By Natalia Drozdiak
BERLIN (Reuters) - A high-ranking Nazi officer, who helped develop a mobile gas chamber, became a spy for West Germany after World War Two and went on a training course for the BND intelligence agency despite German warrants for his arrest, BND archives showed.
"In hindsight, the recruitment of Walther Rauff is politically and morally incomprehensible," said BND historian Bodo Hechelhammer on Monday.
Rauff, who was a top SS security officer in Nazi Germany, was a BND agent in South America between 1958 and 1962, earning more than 70,000 Deutsche marks (about $18,000), Hechelhammer said. Rauff died in Chile in 1984 having evaded attempts to bring him to justice.
The BND, formed after World War Two with the help of the United States, even sent money to pay for Rauff's legal fees when he fought extradition from Chile to face war crimes.
After the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 Rauff fled to South America, where he was recruited by the BND. He operated under the name of Enrico Gomez and was assigned to report on Fidel Castro, a mission that turned out to be futile because he was denied entry into Cuba.
Between 1960 and 1962, Rauff took part in two BND training courses in Germany -- the second in February 1962 when there was a German arrest warrant for him.
The state issued the warrant in 1962 when Rauff's name was exposed during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer kidnapped by Israeli secret agents from his home in Argentina. Rauff was arrested in Chile in December of that year.
Due to a military coup in Chile Rauff was never extradited, but in 1963 -- when there was little doubt of Rauff's past -- the BND paid his family 3,200 Deutsche marks to pay for legal fees.
Hechelhammer is the head of a recently established commission to promote transparency in the BND's history. Rauff's file was 900 pages long and until now had been top secret.
"These documents show there was a whole Nazi team growing within the BND -- and at a time when the state was intensifying its hunt against Nazi criminals," Martin Cueppers, historian at the University of Stuttgart, told Der Spiegel.
"We are shocked but not surprised," said Elan Steinberg, Vice-President of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
"That German authorities were engaged in this disgraceful practice is a particular betrayal of the demands of history and justice," Steinberg said in an email statement to Reuters.
(Reporting By Natalia Drozdiak; editing by Erik Kirschbaum and Matthew Jones)