International News

Fidel Castro Recruited Nazi Death Squad Leaders During Missile Crisis

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis this month, disturbing new details about the near-nuclear war keep leaking out. Last week, newly declassified papers showed that the Soviets left 100 nuclear bombs in Cuba for a month after the crisis.

Now, just released German files show that during the crisis, Fidel Castro recruited Nazi Waffen SS officers to Havana to train his troops, offering boatloads of cash and a safehaven to the war criminals. At least a handful took him up on it. 

The new papers from the BND, Germany's intelligence agency, date from October 1962 and show that Fidel personally approved a plan to bring members of the Nazi's infamous death squad to the island.

Castro offered the ex-Nazis four times the average salary in Germany at the time to come train his troops. In part, he hoped to open a new channel for military training away from the increasingly difficult Soviets, they say.

"Evidently, the Cuban revolutionary army did not fear contagion from personal links to Nazism, so long as it served its their own objectives," Bodo Hechelhammer, a BND historian, tells German newspaper Die Welt.

The papers show that at least four ex-Nazis took Fidel up on his offer, though intel operatives could only confirm that two actually made it to Havana.

Castro also worked a deal with Germany's far-right movement to secretly buy Belgian-made weapons, the papers show.

Today, incidentally, is the exact 50th anniversary of the start of the crisis, which began on Oct. 16 when JFK learned the Soviets had installed missiles in Cuba. It ended on Oct. 28, with the Soviets backing down and agreeing to remove the weapons.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink