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    CIC Captures Reich Security Chief (13 MAY 1945)

    CIC Captures Reich Security Chief (13 MAY 1945)

    Courtesy Photo | Ernst Kaltenbrunner testifying on his own behalf during the Nuremburg Trials (U.S....... read more read more

    by Erin E. Thompson, USAICoE Staff Historian

    On 13 May 1945, the 80th Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment captured Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner after a frenzied search in Austria. Kaltenbrunner served as the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) from January 1943 to the end of the war and was a major perpetrator of the Holocaust. He was the highest-ranking Nazi officer tried during the Nuremburg trials.

    Austrian-born Kaltenbrunner succeeded Heinrich Himmler as chief of the RSHA in January 1943. He oversaw the German secret police (Gestapo), criminal investigation office (KRIPO), and intelligence agency (SD). In this role, Kaltenbrunner was one of the main perpetrators of the “Final Solution” across the territories claimed by the Third Reich. Kaltenbrunner held a PhD in law and was known even to those in the upper echelons of the Nazi Party as “a man not to be crossed.” The head of Nazi foreign intelligence, Walter Schellenberg, later described him as a “physical giant of a man” and a “paranoiac, a killer, and an alcoholic.” As the Third Reich began to fall in spring 1945, Kaltenbrunner and many other Nazi officials and supporters fled into Austria and the surrounding Alps Mountain range, where members of the 80th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army, were ordered to search for them.

    Sgt. Robert E. Matteson led the 80th CIC Detachment in Austria, alongside interpreter Sydney Bruskin. The detachment’s main objective in Austria was capturing Kaltenbrunner. Throughout early May, they made several arrests with the help of the Austrian Freedom Movement, but their target remained out of reach. On 6 May 1945, Matteson’s unit found and arrested Kaltenbrunner’s wife in the municipality of Strobl. Through discussion with local citizens, informants, and Mrs. Kaltenbrunner, the search for the RSHA chief was focused on the town of Altaussee, where many Nazi officials and sympathizers, including Grisela von Westarp, Kaltenbrunner’s mistress, were clustered.

    On 11 May, the CIC received information that Kaltenbrunner, his adjutant Arthur Scheidler, and two SS guards were hiding in a cabin in the Alps. Sergeant Matteson’s plan to apprehend Kaltenbrunner included a squad of infantry and CIC soldiers and four Austrian soldiers, all former Wehrmacht troops, serving as mountain guides. Around midnight on 12 May, Matteson’s patrol began the five-hour trek up the mountain through “twenty to thirty feet of snow [with] no cover for us except drifts on the last four kilometers of the way up to the cabin.”

    As dawn broke on 13 May 1945, Matteson approached the cabin alone. A man who was not Kaltenbrunner greeted him, at which point Matteson handed him a note from Grisela urging Kaltenbrunner to surrender “into safe custody with the Americans rather than let himself be taken, and probably killed, by the Russians.” The man initially denied that anyone else resided in the cabin but was spooked by the sudden appearance of the Austrian guides behind Matteson. He pulled a weapon and fled back into the cabin. Matteson also retreated away from the cabin expecting a shootout, but ten minutes later Kaltenbrunner, Scheidler, and their two guards exited the cabin with their hands raised. They were immediately arrested and brought back to the CIC’s headquarters for interrogation.

    Kaltenbrunner was the highest-ranking Nazi officer put on trial at Nuremberg in November 1945. He suffered two brain hemorrhages and was absent for the first several weeks of the trials. In December, he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and later claimed to have tried to stop the extermination of the Jews. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged on 16 October 1946.

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    Date Taken: 05.10.2024
    Date Posted: 05.10.2024 15:45
    Story ID: 470966
    Location: US

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