Naftali, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
Norman J.W. Goda, Ohio University
Richard Breitman, American University
Robert Wolfe, National Archives (ret.)
The CIA file on Heinrich Mueller, chief of Hitler's Gestapo and a major Nazi war criminal, sheds important new light on U.S. and international efforts to find Mueller after his disappearance in May 1945. Though inconclusive on Mueller's ultimate fate, the file is very clear on one point. The Central Intelligence Agency and its predecessors did not know Mueller's whereabouts at any point after the war. In other words, the CIA was never in contact with Gestapo Mueller. To assist other scholars, the press, and the general public in making sense of this new information about the CIA's investigation of this controversial war criminal, the authors have drawn on other documents at the National Archives for this report.
Mueller and the Nazi Regime
Mueller was born in Munich on April 28, 1900. After serving as a pilot in World War I, he joined the police in Munich, soon acquiring a reputation as a skilled anti-communist investigator who did not feel bound by legal norms of police investigation. As such, he would draw the attention of Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, leaders of Hitler's SS. Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Himmler and Heydrich consolidated German regional police units while creating a national political police, the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). Mueller entered the SS in 1934 and quickly rose through the ranks of that organization as a police official. In September 1939, when the Gestapo and other police organizations were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), Mueller was made the Chief of RSHA Amt IV -- the Gestapo.
As Gestapo chief, Mueller oversaw the implementation of Hitler's policies against Jews and other groups deemed a threat to the state. The notorious Adolf Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo's Office of Resettlement and then its Office of Jewish Affairs, was Mueller's immediate subordinate. Once World War II began, Mueller and Eichmann planned key components in the deportation and then extermination of Europe's Jews.
Mueller was involved in other criminal affairs as well. He helped plan the phony Polish attack on Gleiwitz radio station in 1939 (used to justify Germany's attack on Poland). He signed the "Bullet Order" of March 1944 (authorizing the shooting of escaped prisoners of war) and authorized the torture of officers who had conspired to kill Hitler in July 1944. Mueller's zeal in countering the 20 July plot earned him the rare military decoration of the Knight's Cross to the War Service Cross with Swords in October 1944.
Mueller also managed security and counterespionage operations. His most spectacular counterespionage success was the development of a double-cross network that fed disinformation to the Soviet intelligence services between 1942 and 1945. Located in Berlin and a few other Western European capitals, this network had been extremely successful in sending sensitive political and military information to Moscow. Mueller's Gestapo team was able to capture a number of these agents and "turn" them. Codenamed Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra), this Gestapo operation was among the greatest Soviet intelligence setbacks of the war.
Mueller and the End of the War
In the war's final year, it seems that Heinrich Mueller stubbornly believed in a Nazi victory. He told one of his top counterespionage case officers in December 1944 that the Ardennes offensive (known in the U.S. as the Battle of the Bulge) would result in the recapture of Paris.1 Mueller also reportedly redoubled efforts to drive a wedge between the Soviets and the Western allies by using his double agents.
Not everyone was convinced of his sincerity. There were rumors among German intelligence officers that Mueller had himself been turned by the Soviets. Walter Schellenberg, chief of the RSHA's Foreign Intelligence Branch (Amt VI) and a bitter rival of Mueller, was the source of some of this speculation. When interrogated by OSS in 1945, Schellenberg claimed that Mueller had been in friendly radio contact with the Soviets, and Schellenberg's postwar memoirs contain verbatim exhortations from 1943 by Mueller on Stalin's superiority to Hitler as a leader.2 SS-men close to Mueller considered such rumors unfounded and illogical. Mueller's immediate superior Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Chief of the RSHA), later insisted under Allied interrogation that Mueller could never have embraced the Soviets. Similarly, Heinz Pannwitz, Mueller's Gestapo subordinate who ran Rote Kapelle, categorized the notion that Mueller had turned as "absolutely absurd" in a 1959 CIA interrogation.3
The First Search for Gestapo Mueller
Months before the fall of Berlin, Anglo-American counterespionage officers began their postwar planning. Under the combined leadership of British MI 5 and MI 6 and the X-2 (counterespionage) branch of the American Office of Strategic Services, the SHAEF G-2 Counter Intelligence (CI) War Room began operating in February 1945. Using Allied lists of Nazi intelligence officers, the War Room supervised the hunt for the remnants of Germany's military and police intelligence services. Initially, the chief concern of the officers of the CI War Room was that Nazi intelligence units would survive the war and, financed with looted assets, launch paramilitary operations in the Bavarian Alps. Intelligence reaching the War Room in the last months of the war did not mention Mueller as a possible leader of postwar Nazi operations, but given his command of the Gestapo, Mueller remained an important man to capture.
