Karl Wolff was not the only prominent SS officer who greatly benefited from Dulles’s Operation Sunrise. In the fall of 1945, former SS colonel Eugen Dollmann, Wolff’s principal intermediary during the Sunrise negotiations, found himself living in a gilded cage in Rome. The apartment, which was located on Via Archimede, a quiet, horseshoe-shaped street in the city’s exclusive Parioli district, contained few distractions for the bored Dollmann. But he did discover an extensive sadomasochistic literary collection left behind by the former tenant, a German mistress of Mussolini, and he whiled away the hours reading about feverishly inventive ways to mortify the flesh. Dollmann was not an entirely free man, since he was a guest of U.S. intelligence officers. But, even though he remained under close surveillance, compared to his accommodations after he and Karl Wolff were arrested in May, the colonel’s Parioli lifestyle was sublime.
Before he was spirited off to Rome by the Strategic Services Unit, the agency that replaced the disbanded OSS after the war, the Nazi diplomat had been installed in a temporary cell at Cinecittà Studios. Spoiled by years of the best Italian cuisine, Dollmann found the rations at Cinecittà so distasteful that he considered joining a hunger strike started by fellow POW Gudrun Himmler, the late Reichsführer’s daughter. Then he was transferred to a POW camp in Ascona, on picturesque Lake Maggiore, where the daily fare—consisting mainly of watery pea soup—was even more objectionable, and the inmates were forced to sleep in tents that floated away in heavy downpours. Dollmann later had the nerve to compare Ascona to Dachau. “At least in Dachau they had wooden huts,” he observed.
Relief for Dollmann came when he was transferred to a low-security prison camp run by the British military in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast. One night, Dollmann found it remarkably easy—one American intelligence agent would call it “suspiciously” easy—to cut through the wires encircling Rimini and flee to Milan, where he knew he would find sanctuary. Here Dollmann presented himself to the well-connected cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster in the prelate’s palazzo adjoining the enormous Gothic cathedral. Dollmann, known as one of Rome’s more elegant peacocks during his SS glory days, now sat before the eminent cardinal in a filthy raincoat, looking the worse for wear after his frantic trek from Rimini.
As they sipped liqueur from long-stemmed glasses, Dollmann reflected on how the cardinal always put him in mind of “a delicate alabaster statue.” But Schuster, who had worked with Wolff’s SS team on the Sunrise deal, was not as refined as all that. The wily cardinal was part of the Vatican elite that had collaborated with Mussolini’s fascist regime—and, out of self-interest, he was inclined to help Dollmann now, to avoid an embarrassing war crimes trial. Besides, Schuster thought that men like Dollmann might still play a useful role in postwar Italy; he hoped to recruit the former SS officer in the campaign against the Church’s nemesis, the Italian Communists, who had emerged from the war as a powerful political force.
Dollmann, who was conniving by nature but not political, was uninterested in the cardinal’s plot, but he was in no position to quibble. He allowed himself to be safely hidden away in a Church-run asylum for wealthy drug addicts, where his fellow inmates included a fading Italian film diva and an emotionally fragile duchess. As he languished among the delicato junkies, Dollmann decided to sample some of the forbidden fruit that the screen siren kept stashed in her room, snorting a snowy mound of heroin. For a time, Dollmann—who had much to forget in his life, but was plagued by a detailed memory—seemed in danger of disappearing among the lotus eaters.
Salvation came in the form of James Jesus Angleton, a rising young star in U.S. intelligence who had run the X-2 branch (OSS counterintelligence) in Italy during the war and had stayed behind to use his wiles against the Communists. After tracking down Dollmann in the Milan asylum, Angleton sent a big U.S. Army Buick with a chauffeur to pick him up and drive him to the Eternal City, where he installed Dollmann in the Via Archimede safe house in the Parioli district.
Counterintelligence was the spy craft’s deepest mind game—it was not just figuring out the enemy’s next moves in advance and blocking them, but learning to think like him. Not yet thirty, Angleton was already being talked about in American and British intelligence circles as one of the masters of the field. He had been educated in British prep schools and at Yale, where he had edited the avant-garde poetry magazine Furioso and courted the likes of Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings as contributors, and he seemed to bring an artist’s intuition to his profession. But he could get lost in the convolutions of his own fevered mind, which drove him to prowl the streets of Rome late at night in a black overcoat so big it looked like a cape, on the hunt for clues about the growing Communist menace, and to crawl around on his office floor at 69 Via Sicilia in search of hidden bugging devices.
Angleton was as gaunt as a saint. (His wife, Cicely, would rhapsodize about his “El Greco face.” His colleagues called Angleton “the Cadaver.”) He smoked incessantly, and his bony frame was wracked by consumptive fits of coughing. When he introduced himself to Dollmann, Angleton must have struck the colonel as yet another strung-out soul. But Angleton’s addiction was of a more ideological nature.
As Angleton sat with Dollmann in the comfortable, five-room apartment on Via Archimede, the young spy explained his vision for the new world. Dollmann felt bound to listen politely, since Angleton had gone to the trouble of plucking him from Cardinal Schuster’s madhouse. But Dollmann had heard it all before—with even more fervor—from the Führer himself and his SS overlords: how Bolshevism must be crushed for the new world to be born, why there must be no rules in a clash like this between civilization and barbarity.
