Secretly pardoned Nazi war criminals may have been StB agents

Antonin Zapotocky

More revelations surfaced this week about four high-ranking Nazi war criminals, secretly pardoned by the former Communist President, Antonin Zapotocky in the 1950s. The Czech Republic's Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism broke the news of the pardons on Friday, saying the men were spared the death penalty and later deported to Germany. This news came as a shock to the nation, but the latest investigation has unveiled another sad reality. Dita Asiedu reports.

Antonin Zapotocky
Max Rostock was an SS officer who played a key role in wiping out the village of Lidice, in retaliation for the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhardt Heydrich in June 1942. The men of Lidice were summarily executed - their wives, mothers and children were sent to concentration camps where most of them died. Rostock was one of the Nazi war criminals secretly pardoned by President Zapotocky in the 1950s, and returned to Germany a decade later.

But the latest investigation shows that Rostock and other SS officers, including another leading Nazi war criminal, Ernst Hitzegrad, may well have become spies, working for Communist Czechoslovakia's counter-intelligence service - the StB. Irenej Kratochvil is the head of the Office for the Documentation and the Investigation of Crimes of Communism:

"The latest investigation shows that it's quite likely that Max Rostock and Ernst Hitzegrad were StB agents... not at the time they were released - we'll be looking into when contact with the StB was actually established. But according to a statement made by the Office for International Relations and Information, which deals with the archives of the StB's spying section, it seems these two people were on file and even had their own identification numbers. So far, we only have partial information on this case and we're still trying to clarify their association with the StB's spying section."

It's still not yet clear how many Nazi war criminals co-operated with the StB and what sort of information they were ordered to gather. Although most of the parties involved are already deceased, Mr. Kratochvil believes that there still are some individuals alive today who bear criminal responsibility in this case:

"Since we're the Office for the Documentation and the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism, we're naturally going to see who's responsible. We obviously can't pursue the dead, but since these people did not serve out their life sentences and were released or rather expelled to Germany in the late 1960's, someone must have known about it. So we're going to be interested in the role played by the then Interior Minister, whether he knew about it etc. It could be speculation, but we're definitely going to look into the criminal responsibility of individual people."