COPY of handwritten letter from Lt. Col. J. McGrath, R.A., smuggled to Captain S Payne Best at Dachau Concentration Camp, April 14, 1945. Captain Best notes that "Colonel McGrath was a very fine fellow, an Irishman, who played up to the Gestapo wonderfully. He had been badly wounded at Dunkirk and, I am sorry to say, died very shortly after his release".
Explanation: In the famous Venlo Incident in November 1939 Himmler's Gestapo agents captured two British secret service (MI6) agents, Captain Sigismund Payne Best and R H Stevens. They survived World War II in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and latterly in Dachau. After the war there were bitter recrimiminations between them, with Best accusing Stevens of aiding the Gestapo while in captivity and of painting life in the camps in untruthfully harsh colours. Stevens' papers are in the Hoover Library at Stanford California. We reproduce here transcripts of selected documents for the benefit of historians, but recommend that use be made of the full collection.
From the Hoover Institution, Walter L Leschander collection, box 3, file 7.
Saturday [April 14, 1945]
[To Sigismund Payne Best]
Dear Capt. Best,
Only this afternoon have I heard that this is your Birthday and I hasten to send you my best wishes and Happy Return to home. I was at Sachsenhausen for 10 months while you were there and while I think that I saw you once or twice, I never got the chance of passing you a line, as much as I wanted to. They never let me our of sight for 10 months I was there. I hear that you are not feeling very well and I am sending you a few things that I hope will be useful, including a little English Tea.
I have had a few Red Cross Parcels, but they have robbed me of over 600 parcels including all my clothing, etc., and not I am supposed to get one every month, but of course, they are not arriving. For 2 1/2 years they gave me nothing and I have not written or received a letter for over 3 years. I am a prisoner of war. I was wounded and taken in France and in 1941 they transferred me to a Camp for Irishmen, where I was Commandant. The Germans had some wonderful schemes for all the Irish soldiers and to make a long story short I smashed it all and a number escaped. When I came to Sachsenhausen I was told that I would probably be shot unless I gave information as to who assisted us from the outside, however, I sat tight and here I am.
Well I think it is all coming to an end quickly and 2 or 3 weeks should see it finished.
In confidence I should tell you that I have absolutely no use for the man who was taken with you, Stevens. I think that he is the biggest Rotter that I have ever heard of. It is a long story and goes back to 1941 when I was taken to Berlin on my way to the Irish Camp just outside the City. There I met a young German officer who was married to a girl in Ireland and who was at Trinity College, Dublin for 5 years. He was in the background of your case and knew everything. He was very willing to talk as his wife wished to return to Ireland to live and he wanted a job there. He knew that I was connected with a lot of companies and could probably assist him. He asked me if I knew Stevens and gave me some of the facts.
There can be no doubt that Stevens talked and talked and gave away everything he knew and of course as a result they continued to work on him. It appears that they failed to get anything worthwhile from you and more or less gave up as a bad job. When Stevens came here he was given almost complete freedom, out all day and go where he wished, even supplied with a bicycle, in fact he had everything a man could wish for. They again had him on a string as under expert direction of the Gestapo he was allowed to go to Munich and visit a girl there and stay out even to 2 a.m., and so this rotten story goes on from bad to worse and is too long to put on paper just now. I do not know if this man is man or just a dangerous fool. Only a few weeks ago, here in the cells were some working girls charged with stealing. He wrote them letters, which were later recovered, and got into their cells and had intercourse with them. He got caught and it all came out. I have felt the situation very much. It is such a disgrace, and the man is such a liar that I do not speak to him more than I have to. I simply gave him Hell over these things, but I am afraid he has gone so low that he is beyond everything. I felt you should know the position and I know that you will respect my confidence. If there is anything that you urgently want that I might have please ask for it.
(Excuse the scribble, I have to rush it)
WE reproduce the above item as a service to other historians without expressing or implying any guarantee to its content or opinions expressed therein.