Ulrich Schnaft: The Man With Multiple Identities


In 1947, 24-year old Gavriel Sissmann boarded a Mossad ship with his fellow Holocaust survivors to sail to Eretz Yisrael. The ship was Intercepted by the British and redirected to Cyprus. While in a DP camp Sissmann joined the Haganah. Two years later he reached the Promised Land.

As with all immigrants, he learned Hebrew and was drafted into the IDF. He loved the army. He wanted to make it his career, but to do so, he needed to pass a thorough and standard security check. The officers questioned his fellow soldiers. To their surprise they learned that one evening, while drunk, Sissmann showed them a photo of himself in a Waffen-SS uniform. Drunk, he had confessed he was not actually Gavriel Sissmann, but none other than Ulrich Schnaft – a German who had served in the SS.

Ulrich Schnaft
Ulrich Schnaft in his IDF uniform

In WWII, Schnaft fell into American captivity. After being found not-guilty of war crimes, he was released at the end of the war. On his wanderings around a war-torn Germany, he went on to befriend a Jewish survivor. It was an encounter that was to change his life.
Millions were without food or shelter in the aftermath of postwar Germany. Schnaft needed to get out. With this in mind, he came to a monumental decision: He needed a new identity. What had happened to this Jewish survivor, had now happened to him. Schnaft was a Jew who survived the Holocaust. Schnaft was Gavriel Sissmann.

His drunk confession to his fellow soldiers lead to his disqualification from the Israeli army. Shamed and homeless, he found a place in Haifa and had an affair with his landlord’s German-Jewish wife. Furious, the man threw the couple out of the house.

With West Germany now undergoing an economic miracle, the lovebirds decided to make their nest there. They set sail to Italy where at the border, trouble awaited. Because there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, every Israeli passport was stamped by the Israeli government with “not valid in Germany.” As irony would have it, it was the German Waffen-SS Schnaft who was forbidden to return to Germany due to his Israeli passport.

Because his partner still had her German passport, she was allowed to enter Germany, which meant leaving her sweetheart behind. She went back to Haifa and under the mediterranean sunset, kissed and made up with her Jewish German husband. She persuaded him they should move to Germany because life would be financially better.

Meanwhile the stateless and penniless Schnaft decided to present himself at the Egyptian embassy in Italy. He told them he was a German and Israeli officer and offered to sell Israeli military secrets in exchange for passage to Germany. Schnaft handed in his Israeli passport, supplied the Egyptians with a wealth of Israeli intelligence and was rewarded with a bit of pocket money, and an Egyptian passport in the name of Robert Hayat.

One month later he entered Germany where the eternal penniless Schnaft decided to seek out the former love of his life in the hope she would take him in if he told her his troubles. He found her, confessed his Nazi past, his dealings with the Egyptians and gave her his temporary address.

When Schnaft left, she told her husband. Still smarting from his wife’s little fling, he contacted the Shin Bet

Mossad sent an agent to Germany. The man posed as an Iraqi officer and when he met Schnaft, said he had served in the Waffen-SS. It did not take much for him to persuade Schnaft to return to Israel and “spy for Iraq.” Under the new name David Weissberg, Schnaft exited the airport, was immediately grabbed by the Mossad and stuffed in a car. On the journey, the German-Gentile-Israeli-Jewish-Egyptian-Iraqi-Spy confessed.

Schnaft was sentenced yet released from prison after 7 years. All trace of him disappeared. His cell mate however, wrote a memoir in which he claimed Schnaft had returned to Germany, become a Lutheran minister, and was now a supporter of Israel.

First published here 

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Kay Wilson is a British-born Israeli Jewish tour guide, jazz musician, cartoonist, public speaker and author of The Rage Less Traveled, her memoir of surviving a brutal machete attack. In her role for Palestinian Media Watch, she works to stop the Western governments’ funding of Palestinian terrorists.