On May 27, 1945 the Counter Intelligence War Room issued a statement about its priority targets for interrogations in what it called the German intelligence service. At the top of the list were Nazi intelligence officials involved in foreign intelligence (RSHA Amt VI). Next in priority were security police and SD units in occupied countries. Gestapo officials came farther down the target list. A War Room instruction to interrogators of captured RSHA officers listed the top missing persons: interrogators were to ask: "Where are: SCHELLENBERG, OHLENDORF, MUELLER, STEIMLE, SANDBERGER?"4 (All but Mueller were subsequently located and interrogated.) A War Room fortnightly report covering the period ending June 18, 1945 stated that no leading officials of the Gestapo had yet been arrested, and "it seems clear from most reports that Mueller remained in Berlin after the collapse."5 His fate was contrasted with that of other Gestapo personalities who fled south. A separate OSS X-2 (counterintelligence) report at the end of the month repeated that no highranking Gestapo officials had yet been captured and that Mueller had remained in Berlin.6
A War Room monthly summary in late July 1945 reported that Amt VI officials had largely surrendered, while most Amt IV (Gestapo) officials remained at large. Mueller's fate was still unknown: "Some of our evidence, though it is by no means conclusive, suggests that Mueller himself may have remained in Berlin until the last [while]… the greater part of Amt IV collected itself at Hof, near Munich, and at Salzburg and Innsbruck.7 A War Room intelligence arrest target list, dated August 21, commented about 'H. Mueller, head of the Gestapo': "Last reported Berlin, Apr. 1945."8 A later revision to the arrest target list reported the arrest of several Gestapo officials, including Walter Huppenkothen who was part of the Red Orchestra team. But not Heinrich Mueller.9
Ultimately the Allies would find many Heinrich Muellers in occupied Germany and Austria, but not the right one. Heinrich Mueller is a very common German name. By the end of 1945, American and British occupation forces had gathered information on numerous Heinrich Muellers, all of whom had different birth dates, physical characteristics and job histories. Documentation on some of them is included-one might say mistakenly jumbled together-in the "Gestapo" Mueller Army IRR file, which the National Archives released in 2000. Part of the problem for U.S. record-keepers stemmed from the fact that some of these Muellers, including Gestapo Mueller, did not appear to have middle names. An additional source of confusion was that there were two different SS-Generals named Heinrich Mueller. In at least one instance, an index card purporting to collate information on Gestapo Mueller, which was prepared by an American official after the war, actually contains two different birth dates, as well as data about a third man of the same name. A Heinrich Mueller was held briefly at the Altenstadt civilian internment camp in 1945.10 Another killed himself along with his wife and his children in April 1946.11
Throughout this period the Counter Intelligence War Room functioned as the ULTRA/top secret collecting point for information about the locations of the Allies' top intelligence targets. Although the occupation forces had encountered quite a few men named Heinrich Mueller, the War Room's verdict was unambiguous: Gestapo Muller had not been found.
