Arnold Weiss, 86

German-born U.S. soldier found Hitler's last will and testament

Arnold Weiss stands in front of the wreckage of a Nazi plane in Germany in 1945.
Arnold Weiss stands in front of the wreckage of a Nazi plane in Germany in 1945. (Special To The Washington Post)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010

For a half-century, Arnold Weiss was best known as a Washington lawyer and founder of an international investment group. Perhaps it was his desire "to build rather than destroy," to move beyond World War II and the memories it conjured, that kept him silent for so long about his clandestine wartime mission.

Mr. Weiss, who died of pneumonia Dec. 7 at 86 in Rockville, was the man who found Adolf Hitler's last will and political testament.

He grew up in a Jewish orphanage in Germany just as the Nazis were coming to power, then made his way to the United States at 13. Because of his German-language skills, Army counterintelligence officials deployed him back to Europe during World War II.

In the autumn of 1945, after Hitler had committed suicide in a Berlin bunker, Mr. Weiss was dispatched to Munich on a special assignment.

Many Nazi loyalists refused to believe that Hitler had disgraced the Reich by killing himself. No witnesses confirmed the death, and the Soviets, who were the first to find Hitler's body, had refused to hand over his remains. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin told President Harry S. Truman at the Potsdam conference in July 1945 that Hitler might be in Spain or Argentina.

Mr. Weiss and his counterintelligence team were charged with hunting down rogue members of Hitler's inner circle and finding evidence of the German leader's demise.

In a 2005 profile in The Washington Post Magazine, Mr. Weiss described his war service alongside British intelligence officer Maj. Hugh Trevor-Roper, who became a historian and author of "The Last Days of Hitler."

Mr. Weiss sought out Wilhelm Zander, the military aide of Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann, who was stationed at Hitler's lair during his final days.

Mr. Weiss tracked Zander down in late December 1945 to a stone house near a village on the Czech border, where Zander was arrested during an early-morning raid.

In a 10-hour interrogation, Zander said he'd been arrested under a case of mistaken identity.

"We confronted him with all the facts of his life," Mr. Weiss said of his strategy. He lied and told Zander, "We have your mother and sister."

Shortly afterward, Zander confessed and gave a full account of his military service. Toward the end of their conversation, Mr. Weiss asked Zander why he'd left Hitler's bunker shortly before the leader killed himself.

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