Nazi Gauleiter Gustav Simon at a rally in Luxembourg, August 1942. / © Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Windmill Books (2014)
RTL Today contributor Thomas Tutton delves into the remarkable tale of the capture of the Nazi Gauleiter of Luxembourg, Gustav Simon, in the winter of 1945.
Regular readers may remember that we previously covered Simon’s mysterious death as part of our Dark Luxembourg series. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.)
Following a surge of interest in the Gauleiter’s last days, we decided to revisit the story in further depth, beginning with the dramatic investigation that led to British Captain Hanns Alexander’s discovery of Simon near Paderborn in December 1945.
A special mention must go to Thomas Harding, who provided documents, photographs and advice for this article. Harding is the author of Hanns and Rudolf, a gripping dual biography of Captain Alexander – his great-uncle – and Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz, whom Alexander arrested three months after capturing Simon.
As we have previously covered, Gustav Simon was the Gauleiter of the Moselland, and Chief of the Civil Administration of Luxembourg for the duration of the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944.
Unsurprisingly, Simon was loathed in the Grand Duchy, and, like many Nazi leaders, he went into hiding in Germany after the end of the war. This made him a prime target for war crimes investigators – sometimes known as Nazi hunters – including a certain Captain Alexander.
Born Hanns Herman Alexander in 1917, this young soldier was no ordinary British officer: he was in fact a Jewish refugee from Berlin, whose family had fled Nazi Germany in 1936 to settle in England. After initially being refused entry into the British Army, he was eventually placed with the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, along with his twin Paul and thousands of other German and Austrian exiles.
A young Hanns Alexander and his twin brother Paul. Both went on to serve in the British Army. / © Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Windmill Books (2014)
A short-lived expedition to northern France followed in May 1940, where the unarmed Pioneer Corps, whose work principally consisted of manual labour, was almost captured before escaping back to England from the port of St Malo. By 1945, however, Alexander’s situation had improved dramatically. He had completed officer training in 1943, and at the war’s end, he was recruited as an interpreter for the newly-formed Number 1 War Crimes Investigation Team (1WCIT), headquartered at the liberated Belsen concentration camp.
Horrified by his experiences at Belsen and frustrated at the slow pace of proceedings against war criminals, Alexander began to conduct his own investigations in his spare time, impressing superiors with his ability and willingness to travel independently through the devastated ruins of occupied Germany on the hunt for hidden Nazis. When the British finally realised that they needed to commit resources to finding Hitler’s escaped henchmen, in the appropriately-named Operation Haystack, it was therefore not long before they turned to Captain Alexander.
The Hunt for Simon Begins
In November 1945, the new leader of the British War Crimes Group, Captain A. G. Somerhaugh, sent a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel T. H. Tilling, head of 1WCIT, with the subject line ‘Gauleiter Gustav Simon.’ It read:
‘‘the Luxembourg Government is much concerned that the above named Gauleiter, formerly, ‘Chef der Zivilverwaltung in Luxembourg’, whom they regard as major war criminal has so far escaped arrest.”
A preliminary French investigation had suggested that Simon was hidden somewhere in the British occupation zone near Cologne, but failed to locate him. Somerhaugh admitted that the clues as to Simon’s whereabouts were ‘somewhat meagre,’ but the Luxembourgish government was determined to find him. So it was that Captain Alexander was tasked with the discovery and arrest of Gustav Simon.
A. G. Somerhaugh's letter to T. H. Tilling. / © Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Windmill Books (2014)
As Alexander later wrote to his girlfriend Ann, ‘it was absolutely ridiculous to send me, as the only clue that was available was that his name was Gustav Simon, that he was a Gauleiter of Moselland including Luxembourg and that he was hiding under a different name somewhere in the Eifel area.’
Alexander’s first move, on November 23rd, was to drive to Wiesbaden to speak to Judge Léon Hammes, Luxembourg representative of the War Crimes Commission, who gave him two photographs of Simon. From there, he returned to his base camp at Belsen, where he was delayed for six days by a massive snowstorm. On 30 November 1945, Captain Hanns Alexander set out in earnest to find and capture the former Gauleiter of Luxembourg.
First Steps: Finding Simon’s Relatives
Simon’s last known address was in Koblenz, from where he had ruled the Moselland. Alexander arrived there on the morning of December 1st, and was promptly informed by the local chief of police that his search was pointless, as news of Simon’s capture had been published in a Frankfurt newspaper.
Hearing this, Alexander hurried to Frankfurt to find out more, but was informed that no such report had ever appeared. This was a stark reminder that not all sources of authority were to be trusted; not everyone in defeated Germany had accepted the fall of the Third Reich.
Before he could proceed, however, he had to make sure that Simon had not indeed been captured by American soldiers during the occupation of south-western Germany. He thus drove down to Heidelberg to check in with the US Counter-Intelligence Corps, who confirmed that the Nazi was still on the run.
Captain Alexander's journey through western Germany, part 1.
Returning to Koblenz on December 3rd, Alexander visited Simon’s former district police station, where he learned that the Gauleiter’s ex-wife was named Friedel Henning, that they had divorced in 1942, and that their son, Gustav Adolf Simon, had been born in 1931.
Friedel’s whereabouts were unknown, but Alexander obtained her parents’ address in the small town of Hermeskeil, less than 50 kilometres from Luxembourg. According to Alexander’s field report, Simon’s former in-laws were ‘only too willing to assist’ him, and although they had not seen either their daughter or the Gauleiter in years, they were able to provide him with the address of Simon’s mother in Friedewald.
