After decades of uncertainty, Gestapo chief Hans Ziegler (left) and SS Lieutenant Helmut Tanzmann (right) have been identified as two of the Nazi officers who may have been tortured to death by British interrogators
By Ben Clerkin
The names of two Nazi officers who may have been tortured to death by British interrogators can finally be revealed after a 70-year battle with the intelligence services who still refuse to identify them.
SS Lieutenant Helmut Tanzmann and Gestapo chief Hans Ziegler have now been identified after a painstaking analysis of formerly classified documents.
And it has also been discovered that Lieutenant Tanzmann was given the false name of Hans Eric Koch on his death certificate – a criminal offence under the Perjury Act. His coroner’s file ‘no longer survives’ and his body was buried twice.
The two German officers were being subjected to harsh questions over war crimes at the secret London Cage interrogation facility, in one of the capital’s most exclusive roads, when they apparently took their own lives.
The intelligence services have steadfastly refused to release the names or files of the men they claim ‘committed suicide’ at the Cage, which has only stoked suspicions over how they met their end.
In 1960, War Secretary Christopher Soames claimed their names had been lost and ‘after this period of time would be extremely difficult to identify’ in a letter to Jeremy Thorpe MP.
The two German officers were being subjected to harsh questions over war crimes at the secret London Cage interrogation facility. It is pictured during the Second World War
Historians believe that at The Cage in London, pictured, the Germans may have been subjected to interrogation more accurately described as torture
SS Lieutenant Tanzmann, who was responsible for killing thousands of Jews, was incorrectly recorded as Hans Erich Koch on his death certificate
The same coroner who attended Tanzmann, Dr H Stafford, stated on his death certificate that Ziegler died from a ‘haemorrhage wound of the neck, self-inflicted, and did kill himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed
Lieutenant Tanzmann was responsible for ordering the deaths of thousands of Jews and was being questioned at the Cage, a requisitioned mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens, when he died.
Gestapo chief Hans Ziegler ordered the killing of two pilots who has escaped from Stalag Luft III – the scene of the film The Great Escape – to deter other escape bids. They were taken into the woods and shot.
Historian Helen Fry finally identified the officers after forensically combing through the now declassified memoirs of the man who ran the notorious and clandestine London Cage: Colonel Alexander Scotland.
It is her belief that the Germans may have been subjected to interrogation that contravened the Geneva Convention, perhaps more accurately described as torture – and that even now intelligence chiefs refuse to disclose their names because it could pave the way for their families to sue.
The officers were finally identified from details in the memoirs of the man who ran London Cage – Colonel Alexander Scotland, pictured left. SS Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Knoechlein, pictured right, signed a statement in 1947 alleging that he and a number of his comrades were ’in the most brutal and gruesome fashion tortured at the London Cage’
SS Lieutenant Helmut Tanzmann, pictured second right, was responsible for killing thousands of Jews. His name was incorrectly recorded as Hans Erich Koch on his death certificate
If it was proved that torture took place at the Cage, the worst Nazi war criminals who were jailed and executed on the basis of evidence gathered there could be exonerated.
New details of the methods used inside the Cage have been uncovered by the historian who studied now declassified documents.
They reveal that Colonel Scotland, who was one of the heads of MI9, sanctioned the use of experimental truth drugs and hypnosis on prisoners. If they failed to cooperate they could be subjected to ‘secret control gear’ – thought to be electric shock equipment and other torture apparatus. And they could be thrown into the basement’s notorious cell 14, from which the overpowering stench of dead rats and rotting flesh emanated.
Scotland was accused of using ‘Gestapo methods’ by the then head of MI5’s counter-intelligence section in his diary.
The Cage is where the toughest German POWs, who could not be broken in normal interrogation, were taken to be subjected to ‘special intelligence treatment’.
It comprised three mansions located on secluded Kensington Palace Gardens – a stone’s throw from its namesake – which was, and still is, one of the country’s most exclusive addresses, known as the ‘Boulevard of Billionaires’.
A news report from the period refers to a prisoner of war who ‘hanged himself’ in the secret Kensington facility – but historians have cast doubt on that account
However, its magnificent exterior masked its dark secrets. The stucco mansions were requisitioned in October 1940 – one from the estate of the late Lord Joseph Duveen, a Jewish art dealer who was friends with Edward VII – and within eight days the first German POWs began to arrive.
The interrogation facility soon became embroiled in a heated controversy between MI5 and MI6 over the use of violence and unorthodox methods.