In the initial period after the Nazi surrender U.S. counterintelligence attempted to track down all leads to Mueller. Information reached U.S. army intelligence that Gestapo Mueller had taken the assumed name Schwartz or Schwatzer and had gone south from Berlin with another Gestapo official Christian A. Scholz. But no traces of either man were ever found.12 In 1947, British and American authorities twice searched the home of Gestapo Mueller's mistress Anna Schmid for clues, but found nothing suggesting that Mueller was still alive. With the onset of the Cold War and the shift of resources to the Soviet target, the assumption took hold in U.S. intelligence that Gestapo Mueller was dead.13
The West German Investigation
The dramatic Israeli abduction of Mueller's subordinate Adolf Eichmann from Argentina in May 1960 created new interest in Nazi war criminals and particularly in Mueller. Imaginative theories that Mueller (along with Eichmann) had escaped Berlin and were still alive had been in the press for some time, as well as in the best selling memoir by Wilhelm Hoettl, himself a former SS officer.14 Eichmann himself helped to fan speculation about in Mueller, when during his Jerusalem trial, he voiced his belief that Mueller survived the war. Already in July 1960, the West German office in charge of the prosecution of war criminals [Zentralle Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen] charged local police authorities in Bavaria (Mueller's family still lived in Munich) and Berlin to investigate. The West Germans were skeptical that Mueller was working for the Soviets, but did think it possible that Mueller was corresponding from somewhere with his family or possibly with his former secretary Barbara Hellmuth. All of these West German citizens were closely watched, and in May 1961 the Bavarian police asked the U.S. occupation forces to put Mueller's relatives and Hellmuth under surveillance. West German police also searched the Berlin home of Anna Schmid, Mueller's former mistress, and spoke with her. Schmid told the West German investigators that she had not seen Mueller since 24 April 1945, when he gave her a vial of poison and then disappeared. Her own efforts to find him in the subsequent days and weeks had been fruitless.15
According to various witnesses interviewed by the West German police in 1961, the last time Mueller was seen alive was the evening of May 1, 1945, the day after Hitler's suicide. Several eyewitnesses placed Mueller at Hitler's Chancellery building that evening while recounting his refusal to leave with the breakout group that night. Hans Baur, Hitler's pilot and an old friend of Mueller's, recounts Mueller as saying, "We know the Russian methods exactly. I haven't the faintest intention of … being taken prisoner by the Russians." Another claimed that Mueller refused to leave with the rest of Hitler's entourage, and was overheard saying "the regime has fallen and…I fall also." He was last seen in the company of his radio specialist Christian A. Scholz. And while the bodies of others that remained that night were recovered and identified, no one in the final group witnessed the death of Mueller or Scholz.16
West German authorities pursued three major leads in an effort to confirm Mueller's death and burial in Berlin in 1945. First, there was the testimony of Fritz Leopold, a Berlin morgue official who had reported in December 1945 that Mueller's body was moved (along with many others) from the RSHA headquarters at Prinz Albrecht Strasse (2000 feet from the Chancellery) for reburial in a local municipal cemetery on Lilienthalstrasse (Berlin-Neukoelln) in the Western half of the city. Leopold was later deemed an unreliable source, but the burial was officially registered with the Berlin authorities and a headstone would be placed at Mueller's "grave" which read, "Our loving father Heinrich Mueller - Born 28 April 1900 - Died in Berlin May 1945." A second story came from Mueller's ex-subordinate Heinz Pannwitz, who had been captured by the Soviets and returned to West Germany in 1957, whereupon he told the German Secret Service [Bundesnachrichtendienst - BND] that his Soviet interrogators revealed to him that "your Chief [Mueller] is dead." The body, they said, had been found in a subway shaft a few blocks from the Chancellery with a bullet through the head and with its identity documents intact.17
The final story came from Walter Lueders, a former member of the German Volkssturm (civilian fighters) who maintained that he had headed a burial detail in the summer of 1945. Of the hundreds of bodies buried by the detail, only one, said Lueders, wore an SS-General's uniform, and it was found in the garden of the Reich Chancellery with a large wound in the back. Though the body had no medals or decorations, Lueders recalled with certainty that the identity papers were those of Gestapo Mueller. It was moved to the old Jewish Cemetery on Grosse Hamburgerstasse in the Soviet Sector, where it was placed in one of three mass graves. In fact, in 1955 the German Armed Forces Information Office (Wehrmachtsauskunftsstelle - WASt) inquired with district authorities in East Berlin and received confirmation that Gestapo Mueller was buried at the Grosse-Hamburgerstrasse cemetery in 1945. Since the grave was a mass grave, however, there was no actual plot.
