They bugged the Nazis
Military secrets and shocking intelligence about the Holocaust was obtained by Jewish refugees who eavesdropped on captured German generals. Now the story of their wartime spying mission is being told.
By Simon Round, April 14, 2009
Peter Ganz listened in on Nazi generals imprisoned in north London.
When Adam Ganz was a boy growing up in Oxford, all his friends would speak of what their dads had done in the war. It occurred to Ganz that he had no idea what his own father had done.
It was only many years later that he discovered his father, Peter, had been involved in a remarkable, top-secret operation in which hidden listening devices were used to eavesdrop on the conversations of the captured German generals housed in a mansion at Trent Park in Cockfosters, north London.
All of those charged with translating and transcribing conversations — which contained military information considered vital to the war effort — were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, like Peter, who were fluent German speakers.
Adam Ganz, who lectures in screenwriting at Royal Holloway University of London, eventually pieced together the story of what happened when 83 Nazi generals were put under surveillance by a squad of refugee Jews, and the story has become the subject of his play, Listening to the Generals, which was broadcast on Radio 4 this week.
Ganz, whose father died three years ago, says: “From what I read in the transcripts, there was some extraordinary stuff recorded. The generals talked in some detail about war crimes. Some of them said they didn’t understand why the Jews were being killed in the middle of a war when it would be much more sensible to win the war first and deal with the Jews afterwards. Others were repulsed by what was done.”
This information was duly recorded on discs, translated and transcribed by those had fled to Britain to avoid the very horrors the generals were talking about.
One of the surveillance team was Peter Ganz’s friend, Fritz Lustig, who was among those recruited to the operation from the Pioneer Corps. He worked at Latimer House and Wilton Park, both in Buckinghamshire, which also served as prisoner-of-war camps.
Now 90, he vividly recalls his role. “We were told to take note of anything to do with the German army — how it was organised, names of generals, units commanded and conversations about home leave. We also heard accounts from prisoners who had either taken part in or witnessed atrocities against the Jews. This was the first time we had heard of these crimes.”
Lustig says he dealt with this information in a completely professional manner. “It was just one of the things we heard. I don’t think we felt any different about it, compared to the other things we heard. We were just focused on doing our jobs.”
Adam Ganz, who has written a play about the work done by his father
In the quest for information, the generals at Trent Park were treated well — a little too well for some people’s liking. Ganz says: “Churchill complained because the generals were taken on day trips to places like Hampton Court. Occasionally they were taken for lunch at Simpsons in the Strand. The idea was to weaken their morale by demonstrating that German propaganda had exaggerated the damage done to London.”
Despite the fact that some of the generals revealed their complicity in, and certainly their sympathy for, the Holocaust, none of the transcripts were ever used as evidence in post-war prosecutions of Nazis. The secret nature of the operation meant that the information was not obtained in accordance with the Geneva Convention and could not be used in trials. The generals themselves were released after 1945.
However, much of the material was used to aid the war effort. Says Lustig: “I had an interview with a commanding officer on my first morning. He told us: ‘What you are going to do here is far more important than if you were firing a rifle or driving a tank.’ It was a great comfort to hear that because we all really wanted to get into a fighting unit. Still, it was far better than digging trenches in the Pioneer Corps, which was what we were doing before.”
Lustig says that the information they managed to obtain was used to support the famous Enigma code-crackers at Bletchley Park. “Much of the material intercepted by Bletchley couldn’t be acted on because to do so would have alerted the Germans that their codes had been broken. But if there was confirmation from us via a prisoner of war, it enabled the army to make use of it.”
Ganz adds that the transcriptions have also been useful in re-interpreting wartime history. “It is now being used by German historians to expose the good Wehrmacht, bad SS myth. Clearly everybody knew something about what was going on with the Jews and some people knew a lot. That has become historically very important.”
For Lustig, his time at the centre of the operation was intense and has had long-term benefits — he met his future wife, a fellow refugee called Susan Cohn, while working there. They are still happily married now. But despite both being refugees from Germany, they have only ever communicated in English.
“We wouldn’t speak German to each other. In the British Army you never spoke German. So apart from the odd word, it has never occurred to us to speak anything other than English to each other.”
http://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/lifestyl ... gged-nazis
Also of note, but just in the same tone.
