Nazis who clung on

Observations on Germany

Last week's revelation about the CIA's private knowledge of the postwar whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann - about which they did nothing - recalls a campaign by the New Statesman in 1960 that helped bring the presence of Nazi criminals in the West German government to public attention.

Present-day Germany has changed so utterly that it is difficult to recall the atmosphere of the late 1950s, in which a tiny group of Germans, seeking to investigate former Nazis holding prominent positions, were obstructed by Britain and the US as well as the West German authorities. Among the most remarkable of these ex-Nazis was Hans Globke, who had been the author of the Nuremberg laws, the anti-Jewish legislation of 1935. From 1953 he was state secretary to Konrad Adenauer, the federal chancellor, which meant he was the chief liaison between the CIA, Nato and West German intelligence, and was also in charge of the federal press office. He exploited this position, not only to protect himself but to shield other former Nazis, and he even tried to secure the release of Albert Speer.

In March 1960, however, an editorial in the New Statesman by then deputy editor Paul Johnson drew attention to the fact that "men deeply involved in the Nazi terror have begun to play a leading part in the federal and provincial administrations" of West Germany. This became a campaign, backed by the likes of Barbara Castle and Jeremy Thorpe.

Johnson had been moved to write by an exhibition of Nazi documents that I had organised in Oxford and at the House of Commons - documents assembled by Reinhard Strecker, a West Berlin student friend who was waging a one-man campaign against Nazi criminals still in public service in his country. Many of his documents came from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, where many of the crimes had taken place. Inevitably, he was accused of being an East German agent, but this was rubbish, for Strecker was a staunch anti-communist. He also tried to verify his material at the Nazi Party archives, which were captured by the Americans in 1945 and then housed in West Berlin, but those records were kept tightly closed.

This was the burden of the NS's complaint. The archives had originally been controlled jointly by Britain, the US, and France, but the key had been handed over to the Americans, who had in turn effectively given it to Adenauer.

Barbara Castle questioned Selwyn Lloyd, the Conservative foreign secretary, but received no satisfactory explanation. George Vine, the News Chronicle's man in Bonn, sought US permission to examine the records of three men with Nazi pasts, Globke and two cabinet ministers, but was told to get Foreign Office support first. This was refused.

By now, though, the noose was closing. In May 1960 Israel announced Eichmann's capture and his trial threw up much material that corroborated Strecker's and the NS's claims. It emerged, for example, that when in 1943 Eichmann asked for 20,000 Macedonian Jews to be allowed to got to Palestine his request was turned down - by Globke. Soon several judges who had appeared on Strecker's list retired, and Globke followed in 1963, dying ten years later. Strecker is alive and well in Berlin, still working in the archives.