireland, travelling to County Kerry to paint. Her works are dotted all around her walls. Then, in 1956, Kopkow decided to take back his old name, now calling himself Horst Kopkow-Cordes. "It was not so hard to explain to people this time," said Gerda. "Many had been in similar situations and did not ask why."
The length of his intelligence service for Britain is unclear, but Kopkow was evidently protected by the British for the rest of his life. He was never questioned again about his past or asked to give evidence at later war-crimes trials. And although scores of those who carried out Kopkow's orders had by now been executed, MI6 continued to sanitise his story. Kopkow's role in the SOE tragedy was covered up, hidden even from SOE's official historian, M R D Foot. "The efforts I made over 40 years ago to inquire who in the SS had ordered the murders of captured SOE agents were blocked. I got nowhere and gave up," said Foot. "It is absolutely disgraceful and very sad," said Anthony Chamier, stepson of Frank Chamier. Chamier's widow, aged 102, has never even been told where or when her husband died. Richard Breitman, professor of modern German history at Harvard, who is directing research into American recruitment of Nazis, believes that by employing war criminals like Kopkow, both Britain and the US began the post-war era "tainted by the worst crimes of the century". They also obstructed justice. And Kopkow could have had no defence in pleading ignorance of Nazi crimes. The evidence against him is overwhelming.
Gerda Kopkow herself declares that her husband knew all about the concentration camps. "I had no idea myself what really happened in concentration camps and even suggested to Horst once during the war that I should volunteer for work there. I thought they were just labour camps. My husband was shocked and exclaimed 'No, no, no,'" she recalls, and holds out her hands as he had, in sheer horror. "I never understood why he was so against it. Then, after the war, I understood. And I blamed him. I said: 'How could you have tolerated all that? He knew all about the Jewish people too. When I learnt he had known about that, I was very shocked. It was very hard for me to understand."
Nazi-hunters are now calling for complete disclosure of post-war British intelligence documents along the lines of the US initiative. "There is no question that Horst Kopkow was a war criminal and should have faced trial," said Eritz Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. "The question is, how many more cases lie in British files?"
Kopkow died of pneumonia in October 1996, in hospital in Gelsenkirchen with his family at his side. It's more than can be said for his victims. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease in his final years and was cared for in a residential home. But his work for the British secret service and the "knowledge" he traded for his life mainly stays locked in classified files. We may never know if his contribution justified clemency.
From The Sunday Times, August 7, 2005. By Sarah Helm.