Angleton, however, was lost in his own passion. He had found strong support for his views from Allen Dulles in the months after the war, as Dulles lingered in Europe, hoping that President Truman would anoint him commander of the shadow war against the Soviet Union. In October 1945, Dulles visited Rome with Clover, ostensibly to revive their marriage after the strains of separation during the war. But he had another mission as well: to organize the Italian front in the new Cold War. Angleton, who was wired into the Vatican, helped arrange a secret meeting for Dulles with Pope Pius XII, who had maintained a mutually beneficial arrangement with Mussolini’s regime and was a determined foe of Communism.
Angleton looked up to Dulles as a mentor—a powerful figure in the mold of his adored father, James Hugh Angleton, an international businessman who had paved his son’s path into the spy trade and continued to play an influential role in the young spook’s life. Dulles would remain a strong, paternal figure for Angleton junior throughout their deeply entwined intelligence careers. In Rome, the two men conferred about the growing “Red challenge” and “the drastic, sub-rosa measures required to meet it,” as a colleague put it. These extreme measures included recruiting agents “without overscrupulous concern for [their] past fascist affiliations.”
Dollmann was high on their list of such recruitment targets. With his continental sophistication and network of contacts, Dollmann might prove a valuable espionage asset on the strategic front lines in both Italy and Germany. As Angleton sat with the well-groomed colonel in the Via Archimede safe house now, the American opened a bottle of Scotch whisky that he had brought along and carried on with his enthusiastic recruitment pitch. But as he listened, sipping the good Scotch, Dollmann was filled with utter contempt for his guest. “He was talking like a young university lecturer who dabbled a bit in espionage in his spare time,” mused the colonel. His views struck the world-weary German as typically American—naïve and overblown.
As for Dulles, Dollmann had only contempt for his benefactor, whom he later called “a leather-faced Puritan archangel . . . [the type] who had fled from the European sink of iniquity on the Mayflower and now returned to scourge the sinners of the old world.” He would ridicule the way that Dulles had misrepresented himself at their secret Sunrise meetings in Switzerland as President Roosevelt’s personal emissary, delivering little speeches to Wolff and Dollmann about how “delighted” FDR supposedly was about the SS officers’ selfless mission for peace. “Wasn’t that nice now?” sneered Dollmann. “Such manly, upright and heartening words from President Roosevelt and his special representative in Europe, Mr. Allen W. Dulles!”
While Dollmann was unimpressed with Angleton’s political lecture, he did appreciate the fake identity card the young spy gave him. The document—which identified him as an Italian employee of an American organization—afforded Dollmann the confidence to venture into the streets of his beloved Rome without fear of being molested by the authorities. Sprung from his apartment, the colonel found himself drawn to some of his favorite old haunts. He strolled through the fashionable Via Condotti shopping district, where he paid a visit to the Bulgari jewelry shop.
In the old days, he had been treated like royalty by the Bulgari brothers, who would take him on tours of their vaults beneath the Tiber River, where there was a red room for rubies, a blue room for sapphires, and a green room for emeralds. The Bulgaris would pour him Napoleon brandy as they showed off the crown jewels of the late czar and other dazzling treasures. But those pleasant days were long gone. This time, when he suddenly appeared in the luxury shop, Giorgio Bulgari greeted him as if he were a ghost. “We were all afraid you had been killed,” the jeweler told Dollmann, after he recovered from his shock.
During the war, Giorgio Bulgari had been so revolted by the deportation of Rome’s Jews—an order stamped by Dollmann’s boss, Wolff—that he and his wife hid three Jewish women in their own home. Now, gazing at the resurrected SS colonel, the jeweler undoubtedly wished Dollmann wasdead. And Dollmann knew it.
Afraid he’d been killed? That was rich. Bulgari’s false concern infuriated Dollmann, but he adopted his usual droll manner. “How very amusing. People like me don’t just disappear forever like that.”
Dollmann always liked to give the impression that he was too cosmopolitan to indulge in the Nazis’ anti-Jewish mania. But now he felt offended by Bulgari’s forced courtesy; Bulgari “sickened” him—he was a “corpulent Levantine . . . [with] fleshy lips [and a] greasy smile.” Dollmann turned abruptly and fled the shop.
Once upon a time, Dollmann had had a love affair with Italy, and he was certain that his sunny “arcadia,” as he called it, returned his ardor. But now he was no longer certain. Dollmann had arrived in Italy two decades earlier, long before the war, as a young graduate student in Renaissance history. The young German was well educated, fluent in Italian, and boasted some sort of connection to the doomed Habsburg dynasty. He was also gay and charming, and he quickly shed as much of his stolid German upbringing as he could in favor of la dolce vita. With his slickly groomed hair, sleek Italian suits, and year-round tan, Dollmann went completely native, becoming Eugenio instead of Eugen.
Dollmann had been embraced by the German diplomatic set in Rome, who appreciated his nuanced grasp of the local language and customs, and by the Italian aristocratic set, who found him an amusing decoder of all things Deutsch. His binational skills were increasingly in demand as the two countries’ fates grew more closely linked. He was sought out by a principessa named Donna Vittoria, who was the reigning queen of Roman salons. Her soirees, held at her otherworldly palazzo in the imperial ruins of Teatro Marcello, were frequented by Mussolini’s daughter Edda and her husband, Count Ciano, as well as the leading Italian film stars of the day. She very much hoped to have Hitler, too, as an honored guest someday, the principessa confided to Dollmann.