The Fritz Leopold story was checked first, and in September 1963, the Mueller "grave" at the Lilienthalstrasse cemetery in West Berlin was exhumed. Investigation revealed that in fact, the grave contained the remains of three different people, none of whom were Mueller. The skull, moreover, belonged to a man ten years younger than Mueller would have been in 1945. The German authorities had no means by which to verify either Pannwitz's or Lueders' story. Pannwitz's information had come from Moscow, and there was no official liaison between Soviet intelligence and the West Germans on the Mueller case. Lueders's story could not be checked since Grosse Hamburgerstrasse was on the other side of the two-year old Berlin Wall. Adding to the confusion was the mystery of Mueller's effects. WASt, according to its own records, returned to Mueller's family in 1958 not only the Gestapo Chief's papers, some of which Lueders claimed to have found on the body, but also Mueller's decorations, which neither Leopold not Lueders claimed to have found. These items were never checked for authenticity.18
The CIA investigation
The CIA started its involvement in the hunt for Mueller at roughly the same time as the German search, albeit from a different source base. The January 1961 defection and interrogation of a Polish intelligence officer brought Western counterintelligence tips that led to several Soviet and Polish agents active in the West, including George Blake, a mole in the British MI6, Harry Houghton, a clerk in the British navy, and Heinz Felfe, a highlevel West German intelligence officer. The defector surely was Lt. Col. Michal Goleniewski [TN], the Deputy Chief of Polish Military Counter Intelligence until 1958, who had also operated as a mole for the KGB in the Polish service. In recounting his work as an interrogator of captured German officials in Poland from 1948 to 1952, Goleniewski revealed information about the fate of some Nazi intelligence officials, including Gestapo Mueller. Goleniewski had not actually met Mueller. However, he had heard from his Soviet supervisors that sometime between 1950 and 1952 the Soviets had picked up Mueller and taken him to Moscow.19 There was little with which to evaluate this claim, and some reason to be skeptical of this hearsay. Pannwitz, after all, had recently dismissed as "nonsense" to CIA interrogators the idea that Mueller worked for the Soviets while claiming that his own Soviet interrogators repeatedly said that Mueller was dead.20
The CIA tried to track down the men Goleniewski named as having worked with Mueller in Moscow. The CIA determined that Jakob Loellgen, the former Gestapo chief of Danzig, was alive and resided in West Germany. In 1945 the Soviets had captured Loellgen but then released him, whereupon he returned to West Germany, working as a local police chief and as a private investigator. The CIA turned this information over to the Germans and the BND located Loellgen in 1961.
The Germans dropped the ball. Although the BDN apparently began assembling material for his arrest, Loellgen was never arrested. The CIA never quite figured out what had happened. The BND seemed to be preoccupied throughout 1961 with another of Goleniewski's leads, Heinz Felfe. Felfe was a highlevel BND officer, who had already provided thousands of West German secrets including names of agents, cover names, addresses, and documents, to Moscow. In the midst of the Felfe scandal, West German investigation of Loellgen just fell between the cracks.21
The CIA did collect some information on its own that bore on the "Mueller in Moscow" thesis. In June 1961, another source was asked to assess Goleniewski's information on Soviet contacts with former Nazis. The source, who appears to have been a KGB officer, reported having read a "Mueller file," in which Mueller is described as having been captured by Soviet intelligence at the end of World War II. The identity of this source is not given in the CIA file, but is likely Petr Deriabin [TN]. (Deriabin had worked on counterintelligence matters in the Austro-German department of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB.) The defector wrote in a 1971 memorandum for the record that in 1952 he had heard from his own superiors that Moscow had recruited Mueller and that he himself had read excerpts from an interrogation. He even included the names of four Soviet officers who had once debriefed Mueller in 1951.22
Despite the partial corroboration of the information from Goleniewski, the CIA appears to have relied on the West Germans to take the lead in the investigation of Mueller's whereabouts and did little follow-up in the 1960s. The remainder of the decade saw various news reports that Mueller had escaped to various points in the West (Argentina, Cuba), as well as tragicomic episodes. In 1967, a false sighting of Mueller in Panama led to the arrest there of one Francis Keith, who was released once fingerprints revealed he was not Mueller. Later the same year, two Israeli operatives were caught by West German police in an attempted break-in at the Munich apartment of Mueller's wife. Reams of newspaper copy were produced by such episodes, but there was only limited CIA interest.
