The Nazis’ Jewish Spy

Timeless Truth Off 59

Every survivor has a story. How else could one defy the enormous odds in favor of death in Nazi-occupied Europe? Each survivor had close brushes with death, but Divine Providence kept them just out of the reach of the jaws of death.
Often skilled workers such as musicians, bakers, and even counterfeiters used their crafts to survive. However, a Jew named Paul Ernst Fackenheim lived to tell of his even more unlikely path to freedom. After the Germans invaded Russia, they were increasingly anxious to pave the way for a quick conquest of the Middle East by the Wehrmacht’s Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Knowledge of the British plan to defend the Suez Canal and the entire region was crucial to a decisive German victory.
The Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, was headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Since the early days of the war, the Abwehr and the SS had been engaged in a high-stakes feud; the SS and the Gestapo were fanatical followers of Hitler, and they continually accused Canaris of disloyalty to the Reich.
When the Abwehr crafted a plan to send a Jewish spy into British-occupied Palestine, the SS was furious. But Canaris already had his man—it had to be someone with a military background who spoke Hebrew so that he could navigate the obstacles of British Palestine. Paul Ernst Fackenheim had served his country with distinction in World War I, but like thousands of other German Jewish veterans, his service did not prevent the Nazis from deporting him to Dachau.
And so Fackenheim, now prisoner number 26,366, was thrust into the gehinnom of Dachau, along with thousands of other inmates. But one morning in April of 1941, he was summoned to an office where a German officer was waiting to meet him. The scene was completely surreal; only a moment earlier his life had hung by a thread, and now a Nazi greeted him as “Herr Fackenheim.”
Evidently Fackenheim impressed the officer, because he was given a new set of clothing and shoes, and was whisked out of Dachau to Berlin. From there he was sent to Athens, where he was trained in radio operation, coded communication, and parachuting.
Of course, the Abwehr did not trust Fackenheim to be dropped into enemy territory and risk his life spying for Germany. The Germans used their standard form of blackmail; Fackenheim was told that if he did his job, his mother would not be deported.
Complicating matters were the constant attempts of the SS to thwart the Abwehr’s plan. Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, believed that if the Fackenheim plan failed, the SS could then elbow its way to the top of the Nazi intelligence network.
Nazi officers trailed Fackenheim wherever he went and even attempted to arrest him in an Athens restaurant.
Finally, all was in place. Paul Fackenheim, now assigned the code name Paul Koch, boarded a Heinkel bomber on the night of October 10, 1941, and took off for Palestine. His jump was successful, and he landed safely in an orange grove. But his troubles were just beginning. Unbeknownst to Abwehr officials, the SS was so committed to blowing the mission that they informed the British that a dangerous agent named Koch would be parachuted into Palestine.
British troops, tipped off about Fackenheim’s arrival, swarmed to the drop zone, but he used the skills he had learned on the battlefields of World War I to evade capture. The next morning he joined a group of civilians and boarded a bus for Haifa.
With British soldiers still searching for their quarry, Fackenheim was convinced that his best chance of survival was to turn himself in. He entered a British camp and told the officer that he was a Jewish immigrant from Europe who had landed on the beach the night before. When the officer saw the name “Koch” on the papers, Fackenheim was immediately arrested and sent to Cairo. There he was interrogated by British intelligence services, who were certain that he was a dangerous German spy.
Fackenheim tried to tell them the truth about his release from Dachau, but they responded with considerable skepticism. He was placed on trial and faced the specter of a firing squad, but he had a stubborn lawyer. Somehow, the lawyer was able to locate a woman from his hometown in Germany who vouched for his true identity.
Fackenheim had dodged the bullet once again, but he remained in prison until the war’s end. Sadly, his mother was deported in 1943 to Theresienstadt, where she died.
While Fackenheim’s escapade is nothing short of astounding, I think that every Jew who was plucked from the hands of death has a story worth telling. And as long as there are more stories out there, I will be happy to listen.

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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