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Reader feedback: No hands are clean

Re: Slovak war criminal behind bars, Flash news briefs, Jan 26 - Feb 1, Vol 10, No 3

Nižňanský, a member of the Hlinka Guard, was a Slovak officer under Maj. Erwein Graf Thun von Hohenstein, commander of Abwehr 218. This unit was organised in September 1944 under Abwehrleitstelle II, commanded by Lt. Col. Kurt Benno Fechner.

The goal of Abwehr 218 was to suppress Partisan activity during the Slovak National Uprising. When the Germans crushed the uprising on October 27, remnants of the Slovak army, together with the partisans, fled into the Tatra Mountains. With them were the American OSS DAWES and the British SOE WINDPROOF missions. These missions were in Slovakia to rescue downed Allied airmen, but also to assist the Slovaks in the uprising. Abwehr 218, popularly known as the "Edelweiss" unit, subsequently captured most of the American and British personnel, surprising them on December 26 in a hut in the hills above Polomka, east of Brezno. Himmler ordered the prisoners sent to Mauthausen concentration camp where they were interrogated, tortured, and then shot. Among them was the Associated Press reporter Joe Morton.

Thun von Hohenstein was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war and identified Nižňanský, Capt. Hans Koch, and Fechner as Abwehrleitstelle II people to his interrogators. Koch and Fechner fell into the hands of the Americans at the end of the war. Koch later headed the East European Institute in Munich and Fechner became the head of Austrian intelligence in 1955.

Nižňanský was allowed to work for Radio Free Europe. From both Koch and Fechner, the US Central Intelligence Agency had to know the Slovak's background. He was tried in absentia in 1962 in Czechoslovakia and sentenced to death.

Nobody's hands are clean in allowing these war criminals to survive after the war. As a cynic said, when we divorced the Russians we married the Germans.

Jim Downs, Historian and author of World War II: OSS Tragedy in Slovakia,
California, USA

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