In Naples, he was invited to the midnight entertainments at Duchess Rosalba’s decaying mansion, festivities so lavishly debauched that they could have inspired a young Fellini. One night the lady of the house greeted Dollmann as she reclined on a divan and was attended to by two slyly grinning female dwarves and a well-built retainer packed into a form-fitting suit. The dwarves later appeared on a stage with a troupe of other diminutive performers, who enacted a long and baroque melodrama for the amusement of Duchess Rosalba’s guests. Dollmann was haunted not just by the odd performance but by the strange smile that his hostess fixed on him. The duchess, he noted, had “a simultaneously charming and inhuman mouth.” He later learned the story of her deformity. The duchess liked to prowl Naples’s rough waterfront bars for her handsome henchmen, replacing them in quick succession with one rugged seaman after another. One night she was attacked with a knife by one such jealous sailor, who left the mark of his fury on her once beautiful face.
But not even this decadent world could prepare Dollmann for the life he began when he joined the SS, where he would rise to become the link between the courts of Hitler and Mussolini. Dollmann later tried to make sense of why he had enlisted in Himmler’s death’s-head corps. It wasn’t political ambition that drove him—he insisted that he had none. And it wasn’t monetary reward. “I [already] lived well and comfortably, and my life, after I had yielded to my so-called motives, was no better than before, only more arduous.” Was it the way he looked in his trimly tailored SS uniform? Vanity was always a factor with Dollmann. Years later, he proudly displayed photos of himself standing in the very center of history, between Hitler and his visiting Italian dignitaries, gazing into the Führer’s magnetic eyes, ready to translate his every momentous word. Dollmann, always up to date on the latest Rome gossip, became a court favorite of Hitler. He was at the Führer’s side whenever Hitler and his retinue descended on Italy, and he was there whenever Mussolini or his top ministers trekked to summits in Germany.
By serving as the essential diplomatic link between Germany and Italy, Dollmann ensured that his sojourn in his adopted land would not be interrupted by the coming war. Dollmann would point to this as the primary reason why he made his Faustian bargain. Italia was the great passion of his life. “I loved Italy with the doomed love of all German romantics.”
It was the most peculiar of ironies, and one that Dollmann and his intimates no doubt privately relished. The man who kept the Axis partners smoothly aligned, with his impressive language and social skills, was a highly educated, arts-loving homosexual who enjoyed trading in the most salacious gossip about the personalities who ruled Germany and Italy. Dollmann was, in short, precisely the type of person the Nazis sent to the gas chambers. But instead, Hitler’s interpreter was free to attend gay and lesbian orgies in Venice, a city whose shadows offered some protection from the authorities’ prying eyes. And he had the pleasure of going on shopping safaris with Eva Braun, Hitler’s companion, during her Italian holidays.
Braun was mad for crocodile shoes and accessories. “She loved crocodile in every shape and form, and returned to her hotel looking as if she had come back from a trip up the Congo rather than along the Tiber.”
Dollmann was fond of Braun, a sweet and simple young woman who confided her sad life to him. She was known throughout the world as the German strongman’s mistress, but, as she confessed to Dollmann, there was no sexual intimacy between her and the Führer. “He is a saint,” Braun told Dollmann wistfully. “The idea of physical contact would be for him to defile his mission. Many times we sit and watch the sun come up after spending the whole night talking. He says to me that his only love is Germany and to forget it, even for a moment, would shatter the mystical forces of his mission.”
Dollmann strongly suspected that the Führer had other passions besides Germany. On Christmas Eve 1923, when he was a university student in Munich, Dollmann had been invited to an extravagant, candlelit party at the home of General Otto von Lossow, who had helped put down Hitler’s Beer Hall putsch in November 1923. During the evening, Lossow took Dollmann and some of his other guests into his parlor, where he entertained them by reading selections from Hitler’s thick police dossier. “In a café near the university on the evening of, Herr Hitler was observed . . .” Lossow’s voice was matter-of-fact as he read through the depositions and eyewitness reports about Germany’s future leader. The general’s small audience listened in rapt silence, transfixed by the portrait of a Hitler who was more interested in boyish men than in national politics.
These were the sorts of tales that Dollmann kept tucked away—stories that would help the consummate survivor navigate what he called the “witches’ cauldron” of Rome as well as Berlin’s dark labyrinth. As the Nazis’ main fixer in Rome, it helped to know everything he could about the dangerous men with whom he was dealing.
The Nazi official Dollmann most dreaded escorting around Italy was Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s top executioner. “Now there was a man clearly meant to be murdered by someone or other,” Dollmann observed years later. “He was a daemonic personality, a Lucifer with cold blue eyes.” One night, Heydrich demanded that Dollmann take him to Naples’s finest brothel. Two dozen half-naked women representing the full spectrum of the female form—from “slim gazelles to buxom Rubenesque beauties”—were arranged for Heydrich’s inspection in the brothel’s ornate lobby, with its gilt-edged mirrors and frescoes of rosy nymphs. Heydrich gazed at the women on display with his blank, shark eyes. Considering the SS butcher’s reputation, Dollmann did not know what to expect next. Suddenly Heydrich flung a fistful of shiny gold coins across the marble floor. “Then he jumped up, Lucifer personified, and clapped his hands. With a sweeping gesture, he invited the girls to pick up the gold. A Walpurgisnacht orgy ensued. Fat and thin, ponderous and agile, the [women] scrambled madly across the salotto floor on all fours.”
