- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

Lt. John Dolibois sat in the courtroom at Nuremberg, Germany, 60 years ago watching Herman Goering testify in the war crimes trials. Much of the world was transfixed by the proceedings, but Lt. Dolibois, an Army intelligence officer, felt strangely indifferent.

“I just wanted to go home,” he said. “I had had enough of the Nazis.”

On trial were 22 high-ranking Nazis charged with crimes against humanity. Lt. Dolibois is the man who knew them the best — their records, their strengths and weaknesses, their psychological profiles, their fears, obsessions, family situations, food preferences — the result of close interaction with them over six months.

In May 1945, Lt. Dolibois’ commanding officer informed him that he was being assigned to a facility called the Central Continental Prisoner of War Enclosure No. 32 in Mondorf, Luxembourg. The facility was nicknamed “Ashcan.”

The Luxembourgian native had migrated to the United States in 1931 with his widowed father and two siblings. He was fluent in French and German, and it was his German skills that had earned him the assignment.

Arriving in Mondorf, Lt. Dolibois drove to the Palace Hotel, a well-known spa he had visited as a boy.

“I was shocked to see how altered it was,” he said. “We stopped at a huge gate that was part of a barbed-wire fence 15 feet high. Two strands of the fence were electrified. The gate stretched around the main building and surrounding gardens and on each corner of the fence were guard towers occupied by sentries with machine guns. … It was the most heavily fortified [prisoner of war] facility I had seen.”

Lt. Dolibois asked the military police officer at the gate, “What kind of place is this? What’s going on in there?”

The guard said he didn’t know: “I’ve been here for two weeks and haven’t been inside yet.” The military police officer joked, “To get in here, you need a pass signed by God and then somebody has to verify the signature.”

Lt. Dolibois checked in at the hotel and “was told that Captain Sensenig would see me at 5 o’clock.”

He went to his room and began unpacking when someone knocked on the door. Lt. Dolibois opened it, and “standing in the doorway was none other than Herman Goering.”

“He was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and 5 feet 10 inches wide and bedecked with medals. He clicked his heels and said, ‘Goering — reich marshal.’”

Stunned, Lt. Dolibois answered, “Step inside.”

The former Luftwaffe commander had seen Lt. Dolibois arrive and wanted to know who he was. Was he perhaps the welfare officer whose job it was to see that the Germans sent to Mondorf were well-treated? Lt. Dolibois answered yes.

The lieutenant soon discovered that the Palace Hotel had been converted into a prison to hold the highest ranking Nazis for interrogation before they were put on trial later in the year.

Living in the same building as Lt. Dolibois were such Nazi leaders as Rudolf Hess, Julius Streicher, Albert Speer, Adm. Karl Doenitz — whom Hitler had chosen as his successor — diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.

Lt. Dolibois related his conversations to his new commanding officer, who decided immediately that the lieutenant should in fact become the welfare officer and use that position to gain the trust of the prisoners and obtain as much information as possible from them.

His duties gave Lt. Dolibois a unique perspective on the Nazi prisoners. Each of the four other interrogators was assigned to work with a dozen or so prisoners, but Lt. Dolibois alone was able to work with all of them.

All of the hotel furniture had been replaced with Army-issue fixtures. Each room was furnished with an Army cot, a table and chair and two Army blankets. The prisoners were given freedom of movement and were encouraged to fraternize.

“Before long, three distinct social groups emerged,” Mr. Dolibois says.

The first was the German general staff — men such as Kesselring, Doenitz, Goering and Gerd von Rundstedt. The second were the bureaucrats, such as Speer and von Ribbentrop. The third group was made up of the “real Nazi trash,” including Hans Frank, the “Butcher of Poland,” anti-Semitic propagandist Julius Streicher, and Robert Ley, the labor minister.

Lt. Dolibois, as the welfare officer, would not give formal interrogations of the prisoners, but would drop in on them casually to inquire about their needs, make contact with their families, translate letters into English for them and in general win their confidence — and encourage them to talk informally.

One tactic that worked well was for Lt. Dolibois to visit a prisoner after he had been interrogated.

“Many times the prisoner would talk about issues that he had forgotten to mention,” he says. “Or he would be angry about something another prisoner had said about him and give some damaging information about the prisoner. From informal visits like this, I accumulated a thick file of intelligence information.”

Mr. Dolibois found Goering one of the most intriguing personalities among the Nazi prisoners.

“He was a very complex man,” he said. “He could be vain and arrogant, and he could be very personable and turn on the charm.”

When Allied headquarters ordered the prison psychiatrist to draw up psychological profiles of the Nazis, Lt. Dolibois, who had majored in psychology at Miami University, acquired a new duty. The psychologist did not speak German, so Lt. Dolibois became an assistant, helping administer tests and conduct interviews.

The range of mental health issues was enormous, Lt. Dolibois said, with some prisoners registering normal and others such as Streicher and Ley exhibiting serious psychoses.

“In the case of Ley,” Lt. Dolibois said, “he was simply devoid of any sense of morality.”

Some were genuinely sorry for the crimes they had committed, Lt. Dolibois said, but others were defiant and unrepentant to the end.

Given his wartime experience, Lt. Dolibois rejects reports that U.S. troops abused prisoners in Iraq. “These were fraternity hazing-style incidents committed by a few out-of-control idiots on guard duty,” he said. “Far worse incidents happened in World War II and in every war we’ve fought.”

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