Yet one particular report did catch CIA's attention. In the aftermath of the Eichmann trial, the West German weekly Stern ran two articles by the journalist Peter Staehle that appeared in January and August 1964. Staehle said that after having followed a path after the war that included the Soviet Union, Romania, Turkey, and South Africa, Mueller became a senior police official in Albania before fleeing for South America.23 From the very start, CIA suspected that Staehle's articles were a "plant" - part of a "clever bit of [disinformation] work" to mislead the public, as well as intelligence agencies.24 The CIA checked - and disproved Staehle's claim that Mueller was in fact an Albanian police official named Abedin Bekir Nakoschiri.25 The BND and CIA also discovered that Staehle had failed to get his articles printed in the more respected weekly Die Zeit thanks to a suspect source base about which Staehle had reportedly lied.26
In May 1970 a Czech defector, very likely Ladislas Bittman [TN], a disinformation specialist himself, weighed in.27 Bittman said that the Stern article was planted from Prague in order to neutralize rumors that Mueller might in fact be in Czechoslovakia. Bittman added for good measure that within Czech intelligence circles, it was common knowledge that the KGB had used Nazi war criminals for intelligence purposes and that key sections of Nazi archives had also been captured by the Soviets for use in "operational aims."28
These comments caught the eye of the CIA's Counter-Intelligence (CI) Staff, headed by the legendary James Angleton. If Mueller really had been in the USSR or elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and if he had taken RSHA central files with him (many of which had indeed vanished after the war), then numerous leading West Germans (presumably on the political right) could still be compromised. It was crucial to discover what had happened, not necessarily to Mueller, who well might have been dead in any case, but to the files. Angleton also had a special interest in Soviet disinformation. The CI Staff undertook a through-going inquiry of Mueller starting in late 1970, and it is likely that this inquiry resulted in Mueller's name file (along with the above-mentioned material on the West German search) being assembled by CIA at all. It certainly resulted in a forty-page Counter Intelligence Brief - "The Hunt for 'Gestapo' Mueller" - which was circulated as an internal report of the Directorate of Plans in December 1971. A memo in the file dated 9 December 1971 explaining the purpose of the report states that:
Our principal original objective in preparing the attached study of the MUELLER case was to produce a training aid illustrating the vagaries and pitfalls of protracted investigations. In the past, MUELLER had been viewed mainly as a missing war criminal. As the material was collected, however, we became aware of another important possibility: that MUELLER had defected to World War II Soviet counterintelligence (SMERSH) and had taken with him a large assortment of files. (The central files of the German National Security Service (RSHA), of which Mueller was de facto chief…in the last weeks of the war, were never recovered by the Western Allies….) If SMERSH actually seized MUELLER and the best part of the RSHA records, Soviet capabilities to control important Germans and some other Europeans would far exceed those heretofore attributed to them."29
In the process of putting together the report, the CI staff undertook some new inquiries of its own. A re-reading of a 1963 article in the German weekly Der Spiegel, which discussed the exhumation of Mueller's West Berlin "grave" that year, revealed that a mysterious woman in Berlin unrelated to Mueller had purchased the headstone. 30 Perhaps this purchase too was part of a disinformation campaign designed to hide the fact that Mueller was used by the Soviets after the war.31 In December 1970 the West Germans allowed CIA to examine the exhumation records for the identity of the mysterious woman who had purchased the Mueller tombstone, albeit with no results. CI also hoped that the West German government would locate and interview Walter Lueders (who had found the body buried in the Grosse-Hamburgerstrasse cemetery) and verify, if they could, the authenticity of the personal effects returned to Mueller's family in 1957.32 German memoirs from the 1950s with cryptic clues on Mueller were reread.33 CI also asked Soviet defector Peter Deriabin to write a memorandum for the file in November 1971.
