6 Unbelievable Tales Of Nazi Defectors You Never Knew About

Support for the Nazis within Germany was far from universal, but, being famously not very nice guys, they didn’t have a lot of reservations about coercing their own people. Even people who did sign up willingly often didn’t support everything they saw, and at least a few would end up fighting like crazy to wreck the Nazi war machine from the inside. People like …

#6. Major Karl Plagge Was The Mechanic Version Of Oskar Schindler

Karl Plagge was an engineer conscripted into the Nazi regime in 1938 and sent to Vilnius, Lithuania, to run a motor pool that repaired army vehicles. Although no fan of the Nazis, it would have been easy for him to stand aside as the Jewish ghettos were purged all around him, as many of his peers did. What was he supposed to do, hire them all as mechanics?

Oh, that’s exactly what he did.

“OK, everyone listen. A wrench has two major parts, the handle and the other bit.”

When the purges began he rapidly set up a new repair yard and herded over 1,000 Jews into it, from laborers and academics to children and old folks, insisting they were all skilled mechanics. His superiors were somewhat dubious about toddlers’ abilities to repair transmissions, but Plagge managed to convince them that keeping families together was essential for the sake of morale and productivity.

Keep in mind, the SS weren’t idiots. This was a hell of a risk he was taking, every day; on at least two occasions, it required fake beatings of his workers to keep the SS off his back.

German Federal Archives
Growing the mustache may have been a little overboard.

But possibly his boldest move came right at the close of the war, with the Russian army pressing in. Standard practice in this case was for the SS to execute any remaining Jewish prisoners. However, a day before this was to take place, Plagge told his workers, with an SS officer standing right beside him, that the prisoners would “be escorted during this evacuation by the SS, which, as you know, is an organization devoted to the protection of refugees. Thus there is nothing to worry about.” This is the equivalent of saying, “You guys will be totally safe if you wait for this evacuation and don’t escape on your own beforehand” with a heavily animated wink.

Five hundred people caught his drift and fled that night, and although not all of them survived, Plagge’s warning almost certainly saved many lives.

#5. Two Of The Worst Nazis Had Little Brothers Constantly Screwing Up Their Plans

Nobody has a perfect relationship with their siblings, but it’s hard to imagine a fraternal beef as mighty as the one Albert Goering had with his brother Hermann. Hermann Goering was Hitler’s second-in-command, a fact that Albert was apparently none too pleased about. Albert’s disdain for his brother’s beliefs began the second Hermann joined the Nazi party, and so distressed was he by this fact, and Germany’s overall descent into madness, that he found himself fleeing to Austria in the 1930s. When the Nazis annexed Austria, he went to Prague. And when they took that, he went to Budapest.

German Federal Archives
Just like a big brother to follow you all the way across Europe to bully you.

Since “flight” didn’t seem to be working out for Albert, he began employing his “fight” reflexes instead. Using his name and connections, he secured exit permits for Jews, protected their assets, and even physically removed people from stormtroopers’ grips. For most people, that would have been a one-way ticket to murdertown, but despite their political differences, Hermann wouldn’t allow Albert to be harmed. They weren’t close during this period, and only ever interacted at a handful of what must have been spectacularly awkward family gatherings.

“So … how’s … work?”

They weren’t the only family torn apart by petty disagreements over what races it was okay to exterminate. Reinhard Heydrich was a Nazi SS officer who was basically the architect of the Holocaust. His brother, Heinz, was also an SS officer, but apparently a hopelessly naive one — after Reinhard’s assassination in 1942, Heinz was more than a little shocked by what he found in Reinhard’s possessions: files that included horrific details of the Final Solution, of which Heinz had had no knowledge. At the time, Heinz ran a soldiers’ newspaper, and with access to high-quality printing equipment, began to immediately print up some very impressive-looking fake passports to help Jews escape to Sweden. Thanks to his last name he got away with it for about two years. He would eventually commit suicide to escape capture by the Gestapo, which is a sad way to go for someone who will forever remain an inspiration to those of us with asshole brothers.

#4. Hans Munch Invented Fake Experiments To Save People In Auschwitz

Dr. Hans Munch was a young bacteriologist with a patriotic streak in him, and like many young Germans, wanted to join the armed forces during the war. A contact with an old friend got him into some little group called the SS, and he soon found himself sent to a camp in Poland called Auschwitz.

This is where the story gets a little less fun.

His work was less horrific than a lot of what was going on there, and mainly focused on typhus research and making the camp healthier. Which is nice, for a death camp. But even though it was immediately apparent to him what was really going on at Auschwitz, and how little a chance he had of escaping it, he did a lot more than just passively accept his fate. When tasked with selecting prisoners for death, he slung his gigantic balls over his shoulder and refused.

This success seemed to empower him, and he began doing more things to improve the lives of the patients he worked with. He provided them extra food and rest, and otherwise cared for them in a way SS officers normally didn’t. More critically, he kept many of his patients alive longer by concocting fake experiments. When speaking about these later in life, Munch commented that, “We thought about it for a while and adopted a method, found a way that was sure to be harmless, was significant, what was sure to be approved by Himmler. He would approve almost anything.” Lengthy experiments in a typhus ward don’t necessarily sound like fun to us, but maybe they found some way to jazz it up.

A lot of board games combined with fake moaning whenever a door opened?