Afterward, Heydrich looked pale and spent, as if he himself had joined in the frenzy. He coolly thanked Dollmann and disappeared into the night. The interpreter was glad to see Heydrich go. He was, said Dollmann, “the only man I instinctively feared.”
History has come to judge Eugen Dollmann as “a self-serving opportunist who prostituted himself to fascism,” in the words of legal scholar Michael Salter, but not a fanatic like the men he served. Nevertheless, as war criminal proceedings got under way in Nuremberg in the fall of 1945, Dollmann knew that he was at high risk of prosecution. The Nuremberg trials, where Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Ambassador Franz von Papen were both convicted, firmly established that diplomats like Dollmann who moved in rarefied Nazi circles were not immune from judicial reckoning.
Dollmann was perhaps at even greater risk in Italy, where passions ran high regarding Nazi massacres of Italian civilians, such as the infamous slaughter of 335 prisoners in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome in March 1944. Although Roberto Rossellini modeled the effeminate, sadistic SS captain Bergmann on Dollmann in his postwar film Rome, Open City, Dollmann was not directly involved in the Ardeatine atrocity; in reality, the colonel had no taste for brutality. After the war, Dollmann claimed that he had once even rescued several Italian partisans who were being burned alive by fascist thugs. Regardless of his degree of guilt or innocence, however, Dollmann was the most visible symbol of the Nazi occupation of Rome. Italians were all too familiar with the numerous newspaper photos of his slim, ben vestito figure taken at social events in Mussolini’s Palazzo Quirinale or the Vatican. In the fall of 1945, as he strolled around Rome with his fake ID card, Dollmann was acutely aware that if he fell into the wrong hands—particularly those of Italian Communists—he could be lynched.
Dollmann’s anxieties were heightened when American agents installed two former SS colleagues in his Rome apartment—including the notorious Colonel Walter Rauff, who had served as Karl Wolff’s second-in-command in northern Italy—because he knew that the hideout might now attract increased interest from Nazi hunters. Dollmann, who regarded Rauff as “one of my most disagreeable acquaintances,” was well aware of his new roommate’s past. In 1941, Rauff had overseen the development and operation of a fleet of “Black Raven” vans, in which victims were sealed inside and asphyxiated with exhaust fumes. As many as 250,000 people on the war’s eastern front were murdered in Rauff’s vehicles, which were eventually replaced by the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Dachau. “In my opinion,” Dollmann mordantly remarked, “he was quite certainly due for the high jump [at Nuremberg] when they got round to him.” But Rauff had managed to save his neck by prudently jumping on board the Operation Sunrise bandwagon with Wolff.
Weary of his roommate’s baleful presence, Dollmann often fled the Via Archimede apartment to go to the movies. As he sat in the dark day after day, he began getting the prickling sensation that he was being followed. One afternoon in November 1946, as the colonel watched a trifle titledKisses You Dream Of at his neighborhood cinema, Dollmann felt a firm hand on his shoulder and heard a voice of authority: “Kindly leave the cinema with me.” He was taken into custody by a plainclothes detective who was accompanied by two armed carabinieri and then whisked away to a nearby police station.
Dollmann and his fellow SS escapees had been tracked for months by the 428th U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC), a detachment of Nazi hunters based in Rome. Major Leo Pagnotta, the Italian American who was second-in-command of the CIC unit, was a sharp investigator. He figured out that Dollmann, who knew it was unwise to show his face too much on the streets, would sooner or later reconnect with the Italian chauffeur who had driven him around during his SS days. Dollmann did indeed contact the chauffeur, but Pagnotta had gotten to him first, making him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “If you see Dollmann and you don’t tell me,” Pagnotta had told the driver, “I’ll arrest you and you’ll be shot.” The chauffeur quickly gave up Dollmann, pinpointing when and where he would be dropped off at the cinema.
Now, as Dollmann sat waiting in the police station holding room, the door suddenly opened and Major Pagnotta walked in. The two men took an immediate dislike to each other. Dollmann was predisposed to look down on Americans, whom he found in general to be a crass, illiterate, and mongrelized people. To make matters worse, this one was “rather fat”—a cardinal sin with Dollmann—and the American didn’t bother with any social niceties, treating the Nazi fugitive like “a pretty low sort of criminal.”
The situation appeared bleak for Dollmann—his next stop could well be Nuremberg. But he knew that he had an ace up his sleeve, and he immediately played it. Dollmann took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Pagnotta. “Please call this number,” he told him. “Ask for Major Angleton. He knows who I am.”
Major Pagnotta was quite familiar with Major Angleton. In fact, Pagnotta’s team of Nazi hunters was headquartered in the same building on Via Sicilia as Angleton’s rival intelligence operation, the Strategic Services Unit’s X-2 branch. Pagnotta’s CIC unit was on the first floor, Angleton was on the second, and British intelligence was on the third. Pagnotta and his men didn’t trust Angleton—they thought he was “a devious and arrogant son of a bitch,” in the words of Pagnotta’s aide William Gowen. Angleton seemed to work more closely with the British spies than with his U.S. Army colleagues, and the British treated him like one of their own. Before transferring to Rome in 1944, Angleton had been stationed in London, where his X-2 unit was overseen by British intelligence.
The espionage scene in postwar Rome was rife with rivalries and competing agendas. Some U.S. intelligence units, such as Leo Pagnotta’s, were determined Nazi hunters. But other operatives, such as Angleton, had very different objectives. This spy-versus-spy atmosphere made Pagnotta’s investigative work extremely complicated.
