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New Questions Arise on Fate of Gestapo Chief

February 26, 2001|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the 1930s, Muller won a rapid series of promotions in the SS, the German secret police that served as the Nazi regime's principal tool of terror, and his power continued to grow.

He was one of 15 people who participated in the January 1942 Wannsee conference, where the "final solution" was planned. Within a few months, the first gas chamber camps were set up in Poland, according to professor Louis L. Snyder's Encyclopedia of the Third Reich.

Muller also played a key role in investigating a plot by a group of German army officers to kill Hitler in 1944 and remained loyal to Hitler until the end, according to Holocaust historians.

Whether Muller lived past April 29, 1945, has been the subject of intense speculation for years. There have been unconfirmed reports that he served as an "enforcer" for former Nazis living in South America and that he was kidnapped from Argentina in 1956 by Czech agents.

When famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal issued a list of the 10 most wanted former Nazis in 1987, Muller was on it.

In December 1999, the National Archives issued a one-paragraph news release stating that it was opening 135 pages of files on Muller, primarily covering the period from 1945 to 1963, but also including some earlier Nazi government documents.

The files contain tantalizing material, including many items that contradict one another. Despite the fact that the files were opened more than 50 years after the end of World War II, numerous portions have been redacted. In February1999, eight months before the Army records were made public by the National Archives, Army officials sent Rabbi Hier a letter saying some of his requests for information on Muller were being denied on grounds of "national security," including the possibility that more complete disclosure could compromise intelligence-gathering methods.

Among the materials the National Archives made public are the following:

* A December 1945 interview with a former Nazi stating that Muller escaped from Berlin through a secret underground passage that only he and Eichmann knew about.

* A July 1946 Army Counter-Intelligence Corps document saying "reports from the Russian zone of Berlin seem to indicate" that Muller shot and killed his wife and three children and then himself, two days before Hitler died.

* Index cards stating that Muller was in custody first in the town of Ilmenau and then in December 1945 in a "civilian internment" camp in Altenstadt in Upper Bavaria. The card does not state what happened to Muller at Altenstadt. It ends with the cryptic and provocative sentence, "case closed 29 Jan 46." It is unclear who placed the information on the card, which states that a Muller dossier was to be sent to Frankfurt.

* Another U.S. Army document dated July 11, 1946, states that British officials requested an investigation of Muller in the Wurzburg area, saying that it was believed he was dead. But the document ends with: "results negative."

* A 1951 document, saying an informant had said Muller was in Czechoslovakia where he "is supposedly directing intelligence activities for the Soviets against the U.S. zone of Germany."

* An August 1960 document saying Muller was believed to be corresponding with relatives.

* Numerous other documents from the 1950s and early 1960s indicating the belief that Muller was alive and that U.S. officials were interested in finding him. There are no new reports after 1963.

Hier said he hopes that the soon- to-be-released CIA files will shed new light on Muller. Rosenbaum, who has spent nearly two decades in the Justice Department's Nazi war crimes unit, said he has reviewed those files and they provide no definitive answer.

"If ever a Nazi just disappeared into the mist, it was Muller," Rosenbaum said. "It's one of the great unsolved mysteries of World War II. The answer may be in Soviet files," he said.

*

Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus contributed to this story.

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