For World War II aficionados, Operation Paperclip should be familiar territory. For everyone else the name refers to an initiative launched by the United States at the conclusion of the war.
Its aim was to deny the other allied nations access to Nazi Germany’s best and brightest scientists and in effect was one of the opening chapters of the Cold War that was to follow. For their part both the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom enacted their own initiatives aimed to gathering up as many prominent scientists as possible.
Primarily, the fields of expertise that most targets of Operation Paperclip and its contemporaries belonged to were those of rocketry and physics. In fact, perhaps the most famous bounty of the American search was Wernher von Braun- the so called ‘father of rocketry’.
With that said experts from several other fields were sought, with even war criminals like the infamous leader of Japanese Unit 731 Shiro Ishii offered immunity in exchange for their research. Ishii’s case is far from unusual in that several prominent Nazi researchers destined for Nuremburg were also spared prosecution for their actions during the war in exchange for their expertise.
One such individual named Wilhelm Straus was apprehended in August of 1945. Operatives of the American OSS apprehended Straus at the border whilst he was in the midst of an apparent escape from Allied occupied Germany, presumably to enter hiding in South America like so many other Nazi fugitives.
Posing as a manual labourer Straus was in-fact a member of the Waffen-SS, specifically a captain within one of the infamous ‘Deaths-Head’ brigades responsible for the administration of the Reich’s numerous concentration camps.
Straus was not apprehended alone however. Accompanying him were two men who apparently carried all of his belongings. Both were, to quote the arresting officer’s report: ‘trussed up like pack-mules’ and wore ‘opaque eye masks that had the appearance and texture of lead’.
The masks apparently lacked any holes through which their wearers could see and the manner by which they were affixed to each man’s face wasn’t immediately apparent.
The pair failed to respond verbally to instructions from the OSS men present, though they appeared docile throughout the encounter and eventually surrendered without incident once Straus himself gave the order to stand down.
All three were brought in for questioning and further identification, at which point each was identified as a member of the SS due to the presence of the distinctive blood type tattoo under each man’s left arm. During this process the various bags and rucksacks that had been fastened to Straus’ companions were searched and weighed, at which point it was revealed that each man had been carrying in excess of 900 lbs worth of gold bullion.
In addition Straus himself was found to be wearing a satchel stuffed with paperwork and a cloth belt containing several pouches worth of paper currency ranging from Reichmarks to Pounds Sterling to American Dollars. During his initial detainment, Straus agreed to cooperate further with his captors only on the condition that his companions be allowed to continue to wear their masks in custody. A seemingly innocuous request, the commanding officer present at his arrest agreed to the condition.
Once separated into individual cells for the purpose of interrogation the two masked men failed to respond to questioning and any attempts to illicit conversation at all. Instead each one stood and faced the eastern wall of their respective cells for approximately five hours despite the efforts of their captors to make them sit or respond in any way whatsoever.
During this time Straus was questioned as to the identities of his escorts and how it was that they were able to carry such tremendous weights without any apparent strain. He would state only that they were his personal assistants and that their separation from him was tantamount to torture. Incredulous, the Allied interrogators persisted with their questions while the two other men continued to remain fixed to the spot in their own cells.
Eventually the questioning of the trio was put on hold and each man was left in his cell overnight. The following morning the two masked men were found sprawled on the floors of their rooms, each dead with no apparent clue as to what caused their demise.
When informed of this, Straus reacted with apathy, evading all further questions by asking his interrogators to refer to his notes. The papers found in his satchel were translated and read by the OSS commander who had apprehended Straus.
Apparently soon after these documents were translated and circulated amongst the OSS an order for Straus’ transfer to a prison in the United States was signed by Douglas MacArthur. The whereabouts of the two eye masks presumably extracted from the dead men was quickly lost and no mention is made in any official documentation related to the incident beyond the initial arrest report.
Wilhelm Straus appears only twice more in official records after that point: once listed in a personnel document dated April 6th, 1954 from Los Alamos Laboratory and as part of a passenger manifest for a USAF flight bound for Rio de Janerio, Brazil in August of 1966.
Written by JR22