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Ex-Nazi’s brilliant U.S. career strangled in a web of lies

by Pete Carey

San Jose Mer­cury News

For the past 10 years, Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing’s care­ful­ly con­struct­ed life in Amer­i­ca has been com­ing apart a piece at a time.

He was pres­i­dent of a high-tech­nol­o­gy invest­ment firm with head­quar­ters in Sacra­men­to and sub­sidiaries in Sil­i­con Val­ley. It went bank­rupt in a 1971 scan­dal.

He was a dot­ing hus­band until his ail­ing wife killed her­self in 1978.

He num­bered among his busi­ness asso­ciates mil­lion­aires, bankers and sci­en­tists. Then his brain stem was hit with a rare dis­ease two years ago, send­ing him into iso­la­tion at a Carmichael rest home.

He told his friends he had worked for the Amer­i­cans dur­ing and after the World War II. But in May, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment began pro­ceed­ings to deport him for lying about his Nazi past.

In a wide­ly pub­li­cized attempt to revoke von Bolschwing’s cit­i­zen­ship, the Jus­tice Depart­ment accused him of help­ing Hitler’s per­se­cu­tion of Euro­pean Jews, and of being an asso­ciate of Adolf Eich­mann, the archi­tect of Germany’s mass killing pro­gram.

The dis­clo­sures come at the end of a long, improb­a­ble career that took von Bolschwing through the Nazi hier­ar­chy, into the CIA and final­ly to the high­est lev­els of Amer­i­can busi­ness.

The list of peo­ple he knew, some of whom met him through a Cal­i­for­nia high tech­nol­o­gy busi­ness ven­ture in 1970 reads like a Who’s Who. They include jus­tice William A. New­som of the 1st Dis­trict Court of Appeals in San Fran­cis­co. Helene von Damm, Pres­i­dent Reagan’s per­son­al sec­re­tary. Thomas A. Franzi­oli, banker to the Boston Cabot fam­i­ly, Emanuel Fthenakis, Fairchild Corp. senior vice pres­i­dent. Elmer Bob­st, pres­i­dent of Warn­er Lam­bert Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Co.; and Albert Driscoll, for­mer New Jer­sey gov­er­nor and Warn­er Lambert’s chair­man.

“I’m non­plused.” Jus­tice New­som said. “I thought, if any­thing, Otto had been pro-Amer­i­can dur­ing the war.”

As a busi­ness­man, von Bolschwing was vague about the war years. He said he had been a Gestapo pris­on­er and had worked for the CIA in post­war Ger­many.

In 1969 he was asked about his Ger­man past dur­ing a job inter­view with Trans-inter­na­tion­al Com­put­er Invest­ment Corp. a high fly­ing invest­ment firm that had found­ed sev­er­al com­pa­nies in the Sil­i­con Val­ley. Von Bolschwing told his inter­view­er he had been a lawyer.

“Dur­ing what years was that?” he was asked, accord­ing to a tran­script of the inter­view.

“Until I was thrown in the Gestapo prison … in 1942.” Von Bolschwing respond­ed “That was not a good expe­ri­ence … One should for­get it because (1 or 2 illeg­i­ble words) it only is a neg­a­tive approach to life to think about bad things.”

After a moment’s reflec­tion, he added “I think it would be bet­ter to speak about recent times than … God knows how many years ago.”

INTERVIEW PROHIBITED

Who was this ex-Nazi, and how did he pros­per in Amer­i­ca? Von Bolschwing’s attor­ney would not allow an inter­view. This account was devel­oped from peo­ple who knew him, accounts of Nazi Ger­many, court records and busi­ness files.

Born Oct. 15, 1909 to East Pruss­ian nobil­i­ty (the fam­i­ly estate was found­ed in 1302), von Bolschwing attend­ed school in Bres­lau, and became a Nazi par­ty mem­ber at the age of 24, the only mem­ber of his fam­i­ly to do so.

He joined the SS, the elite secret police of the Nazis, six years lat­er. Accord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, as an SS cap­tain he helped plan the expul­sion of Jews from the Ger­man Econ­o­my and devel­oped anti-Jew­ish pro­pa­gan­da to force their emi­gra­tion from Ger­many.

In a his­to­ry of the SS by Heins Hohne, von Bolschwing is described as “a par­ty mem­ber, an SD (for­eign intel­li­gence) informer and expe­ri­enced sales­man in the motor trade.

In 1938, “he was in con­tact with a group of Pales­tin­ian Ger­mans who lined their pock­ets by cer­tain extra­mur­al activ­i­ties,” accord­ing to Hohne, who wrote that von Bolschwing spied on the Zion­ist Hagana army.

