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Original Question:
I am seeking information on the identifying, locating and detaining of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS officials near and shortly after the end of WWII in Europe. Specifically, was there an organized or coordinated effort charged with this task similar to the effort to locate and return stolen art by the officers and men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) program?

If so, how was this unit(s) organized, what were their standing orders, when were they commissioned and decommissioned for this task, and who commanded the unit(s)?

Update
I have been reading Operation Paperclip - The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America by Annie Jacobsen (Bay Back Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2014). Jacobsen's research and sources are outstanding - this is a five star book, I highly recommend it. However, since its focus is Operation Paperclip, it deals with the effort that was frankly at cross purposes with finding, detaining and processing suspected Nazi war criminals. But to better illustrate the questionable policies of Paperclip, Jacobsen does refer in part to at least one Allied unit of seven officers (all American except for one Dutch officer, William J. Aalmans) that was tasked to go to various liberated sites and question freed prisoners and slave laborers about their Nazi and SS captors for the purpose of gathering evidence for eventual war crimes proceedings. One such incident at Nordhausen in April '45 (before the war in Europe ended) is mentioned on pp 46-47...

Following along behind the soldiers [of the U.S. 104th Infantry Division, which had just liberated Nordhausen] was a team of seven war crimes investigators. Among them was a young Dutch officer working for the U.S. Army, William J. Aalmans... Aalmans and his team [of war crimes investigators] began taking witness statements from [Nordhausen liberated] prisoners... The job facing the war crimes investigators was overwhelming, and their schedule was intense. After five days at Nordhausen they were ordered to move on...

Later, on pp 69-70 Jacobsen refers to a search for IG Farben board members who were "wanted for war crimes" (this implies a list of suspected war criminals who were being sought, prior to war's end). Jacobsen mentions a house-to-house search in Heidelberg for IG Farben CEO Hermann Schmitz in May '45 (specific date not given, but either just before, at, or just after Germany's surrender).

These details from Jacobsen's book point to an office or command in charge of investigating war crimes (perhaps in response to JCS 1067, but possibly preceding it) with at least one field unit of seven officers that was dispatched from place to place for gathering evidence, along with searches conducted for suspected war criminals (both civilian and military) - which does indeed sound similar to the MFA&A program I referenced in my original question.

Being inspired by Jacobsen's references, I just Googled "SHAEF War Crimes Office" and found some useful information. One link in particular pointed me to another book that I have just this minute ordered. I believe it will answer my original question. The book is Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment (Arieh J. Kochavi, The University of North Carolina Press, 2000, 2005).

If anyone already has this book (or a similar source) and can supply additional information here, that would be appreciated (yes, I'm asking for spoilers - I will read the book when I get it but if anyone can answer now, I would receive such an answer gladly).

  • Are you asking for details of those tasked with locating and detaining suspected Nazi war criminals (per original question), or those tasked under Section III of the Charter for the International Military Tribunal Committee for the Investigation and Prosecution of Major War Criminals with investigating and gathering evidence of war crimes (which seems to be the focus of your update)? – sempaiscuba Sep 3 '18 at 18:48
  • @sempaiscuba thanks for the clarifying question - it appears the two may be related questions. For example, who ordered the house-to-house search in Heidelberg for IG Farben's CEO Hermann Schmitz? Why was he specifcially targeted and listed among the wanted? Who compiled the wanted list, based on what kind of investigative effort? There appears to have been plans in place for identifying, locating, detaining and dealing with potential war criminals prior to the end of the war, complete with a team or teams set up for this purpose. So perhaps my scope has expanded based on findings so far. – Kerry L Sep 3 '18 at 19:10
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    You can read the IG Farben Trial Transcripts on archive.org. The link above should take you directly to the preliminary section with the articles dealing with the establishment of the Committee for the Investigation and Prosecution of Major War Criminals. Hermann Schmitz' sentencing notes that he had been in custody since 7 April 1945. The reasons why he was targeted seem to be covered by his Wikipedia entry. – sempaiscuba Sep 3 '18 at 19:24
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    You may also find this meta post useful. – sempaiscuba Sep 3 '18 at 19:52
  • @sempaiscuba - this Q was my first (clumsy) attempt at posting a Question on History:SE. I've learned a lot in the two months since then. Thanks for your patience and help and understanding in my newbie attempts to construct and reconstruct the Q, and for refactoring your Answer for me as I stumbled through what I was trying to ask at that time. I have since acquired Prelude to Nuremberg (Arieh J. Kochavi, UNC, Chapel Hill & London, 1998) which has a lot of helpful info on this topic. Thanks again! – Kerry L Nov 7 '18 at 15:51
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This answer was posted in response to the original question:

I am seeking information on the locating and detaining of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS officials near and shortly after the end of WWII in Europe. Specifically, was there an organized or coordinated effort charged with this task similar to the effort to locate and return stolen art by the officers and men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program? If so, how was this unit(s) organized, what were their standing orders, when were they commissioned and decommissioned for this task, and who commanded the unit(s)?

It does not deal with the question of gathering evidence of War Crimes, Crimes Against Peace, Crimes Against Humanity etc. which seems to be the focus of the update to the question.

Those investigations would have been carried out under the rules set out in Section III of the Charter for the International Military Tribunal: Committee for the Investigation and Prosecution of Major War Criminals.


No specialist units were created to locate and detain suspected Nazi war criminals and SS officials.

However, the Directive to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Occupation Forces (JCS 1067) in April 1945 (which would be the basic directive regarding military government in Germany) stated simply:

  1. Suspected War Criminals and Security Arrests:

a. You will search out, arrest, and hold, pending receipt by you of further instructions as to their disposition, Adolf Hitler, his chief Nazi associates, other war criminals and all persons who have participated in planning or carrying out Nazi enterprises involving or resulting in atrocities or war crimes.

It was thus the responsibility of all allied military personnel to identify, arrest and detain suspected war criminals.


The development of allied policy, from the Moscow Declaration by the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union, “Declaration on German Atrocities in Occupied Europe” in November 1943, through to the Nuremberg trials is discussed in some detail in a 2011 doctoral thesis by K.J. Heller titled The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the origins of International Criminal Law.

The introductory chapter of that thesis, From the IMT to the Zonal Trials, probably contains the information you're seeking.

  • Thank you! I will research JCS 1067 and Heller’s thesis. Much appreciated. – Kerry L Aug 27 '18 at 3:36
  • In Annie Jacobsen's Operation Paperclip (Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, (c) 2014) pp. 46-47, she references the liberation of Nordhausen by the US 104th Infantry Division April 11, 1945 and states (cont'd net comment)... – Kerry L Sep 3 '18 at 2:48
  • (cont'd) "Following along behind the soldiers [of the 104th] was a team of seven war crimes investigators. Among them was a young Dutch office working for the U.S. Army, William J. Aalmans... Aalmans and his team [of war crimes investigators] began taking witness statements from [Nordhausen liberated] prisoners... The job facing the war crimes investigators was overwhelming, and their schedule was intense. After five days at Nordausen they were ordered to move on..." (cont'd next comment) – Kerry L Sep 3 '18 at 2:49
  • (cont'd) This indicates there was indeed a coordinated effort during the closing days of the war to identify and detain (and document cases against) suspected war criminals. Jacobsen's book (an excellent detailed resource on Operation Paperclip) is not primarily about the effort to track down and prosecute war criminals so it does not deeply explore this topic. However there is enough evidence in it to indicate my original question needs more research for a more complete answer. So I need to "unaccept" the answer I previously accepted for now. – Kerry L Sep 3 '18 at 2:53
  • @KerryL when the concentration camps were liberated there were indeed legal teams in place to take statements. The camp guards were mostly apprehended on site though, not hunted down. Later, often years to decades later, the international hunt for those who had not been in the camps and thus escaped capture was started. – jwenting Sep 3 '18 at 5:23

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