At the end of the war, it became the War Crimes Investigation Unit with many high ranking Nazi war criminals passing through its doors after being hunted down by Colonel Scotland’s teams across Europe.
It was a race against time for the interrogators at the Cage when they hauled SS Lieutenant Tanzmann in.
The head of a commando unit named after him and implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. He had arrived in the UK posing as a crew member of a German submarine that had sailed to Scotland to surrender.
The stucco mansions were requisitioned in October 1940 – one from the estate of Baron Joseph Duveen, a Jewish art dealer who was friends with Edward VII – and within eight days the first German POWs began to arrive
One of the mansions is pictured in the present day. Two of the three buildings on Kensington Palace Gardens are now owned by the Russian government
His inquisitors needed the names of his 120 strong crack commando unit who were masquerading as normal POWs. They were wanted in France for atrocities they had committed.
Few details of his interrogation remain apart from a scribbled description; he had a small wart on his left cheek, a lisp and ‘when talking always has a wet mouth and lips’.
However, the 39-year-old died on 6 March 1946 – just days after arriving. An article in a newspaper at the time said a ‘war criminal’ had ‘hanged himself’ and that ‘because of his complicity in war crimes, the name and nationality of this man will be kept secret’.
It was only when the historian, who has just written a book on the subject, came across a rather dismissive reference to the ‘unfortunate demise of SS Ostubaf Tanzmann at the London District cage (alias O’Leut S Koch)’ in a file that she could start to piece the puzzle together.
The death certificate was issued under a false name and Tanzmann was first buried at an unknown location before finally being interred at the Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in the 1950s under his real name. His coroner’s file conveniently ‘no longer survives’ and his interrogation file has not been declassified.
Tanzmann was first buried at an unknown location before finally being interred at the Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in the 1950s under his own name
Tanzmann’s coroner’s file conveniently ‘no longer survives’ and his interrogation file has not been declassified. His grave in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire
It was not easy for a prisoner to hang himself, given that all items of possible harm were removed from his cell including towels, shoelaces and belts.
The cell’s furnishings consisted only of a bed, chamber pot and chair. And why did he decide to take his own life? There is no obvious reason for such drastic action.
A week after the suicide, the Red Cross made a surprise visit to inspect the Cage. Colonel Scotland refused to let the inspector further than the doorstep.
He wrote to the War Office with his concerns: ‘Should it be decided to permit Red Cross Inspectors to have access to the London Cage, Special Investigation Branch and RAF must be advised immediately and instructed not to bring any more Stalag Luft III [the scene of the Great Escape] suspects to London.
‘The interrogation of these criminals must proceed in Germany under conditions more closely related to police methods than to Geneva Convention principle.’
Chillingly, he explained to the War Office: ‘The secret gear which we use to check the reliability of information obtained must be removed from the cage before permission is given to inspect this building. This work will take a month to complete.’
There were no further attempts by the Red Cross to inspect the facility.
Gestapo chief Hans Ziegler ordered the killing of two pilots who has escaped from Stalag Luft III (pictured) – the scene of the film The Great Escape – to deter other escape bids. They were taken into the woods and shot
The Stalag Luft III camp was immortalised by Hollywood after 80 Allied airmen escaped in three tunnels named Tom, Dick and Harry in March 1944
Gestapo chief Ziegler, 49, was brought to the Cage having already been been named by two witnesses as the man who gave the order to execute two escapee pilots from Stalag Luft III. The camp was immortalised by Hollywood after 80 Allied airmen escaped in three tunnels named Tom, Dick and Harry in March 1944.
He implemented the infamous Sagan Order from Himmler which stated that ‘as a deterrent the Fuhrer has ordered that more than half of the escaped officers are to be shot.
The shootings will be explained by the fact that the recaptured officers were shot while trying to escape or because they offered resistance, so that nothing can be proved later.’
Ziegler instructed his Gestapo deputy to take Squadron Leader T.G. Kirby-Green and Flying Officer G.A. Kidder (a Canadian) out into the countryside at 2am.
He said it was ‘a nice quiet time when you won’t be disturbed, order them out of the truck for a pee and then shoot them. Their bodies are to be swiftly cremated.’
Ziegler, a heavy-set man of 18 stone, who denied involvement, never finished writing his statement for Colonel Scotland because he was found dead on 23 February 1948.
SS Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Knoechlein gave the order to shoot captured British soldiers at Le Paradis (pictured) in May 1940
In the unpublished version of his memoirs, Colonel Scotland recorded that Ziegler had acquired a razor blade, cut his jugular vein and bled to death.
