Tablet’s birthday picture of the German neo-Nazi Karl-Heinz Hoffmann has led to his identification by a former Mossad double agent as the man who strapped two radio-controlled bombs on her body in a 1985 attack on the homes of Jews living in Munich.
Olivia Frank, now 63, had just published her life story in England on May 24 when she saw Tablet’s picture of the German extremist she had known only as “Konrad.”
Her book describes how the British-born Israeli diplomat and spymaster David Kimche, leading a team of Mossad agents disguised as German skinheads, intercepted the man she now recognizes as Hoffmann and disarmed the bombs at night in a Munich street in 1985.
Karl-Heinz Hoffmann was jailed later that year for running a criminal organization from his castle in Bavaria. He was never charged with bombing offenses.
In May 2019, Hoffmann posted a YouTube video of a retirement interview. In what he called his “final public appearance” he is seen talking to the German author and journalist Andreas Förster in Hoffmann’s medieval manor house, Schloss Ermreuth near Nuremberg. The video of Förster questioning Hoffmann over coffee in a baronial dining room was referenced in a Tablet article by Sam Izzo, which was seen in England by the former Mossad “combatant” who had spied on him 33 years ago.
Widowed, and now living alone in England, Frank had just published the story of her life as a transgender spy, titled The Mossad Spy, when she saw the Tablet article and then watched the Hoffmann interview, dated by Hoffmann as May 2019, on her home computer.
“My blood ran cold. The Hoffmann in the video is the man I knew as Konrad, a man who might have killed me with the flick of a switch,” she said.
She added: “The grubby flat where Hoffmann took me to fit the bomb and the residential block where I was told to plant it were both very ordinary places. Everything happened at night and I was unfamiliar with the areas. Hoffmann drove me to them in his BMW. He always drove very fast. I was blindfolded on the last occasion.
“I think he leased the apartment and always showed up at night, always keen to hide his prominent beard and always in a great hurry. He always wore the same suit and tie and a scarf to hide his beard.
“He always parked his car well away from where I lived in Schellingstrasse, in the Maxvorstadt university area of Munich.”
Olivia Frank’s 491-page paperback, The Mossad Spy, tells the story of how she was born to a Jewish family in Manchester, England, and raised as a boy but left the city as a teenager on a woman’s passport to join the Israeli Defense Forces as a soldier. After being wounded as an IDF officer, she was selected by David Kimche for training at the Mossad’s academy near Herzliya.
In 1985, she infiltrated an Abu Nidal Organization bombing team as an unarmed transgender spy, in an operation eerily similar to the British author John Le Carre’s 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl.
The world’s most-feared secret service tasked her to track down a Palestinian bomb maker from the ANO, a splinter group of the Palestine Liberation Organization allied to right-wing German extremists, an alliance that is described in the Tablet article.
Karl-Heinz Hoffmann’s 400-man military sports group, Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, had been banned in 1980 after police had discovered an anti-aircraft gun, uniforms, rifles, pistols, bayonets, gas masks and a bust of Hitler stashed at Schloss Ermreuth, a training school for SS officers during the Nazi regime.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that plans to spring Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess from Spandau Prison in Berlin were found in the “sports group” headquarters. A member of Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, Gundolf Köhler, planted a pipe bomb that killed 13 and injured 200 at the Munich October Beer Festival on Sept. 26, 1980. Köhler died in the explosion.
In June 1981, Hoffmann was arrested at Frankfurt Airport en route for Damascus and tried with his wife, Franziska Birkmann, for the murder at Erlangen near Schloss Ermreuth, of Shlomo Levin, chairman of the German Association for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, and Friday Poeschke, the widow of an anti-Nazi activist. Hoffmann and Birkmann were acquitted of the murder charges.