EJECTED BY BRITISH

Eject­ed from Pales­tine by the British for espi­onage, he sur­faced in Roma­nia as a gov­ern­ment “oil expert.” By his own account, in 1941 he helped the lead­er­ship of the Iron Guard, a right wing move­ment, escape to Berlin after it had gone on a three-day ram­page in which many Jews – the esti­mates vary con­sid­er­ably – were killed.

The same year he became part­ner in the Ams­ter­dam bank, the Bankvoor Oen­roerende Zachen. Inves­ti­ga­tors said they sus­pect the bank mat have played a role in the “Aryaniza­tion” – the forced sale of Dutch Jew­ish farms, busi­ness­es, homes and secu­ri­ties.

In August 1941, von Bolschwing was tossed into a Gestapo prison with no for­mal charges and in April 1942 he was just as mys­te­ri­ous­ly released. In 1945 he helped Amer­i­can troops enter­ing Aus­tria catch Nazi offi­cials and SS offi­cers, accord­ing to a let­ter writ­ten for von Bolschwing by a colonel in the 71st U.S. Infantry.

The war over, von Bolschwing made a move cru­cial to his future suc­cess. He became an Amer­i­can spy.

“He knocked on the door of U.S. Army intel­li­gence,” a source explained. “and said. I’m expe­ri­enced, I have a ring oper­at­ing, If you give me a pay­check I’ll make you very hap­py.” He was a sort of a minia­ture Rein­hard Gehlen,

FROM SS TO CIA

Gehlen was the Nazi gen­er­al who helped the CIA build a spy net­work in post war east­ern Europe, then became head of post­war Ger­man intel­li­gence activ­i­ties. Accord­ing to one uncon­firmed report, von Bolschwing became the con­troller of Gehlen’s CIA oper­a­tion after Gehlen returned to the Ger­man gov­ern­ment. [Empha­sis added.]

“He must have done some­thing right” the source said.

In Decem­ber 1953, von Bolschwing applied to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States, and on Feb­ru­ary 2, 1954, he arrived in this coun­try. After obtain­ing sev­er­al menial jobs, he became a cit­i­zen in 1959 and his career took a sud­den upward turn,

He became an assis­tant to the direc­tor of inter­na­tion­al mar­ket­ing at Warn­er Lam­bert Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Co., devel­op­ing close ties to the company’s pres­i­dent, the late Elmer Bob­st, and its hon­orary board chair­man, for­mer New Jer­sey Gov. Alfred Driscol­ll, accord­ing to a close asso­ciate.

“His con­tacts at Warn­er Lam­bert were way out of pro­por­tion with his job.” The asso­ciate said. “Driscoll con­tin­ued to write him rec­om­men­da­tions for many years”.

DEVELOPED FACTORY

By the mid 1960’s, von Bolschwing had become an exec­u­tive with Cabot Man­u­fac­tur­ing. As chief finan­cial offi­cer for its Ger­man sub­sidiary, he devel­oped a $50 mil­lion car­bon black for Cabot in Ger­many.

The deal was financed through through Thomas Franzi­oli, senior vice pres­i­dent for the First Nation­al Bank of Boston, Franzi­oli recalls that von Bolschwing then branched out on his own.

“He was start­ing a busi­ness import­ing wine from Argenti­na” Franzi­oli recalled. “I don’t know if it ever got off the ground.”

In March 1969 von Bolschwing got a job in high tech­nol­o­gy. He was retained as an inter­na­tion­al busi­ness con­sul­tant by TCI, the Sacra­men­to firm.

The com­pa­ny planned to com­mer­cial­ize on tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment in the Sil­i­con Val­ley and used a few years ear­li­er to mon­i­tor troop move­ments in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war accord­ing to the firm’s founder, Oswlad S. Williams.

TCI’s sub­sidiaries in Palo Alto and Moun­tain View, Advanced Infor­ma­tion Sys­tems and Inter­na­tion­al Imag­ing Sys­tems, were devel­op­ing a high vol­ume com­put­er net­work for busi­ness and a nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem for oil tankers using satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Williams said.

HELPED DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

The com­pa­ny also did clas­si­fied work for the Depart­ment of Defense. “Ours was going to be a sen­si­tive thing.” Williams explained. “We all had to have secu­ri­ty clear­ances.”

Von Bolschwing wa
s brought in because “we want­ed con­tracts in Europe and he had them.” Williams said.

A TCI memo writ­ten in 1969 report­ed that its new con­sul­tant “has extreme­ly valu­able con­nec­tions and infor­ma­tion in Ger­many, Switzer­land, Liecht­en­stein, the Nether­lands, Antilles and South Amer­i­ca. Mr. von Bolschwing’s con­nec­tions in these coun­tries are cur­rent.”

