History of Interpol: Rebuilding after World War II

About the history of Interpol after World War II as the organization attempted to reestablish itself in the world community.

The Men from Interpol

By Vaughn Young

As the 3rd Reich fell apart, so did Interpol. In the Reich's final days, a drama unfolded that was to be one of Interpol's unsolved mysteries and possibly a key to its postwar behavior. Interpol's files, nurtured for 6 years by the Nazis, were a prize for any would be dictator. Culled from European police dossiers with the Nazi penchant for blackmail, one can imagine what they contained: the names of thieves, assassins, informers, forgers, and counterfeiters, as well as information on political leaders, businessmen, and citizens in general. The files were in Wannsee when the Allies began to close in on Berlin. Interpol has insisted that they were destroyed in the bombings. But one official tells a different, albeit odd, story.

Harry Soderman, a Swedish policeman, had worked with Interpol since its inception in 1924 and was one of 2 men responsible for its reemergence in 1946. In his book, Policeman's Lot, he offered some interesting insights, including information on what may have actually happened to the files in 1945. According to Soderman:

. . . Carlos Zindel, who headed the Prussian and later the German Criminal Investigation Department (CID) . . . left Berlin just before the collapse of the 3rd Reich and headed for the south in his car, which was filled to the brim with the documents of the Commission. When he reported to French headquarters in Stuttgart to give himself up, he was badly treated, kicked out, and told to return in the afternoon. His dignity mortally injured, he went to a park and swallowed a capsule of potassium cyanide.

As a neutral country, Switzerland was being used by the Odessa as a major collection and jumping-off point for Nazis fleeing with money, documents, and their lives. Zindel, apparently, was heading there. Armed with papers that would have allowed him passage clear to Zurich, Zindel found his way blocked. As a colonel in the SS working under Kaltenbrunner, he knew that the Allies would be interested in him, so he took the only alternative, leaving the files in French hands. The next year, Interpol was established in Paris with strong backing by the French police.

In 1946, Soderman worked with Florent E. Louwage of the Belgian Political Police, who was also a member of Interpol's executive staff under Kaltenbrunner and the only one to have escaped "untainted," according to the Swedish policeman, to keep Interpol alive. Using the Belgian embassies, Louwage sent out invitations to former member countries to meet in Brussels "to constitute the International Criminal Police Commission, choose its headquarters, and appoint new directors."

The U.S. State Department, upon receiving the invitation, telegraphed Brussels on May 15 that a decision to attend was "in abeyance pending advice Justice Department," and asked for more information. Two days later, Brussels replied that Norton R. Telford, later to become an Interpol delegate on J. Edgar Hoover's behalf, had visited "interested Belgian police . . . and is believed to have reported fully results to FBI Washington." Nothing was said about Interpol's Nazi history.

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