As Pagnotta tracked top Nazi fugitives in Italy, many of whom had escaped from the British-run prisoner-of-war camp in Rimini, it became clear to him that he was often working at cross-purposes with Angleton and British intelligence. One of the most notorious fugitives, SS captain Karl Hass, who had overseen the Ardeatine Caves massacre, mysteriously escaped every time Pagnotta’s team tracked him down and turned him over to British occupational authorities in Italy. Finally, after his fourth arrest, Hass escaped for good. It was not until many years later that Hass was tracked down in Argentina and extradited to stand trial in Italy for his role in the massacre. Hass received a life sentence, but by then he was an old man, and his failing health kept him out of prison.
Unsurprisingly, after capturing Dollmann, Pagnotta decided to hang on to him, placing him in a U.S. military prison in Rome instead of handing him over to the British. In the beginning, Dollmann was a cooperative prisoner, readily revealing the address of his apartment on Via Archimede. When Pagnotta’s team raided the apartment, they narrowly missed catching Dollmann’s infamous roommate Walter Rauff, who managed to flee to Bari, on the Adriatic coast, where he boarded a ship for Alexandria, Egypt—the next stop in the Nazi exterminator’s long and winding ratline. Rauff would cap his bloody career in Chile, where he became a top adviser to DINA, military dictator Augusto Pinochet’s own Gestapo. When Rauff died in 1984—at age seventy-seven, after successfully rebuffing years of extradition attempts—hundreds of aging Nazis flocked to his funeral in Santiago, where he was laid to rest amid loud salutes of “Heil Hitler!”
Pagnotta did snare another fugitive who was living in the Via Archimede apartment, SS officer Eugen Wenner, who had also played a part in the Operation Sunrise maneuvers. It soon dawned on Pagnotta’s team that Angleton was operating a safe house on Via Archimede for a stream of Nazi fugitives who were connected to Sunrise and other Dulles operations. They even traced the car driven by Dollmann’s chauffeur to Angleton’s father, who kept a villa nearby in Parioli.
Nobody would get to know the deeply clever ways of Angleton in Rome better than William Gowen, who, at age eighteen, was one of the youngest members of Pagnotta’s crew of Nazi hunters.
It was only a matter of time before Jim Angleton—who made it his business to meet the important people in postwar Rome—crossed paths with Bill Gowen, who, despite his youth, was known to be well connected. Gowen’s father, Franklin, was a career diplomat who had served under Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy in London and was currently the assistant to Myron C. Taylor, the former U.S. Steel chairman whom FDR had appointed as his special representative to the Vatican during the war. Gowen’s family had money—one of his ancestors had been president of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange—but they were by tradition Democrats. Roosevelt was fond of Franklin Gowen, whom he regarded as one of the few blue-blooded members of the diplomatic corps he could trust.
The younger Gowen brought a special sense of mission to his Army counterintelligence job. His family owned property in Italy and had deep roots there. His grandfather Morris was living in Florence when war broke out. Although he was Episcopalian, Morris Gowen was denounced as a Jew and put on a train for Auschwitz. When the Germans realized he was American, he was taken off the train in northern Italy and put in an SS encampment, where the seventy-seven-year-old man died in July 1944 of what his death certificate stated was “exhaustion.” Bill Gowen’s family had a number of Jewish family friends in Italy who suffered similar fates. “When I got to Rome in 1946 as a young soldier,” he later remarked, “I didn’t need to read about the Nazi terror. My family had been touched by it.”
All in all, young Bill Gowen had a pedigree that Angleton clearly found both appealing and threatening. Gowen’s dedication as a war crimes investigator posed a distinct problem for Angleton, who viewed Nazi fugitives like Dollmann and Rauff in more pragmatic terms. And the Gowen family’s Italian background also infringed on Angleton’s turf. “I think that between the father and son, the Angletons thought they had a lock on Italy, and on the Vatican,” Gowen observed. “Jim Angleton was very jealous of my family, because he wanted to have a monopoly on Italy. And anything that might threaten him had to be taken care of.”
Angleton made a point of keeping Gowen close in Rome. In early 1947, Gowen and his father were invited to the Italian wedding of Angleton’s sister, Carmen, where Angleton chatted up the younger Gowen and insisted they meet for lunch someday. They got together soon afterward at Angleton’s favorite spot, a Jewish restaurant near Rome’s once thriving ghetto. Angleton was fond of the restaurant’s house specialty—carciofi fritti—and he took charge of ordering when the waiter arrived at their table. To Gowen’s surprise, however, Angleton—who presented himself as an expert on all things Italian—displayed so little mastery of the language that his younger lunch companion had to take over communication with the puzzled waiter. Gowen, who was born in his family’s Livorno villa, was impressively fluent in the local tongue. It was yet another thing that Angleton found irritating about Gowen.
Lunch companions like Bill Gowen always made Angleton uneasy. Gowen—whose family was filled with bankers, lawyers, diplomats, and Episcopalian ministers—had a solid Social Register background. And, despite his tender age, he was already a man of the world, having shuttled around Europe’s diplomatic posts with his father. With his cheery mid-Atlantic accent and his continental sartorial flair, Gowen seemed born and bred for the top tier.
