Arnold Weiss Dies at 86; Helped to Find Hitler's Will
By BRUCE WEBER
Arnold Hans Weiss, who fled to the United States from Nazi Germany as a 13-year-old and returned as an American soldier during World War II, becoming a principal in the investigation that led to the discovery of Hitler's last will and political testament, died Dec. 7 in Rockville, Md. He was 86 and lived in Chevy Chase, Md.
The cause was pneumonia, said his son Daniel.
Mr. Weiss, who became a successful lawyer and banker, was just 21 at the close of the war in 1945. That fall, he was stationed in Munich as an officer in the United States Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps.
Hitler had killed himself in his Berlin bunker in April, but rumors of his survival were rampant, and Mr. Weiss's unit was charged with finding definitive proof of his death. His job was tracking down high-ranking Nazi officials who might have been with Hitler in his last days.
He found Wilhelm Zander, chief aide to Martin Bormann, the Nazi Party official who had controlled access to Hitler.
The story of his pursuit of Mr. Zander, which Mr. Weiss described in an article in The Washington Post Magazine in 2005 and which has been written piecemeal with some varying details in several books, was the stuff of a suspense film.
Working with Hugh Trevor-Roper, the British intelligence officer and historian who wrote "The Last Days of Hitler," and another American agent named Rosener, Mr. Weiss pressured Mr. Zander's family members, whom he found in the telephone book, and a girlfriend to gain the information that led to a Bavarian farmhouse where Mr. Zander was posing as a gardener.
Mr. Weiss took part, largely as a translator, in the interrogation of Mr. Zander, who initially claimed to be a victim of misidentification but who finally declared: "You are correct. I am SS Standartenführer Wilhelm Zander." He proceeded to talk for hours about what went on in the bunker during Hitler's last days and what became of other Nazi leaders.
Finally, Mr. Weiss asked Mr. Zander why he had left the bunker, and Mr. Zander said he had been sent on a courier's mission. He added, "I suppose you want the documents."
The documents, finally recovered in the hidden compartment of a suitcase thrown in a dry well, were Hitler's will and political testament, along with the certificate of his deathbed marriage to Eva Braun. Later authenticated and used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials, Hitler's will bequeathed most of his belongings to the Nazi Party and named Mr. Bormann as his executor.
The political testament was a defiantly unrepentant declaration that it was not he but Jews and their supporters who were responsible for the war. He predicted a glorious future for the Third Reich and concluded, chillingly, "Above all I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry."
Whether Mr. Weiss was the first to read the documents, as he claimed, is uncertain. Mr. Trevor-Roper's book makes no mention of him, and other histories tell slightly altered versions of the event. In addition, "Hitler's Will," a 2009 memoir by a former British soldier, Herman Rothman, said that a copy of the documents was discovered under entirely different circumstances two months earlier, and that he was their initial translator.
Nonetheless Mr. Weiss's role in the capture of Mr. Zander and the recovery of the documents seems incontrovertible. In a letter awarding him an Army Commendation Ribbon for service performed Dec. 24 to 28 in 1945, Brig. Gen. Edwin L. Silbert wrote, "When called upon in an emergency you assumed the responsibility of apprehending a personality high in the annals of the Nazi system."
Hans Arnold Wangersheim was born in Nuremberg on July 25, 1924. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he was placed in a Jewish orphanage, where he lived until he was 13. His grandmother died at Auschwitz. His mother and sisters escaped from Germany on their own and eventually made it to the United States. His father later spent time in Dachau and eventually lived out his life in Brazil, though father and son never met again.
Young Hans was sent to the United States by a Jewish social services organization, and he was ultimately placed with a family that owned a jewelry store in Janesville, Wis. He began studying at the University of Wisconsin before joining the Army. He borrowed the name Weiss from a Wisconsin football star.
In the Army, Mr. Weiss trained as a tail gunner until a crash landing broke both his legs. During his recuperation, because of his German language skills, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II intelligence service, before joining the Counter-Intelligence Corps.
Mr. Weiss married Artemis Lychos in 1956; she died in 2005. In addition to his son Daniel, who lives in North Bethesda, Md., he is survived by another son, Andrew, also of North Bethesda, and three grandchildren.
Mr. Weiss studied economics and politics at Wisconsin, then earned a law degree there. He later worked as a lawyer for the Treasury Department, helped start the Inter-American Development Bank and became senior vice president and general counsel for Emerging Markets Partnership, an international private equity firm based in Washington that specializes in infrastructure projects in developing countries.
It was a career, he said in an interview last year with the Wisconsin Alumni Association, that his war experience pointed him toward.
"I decided I wanted to build rather than destroy," he said. "In Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, there was so much destruction. I knew there was a better way of doing things."