His con­tacts include offi­cials of the Ger­man branch of Chase Man­hat­tan Bank and an own­er of the Berlin­er Han­dels Gesellschaft in Frank­furt, one of Europe’s largest banks, the memo said.

TCI’s high pow­ered direc­tors – one was J. Paul Get­ty Jr. son of the oil bil­lion­aire – thought enough of von Bolschwing to make him the firm’s pres­i­dent in 1970.

“He seems like a very polite and cul­tured per­son,” said Wal­ter F. Lev­er­ton, for­mer vice pres­i­dent for satel­lite sys­tems of the Aero-space Corp. Lev­er­ton sat on the board of TCI.

TOLD OF WORK FOR THE U.S.

Jus­tice New­som, who trav­eled as a TCI attor­ney with von Bolschwing in Europe in 1969–70, and said von Bolschwing allud­ed to wartime work for the Amer­i­cans.

“He was suave and plau­si­ble” New­som said. “He seemed to have all the cre­den­tials… He looked kind of world weary,” recalled New­som. “He had the long cig­a­rette hold­er, his hair was slicked back.”

Emanuel Fthenakis, who had resigned an Inter­na­tion­al Tele­phone and Tele­graph vice-pres­i­den­cy to sign with TCI, also trav­eled with von Bolschwing in Europe, meet­ing his bank­ing and indus­try con­tacts.

“Otto was very pleas­ant and soft spo­ken,” Fthenakis said. “He talked about his past of work­ing for intel­li­gence. I don’t know if it was the CIA or what. But after the war, he helped the Unit­ed States and the allies to find Nazis.”

Records and inter­views with TCI offi­cials indi­cate that Helene von Damm, Pres­i­dent Regan’s Aus­tri­an born, deputy assis­tant, trans­lat­ed some Ger­man con­tracts for TCI and invest­ed $1,000 in it while she was than Gov. Regan’s sec­re­tary in Sacra­men­to.

Von Damm was “too busy” to talk about von Bolschwing, but through her White House sec­re­tary said she knew him “social­ly” in Sacra­men­to “many years ago.”

SYNDICATE TROUBLE

In 1970 TCI ran into trou­ble with the Depart­ment of Cor­po­ra­tions, Sev­er­al major stock­hold­ers were syn­di­cat­ing its stock, sell­ing it to small investors in Sacra­men­to.

“It was the hottest thing in town.” Recalled Bri­an Van Camp now a pri­vate attor­ney but then the com­mis­sion­er of cor­po­ra­tions.

The trad­ing was found to be ille­gal under a 1968 law requir­ing secu­ri­ty sales to be reg­is­tered.

The Depart­ment of Cor­po­ra­tions sus­pend­ed trad­ing in TCI stock, and in 1972 the Sacra­men­to Dis­trict Attorney’s office pros­e­cut­ed sev­er­al stock­hold­ers, call­ing it “pos­si­bly the biggest stock fraud in Cal­i­for­nia his­to­ry.”

Von Bolschwing had not syn­di­cat­ed any stock and his name was not men­tioned in the news accounts of the prosce­cu­tion. He asked for time to bail out TCI with “a cer­tain finan­cial deal involv­ing coal min­ing in Ten­nessee, accord­ing to a Depart­ment of Cor­po­ra­tions mem­o­ran­dum. Bud he couldn’t do it and TCI went under.

The busi­ness fail­ure rocked von Bolschwing. On its heels, his wife, suf­fer­ing from a painful ill­ness, took her own life. “He was nev­er the same after that” an asso­ciate said.

A year lat­er, he had a new wor­ry.

Jus­tice Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tors had stum­bled across the name of Otto von Bolschwing in 1979 while work­ing on the case of Valer­ian Tri­fa, a leader of the Iron Guard’s anti-Jew­ish ram­page in Roma­nia.

Inves­ti­ga­tors had found Tri­fa in Detroit and in inves­ti­gat­ing him, the inter­viewed von Bolschwing. He admit­ted help­ing Tri­fa and oth­er Iron Guard mem­bers escape Roma­nia after the 1941 pogrom. But in a sworn state­ment he denied ever hav­ing been a mem­ber of the SS the SD or the Nazi Par­ty.

The Inves­ti­ga­tors came back again in Feb­ru­ary. This time it was a dif­fer­ent sto­ry, as the tran­script shows.

Ques­tion: Were you a mem­ber of the Nazi Par­ty?

Von Bolschwing: Yes … 1932 I think, through 1945.

Q: Were you ever a mem­ber of the SS?

Von Bolschwing: Yes … from 1941 or 1942, I don’t know.

With those words, the last frag­ment of von Bolschwing’s illu­so­ry life in Amer­i­ca crum­bled.

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