VIP prisoners of the SS

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It was a distinguished company that was assembled early May 1945 in Hotel Pragser Wildsee, built in chalet style, in southern Tirol, Italy. The group consisted of nearly 140 persons of 17 different nationalities. There were secretaries, high ranking clergy, generals and princes. Two Churchills were also present. From their hotel room they looked out on an emerald green mountain lake, ringed by fir trees and mountain tops. One of the hotel guests described the location as a " paradise on earth". For many of them, it was the first time in months or even years they had slept in a normal bed without having to worry about tomorrow’s day. At last, they had escaped from the claws of the SS.


Southern Tirol was a part of the Alpenfestung (Alpine fortress), the last pocket of Nazi resistance in the Alpine region. The intention was that a hodge podge of Nazi units would wage a guerilla war against the Allies from fortifications in the Alps, leading to an armistice on the western front. The western Allies would then have to join the German struggle against the Soviet ally. To the Allied Commander-in-Chief Dwight Eisenhower (Bio Eisenhower), a struggle against unyielding Nazi guerillas was such a nightmare, he left the conquest of Berlin to the Red Army while he dispatched his own troops in the direction of the Alps.

The war of attrition Eisenhower had feared so much did not materialize but that did not mean the Alpenfestung was no more than a myth. As early as the summer of 1944, SS chief Heinrich Himmler (Bio Himmler) had sent geologists to the Alpine region in order to search for suitable locations for fortifications. There was however no mass transfer of German troops to the south yet. The Werewolf units, resistance groups tasked with raising terror behind the Allied lines were also far more dominant in propaganda than in reality.


An important advocate of the Alpenfestung was SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Bio Kaltenbrunner). He was appointed chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (R.S.H.A., Head Office of State Security) in January 1943 after his predecessor Reinhard Heydrich (Bio Heydrich) had died after an attempt on his life. Along with his boss, SS leader Heinrich Himmler, he imagined having an important trump card up his sleeve to draw the western Allies to the conference table in the final weeks of the Third Reich. Dozens of prominent foreign prisoners were dispersed all over the country in camps and on special locations. By using them as a means of exchange, the SS leadership hoped to have a foot in the door to be accepted as partners in future negotiations.

In the spring of 1945, Kaltenbrunner ordered the majority of the prominent prisoners or Sonderhäftlinge to be transferred to the Alpenfestung as hostages. The same applied to Sippenhäftlinge, relatives of those involved in the attempted coup of July 20th, 1944 (Assault 20-07-1944), among them relatives of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (Bio Von Stauffenberg), the perpetrator of the attempt and former mayor Carl Friedrich Goerdeler who would have become Prime Minister, had the attempt succeeded. Via his adjutant Wilhelm Höttl, Kaltenbrunner attempted to negotiate with Allen Welsh Dulles, the future head of the C.I.A. who was stationed in Bern, Switzerland as agent of the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), the American secret military intelligence service. He rejected any contact with the SS though. As a result, an insecure fate awaited the hostages.


Fortification in the Alps. The first development spotted by the Americans in 1944. The Americans feared a stronghold in the Alps as a last resort of the Nazis. The plan was covered in mystery. On the one hand the Alpenfestung might be the last SS stronghold which could lead to defeat of the Allied forces. Enormous arms depots were built and Nazi elite troops would be able to hide everywhere in the Alps and cause death and despair behind enemy lines, sometimes even in allied uniforms. This terrifying development was fed by German propaganda trying to lure the American forces towards the Alps and away from the Rhine. Although the British warned against this, the Americans decided to divide their forces and had them advance towards Berlin as well as the south. The Alpenfestung turned out, however, to be nothing but a spectre.
Largest Soviet ground formation. It was attached to a certain area which gave its name to the units involved. For instance the Voronezh front.
Abbreviation of a national socialist.
Often misleading information used to gain support among supporters or to gain support. Often used to accomplish ideas and political goals.
Red Army
Army of the Soviet Union.
Resistance against the enemy. Often also with armed resources.

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The Pragser Wildsee in southern Tirol: a "paradise on earth"
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the R.S.H.A.
(Source: Public domain)


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Kevin Prenger
Published on:
Last edit on:
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