Ulrich Schnaft

Ulrich Schnaft (born 1923) was a GermanWaffen-SS man and World War II veteran, who immigrated to Israel in 1949 by posing as a Jew, served in the Israeli Army, and was later convicted of spying for Egypt.

Ulrich Schnaft in his IDF uniform

. . . Ulrich Schnaft . . .

Ulrich Schnaft was born in Königsberg, Germany, in 1923, the son of a single mother. His mother placed him in an orphanage, and he was later adopted by a German family. He attended a vocational school and was trained as a mechanical technician, graduating in 1941, during World War II. He then enlisted in the German Army and joined the Waffen-SS. He was deployed to the Russian front. He was wounded and taken to a hospital in Germany. After recuperating, he was sent to Yugoslavia and later Italy. In late 1944, while fighting in Italy, he was taken prisoner by the US Army near the Po River. He remained in a POW camp until mid-1947. His captors released him after finding no evidence he had committed war crimes.

Following his release, Schnaft moved to Munich, where he lived in a rented room. His roommate was a young Jew, and through him, he learned about the charity and social work being provided for Holocaust survivors, particularly the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was providing food packages and financial assistance to survivors. At the time, Schnaft faced difficulty in finding food or a job due to Germany’s dire economic situation. Germany, which was under Allied occupation at the time, was devastated by the war, with much of its infrastructure destroyed, and millions of citizens were destitute and homeless. Schnaft, therefore, decided to pose as a Holocaust survivor. He applied for and received aid from the AJJDC.

Schnaft saw no future in Germany due to the harsh living conditions there, and became determined to emigrate and build a life somewhere else. He heard of groups of Jews who were trying to enter British-ruled Mandatory Palestine as part of Aliyah Bet. In October 1947, posing as a Jewish refugee named Gavriel Weissman, he joined a group of displaced Jews intending on trying to enter Palestine. The group traveled to Marseille, France, by train, and lived in a camp on the outskirts of the city run by Mossad LeAliyah Bet for two months. In December 1947, he boarded an Aliyah Bet ship bound for Palestine. The ship was intercepted by the Royal Navy, and Schnaft, along with the other passengers, was transferred to a Cyprus internment camp. While detained on Cyprus, Schnaft joined a Haganah cell in the camp. He was involved in two Haganah-organized escape attempts.

Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the British released most Cyprus inmates but continued to detain men of military age. In 1949, as the war drew to an end, Schnaft and the other remaining inmates were deported to Israel and arrived in Haifa. Schnaft was placed in kibbutzKiryat Anavim, where he studied Hebrew.

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. . . Ulrich Schnaft . . .

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