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ArnoldWeiss, 86; US soldier who found Hitler’s will afterWWII

Arnold Weiss near wreckage of a Nazi plane in 1945 in Germany. He became a successful lawyer. Arnold Weiss near wreckage of a Nazi plane in 1945 in Germany. He became a successful lawyer. (Washington Post)
By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post / December 16, 2010

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WASHINGTON — For a half-century, Arnold Weiss was best known as a Washington lawyer and founder of an international investment group. Perhaps it was his desire “to build rather than destroy,’’ to move beyond World War II and the memories it conjured, that kept him silent for so long about his clandestine wartime mission.

Mr. Weiss, who died of pneumonia at 86 on Dec. 7 in Rockville, Md., was the man who found Adolf Hitler’s last will and political testament.

Mr. Weiss grew up in a Jewish orphanage in Germany just as the Nazis were coming to power, then made his way to the United States at age 13. Because of his German-language skills, US Army counterintelligence officials deployed him back to Europe during World War II. Mr. Weiss interrogated scores of senior Nazi officials who were later put on trial in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity.

In the autumn of 1945, after Hitler had committed suicide in a Berlin bunker, Mr. Weiss was dispatched to Munich on a special assignment.

Many Nazi loyalists refused to believe that Hitler had disgraced the Reich by killing himself. No witnesses confirmed the death, and the Soviets, who were the first to find Hitler’s body, had refused to hand over his remains. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin told President Truman at the Potsdam conference in July 1945 that Hitler might be in Spain or Argentina.

Mr. Weiss and his counterintelligence team were charged with hunting down rogue members of Hitler’s inner circle and finding evidence of the German leader’s demise.

In a 2005 profile in the Washington Post Magazine, Mr. Weiss described his war service alongside Major Hugh Trevor-Roper, the British intelligence officer who became a historian and the author of “The Last Days of Hitler.’’

Mr. Weiss sought out Wilhelm Zander, the military aide of Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann, who was stationed at Hitler’s lair during his final days.

Mr. Weiss found Zander in late December 1945 in a stone house near a village on the Czech border. Zander was arrested during an early-morning raid.

In a 10-hour interrogation, Zander said he had been arrested in a case of mistaken identity.

“We confronted him with all the facts of his life,’’ Mr. Weiss said of his strategy. He lied and told Zander, “We have your mother and sister.’’

Shortly afterward, Zander confessed and gave a full account of his military service. Toward the end of their conversation, Mr. Weiss asked Zander why he had left Hitler’s bunker shortly before the leader killed himself.

Zander said he had been dispatched with an important envelope and then said, “I suppose you want the documents?’’

Not knowing what the papers were, Mr. Weiss said yes and escorted Zander to a farm on the outskirts of Munich, where the German soldier had hidden the manila envelope in a suitcase at the bottom of a dry well.

Mr. Weiss opened the package and read the typed heading on the first page: “Mein privates Testament,’’ signed by Hitler on April 29, 1945, at 4 a.m., the day before he died.

Mr. Weiss handed the envelope, which also contained Hitler and Eva Braun’s marriage certificate, to his superiors. Mr. Weiss’s commanders commended him for his achievements and sent him photocopies of Hitler’s wills. He kept them as mementos.

The originals are in the National Archives.

Hitler’s will was authenticated by US intelligence officials and used at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, said Peter Black, a senior historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Mr. Weiss was proud of his accomplishments but not boastful. He did say that it was ironic that a Jew was the first to read Hitler’s last words.