Again, it is highly unlikely that someone could have acquired such a dangerous item in the Cage or even sneaked one in.
During the first trial of the Nazis involved with the Great Escape deaths, Colonel Scotland was hauled into the witness box for three days to answer serious question about how statements were secured.
He was accused of using physical beatings, starvation and sleep deprivation – and threatening to use ‘electrical devices’.
Intriguingly, there is no record of a suicide note being left by either of the men, as was written by other German POWs who took their own lives at other facilities.
Historian Helen Fry finally identified the officers and has written about them in her book The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain’s World War II Interrogation Centre
There is, of course, a more sinister explanation. The historian notes that it is entirely possible that these deaths occurred as a result of brutal treatment, starvation and prolonged periods of solitary confinement and were not suicides at all.
Significant complaints were made about the cage and Colonel Scotland was called to court to defend his methods on numerous occasions.
Alfred Conrad Wernard, a U-boat wireless operator, suspected of knowing about German radar advances, told how a revolver was placed on a desk in front of him before his British interrogator said abruptly that ‘when it points at you, I pull the trigger’.
SS Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Knoechlein, who gave the order to shoot captured British soldiers at Le Paradis in May 1940, signed a statement in 1947 alleging that he and a number of his comrades were ’in the most brutal and gruesome fashion tortured at the London Cage’.
He claimed men were severely beaten up with fists, hit with cudgels, whipped, deprived of sleep for days, had tufts of their hair pulled from their heads and stripped and doused in cold water.
In 1960, War Secretary Christopher Soames (pictured) claimed the Nazi officers’ names had been lost and ‘after this period of time would be extremely difficult to identify’ in a letter to Jeremy Thorpe MP
When the Cage closed in 1948, Colonel Scotland returned to his home in the village of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire and spent a year going through documents he had removed ‘for security reasons’ – and then burnt any he believed were of no further ‘official value’.
Today the HQ of the Cage, number 6-7 Kensington Palace Road, is the Russian embassy. With armed pill box guards at either end, the gated, tree shrouded street is home to royal families, the super rich and various embassies.
Did the men who investigated war crimes commit war crimes themselves within its regal walls? That, so far, remains a secret.
But what we do now know raises disturbing questions about Britain’s conduct. To remain professional when confronted by still fanatical and frothing Nazis, responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocents in cold blood and who had no sense of sorrow or shame, would perhaps have taken a superhuman effort.
The London Cage had an impressive record of gaining signed confessions and witness statements that led to a number of high-profile convictions.
But at what point did hard interrogation become torture? One German prisoner summed up his interrogators as the ‘British Gestapo’.
However, as the author notes, when dealing with die-hard fanatics, history has shown that no results can usefully be achieved by being soft on them.
One thing is for sure, Colonel Scotland and his team would have heartily agreed with that statement.
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Colonel Alexander Scotland: A very German gentleman who had tea with Hitler
When war broke out Colonel Alexander Scotland, pictured, was identified as a possible British spy and was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 11 months. He did not crack
It was his unique experience serving in the German Army and then as its prisoner that Colonel Scotland attributed his success at getting German POWs to talk – because he thought and acted like one of them.
His uncle was playwright George Berard Shaw, but Scotland was born into humble beginnings in Middlesbrough in 1882. The son of a railway engineer, he left school 14.
He went to South Africa in search of adventure and decided to sign up as a soldier in the German Army from 1904 to 1907 because he thought it would help his chances of establishing a business to trade with the military.
When he left he was tasked with spying on German forces by the British attache.
However, when war broke out he was identified as a possible British spy and was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 11 months. He did not crack.
He wrote of his imprisonment: ‘I gained a first-hand knowledge of the hopes and fears of a prisoner of war so that in later years I could guess pretty well what a German prisoner might be hoping to hide when he was interrogated, how he might conceal useful information by verbal scents and how ultimately his ‘front might be broken down’.
Upon his release he served in British intelligence until the end of the war. In 1937 he met wealthy friend in Munich on an intelligence gathering tour of Germany.
The following day, he reveals in his memoirs, he received a mysterious phone call to come to a meeting where he met Hitler.
Hitler apparently asked about South Africa and whether he was still a British Army officer.
Scotland claimed his parting shot was: ’You are an ingenious man, Scottland. Now I understand the reports we have on our files about you.’
He struck up a remarkable friendship with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring who he did not believe was responsible for the crimes leveled against him and even spoke up in his defence when he stood trial.
Scotland could be charming, but he was also brutal, ruthless and disliked by most who crossed his path including staff at the Cage.
The Logic of Torture