The 'German Lawrence of Arabia'

Anyone who has ever conducted historical research is familiar with the difficulty of deciding which is more dubious: biographical reports that are buried in secret files of intelligence agencies, or autobiographies that people write themselves.

Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev

Franz Wimmer-Lamquet loved his past. He gave interviews to journalists and wrote memoirs about his activities on behalf of the Third Reich, and found his way into neo-Nazi circles. If he is still alive, he may have felt great satisfaction this week when it became known that even the British nicknamed him the "German Lawrence of Arabia." The Franz Wimmer-Lamquet file is among the materials the British security agency MI5 made accessible this week to scholars at Britain's National Archives. And from it one could see at least one characteristic this man shared with the legendary Lawrence of Arabia: He too had a tendency to make things up.

Anyone who has ever conducted historical research is familiar with the difficulty of deciding which is more dubious: biographical reports that are buried in secret files of intelligence agencies, or autobiographies that people write themselves. Autobiographical interviews that people give to newspapers are quite often the most dubious of all.

Franz Wimmer-Lamquet

Wimmer-Lamquet was probably born in 1919, and already as a youth of 15 he joined the army of the Third Reich. As far as can be fathomed from the MI5 file and from Franz Wimmer-Lamquet's memoirs themselves, he was involved in organizing the pro-Nazi uprising of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani that took place in Iraq in April-May 1941. A while after that he proposed to his superiors that he organize an elite unit of Arab fighters, to be deployed in North Africa.

According to one version of events, his assignment was intelligence-gathering: to try to find out when the Allied forces would be landing in Europe. According to his own story, his people wore American and British military uniforms, befriended local sheikhs, and then at a certain point would suddenly turn on them, murder them, rape their daughters and disappear. The object was to incite the population against the Americans and British, before they landed there, and inflame hatred of them. At a certain stage the legend was born that Wimmer-Lamquet had led 3,000 Arab warriors in North Africa - hence his moniker.

The documents in the MI5 files attest that the British security service took an interest in him beginning in January 1945, at which time there may still have been some significance to the information the MI5 people heard and took down: Apparently, a man by the name of Abu Ali gave Col. Wimmer-Lamquet the name of a contact in one of the Arab villages in Palestine. It seems that the industrious colonel did not make it here, however: At the end of the war he was taken prisoner by the Soviets; his subsequent years were spent at internment camps in the USSR. In 1955 he was released and allowed to go home.

Like other prominent Nazis, Franz Wimmer-Lamquet proved to be quite a blabbermouth, and he found eager ears for his tales. The popularity of some of the SS people and of their stories is among the hallmarks of European culture in the 1950s. More than a few found a market also for the memoirs they penned. Wimmer-Lamquet's came out only seven years ago. Among other things, we learn there that Adolf Hitler himself ordered Wimmer-Lamquet to marry the daughter of the sultan of Mauritania, to make it easier for him to penetrate the Arab world.

He obeyed, of course, but at the time he was still a virgin and had never seen a naked woman in his life. So, he writes, the Fuehrer ordered that he undergo an expedited course in basic sex. According to Wimmer-Lamquet, one of his Arab men, Mohammed Sa'id, would later become a minister in the Algerian government. Evidently connections of this sort were helpful in advancing his affairs of business, after the war.

The MI5 file that was declassified this week shows that the British security service continued to take an interest in Wimmer-Lamquet in the 1950s. He also drew the attention of other secret services. The Spanish security service, which still operated under Franco's rule, suspected for some reason that Wimmer-Lamquet was a dangerous communist spy. London dismissed the Spaniards' suspicion: "They will describe anybody as a dangerous Soviet agent who is rash enough to be found carrying a copy of the New Statesman," an MI5 agent wrote, and added: "It seems likely that Wimmer-Lamquet is an arms smuggler and trouble maker probably working for the Egyptians."

In 1956 MI5 filed a report that appeared in the paper Empire News, according to which Israel as well as several Arab countries had approached the former SS colonel Wimmer-Lamquet with an offer to work for them. Needless to say, Wimmer-Lamquet himself was the source of that report; he spoke with the journalist Antony Terry, who specialized in interviews with war criminals. Wimmer-Lamquet had contemplated the offer. Naturally, he wouldn't work for the Jews, he said: After all he was and remained loyal to Hitler.



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