After the German surrender on May 9, 1945, there was a wild witch-hunt in that conqueredcountry to discover and prosecute as many of Hitler’s leading followers who had survived the finial days of the war.Allied propaganda had portrayed the German SS and, most especially, the dread Gestapo or SecretState Police, as engines of evil and their members were to be rigorously sought out, tried by military courtsand imprisoned or executed.Times change, they say, and we must change with them, so very soon, the United States began tofind useful employment for many of their former enemies.This led to the employment of many German SS, Gestapo
personnel by boththe United States Army intelligence organs and, after its founding in 1948, the new Central IntelligenceAgency.The employment of these once-detested and persecuted Nazis was a matter of great and ongoingsecrecy. Official files were searched for incriminating postwar documents and these papers were either removed and destroyed or redacted with strong prohibitions against their ever seeing the light of day.In the early 1980s, a file on former SS General and concentration camp head, Odlio Globocnik surfaced in the hands of John Costello, an English researcher and historical writer. Costello had obtainedthis file, and other explosive papers, from Robert T. Crowley, once Deputy Director of the CIA’sClandestine Operations Division.Because the contents were considered by the finder as too controversial for him to deal with in print, it was passed on to one Gregory Douglas, another researcher who was digging into the post-war history of Heinrich Müller.In 1988, a copy of this file was sent to Gitta Sereny, an American of Hungarianorigin who had written a book on Stangl, one of Globocnik’s camp commanders. It first appeared in 1974and was entitled
Into That Darkness.
This work purports to be based on an interview with Franz Stangl, anSS officer who ran a camp in occupied Poland during the war where many prisoners were later stated tohave been gassed. The book contains a lengthy section quoting Stangl, who according to Sereny’s version,fully admits his part in the purported killings and asks for forgiveness from God and his victims. The balance of the work consists of various supplementary testimonies from former associates and familymembers, all attesting to the evil nature of Stangl’s activities and all clearly acknowledging his willingcooperation in a state-sponsored program of genocide.Sereny, it should be noted, has made a comfortable living writing books and articles dealing withholocaust killings. But this particular book shows with great clarity the pitfalls that occur when a journalist,as opposed to a legitimate academic historian, produces a work which is not only entirely anecdotal incontent, but ideological in thrust. There is no documentation, whatsoever, in this work which relies almostentirely on the author’s purported interviews with various people. Stangl died on the day followingSereny’s visit to him in prison where he was appealing his life sentence.Herein lies the key to the questionability of the entire book. Stangl had been sentenced to a lifeterm in prison as the result of his easily-foreseen conviction as a camp commander. He, through hisattorneys, was appealing this sentence. It is highly doubtful if either Stangl or his attorneys would permitsuch a damaging interview to take place and to permit Sereny, whose extremist views were well known,free and unfettered access to the prisoner. There would appear to be no question that Sereny and her photographer husband, Don Honeyman, did indeed visit the prison and did see Stangl. Sereny’s husbandtook several photographs of him, photographs which are extensively reproduced in the book. The published pictures, however, do not support statements alleged to have been made by the former AustrianSS officer, but merely prove that he permitted himself to be photographed by his visitors. By making suchincriminating statements as Sereny placed,
in his mouth, Stangl would have irrevocablydestroyed any chance he might have had in his pending appeal before the German courts.It is beyond reasonable belief that such statements were made under the circumstances indicated.A dead Stangl, however, could comfortably be alleged to have made any statement that the author chose to put into his mouth, and without the possible embarrassment to her or her publisher of an instant denial or possible legal proceedings.A careful reading of the book not only disclosed the author’s prejudice towards Stangl and thesystem he served, but also is entirely devoid of any facts to support her thesis. She notes that a number of witnesses died before the book was published, of course including her main source, Stangl. Much of theanecdotal material Sereny has put together to support her case is of such a nature as to preclude its ever being introduced in a court of law. Several examples are set forth as illustration.