The Allies called him “the most dangerous man in Europe.” Vienna-born Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975) was an early convert to Nazism, a German Army officer, and a member of Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard regiment. A man of both considerable height (6 ft. 4 in.) and ego, he was easily recognized by the long dueling scar etched across his left cheek.
While recovering from battle wounds in 1942, Skorzeny became a student of guerrilla warfare and special operations. His enthusiasm put him at the head of several daring missions, including an attempt to kill Yugoslav partisan Josip Broz Tito; the deposing of Hungarian regent and fair-weather Axis friend Miklos Horthy; the infiltration of Allied lines during the Battle of the Bulge by German troops dressed in American uniforms; and perhaps most famously, the 1943 rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after he was bounced from power and imprisoned in a camp in the Abruzzi Mountains. These and other exploits earned Skorzeny a reputation as “Hitler’s favorite commando.”
But in May 1945, with Hitler dead and the war lost, Skorzeny found himself holed up in the mountains above the Austrian resort of Annaberg. Contemplating his inevitable surrender, he was determined to seek out the Americans rather than fall into the hands of the Soviets. He prepared two notes dated May 10, one in German and the other in English, announcing that in six days he would “report” himself to the Allies at Salzburg, about three hours to the west. Descending to Annaberg, Skorzeny handed the notes to Allied officers. They were forwarded to Salzburg with the notation “this came through Annaberg.”
On his arrival in Salzburg, Skorzeny was placed in the custody of Major John C. Perkins of the U.S. Third Army’s 30th Infantry Regiment. A native of Webster County, Kentucky, Perkins was a graduate of Bowling Green High School and had joined the Army ROTC while a student at Western Kentucky University. A communications officer, Perkins was a veteran of campaigns in Africa, Italy, France and Austria, but currently had his hands full with the new responsibilities of an occupying military force. So it was not surprising that, according to Skorzeny’s biographer Stuart Smith, Perkins was initially unaware of “just what a valuable haul the Americans had landed.”
But Perkins, a capable record keeper by any standard, was careful enough to retain Skorzeny’s two surrender notes, and these unique and historically significant documents are now housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library. They are timely and exciting donations in light of the 78th anniversary of VE Day on May 8.