The Germans who bugged for Britain
German-speaking emigrés and refugees spent their war years at listening posts spying on high-ranking prisoners of war held in Britain. Their actions saved many lives
By Simon Rocker and Jennifer Lipman, May 10, 2012
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Helen Lederer at Trent Park with one of the machines used by her grandfather, Arnost, and the other listeners
The story of the code-breakers at Bletchley Park who secretly intercepted German military communications during World War Two has been justly celebrated in recent years.
But later this year a TV company hopes to reveal details about another covert British intelligence operation which helped the war effort.
The conversations of thousands of German prisoners of war, held in the UK, were bugged by special units consisting largely of German-speaking Jewish émigrés.
David Keys, historical consultant to the production company October Films, said it had culled a good deal of information about the PoWs from German research, but was keen to track down any of the surviving "listeners".
Fritz Lustig during the war
This week the JC has located one of them, Fritz Lustig, now 93, who for two years spied on the PoWs from 1943 to the end of the war.
In 1940, like many other German Jewish refugees, he had found himself interned as an enemy alien by the British on the Isle of Man. But three years later, after a spell in the Pioneer Corps, he was recruited to eavesdrop on the PoWs.
Microphones hidden in the lamp fittings of cell-blocks relayed the prisoners' chatter to listening stations where Mr Lustig and his colleagues were secreted.
"We had old-fashioned telephone exchanges and headphones, and several plugs which we plugged into the cells we covered," he recalled. "Each of us listened to two or three cells. We had a turntable, and if we heard anything significant, we cut a record and recorded what was said.
"There were a few security-conscious prisoners who suspected they were being listened to, but most talked quite freely."
From the bugged conversations of German pilots, sailors and soldiers, the British gained insight into enemy military technology or the state of morale in Germany.
"The only significant thing I remember was when the Battleship Scharnhorst was sunk before D-Day," Mr Lustig recalled. "What the survivors said about the sinking was important for the Admiralty."
The eavesdropping on generals at one camp, Trent Park, revealed the extent of knowledge about the Holocaust.
Mr Lustig, who served at two camps, Latimer House in Chesham and Wilton Park in Beaconsfield, said that his team also occasionally recorded details of atrocities – although the recordings could not be used directly in war trials because the bugging operation was "not in accordance with the Geneva Convention". He even met his wife at Wilton Park fellow refugee, Susan Cohn, now 91. "She did clerical work, dealing with documents. But women did not listen in – only men did." They are the parents of BBC journalist Robin Lustig.
At Latimer, the listeners worked in teams of six to ten, in a secret room in an administrative block known as the M-room. "It was so secret that even my wife didn't know what I was doing," Mr Lustig said.
Another listener was Arnost Lederer, the late grandfather of comedienne Helen Lederer, who talks about his covert work at Trent Park in another documentary War Hero in My Family, which is broadcast on Channel Five on Tuesday (May 15).
Big Baba, as she knew him, fled Czechoslovakia for Britain with his wife and two children on the eve of the Holocaust. It was only when confidential files were recently released that she became aware of his intelligence mission. As well as snooping on prisoners' talk, he also went undercover in the camp, trying to prompt them to reveal information.
"If I could see him, I would tell him how happy I was to know he did that work," Ms Lederer said. "To know that he was at least able to be active, to fight back, to do something – that is really important to me."
David Keys, who believes there must have been at least 100 to 200 listeners, hopes to speak to some of those still alive.
"One of the things we are looking at is what intelligence was gained and what happened to it. We can say it certainly it helped the Allies in the air war and the Battle of the Atlantic," he said. "It also provided some very interesting information about the Holocaust. But to what extent did it save lives or shorten the war? We don't yet know.
"I'm also particularly interested to find out whether the listeners thought they were being infiltrated and whether the prisoners twigged they were being spied on."
He also wants to know more about the location of the listening rooms and the equipment used. "If people don't want to be identified, they don't need to appear on film. We are perfectly happy to respect the anonymity of anyone who makes contact with us."
Historian Dr Helen Fry, author of a forthcoming history on the listeners, The M Room, which is due to be published next year, said: "Their role was as important for winning the war as Bletchley. They picked up a lot of information which enabled the Allies to pre-empt German operations."
Mr Lustig's role bugging for Britain did not end with the war: he was transferred to Germany for a year to find out what beans PoWs might spill there.
Contact David Keys either at [email protected] , or phone him or Kate Bullions on 020-7284-6868.
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