Angleton was also raised in wealth. But his father, Hugh, was not the Main Line type. He was a swashbuckling, self-made man who had swept up his future wife, Carmen, when she was a teenager in Mexico, after he joined General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s 1916 expedition to capture Pancho Villa. Despite young Angleton’s British affectations, his face would always carry traces of his south-of-the-border heritage. Even as he rose to the top ranks of the U.S. intelligence establishment, he remained something of an outsider in that thoroughly WASPy world, marked not just by his brilliant, idiosyncratic personality but by his mixed ethnicity. Angleton was, in short, what his Nazi associates would call a mongrelized American.
Gowen might have been Angleton’s social superior, with much better connections to the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, but in the end it was Angleton who prevailed in the spy games. In May 1947, after Dollmann had spent several bleak months in prison in Rome, Angleton succeeded in outwitting Pagnotta and Gowen and getting the former SS colonel transferred to a U.S. military prison in Frankfurt, where he was safe from the wrath of Italian political enemies and prosecutors. The clever Angleton had Dollmann smuggled out of his Roman cell on a stretcher. In Germany, Dollmann was soon switched to even more agreeable accommodations: a cozy guesthouse in the lush Main countryside that he shared with other former Nazi VIPs, such as the notorious propagandist “Axis Sally,” and Otto Skorzeny, the scar-faced Waffen-SS colonel who was famous for a daring glider raid that rescued Mussolini from mountaintop captivity. By November, after the U.S. military released him from incarceration, Dollmann was a completely free man.
There was sharp disagreement over suspected war criminals like Dollmann within the U.S. military command overseeing the occupation of Germany. General George Price Hays, a decorated officer who led the 10th Mountain Division’s assault on Monte Cassino during the Allies’ Italian campaign and commanded the 2nd Infantry Division’s artillery on Omaha Beach during D-day, was angered by the kid-glove treatment given Dulles’s Sunrise Nazis. Hays, who became high commissioner for the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, tartly pointed out in a November 1947 memo that it was the U.S. Army that was responsible for the surrender of Nazi troops in Italy, not Dulles’s secret maneuvers. Hays was adamantly opposed to granting amnesty to “possible war criminals or war profiteers” like Dollmann, which, he observed, would “condone their crimes without proper examination.” Nonetheless, by 1947, many in the American military hierarchy shared the Dulles-Angleton view that fighting Communism was a bigger priority than prosecuting fascist war criminals.
Even after securing Dollmann’s release, Angleton remained nervous about Bill Gowen. The young man knew too much about Angleton’s string-pulling on behalf of Dollmann and the other Nazi fugitives who had been harbored on Via Archimede. Angleton suspected that Gowen’s CIC unit kept extensive files on the ratlines that had allowed Sunrise collaborators like Dollmann and Rauff to escape justice. He was determined to see what was in those files—an interest undoubtedly shared by Angleton’s mentor, Dulles, as well as their allies in the U.S. intelligence complex.
In November 1947, as Dollmann walked free, the U.S. military moved to shut down its Nazi-hunting operation in Rome. That month, Bill Gowen hopped a train for Frankfurt, which was to be his new base of operations. By the time the slow-moving train crawled into the Frankfurt station, it was after midnight. A jeep driven by a hulking soldier with CIC insignia on his uniform was waiting for Gowen, who threw his duffel bag into the vehicle and jumped in.
Frankfurt was still pulverized from the war. One of the few buildings left miraculously untouched by Allied bombing was the massive IG Farben complex, which now served as the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Command. The city’s demolished landscape was illuminated only by scattered pinpoints of light, and the darkness closed in on Gowen and his driver as the jeep pulled away from the train platform.
“I guess you’re tired,” the driver said. “You’ll want to go to a hotel.”
Gowen, exhausted from the long train ride, nodded emphatically. But instead of heading toward a hotel, the soldier drove deeper into the city’s ruins. Now the only light came from the jeep’s headlamps.
“Where are we going?” asked Gowen.
“I just want to show you something,” said the soldier. There was nothing to be seen, only dark piles of rubble.
“I’ve been to Germany before—I just want to go to bed,” Gowen said.
But the jeep kept creeping slowly through the night shadows. Suddenly the driver came to a halt, jumped out, and told Gowen to follow him. Gowen didn’t like his situation. “He was armed and I wasn’t. I was alarmed, and I’m normally not scared.” Gowen cautiously followed the soldier, walking slowly behind him into the gloom. Gowen didn’t know how far they had walked when the soldier abruptly turned around and headed back to the jeep. When they got to the vehicle, Gowen immediately realized that his duffel bag was missing.
“I wasn’t dumb enough to ask him where my bag was,” Gowen recalled years later. “I knew what had happened. I knew what they were looking for.” As it turned out, there were no intelligence files in Gowen’s stolen bag. But the story wasn’t over.
In January 1948, while Gowen was still stationed in Germany with Army intelligence, he received a transatlantic phone call from syndicated columnist Drew Pearson. The influential Washington journalist told Gowen that he was working on a hot scoop and that Gowen was at the center of it. Pearson was going to report that Ferenc Vajta, a fugitive from war crimes charges in Hungary, where he had worked as an anti-Semitic propagandist for the fascist Arrow Cross Party, had slipped into the United States illegally—with the help of young Nazi hunter Bill Gowen. Pearson claimed he had proof: documents that showed Gowen had worked closely with Vajta on various covert missions. As he listened to Pearson, Gowen was so flabbergasted that he didn’t know what to say. Pearson’s exclusive story ran in newspapers across America on January 18 and was amplified further by his coast-to-coast radio broadcast.