On December 4th, Alexander questioned an extremely hostile Mrs. Simon, who denied any knowledge of the locations of either her son or grandson. Conversations with her neighbours revealed a different story. A local informed Alexander that a ‘boy with a ruck sack’, presumably young Gustav Adolf Simon, was visiting Mrs. Simon late at night; that Gauleiter Simon himself had passed through Friedewald the day before it was occupied in March 1945; and that Simon’s nieces were now residing in nearby Marburg.
Rucksacks and Fake Identities: The Plot Thickens
In Marburg, Alexander managed to locate Simon’s two young nieces, Thea and Lore Scheideler. Under interrogation, one of them revealed that Simon’s son had been living in a house in the village of Dassel near Hanover, and going by his mother’s maiden name.
The investigator sped up there immediately, and was startled to learn that a rucksack belonging to a certain Gustav Henning had been found in a local wood, containing various documents, Werwolf resistance movement papers and a Hitler Youth uniform. The address that Simon’s niece had provided, however, was out of date: the boy had moved on months previously.
Furious that he had been misled by false information, Alexander returned to Marburg on December 6th and threw the Scheideler sisters in prison, threatening to prosecute them for hiding a war criminal. These intimidating tactics worked: Lore admitted that Simon’s son was in fact residing with one of her relatives, Alvis Scheideler, in Plettenberg, Westphalia.
An excerpt from Captain Alexander's field report of his arrest of Gustav Simon. Woffler's details from the hotel registers in Plettenberg are shown. / © Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Windmill Books (2014)
Alexander headed to Plettenberg on the 7th and searched the house in question, but was informed that young Simon was in fact living at a different address in the same town. Arriving there, he found a young boy in possession of an English Ordnance map of Hanover – a criminal offence, for which he was arrested. Under pressure, the boy revealed his true identity: Gustav Adolf Simon, the son of the former Gauleiter.
This was a significant development, and while young Simon refused to give up any information on his father, claiming that he had not seen him for months, Alvis Scheideler was more willing to talk: she confirmed to Alexander that Simon had in fact visited his boy in Plettenberg on a number of occasions, staying in local hotels. Not only that, he had changed his look, sporting grey hair, a mustache and spectacles, and he was going by a name like ‘Volter’. Gustav Simon had gone deep underground.
Closing In: The Hotel Registers
Armed with this new information, on December 8th Alexander checked the registers of the two hotels in Plettenberg that Mrs. Scheideler had mentioned.
At the Rudolph Harpe Hotel, a certain Hans Woffler had stayed in both September and November 1945, giving a home address of Steinbeck, Schusterstrasse 1 and a date of birth of 26/09/1900. At the Hopper Hotel, a Heinrich Woffler with an identical date of birth had visited on November 11th, stating that he was born in Frankfurt but lived in Einbeck.
With proof of his father’s visits in hand, Alexander now returned to confront young Gustav Adolf Simon in prison. The boy, faltering in his resolve, admitted that his father had indeed visited him and that he was working as a nurseryman somewhere in the British zone.
Looking over the hotel registers once more on December 10th, Alexander realised that the addresses Woffler had provided were muddled and incorrect. There was in fact no town by the name of Steinbeck in Germany, so Alexander decided to try Einbeck, a village just a few miles from Dassel, where young Simon’s backpack had been discovered.
Captain Alexander's journey through western Germany, part 2.
The local police station had no record of any Wofflers in Einbeck; but it did contain a Schusterstrasse, the street name Woffler had given for the non-existent Steinbeck. And to his delight, at 1 Schusterstrasse he found a list of residents which included Hans Woffler. Even better, the landlady, Frau Blumenthal, was able to confirm that Woffler had lived with her until October, identified him as the man in Alexander’s photos of Simon, and informed Alexander that he was now working in a nursery near Paderborn.
Alexander was closing in. On the evening of December 10th, he drove to Paderborn, where the local mayor’s office was able to confirm that a Hans Woffler had recently registered, and was now living with a Frau Berhost in Upsprunge, fifteen miles to the south. Enlisting the help of Paderborn police, at 11 pm on December 10th, 1945 Alexander barged into the house in Upsprunge, where he found a shockingly grey, thin-looking, old man with a mustache and glasses, who claimed no knowledge of any Gustav Simon.
Having been alerted to Simon’s new look, Alexander knew he had his man, and checked him for suicide pills – Heinrich Himmler had been able to escape justice by ingesting cyanide after his capture – but Woffler continued to protest his innocence. His defence, however, was blown apart by the discovery of a winter coat bearing his real name and rank: Gustav Simon, Gauleiter of Luxembourg and the Moselland. The hunt was over; Gustav Simon would be brought to justice.
The War Criminal Arrest Report filed by Captain Alexander. / © Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Windmill Books (2014)
Simon was taken to a prison in Paderborn, where he was put on suicide watch. Alexander returned to Belsen having completed – in his calculation – around 2,500 miles on the road, in just 17 days. He was delighted that he had proved himself, telling his girlfriend Ann, 'I put my pride in catching that swine,' and he was warmly congratulated by his superiors. Having found the Nazi Gauleiter, he asked if he could transport the man back to Luxembourg himself. His boss replied: ‘He’s your fish, you can fry him.’
Yet little did he know that the story was far from over. And as we’ll see next time, Captain Hanns Alexander’s role in the death of Gauleiter Gustav Simon remains highly controversial in the Grand Duchy to this day.
Thomas Tutton is a regular RTL Today contributor and a graduate in History & Politics.