Confident of victory in the Second World War the American intelligence service the CIA had produced a book entitled ‘Who’s Who in Nazi Germany’ Here historian Alan Roberts takes a closer look.

In 1919 the average junior officer at Skipton Camp was around 26 years old. Twenty years later at the outbreak of the Second World War these young soldiers would have been at the peak of their powers in their chosen careers. Was it possible for any of the Skipton prisoners to be among the 1,500 individuals named by the CIA? The British War Office had meticulously kept accurate records of the German prisoners it held in captivity. Unfortunately these records were held at the War Office records repository in Arnside Street in south London and were destroyed by fire during a German bombing raid in September 1940. In a stroke of good fortune copies of these records had been routinely passed to the International Red Cross in Geneva who could then deal directly with any inquiries from Germany about any particular prisoner. One name tallied with a German officer held at Skipton camp and that was Alfred Spangenberg, but was he a Nazi?

Spangenberg had been born in Breslau (or Wrocław in today’s Poland) in 1897. He volunteered for service in the German Army as a rifleman and quite unusually had been promoted from the ranks to become a commissioned officer. He was captured as part of the German Spring Offensive. At Skipton he entered into camp life with aplomb. Spangenberg had left school with only ‘emergency’ qualifications and may have upgraded to the more demanding ‘A’ levels being taught to a number of young officers at Skipton Camp.

After the war Spangenberg worked for a bank in Berlin. He also became an arbitrator in industrial disputes at local, regional and later national levels. His life was to change dramatically when he became a member of the Nazi (National Socialist) Party in 1928. He later joined the paramilitary SA or ‘Brown Shirts’ and rose to the rank of colonel. He represented Berlin West in the German parliament or Reichstag from 1933 to 1945.

The Nazi party was organised into areas called Gaus which roughly corresponded to the larger English counties. There were 42 Gaus in Germany and its occupied territories. The CIA ‘Who’s Who’ included three officials from each Gau. These were the Gauleiter, his deputy and the head of the German Labour Front. Spangenberg was the head of the front for the Gau of Greater Berlin. The Nazi Party systematically eliminated any sources of opposition. The trade union movement was abolished in 1933 and strikes were effectively banned. The unions were replaced by the Labour Front which purported to represent both employees and employers alike. The German Labour Front was the largest Nazi organisation with more than 25 million members and 44,000 full-time officials.

The Gauleiter in Berlin was Josef Goebbels who amongst other things was the German Propaganda Minister and one of the top five Nazis. Spangenberg,had Josef Goebbels as one of his bosses. Goebbels was present in the underground bunker in Berlin where Adolf Hitler committed suicide in April 1945 as the Red Army drew nearer. Goebbels himself would do the same the following day.

The story now takes an unexpected twist. Ernst Bohle had been born in Manningham, Bradford, and had emigrated to South Africa when he was very young. As an extremely able student and fluent in both languages, Bohle had the choice of attending university in Cambridge or in Cologne. He opted for Germany and later became a member of the Nazi Party. He was soon made Gauleiter or leader of the Nazi Party’s Foreign Organisation set up to represent Germans living abroad. In the event of a German victory Bohle was reported to have been earmarked to replace Winston Churchill and become Gauleiter of Britain. Bohle was also a high-ranking officer in the notorious SS. He was a confidant of the Nazi Deputy Leader Rudolf Hess. Bohle was captured by the Americans in 1945 and pleaded guilty at his trial in Nuremburg. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being a member of both the Nazi party and the SS. After his release he worked as a merchant in Hamburg until his death in 1960.

Spangenberg was captured by the Russians who reportedly imprisoned him at a number of sites including the former concentration camp at Buchenwald. He was found guilty at his trial and executed in 1947. Simply being a member of the Reichstag was enough to incur the death sentence.

Two Germans both included in a list of 250 high-ranking Nazis compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency: one was born in Bradford, the other spent eighteen months at Raikeswood Camp. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.