OM: Where were you, sir, and what did it feel like to hear Wiesenthal’s claims?
HW: I didn´t get too caught up in it. I thought I needed to get older. But I always had a bad feeling about Simon Wiesenthal. I have 800 letters exchanged between my parents, very important letters. What I want to prove is that he was totally against the SS. He was against it, despite wearing the SS’s uniform.
OM: So he had enemies in the SS?
HW: There was his superior, [Friedrich-Wilhelm] Krüger, in Krakow, [SS’s] chief in the general government, who tried to eliminate my father.
OM: Politically or physically?
HW: He wanted to send my father to the Waffen SS [Hitler’s elite troop], it was like a suicide squad, given the number of deaths. If he had joined the Waffen SS, he would surely have died. After that, my father was responsible for setting up Ukrainian divisions, and after Stalingrad [the battle lasted from August 1942 to February 1943] they changed ... my father was also a close friend of [Andrey Andreyevich] Vlasov, you know? He was one of Stalin’s strongest generals who later tried to form his own Russian army to fight against Stalin himself. The Germans imprisoned him for about two years, until [Heinrich] Himmler [SS commander] understood that they wanted to fight the communists and could be able to help the Germans. Then, of course, my father became increasingly important, because he had connections with Slavic groups. He eventually became the chief of the Slavic division in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt [the Nazi intelligence service] in Berlin. He would oversee all the armies that fought on the German side.
OM: What was his main goal in this position?
HW: His goal was to build armies against Stalin. It was his idea, pretty simple. He began in 1943. Himmler was quite skeptical, but then they realized that there were many volunteers. Since my father was in the civil government, which had nothing to do with the army, he sought a political solution. If he could convince these people to fight against Bolshevism, they would have won the war. In May 1945, he left Berlin and joined the Ukrainian division in Austria. This division was the only one that was not given to Stalin by the people. He had connections and also priests. It was the only SS division that had its own priest. My father worked directly with Lemberg’s archbishop, who was a revered personality.
Arquivo Horst Wächter
Proud of his career, Otto Wächter uses military clothing even in family pictures, with his children
OM: Your father was in favor of a close connection with the Catholic Church.
HW: Yes, without a doubt. That’s why he managed for this division not to succumb to the treaty of Yalta [in 1945], which ordered for all soldiers to be handed over to Stalin. In Yalta, Stalin said he wanted my father’s division, since he considered it the most dangerous, with Poles and Ukrainians. The Ukrainians have always wanted to be independent from Russia, which eventually happened.
OM: Your father had an outstanding career in the Nazi party. The archives say he was quite expansive, proactive and had presence.
HW: He had good humor, left a good impression, had good manners. He was successful in the German character figure. He succeeded in convincing people. He was not a fanatic, a primitive.
OM: He was classified as "intelligent."
HW: But not as an intellectual. He was a practical man. He succeeded in getting people to work fast and to find the best outputs. He was a very god state employee. In 1938 he told my mother, before entering the German government: "I can be a good lawyer and make lots of money or a good politician and try to do something for everyone in the country. What do I do?” Of course, my mother said that the choice was his; he could do whatever he wanted. But his political fate, of course, had been sealed since the Putsch [the Nazi party’s failed coup attempt in Austria in 1934] and he could never change or leave the political life to serve the law. I've been asked: Why didn’t he leave everything in Poland [because of the Holocaust]? [Ludwig] Losacker [his right-hand man] wrote that they felt responsible for the people there. And if they left the government, the SS would be stronger.
OM: How did he treat minorities? What Information do you have about it, sir?
HW: I have a letter from Lemberg, where he had a large house with servants. There was a cook who was a fanatical Nazi and cursed the Polish officials. They warned they would not work anymore because of her. My father tried to explain to her that you cannot treat people like that and that she should show superiority in work, behavior and in the quality of treatment she offered others.
OM: But did he do anything to defend these people as governor?
HW: He took severe measures against Jews in Krakow, to build the ghetto [in March 1941]. This bears his signature. Nobody knew how to find a solution. Nobody knew how things were developing. My father always thought he could find Hitler and convince him to change his policies.
OM: Are you refereeing to the Final Solution [extermination of all Jews], sir?
HW: Yes, with respect to Jews, Poles and all Slavs. Only afterwards he learned that there’s was nothing he could do. But he always said, "If I could go to Hitler and explain that this is wrong. That will bring us even more enemies. That we should treat these people as human beings". He was sure that he could convince Hitler, but he was never received.
OM: So they didn´t ever meet?
HW: They met only during the Annexation of Austria [in 1938]. During the war, no. Not in the bunker, nor the headquarters.
OM: How do you see your father’s career today?
HW: I think he had no choice. He was born in this time of nationalist ideas, confusion, fanaticism. He, as a man who wanted to do something positive, change people, was automatically bound to take those steps that he took. He succeeded because his greatest enemies in the government, such as Krüger and Katzmann, were sent to other regions in 1943. He succeeded, but of course the whole thing had no future. Everything was doomed to collapse. The idea of nationalism and racial superiority is nonsense.
OM: What was the relationship like between your father and Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS?
HW: Himmler was very impressed with him, his behavior and how he presented himself. With his character. Himmler was a bureaucrat, a kind of Schreibtisch (writing desk, in German). He was impressed by my father. It was Himmler who gave him his post in the SS. Himmler distributed these posts as gifts, to make the person dependent on him. He gave gifts to my father and, to all the children he had - the goal was to have the largest possible number of children - a medal . On the other hand, my father did not accept Himmler’s and SS’s politics, but he only managed to build the division in Ukraine because he had this direct contact.
OM: He was Himmler’s protégé.
HW: Yes, he was. When the Russians conquered Galicia and Krüger ordered my father to join the army, Himmler said: "No, Dr. Wächter will be sent to Italy." That's because he was raised in Italian schools in Trieste, and spoke the language very well. He would be a part of the military government from August 1945.