How One of Hitler’s Most Prized Commanders Became an Israeli Assassin

The Forward

Otto Skorzeny was no ordinary SS Commando. He was commander of the unit “Fiedenthal” and was one of Hitler’s favorites among the SS commandos. Hitler even went as far as to give Otto Skorzeny the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross the most prestigious medal in the German army for saving the life of Benito Mussolini. But his time in the SS was only the beginning for Otto Skorzeny and most of his exploits involved taking lives instead of saving them. After the WWII, Otto Skorzeny became one of the most valuable assets for the Israeli spy network Mossad.

Otto Skorzeny had a simple upbringing. He was born in Vienna to a middle class family with a long history of military service. It was in 1931 at the age of 23 that he joined the Austrian Nazi party and eventually became a member of the Nazi SA. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Skorzeny tried to join the Luftwaffe but was turned down because he was too tall. Still determined to serve his country, he joined Hitler’s bodyguard regiment instead.

Otto Skorzeny.

He was part of the invasion of the Soviet Union and served on the Eastern front until December 1942 when he was struck in the back of the head with shrapnel. He was then given a staff role in Berlin where he developed strategies for unconventional warfare. His ideas got noticed and he was made commander of the Waffen Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal unit which had its first mission in 1943. Operation Francois involved sending a group into Iran by parachute in order to convince them to sabotage the Allied supplies that were being sent to the Soviet Union on the Trans-Iranian Railway.  The rebels were less than reliable and the mission was deemed a failure.

In September of 1943, Operation Oak was considered a resounding success with the rescue of Benito Mussolini. He was also involved in the planning for Operation Long Jump which was the plot to assassinate Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. Other operations conducted or planned by Skorzeny included Operation Knight’s Leap, Operation Armored Fist and Operation Griffin. He was also involved with Werwolf SS which was a Nazi resistance movement in areas of Europe that were occupied by the Allies.

Skorzeny with the rescued Mussolini.

Skorzeny’s success with these operations earned him the highest honors that the German military could bestow and he was one of Hitler’s most favored commandos up through the end of the war. Ten days after Hitler committed suicide, Skorzeny surrendered to the Americans. Two years later he would stand trial for war crimes involving the improper use of U.S. military insignia, theft of U.S. uniforms and the theft of Red Cross parcels from U.S. POWs. He and nine other defendants were acquitted of the charges partially due to lack of evidence and partially due to the testimony of a British SOE agent who admitted to wearing a German uniform behind enemy lines.

Despite being acquitted he was kept in an internment camp while he waited for a decision from the denazification court. On July 27th, 1948, he escaped and made his way to a farm in Bavaria where he hid for 18 months. He moved throughout Europe avoiding detection and keeping in contact with Reinhard Gehlen, who was a German General and spymaster of the anti-Communist Gehlen Organization for the United States after the war.

Things started to take a very different turn for Skorzeny when Reinhard Gehlen sent him to Egypt in 1952 in order to act as a military adviser to General Mohammed Naguib. Skorzeny began training the army and recruited a staff of former Wehrmacht generals. He even planned raids into Israel through the Gaza Strip with Palestinian refugees in 1953/1954. For a period, he served as adviser to President Gamal Abdeal Nasser before moving on to be an adviser to Argentinian President Juan Peron and bodyguard to his wife. He found himself in Ireland from 1957 on as a farmer until the Irish parliament became concerned about his intentions and sought to have him removed from the country.

In the 1960s a Mossad team was tasked with killing him in retribution for his crimes during the war, so how did this former Nazi Commando end up as a Mossad assassin instead?