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How Nazi sympathizers in WWII Cape Town spied on the Allies and evaded justice

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In one of the more improbable Nazi operations during World War II, a South African boxer named Robey Leibbrandt traveled back home from the Reich aboard a German yacht with a mission to sow domestic discord. A competitor in the 1936 Summer Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany, Leibbrandt was ready to use weapons beyond his fists.

The mission to stir the political pot wasn’t as foolhardy as it sounds. There already existed links between the Nazis and a South African pro-German antiwar organization called the Ossewabrandwag — “oxcart sentinels” in Afrikaans — that reflected wider sympathies for Germany within the Afrikaner population.

Yet Leibbrandt’s tempestuousness proved his undoing. He argued with his German handler, who refused to land ashore with him. Eventually, the boxer was betrayed by the Ossewabrandwag and sent to prison.

Leibbrandt ended up being a minor character in the story of clandestine Nazi activity within South Africa. His saga is part of the larger, and largely untold, story of intelligence networks in the country operating on behalf of the Reich chronicled in a new book, “Hitler’s South African Spies,” by Stellenbosch University military historian Evert Kleynhans.

“[The] whole intelligence aspect of the war, everything that happened within the country, for different reasons has never really been written about in our history,” Kleynhans told The Times of Israel via Zoom. “Bits and pieces have been analyzed, certain elements of it. I think a lot of it was suppressed for a long time because one couldn’t get across some of the materials.”

Although South Africa was a British commonwealth, there was pro-German sentiment dating back generations to the Boer War, when British authorities interned Afrikaner civilians in concentration camps. At the outset of WWII, there was enough of an antiwar movement to make for an extremely tight vote in parliament to join the Allied cause.

A former South African Defence Forces member turned military historian, Kleynhans did a fair amount of sleuthing himself while writing the book — including unearthing a crucial file on a postwar investigation of South African spies.

He explained how the extensive espionage effort worked. A spy in the crucial port of Cape Town — one of the top........

© The Times of Israel

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