Olivia Frank was at that time infiltrating an Abu Nidal group in Lebanon by pretending to be an English PLO sympathizer, the disaffected anarchist daughter of a wealthy Jewish family in Manchester. Using the real identity and home address of a prominent Manchester businessman, the Mossad spymasters, known to themselves as “the office,” had intricately created a false identity for their transgender spy. They sent her to Manchester to meet the millionaire owner of a cash-and-carry firm who had agreed to pose as her indulgent father.
Five years later, Frank was sent to rejoin the group in Munich. “They were the same splinter group I had joined after a staged encounter and a tête-à-tête with a wealthy Lebanese on the Greek island of Kos,” she recalled.
After weeks living with the Abu Nidal bombing team she managed to transmit a desperate coded radio “burst” message a few hours before being wired up to two bombs by “Konrad.”
In The Mossad Spy she writes:
My hair was dripping wet as I closed in on Konrad’s target. It was ten storeys high and checking lights in the windows, it looked as though most of the residents were home. I had enough stuff on me to bring the house down. I stood across from the flats, took Konrad’s plastic card out of my pocket and waited for a black Mercedes van to pass by.
I was still there wondering what to do when a guy I hadn’t noticed before started whistling. It was the Hatikva, the romantic national anthem of Israel. Hatikva in English is “The Hope”. The whistler spoke to me, “I guess you’ve heard that tune before. It’s over. I’m Shaul, from the office.”
My final curtain fell as the rain poured down. Shaul implored me to stay calm and shelter in the bright lobby. He told me he was part of a Yarid team. Shaul said Konrad was for me no more.
The black van that I had just seen passing me in the road re-appeared outside the flats and in a rush, two men leaped out. I might have known. It was the skinheads who had eyeballed Konrad’s car. Shaul let them into the lobby and told me to leave the shoulder bag and its lethal payload on the tiled floor. I climbed into the van and took a seat so that Shaul could sit behind me and get to work. He helped me off with my saturated coat. Wary of booby traps he took his time removing the second bomb from my back. My very diligent and careful new friend finally said, “It’s off–you’re safe.”
Shaul led me from the van to a Mercedes saloon drawn up behind us in the street.
In the back seat of the Mercedes, Olivia Frank saw the man who had recruited her into the Mossad, the legendary British-born diplomat and spymaster David Kimche, known in Israel, Africa, and Asia as “the man with the suitcase.”
“They had watched Konrad tailing me,” Frank writes. “He had been betrayed by his unnatural movement and his electronic devices. A German counter-terrorist unit, Grenzschutzgruppe 9, had rounded up Konrad’s entire faction. Like all the best missions it had been hush-hush all the way.”
“GSG 9, as they are now known, was commanded by Ulrich ‘Ricky’ Wegener and had been jointly trained by the Israelis after the disaster of the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics.”
Frank said, “After the shock of seeing Tablet’s picture of him as a much older man with a gray beard, I then saw a picture of him in 1978, with a large bushy wraparound black airman-type mustache. When I first met him in Munich he stood in front of me and clicked his heels. I can still hear that first click of his heels. His posture was very stiff.
“I thought it too risky to mention in my book his full, longish, black beard. That kind of beard was unusual in Germany in those days and I wasn’t sure what had happened to him after David Kimche, my ‘Moses’ at the Mossad, spirited me away from Germany as fast as possible. I never found out anything about Konrad. I now know that he served only three years of a 9 1/2-year jail sentence imposed later that year for charges that did not include sending me, a Jewish woman, to plant a bomb in a block of flats where German Jews were living. A German court set him free in 1989 because they found he had ‘plausibly renounced’ his past.”
Tablet reported that Hoffmann “continues to maintain his and his wife’s innocence in connection with both the Oktoberfest bombing and murder of Shlomo Levin. He expresses his ideas and muses on his past at public appearances throughout Germany, in regular blogs posted on a self-managed website, and on his YouTube channel, which he updates fairly regularly with help from his wife and cameraman, who shoots the videos in their Ermreuth Castle home where he trained his neofascist paramilitary group.”
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Andrew Rosthorn is a veteran investigative news reporter based in the North of England.