There was some truth to Pearson’s report. Gowen did indeed know Vajta from his days in Rome, when he had used the Hungarian as an informer to help track the notorious Croatian fugitive Ante Pavelic´, the fascist leader of the Ustaše movement who led a genocidal campaign in the Balkans during the war that was so extreme he had to be restrained by German authorities. With the help of Ferenc Vajta, Gowen had traced Pavelic´ to a villa atop the Aventine Hill. Pavelic´ was under the protection of Croatian officials in the Vatican and other fascist sympathizers. From his villa, Pavelic´ was able to sneak into nearby safe houses through a series of secret passageways that honeycombed the Aventine.
Gowen was perfectly willing to rely on lesser criminals like Vajta to locate much bigger targets like Pavelic´. But he had had nothing to do with providing Vajta a special State Department security clearance and slipping him into the United States. That sleight of hand was likely performed by Frank Wisner, a close collaborator of Dulles’s from their days in the OSS who had recently been appointed head of the State Department’s clandestine operations unit, the Office of Policy Coordination.
But it was Gowen who would take the fall for the Vajta escapade. It did not take him long to figure out who was responsible for setting him up. Pearson had been fed the false story by Raymond Rocca, Angleton’s deputy in Rome.
Pearson’s exposé effectively ended Gowen’s budding intelligence career. Gowen never stopped trying to clear his name. At one point, he managed to get an appointment to see Dulles after Dulles became CIA director, but when Gowen showed up at the agency’s headquarters in Washington to plead his case, he was told that the spymaster had been called overseas.
Years after both men returned to America, Angleton continued to keep an eye on Gowen. Back in Washington, where he eventually became the all-powerful chief of CIA counterintelligence, Angleton invited Gowen to lunch at the Army-Navy Club and even to his home in Virginia. “You know, he was a very devious character,” Gowen said, “but he wanted to give me the impression that he was very friendly. He introduced me to his wife, Cicely, and their children, who were very young at the time.” Angleton’s betrayal of Gowen hovered silently in the air. “I never discussed it openly with him, I never trusted Angleton enough to do that.” Both men knew who had won the power struggle in Rome. But they also knew that the secret history they shared had the power to undo Angleton’s grand career and expose the underside of Sunrise.
Intelligence reports do not normally make for entertaining reading. Few station chiefs come close to having the literary touch of onetime spies like Graham Greene, David Cornwell (John le Carré), or Ian Fleming. But, following his release from U.S. military detention in 1947, Eugen Dollmann’s espionage career became such a flamboyant mess that he inspired some of the most colorful memoranda ever produced by the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy. Reading through these declassified CIA documents fills one with awe for Dollmann’s endless powers of reinvention, and a sense of wonder as to why men as knowing as Dulles and Angleton ever saw him as spy material.
U.S. surveillance of Dollmann began getting interesting in 1951, when he was located in a suite at the posh Hotel Paradiso, overlooking Lake Lugano in Switzerland, near northern Italy. By then, the colonel’s high life was beginning to catch up with him. He was reported to be in financial distress and looking for ways to make some quick cash. Among the schemes he was pondering was writing his memoirs—which he was promising would be dishy—and hustling various Nazi documents he claimed were authentic, including some supposedly written by Hitler. The colonel was shaking down the CIA for 200,000 lire in return for the “exclusive” rights to examine the documents.
Dulles and the CIA knew that there was great potential for embarrassment with Dollmann. As the years passed, the agency’s memos on the colorful SS veteran revealed rising levels of anxiety and exasperation.
In November 1951, Dollmann was reported to be in “close contact” with Donald Jones, which was an intriguing twist, since Jones was the OSS daredevil whom Dulles had asked to rescue Karl Wolff from the Italian partisans during the war. Jones was “still presumed to be an agent of U.S. intelligence,” but the memo made clear that Dollmann’s contact with him was not strictly professional. “The two are now divided because of a quarrel, presumed to have originated over a question of money, or perhaps jealousy, since both are suspected of being sexual perverts.” The memo concluded that Dollmann’s value as “an agent or informer” was “uncertain . . . he is not the man he was in 1940–45.”
Dollmann, no doubt, would have readily agreed. For one thing, he had less money. And he was stuck in purgatory in Switzerland rather than enjoying the sweet life in his beloved Italy because U.S. agents had warned him they still could not guarantee his safety there.
Nonetheless, Dollmann would soon find himself in Italy—at least briefly—after he outstayed his welcome in Switzerland. According to a U.S. intelligence report, Dollmann was expelled from Switzerland in February 1952 after he was caught having sex with a Swiss police official. In desperation, Dollmann appealed to his old fascist friends in the Italian church, and he was spirited across the border and given temporary sanctuary at a Franciscan monastery in Milan. Dollmann’s savior this time, Father Enrico Zucca, was famous for his role in raising Mussolini’s body from the grave on Easter 1946 in preparation for the day when Il Duce would be reburied with full honors on Rome’s Capitoline Hill. The abbot had less spectacular plans for Dollmann. He slipped a monk’s habit on him and smuggled him onto a boat in Genoa, from where Dollmann was shipped to General Franco’s fascist paradise in Spain.