By the end of the war, he began getting almost cocky. At one point, when Germany was rapidly losing territory, prisoners were being shuttled around from camp to camp in a process which usually didn’t end well for the prisoners. Around this time, Munch suggested to some of his patients that he could lend them spare SS uniforms they could use to escape. Keep in mind, these were people who were worried they were going somewhere worse than Auschwitz, and they still thought his idea was too ballsy. So he dialed it back and merely gave them guns instead.

German Federal Archives
If not a hero, Munch was at the very least terrible at being a Nazi.

After Germany took control of northern France in 1940, there were basically two Frances — the Nazi-occupied north and the “free” south, which would be called Vichy France after its new, makeshift capital. “Free” is probably an overstatement as well; the Vichy regime only ruled by the grace of the Germans, one particular condition of their freedom being that they had to do everything Germany said. So in essence, there was Nazi France, and an additional France, also Nazi. All clear?

Rostislav Botev
Wow, looks like the Italians got a bit too. Not a great war for France, then.

But that still wasn’t enough for the Nazis. (History tip: Nothing is ever enough for the Nazis.) The Germans had always intended to seize the French fleet in Toulon at some point, and when they got wind that the Vichy navy commander was being sweet-talked by the Allies, they figured it was time to get on that. The Vichy naval commanders responded by taking a long drag on their cigarettes and then sinking the entire fleet themselves.

Royal Air Force
Sinking a bunch of their own ships counts as a success story for the French in World War II.

After delaying the Germans at the gates with queries about paperwork, the French sailors began setting off demolition charges, opening sea valves, and otherwise fucking up their precious ships. The Germans began shooting and yelling “Nein!” and doing other German things, even scrambling aboard the sinking vessels, which worked out about as well it sounds like it would. When the smoke cleared, the French had sunk three battleships, seven cruisers, 15 destroyers, 13 torpedo boats, six sloops, 12 submarines, nine patrol boats, 19 auxiliary ships, one school ship, 28 tugs, four cranes, and the hopes and dreams of a little fellow called Adolf Hitler.

#2. Kurt Gerstein Tried To Alert The World To The Holocaust

Kurt Gerstein is an interesting figure, as you’d suspect from someone who was both a Nazi and a dedicated Christian, which if you didn’t know, are two hobbies that don’t mix too good. During the 1930s, his constant protests about Nazi interference with the church ended up in more than a few dustups with other Nazis, and eventually got him kicked out of the party.

So he’s a good guy then?

German Federal Archives

In 1941 he rejoined the Nazi party and even entered the SS, this time under slightly odd circumstances. He would claim to friends he was trying to investigate the death of his sister-in-law in a German psychiatric institution, and thought that was best done on the inside. Whether that’s true or not (accounts vary), he soon rose rapidly through the ranks of the SS thanks to his engineering training and expertise with sanitation.

If seeing those words mentioned in the context of a Nazi SS officer make you a little wary, you can guess what happened next.

USHMM/National Archives
So a bad guy then?

Indeed, Gerstein was soon assigned to deliver toxic gases to concentration camps and inspect the facilities, where he couldn’t help but notice a whole lot of people were being killed. Gerstein, to his credit, considered this a bad thing, and began taking what steps he could to prevent it. He would later claim that on at least one occasion, he “lost” a shipment of the toxic gases, and he also began telling as many people as he could about what he’d seen, including church officials, underground resistance fighters, and a Swedish diplomat. Anything he could do to get the word out and stop these atrocities.

Which worked spectacularly, as Germans threw off the cloak of Nazism and rode into the camps on a stampede of unicorns to end the madness.

That … didn’t actually happen.

When the war ended, Gerstein surrendered to the French military, who really only heard the “I participated in genocide” part of his confession and not the “… and I can help you put away the guys who did it” part. He would eventually commit suicide in prison, but not before writing multiple, extensive reports of the gassings, in German and French, just to be super-double-sure that there wouldn’t be any more confusion. Those reports proved instrumental during the trials of Nazi war criminals, so if you’re keeping track of Gerstein on the big ol’ morality scoreboard, he’s got a … well … slightly better than zero.

#1. George Dasch Prevented a Nazi Attack In America By Selling Out His Fellow Saboteurs

Hey, remember that time Germany blew up significant chunks of Florida and Long Island? No? You have George Dasch to thank for that. He was part of a squad of German-Americans sent to America in 1942 to wreak havoc on American infrastructure. Dasch, who’d previously lived in America for a few years, was the leader of the group, and was secretly not too thrilled with blowing up parts of a country he still sort of liked. So he decided to sabotage the sabotage.

And he was almost executed for it.

“Come on guys. Be cool.”

When his team of saboteurs reached New York City, Dasch slipped away and called the FBI, warning them of the plot and demanding to speak to J. Edgar Hoover. They, uh, didn’t put that call through, but a few days later when he arrived in Washington and called again, they finally got around to looking into it. Dasch spent two days with FBI agents recounting every detail of the plot, and handed over $82,000 in blood money he had been given to carry it out. The FBI soon rounded up the rest of the members of his crew.

Dasch may have been somewhat surprised to discover the FBI wasn’t entirely grateful to him; in the newspapers, they took almost all of the credit for the arrests themselves, with little mention of the snitch who handed them the case. Hoover himself was even pushing for a death sentence for Dasch — which almost every other member of his crew received. The attorney general managed to talk Hoover down to 30 years, and Dasch was eventually pardoned in 1948 and sent back to West Germany. Where — get this — he wasn’t too popular.

Central Press/Getty Images
Treachery once, shame on you. Treachery twice, good luck finding a place to live.