The CI team found fault with how Goleniewski's leads had been handled in 1961 and wanted to return to that trail. Loellgen, wrote one CI investigator, "must have an interesting tale to tell about what happened to Heinrich Mueller and how the [Soviet] operation to penetrate the Nazi stay-behind operation fared"34 "How do we get Loellgen to talk?" asked another. "Have we [an] interviewer that might 'accidentally' look [him] up?" But reasons for skepticism remained. "It seems to me," the same agent said, "that [Soviet intelligence] would never have let LOELLGEN go back to the West if in fact they had MUELLER. The scandal of sheltering this number one war criminal would have been too risky."35 In any event, Loellgen was not questioned.
The 40-page CI report ended on a note of skepticism. "No one appears to have tried very hard," it said,
to find MUELLER immediately after the war while the trail was still hot, either in the West or the East….The presumption is that Allied officials searching for MUELLER soon stumbled over the…holdings of his effects and the…burial record and considered these sufficient proof that he was dead….There is little room for doubt, however, that the Soviet and Czech services circulated rumors to the effect that MUELLER had escaped to the West. These rumor were apparently floated to offset the charges that the Soviets had sheltered the criminal….There are strong indications but no proof that MUELLER collaborated with [the Soviets]. There are also strong indications but no proof that MUELLER died [in Berlin]….One thing appears certain. MUELLER and SCHOLZ had some special reason for entering the Berlin death trap and remaining behind in the Chancellery. If their object was to carry out a memorable and convincing suicide, they really bungled the job.
The CI Staff requested a deeper CIA investigation to find proof that would confirm or disprove these competing theories. Yet it appears that the CI Staff's request for a full-fledged investigation of the Mueller matter was not accepted.36 The Mueller file itself ends in December 1971 with the circulation of the CI Staff report.
The Integrity of the CIA File
The heart of the file comprises documentary support for all the key judgments in the 1971 CI Staff report "The Hunt for Gestapo Mueller." Whatever confidence one can have in the integrity of the file's declassified contents thus hinges on judgments regarding the CI Staff's objectives in assembling and writing its report. In 1971 the United States was not being accused of having harbored Gestapo Mueller. Instead it seems that the CI Staff was prompted to investigate the Mueller case both as a possible example of Soviet deception and as a check on the reliability of key CIA defectors and West German informants. If the CIA had evidence that Mueller had been contacted by the West and not the Soviets, then the CI Staff's handling of theses defector cases that most likely involved Bittman, Deriabin, and Goleniewski makes no sense. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the CIA was riddled with doubt over the reliability of its stable of Soviet defectors. There were fears that Moscow had sent agents to the West to mislead the Allies about Soviet capabilities and intentions. It was in the interest of the CI Staff in particular and the CIA in general to determine whether high profile defectors like Bittman, Deriabin and Goleniewski were telling the truth about Mueller. Moreover, in assembling materials for its report, the CI Staff had no reason to believe that these documents would eventually be declassified. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the CI Staff report, and by extension the CIA Mueller name file, represents a compilation of the best information on Gestapo Mueller available to CIA at that time.
More information about Mueller's fate might still emerge from still secret files of the former Soviet Union. The CIA file, by itself, does not permit definitive conclusions. Taking into account the currently available records of the War Room as well as other documents in the National Archives, the authors of this report conclude that Mueller most likely died in Berlin in early May 1945.
Notes of Sources Used Not from Mueller's Name File
Anmerkung: Wer kein Englisch kann oder wem das Lesen längerer Texte in englischer Sprache zu anstrengend sind, der kann sich über das Buch Gregory Douglas: “Geheimakte Gestapo-Müller”, Druffel-Verlag, Berg am Starnberger See 1995 schlau machen. Man reibt sich nur noch die Augen, insbesondere, weil doch Heinrich Müller der Vorgesetzte von Adolf Eichmann war und den hat man doch in Israel aufgehängt.