A notorious lieutenant colonel in the Waffen SS, who served in Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit, worked as a hitman for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad after World War II, it has been revealed. Austrian-born Otto Skorzeny became known as the most ruthless special-forces commander in the Third Reich. Having joined the Austrian branch of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party at 19, at age 23 Skorzeny began serving in the Waffen SS, Nazi Germany’s conscript army that consisted largely of foreign-born fighters. In 1943, Hitler himself decorated Skorzeny with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, in recognition of his leadership in Operation EICHE, the rescue by German commandos of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been imprisoned at a ski resort in the Apennine Mountains following a coup against his government.
Skorzeny survived the war and ended up living in Spain under the protection of the country’s far-right dictator, Francisco Franco. The Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which had made it a priority to arrest or kill senior Nazis who had survived the war, intended to kill Skorzeny. However, two veteran Israeli intelligence observers, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, revealed on Sunday that, instead of killing Skorzeny, the Mossad decided to recruit him. Based on “interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets”, Raviv and Melman allege that Isser Harel, who directed the Mossad from 1952 to 1963, decided that the former Waffen SS commander would be a useful asset against other Nazis operating in Europe and the Middle East. Specifically, Harel planned to use Skorzeny as a trap to lure a number of Nazi scientists who were secretly working for Egypt’s missile program.
According to Raviv and Melman, a Mossad team was sent to Spain to meet Skorzeny. After a tense incident that involved Skorzeny pointing a loaded weapon at two Mossad operatives, the former Nazi soldier agreed to cooperate with Israel in return for assurances that his name would be removed from the Mossad’s assassination list. Raviv and Melman claim that one of Skorzeny’s most high-profile operations as an agent of the Mossad culminated in the assassination of Heinz Krug in Munich in 1962. Krug was a German rocket scientist who was working for the Egyptian government under the tutelage of Dr Wolfgang Pilz, another rocketry expert who had put together a top-secret missile program for Cairo. Krug was targeted for assassination by Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s future prime minister, who was then commander of the Mossad’s clandestine operations service.
Krug, who was worried for his life after receiving threatening messages from individuals he believed were connected with the Mossad, reached out to Skorzeny in hopes that the former Waffen SS commander could give him advice on enhancing his personal security. But Skorzeny, operating on orders of the Mossad, shot dead the German scientist in a remote wooded area outside Munich. A Mossad team then poured acid on Krug’s body before burying it in a grave that had been dug in preparation for his killing. According to Raviv and Melman, Skorzeny also sent German scientists in Egypt a number of mail bombs designed by the Mossad, which killed a number of people. Raviv and Melman also state that they received oral confirmation from Rafi Eitan, a legendary Mossad operations officer, that he “met and ran Skorzeny” on behalf of the Israeli intelligence agency.