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Walter Rauff (June 19, 1906 – May 14, 1984), was an SSmarker officer in Nazi Germanymarker, attaining the grade of Colonel (Standartenführer) in June 1944. From January 1938 he was an aide of Reinhard Heydrich firstly in the Sicherheitsdienstmarker or SD, the SS security service, later in the Reichssicherheitshauptamtmarker or RSHAmarker, the Reich Security Main Office, a department created by Himmler in 1939 grouping the Gestapomarker, SD and Kripomarker, the criminal police.

Rauff is thought to be responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths during the Second World War. In the late 1970s and early '80s, he was arguably the most wanted Nazi fugitive still alive.

From the navy to the SS

According to the British Security Servicemarker (or MI5marker) file on Walter Rauff released in 2005:

"Rauff joined the Reichsmarine (the German Navy) in 1924 as a young cadet. After a period of training as a midshipman he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1936 and given command of a minesweeper. He was a friend of Reinhard Heydrich, who also served in the Navy in the 1920s. Heydrich was hired by SS chief Heinrich Himmler in 1931 to serve as the head of the SS counter-intelligence system, and when Rauff resigned from the Navy in 1937, Heydrich took him under his wing. Rauff was given the job of putting the SS and its security service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), onto a war footing."

During his thirteen years in the Navy, Rauff became aquainted with Heydrich, and saw service in South America and Spainmarker, as a young officer in 1924.

Between 1940 and 1941 Rauff went back to the navy service as a volunteer, commanding a mine sweeper flotilla in the Channel. He was promoted LT Commander (Korvettenkapitän) in April 1941, shortly before he was discharged from the active service, then he returned to the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), during early 1940 he headed the SD in german occupied Norway.

Gas van engineering

In 1941-1942 Rauff was involved in the development of gas vans, mobile gas chambers used to fatally poison Jews, persons with disabilities, communists, etc., who were considered by the SS as enemies of the German State. According to declassified C.I.A. documents:

"As an official of the Criminal Technical Institute of the Reich Security Main Office, Rauff designed gas vans used to murder Jews and persons with disabilities."

The MI5 file looks more explicit concerning Rauff's "technical" skills:

"Rauff supervised the modification of scores of trucks, with the assistance of a Berlin chassis builder, to divert their exhaust fumes into airtight chambers in the back of the vehicles. The victims were then poisoned and / or asphyxiated from the carbon monoxide accumulating within the truck compartment as the vehicle travelled to a burial site. The trucks could carry between 25 and 60 people at a time."

In 1972, in Santiago de Chilemarker, Rauff made a deposition as a witness before a German prosecutor. On the subject of the extermination of Jews in Polandmarker and Russiamarker, asked whether at that time he had any doubts concerning the use of gas vans, Rauff answered:

"I cannot say. The main issue for me at the time was that the shootings were a considerable burden for the men who were in charge thereof and that this burden was taken off them through the use of the gas vans."

Rauff delegated the task of keeping the gas vans operating in the Soviet Union and other Nazi-occupied areas to an SS chemist August Becker. Becker kept Rauff fully informed on the gas van killing operations.

Persecutions in North Africa

Rauff was later involved in the persecution of Jews in North Africa during 1942 and 1943, as part of the Nazis' long-term aim to export the Jewish Holocaust to the Near and Middle East (including the British Mandate of Palestine, British-occupied Iraqmarker, French-occupied Syriamarker, the Lebanonmarker, Egyptmarker, and Libyamarker), and capture the region’s oil fields.

A month after German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s defeat of the British at Tobrukmarker in June 1942, the SS set up a special extermination unit to follow in the wake of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The unit was commanded by Rauff who was empowered to carry out "executive measures on the civilian population", the Nazi euphemism for mass murder and enslavement.

According to a 2007 German national television series, "Rauff’s mission to exterminate the Middle East's Jewish population was brought to an abrupt halt by the British 8th Army's defeat of Rommel at El Alameinmarker in October 1942. Rommel was forced to withdraw the remnants of his army to Tunisiamarker, where it sustained a bridgehead until May 1943, enabling Rauff 's SS to start the persecutions locally. The MI5 file records that Rauff was posted to Tunismarker in 1942 as head of the Sicherheitsdienstmarker, where he led an Einsatzkommando (an SS task force) which conducted a "well-organised persecution campaign against the country's Jews and Partisans". The Jewish community was particularly hard hit:

"More than 2,500 Tunisian Jews died in a network of SS slave labor camps before the Germans withdrew. Rauff's men also stole jewels, silver, gold, and religious artifacts from the Tunisian Jews. Forty-three kilograms of gold were taken from the Jewish community on the island of Djerba alone."

Secret police boss in Northern Italy

Rauff was then sent to Milanmarker in 1943 where he took charge of all Gestapomarker and Sicherheitsdienstmarker operations throughout northwest Italymarker. The MI5 file states:

"In both these postings [Tunisia and northern Italy] Rauff rapidly gained reputation for utter ruthlessness. In Tunis he was responsible for the indiscriminate execution of both Jews and local Partisans. His work in Italymarker involved imposing total German control on Milan, Turinmarker and Genoamarker. His success in this task earned him the congratulations of his SS superior, who described it as 'a superb achievement'".

