How top Nazis were brought to a secret Scottish prison camp for brainwashing
THEY helped bring death, destruction and terror on an industrial scale to an entire continent. And as Europe rebuilt itself following the Second World War, they were imprisoned on a desolate Scottish moor.
Newly uncovered documents have revealed that a Caithness prisoner-of-war camp had an extraordinary secret role as a place where some of the most notorious figures in Hitler's Third Reich were locked up, interrogated and - where possible - subjected to "de-Nazification".
While the existence of Camp 165 at Watten, near Wick, is known, local historian Valerie Campbell has obtained recently declassified Government files which reveal the existence of an inner compound with the grim nickname "Little Belsen".
Inmates included Paul Werner Hoppe, the commandant of Stutthof concentration camp, Poland, Dr Paul Schroder, the man behind the Nazi's V2 flying bomb project, Hitler's personal aide and SS commander Max Wunsche, Nazi propagandist Gunter d'Alquen, and U-boat captain Otto Kretschmer, known as the Wolf of the Atlantic.
Even today, many locals who worked behind the barbed wire fences of the clandestine compound are reluctant to speak about it.
The compound - which operated between 1943 and 1948 - was divided into two areas, A and B. Area A held prisoners who were assessed as low threat and were eventually allowed to carry out unpaid work on surrounding farms. The high security, top secret area B, overseen by armed guards in watch towers, housed "black" prisoners regarded as hard-line and dangerous Nazis.
The B prisoners were subjected to "de-Nazification programmes" where they were repeatedly shown newsreels and films outlining the horrors committed under the name of the Third Reich and highlighting their defeat by Allied forces.
Those deemed to be reformed could be repatriated with the most unrepentant being transferred to stand trial or face further interrogation elsewhere. A third 'C' category was later created for those deemed to be the greatest threat.
Little exists of the compound today, but at its height it was a mini community of more than 70 Nissen huts. Most of its infamous inmates slept in the freezing rusty shacks which often shook in the violent northern winds.
As well as detention and interrogation rooms there was a makeshift church, a barber's, workshops, classrooms and - for the low security inmates - a theatre. Prisoners were given outfits with a distinctive diamond on the back - which it was claimed would act as a target if they tried to escape.
Campbell said: "Most people associate the village of Watten with Alexander Bain, the inventor of the electric clock. They would know nothing of its significance as a PoW camp that held some of the most infamous men in the Nazi regime.
"South of Watten it was doubtful that anyone with the exception of the military hierarchy would have even known the camp existed."
The remote location of the camp was key to its creation. "The landscape in Caithness was invaluable for training and subsequently holding captives," said Campbell.
"It could go on in secret. The farmland surrounding the camp was flat with few hiding place."
Between 1942 and 1945, Hoppe was in charge of Stutthoff concentration camp and personally oversaw the deaths of thousands of men, women and children who the Nazi regime deemed to be "sub-human". When British forces liberated the camp, many soldiers were physically sick at the horrors they discovered.
Hoppe was held at Camp Watten between August 1947 and January 1948 and it was expected that he would be executed on his return to Germany.
Yet, extraordinarily, the commandant escaped from a British base in Saxony and was able to work unhindered as a landscape gardener. He was finally re-arrested in 1953 and sentenced to just nine years imprisonment, insisting he had been too young to understand what happened at his camp.
Nazi rocket scientist Schroder, who invented the V2 pilotless bomb which killed thousands of residents in London alone, was treated even more mercifully during his incarceration in Caithness in 1947.
Schroder co-operated with intelligence officials on sharing his knowledge on "the technicalities of rocket projectiles" and as such was awarded special status, despite being deemed to be a Nazi zealot and a "public enemy". He was eventually handed over to the Americans and became a respected adviser to the US Air Force.
Nazi journalist d'Alquen, who was handpicked by Himmler to pen the official history of the SS and helped popularise the idea of Jews as "vermin", was sent to Watten in 1945.
He was allowed to publish a monthly magazine for detainees called Der Wattener.
After the camp closed he was sent to the US where he became a key member of the CIA and helped devise its anti-communist propaganda strategy during the early Cold War.
Viscountess Margaret Thurso, who lived near the camp, was fascinated by the revelations.
She said: "Little did we know that the nearby Watten was Britain's most secretive PoW camp. Nor did we know that senior Nazi officers, some close to Hitler, were imprisoned there."
Camp 165 Watten by Valerie Campbell will be published by Whittles in January.
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