In Madrid, Dollmann came under the protection of former Nazi commando leader Otto Skorzeny, who had put together a wide-ranging racket, trading in arms and helping SS fugitives flee justice. Skorzeny was joined for a time in Spain by Hjalmar Schacht, who had been acquitted at Nuremberg and would parlay his reputation as Hitler’s banker into a postwar career as an international financial consultant. Schacht knew where much of the wealth plundered from Europe by German corporations and Nazi officials had been hidden, and Skorzeny used this inside knowledge to help finance his SS ratlines. Angleton also found Skorzeny’s services useful, and he kept in regular touch with the entrepreneurial ex-Nazi.
Dollmann undertook errands for Skorzeny’s international neo-Nazi circuit. But Dollmann was no good at the freelance espionage game. In October 1952, he flew to Germany on some sort of political mission to make contact with German youth groups. His plans were betrayed and he was arrested at the airport as soon as he landed. The authorities accused him of traveling on a false passport, and he didn’t bother denying it. Even in his native Germany, Dollmann was a man without a country. No government wanted to claim him—at least not openly.
A November 1952 CIA memo reported that Dollmann was back in Rome. He started haunting his favorite cinemas again, but this time it nearly proved fatal when “he was noticed by certain Communist elements” in the theater and had to be “rescued by the police from a threatening mob.”
Still desperate for cash in Rome, Dollmann again tried his hand at selling Hitler documents that he insisted were genuine. This time he was dangling an Operation Sunrise angle that Dulles certainly found compelling. Among the papers in his possession, Dollmann swore, was a letter from Hitler to Stalin proposing a separate peace between Germany and Russia. Such a letter would have put Dulles’s own Operation Sunrise deal in a much better light. If Hitler and Stalin really did discuss their own pact near the end of the war, it made Dulles look like a brilliant chess player instead of an insubordinate troublemaker. Dulles’s friends at Life magazine let it be known that they would pay a staggering $1 million for such a letter. But Dollmann apparently never produced it.
Dollmann’s moneymaking schemes grew more frantic. In December 1952, he quietly reached out to Charles Siragusa, a federal narcotics agent in the U.S. embassy in Rome with close ties to the CIA. Siragusa had proved very useful to Angleton over the years, as a bagman for political payoffs and as a link to the criminal underworld when the agency required the Mafia’s services. Dollmann had his own interesting offer for Siragusa. He proposed becoming a paid informant for the narcotics agent and infiltrating the neo-Nazi movement in Vienna, which he claimed was financing its activities by dealing cocaine.
Dollmann’s offer smacked of desperation, but, in fact, he was already spying on other ex-Nazi colleagues for the CIA. At the same time, in true Dollmann fashion, he was also hiring himself out to these neo-Nazi groups and reporting back to them about U.S. intelligence activities. As if this web of competing loyalties was not complicated enough, while Dollmann was living in Madrid by the grace of the Franco government, he was also working as a British spy.
By 1952, CIA station chiefs in Europe had grown deeply leery of Dollmann. That spring, an agency memo circulating among the field stations in Germany, Italy, and Spain warned “against [the operational] use of Dollmann . . . because he had already been involved with several intelligence organizations in Western Europe since 1945; his reputation for blackmail, subterfuge and double-dealing is infamous; [and] he is homosexual.” At one point, CIA officials even raised the possibility that Dollmann had sold himself to Moscow and was a Soviet double agent.
But it was not until 1955 that the CIA finally severed its ties to Dollmann. It took one last brazen blackmail attempt to persuade Dulles that he had to cut the cord. Dollmann had finished his memoirs that year, and, as promised, the book was rife with salacious details, including unflattering observations about Dulles and Angleton. Before the book went to the printers, Dollmann sent a message to Dulles through the U.S. consulate in Munich, letting it be known that he was eager “not to offend [my] great good friend” Dulles, and politely asking the CIA director to flag anything he found objectionable in the excerpts mailed to him. The implication was clear: They were men of the world who understood each other. They could certainly work out an appropriate arrangement.
After this, Dollmann abruptly disappeared from the CIA documentary record. The astute colonel undoubtedly realized that he had pushed his luck with the agency as far as he should, and, for his own good, it was time to retire from the spy game. He lived on for three more decades, trading on his notorious past to get by. He was a good storyteller, and his two colorful memoirs sold briskly in Europe. His astonishing tales even proved, for the most part, to be true. Dollmann also made frequent appearances on European television, and dabbled a bit in his beloved cinematic arts, writing the German subtitles for Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
In 1967, an American writer named Robert Katz, who was working on a book about the Ardeatine Caves massacre, tracked down Dollmann, finding him in the comfortable residential hotel in Munich where he would live out the rest of his days. At sixty-seven, the silver-haired and still trim Dollmann seemed quite content with his life. His sunny garret in the blue-painted hotel was cluttered with photos, books, and memorabilia that recalled his former life. He was perfectly happy to live in the past, Dollmann told his visitor—after all, he had begun his career as a historian, until he was kidnapped by history.
At one point, Dollmann brought up Allen Dulles, his old American benefactor. Dulles had recently published The Secret Surrender, his Operation Sunrise memoir, and Dollmann was upset to read the spymaster’s description of him as a “slippery customer.”
“From the little English I know,” Dollmann told Katz in his perfect Italian, “‘sleeperee coostomer’ is not exactly a compliment. Is it?”
Katz explained that it meant someone who was shrewd, cunning, Machiavellian.
The colonel broke into a radiant smile. “Oh! That is a compliment—for me.”