Rauff remained in Italy until the end of the war. The MI5 file states:

"He narrowly avoided being lynched by an Italian mob, having barricaded himself and a number of other SS officers into the Hotel Regina in Milan. He was arrested by Allied troops and sent to a prisoner of war camp."

According to Rauff's declassified C.I.A. file:

"Near the end of the war Rauff, then the senior SS and police official in northern Italy, tried to gain credit for the surrender of German forces in Italy, but ended up only surrendering himself. After escaping from an American internment camp in Riminimarker, Rauff hid in a number of Italian convents, apparently under the protection of Bishop Alois Hudal".

Spy officer in the Middle East

In 1948 he was recruited by Syrian intelligence and went to Damascusmarker [where he served as military adviser to President Hosni Zaim], only to fall out of favor after a coup there a year later. According to one report, he tortured Jews in Syriamarker. He and his family then settled in Ecuadormarker, later shifting to Chilemarker."

After barely escaping from Syriamarker, Rauff fled to the Lebbanon and later back to Italymarker, where he gained a transit pass for Ecuadormarker.

Before sailing for Ecuador (December 1949), Rauff is said to have worked for a while with the Israeli intelligence. In 1949 Israeli secret agent Edmond "Ted" Cross wanted to send Rauff to Egypt. The idea was the utilization of former Nazi elements for observation and penetration in the Arab countries. This attempt having failed, Ted Cross also helped Rauff to get the necessary papers for immigration to South America

Final refuge in Chile

After settling in Chile in 1958, Rauff worked as a manager of a king crab cannery in Punta Arenasmarker, one of the southernmost towns in the world. In 1972 he confessed that in 1960 and/or 1962 he had been in Germany. He was arrested by the Chilean authorities in December 1962 after Germany requested his extradition, but was freed by Chile's Supreme Court five months later in 1963. Salvador Allende's election as Chilean president in 1970 did not change the situation. In a friendly letter to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal Allende wrote that he could not reverse the Supreme Court's 1963 decision.

Under Augusto Pinochet's regime, Rauff may have served as an advisor in Chilean intelligence. Allegedly, C.I.A. officials could not determine Rauff's exact position. The government of General Pinochet resisted all calls for his extradition to stand trial in West Germanymarker or Israelmarker. In the meantime Rauff disappeared and was discovered by the documentary filmmaker William Bemister in Los Pozos, Santiago de Chile, in 1979, and interviewed on film. This interview was included in the Emmy-winning film "The Hunter and the Hunted" and shown on the PBS Network in the United States on October 21, 1981.

The last request to extradite Rauff to West Germany was presented by renowned Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld in 1983, but was flatly rejected by the Pinochet government, which alleged that Rauff had been a peaceful Chilean citizen for over 20 years and that the case was closed since the Supreme Court's 1963 decision. The authorities instead arrested Klarsfeld twice in Santiago de Chilemarker. Following her brief detention, the Israeli government's foreign affairs director David Kimche officially requested Rauff's outright expulsion in a meeting with Chilean Foreign Minister Jaime del Valle, but the request was turned down.


Rauff died peacefully in Santiago in 14 May 1984, of lung cancer. His funerals were the occasion of a Nazi celebration. Rauff remained an unrepentant Nazi until his death, aged 77. According to his MI5 file, "he never showed any remorse for his actions, which he described as those of "a mere technical administrator."


  1. Axis Biographical Research [1]
  2. "Walter Rauf" in "5 September 2005 releases: German intelligence officers", MI5-Security Service [2]. Rauff left the Navy following an adultery scandal, but he was discharged "with all honours", as he said in a 1972 deposition before the German prosecutor in Santiago de Chile [3].
  3. Axis Biographical Research, above cited.
  4. "Walter Rauff" in Disclosure, Newsletter of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, November 2002 issue, [4].
  5. MI5 file, above cited .
  6. Walter Rauff's deposition before the Public Prosecutor, West German Embassy, Santiago de Chile, 28 June 1972 (English translation) [5].
  7. Tony Paterson, "'Chivalrous' Rommel wanted to bring Holocaust to Middle East", The Independent (London), May 25, 2007, reporting on a two-part documentary series then being broadcast on Germany's ZDF television channel, entitled Rommels Krieg, Rommels Schatz authored by Jörg Müllner and Jean-Christoph Caron.
  8. Tony Paterson, article cited.
  9. "Walter Rauff" in Disclosure, above cited.
  10. Shraga Elam and Dennis Whitehead, "In the service of the Jewish state", Ha'aretz, 31 March 2007.
  11. Shraga Elam and Dennis Whitehead, article above cited.
  12. "Rauff case poses serious threat to Pinochet regime", in Council on Hemispheric Affairs (New York), Press Release, March 19, 1984 [6].
  13. Isabelle Clarke and Danielle Costelle, La Traque des Nazis, soixante ans de traque (film documentary) .

See also

  • Ex-Nazis -- on ex-NSDAP members and ex-Nazi officials who after World War II had to go through a denazification process or were subjected to the Nurembergmarker process, while many others managed to escape trial.

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