Hanns Scharff

Infobox Military Person
name=Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff
lived=December 16, 1907 - September 10, 1992
placeofbirth=Rastenburg, East Prussia
placeofdeath=Bear Valley Springs, Tehachapi, California

nickname=Poker Face
Stone Face
allegiance=German Reich ("Deutsches Reich")
unit=Auswertestelle West, Oberursel, Germany
battles=World War II
laterwork=Mosaic artist, United States

Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff (December 16, 1907 – September 10, 1992) was a German Luftwaffe interrogator during the Second World War. He has been called the "Master Interrogator" of the Luftwaffe and possibly all of Nazi Germany; he has also been praised for his contribution in shaping U.S. interrogation techniques after the war. Merely an "Obergefreiter" (the equivalent of a senior lance corporal), he was charged with interrogating every German-captured American fighter pilot during the war after his becoming an interrogation officer in 1943. He is highly praised for the success of his techniques, especially considering he never used physical means to obtain the required information. No evidence exists he even raised his voice in the presence of a prisoner of war (POW). Scharff’s interrogation techniques were so effective that he was often called upon to assist other German interrogators in their questioning of bomber pilots and aircrews, including those crews and fighter pilots from countries other than the United States. Additionally, Scharff was charged with questioning V.I.P.s (Very Important Prisoners) that funneled through the interrogation center, namely senior officers and world-famous fighter aces.

After the end of WWII, Scharff was invited by the United States Air Force to give lectures on his interrogation techniques and first-hand experiences. The U.S. military later incorporated Scharff’s methods into its curriculum at its interrogation schools. Scharff's methods are still taught in US Army interrogation schools.

After the war, Scharff immigrated to the United States from South Africa. From the 1950s until his death in 1992, Scharff redirected his efforts to artistry, namely mosaics. He eventually became a world-renowned mosaic artisan, with his handiwork on display in such locations as the California State Capitol building; Los Angeles City Hall; several schools, colleges, and universities, including the giant Outdoor Mosaic Mural fascade of the Dixie State College Fine Arts Center; Epcot Center; and in the 15-foot arched mosaic walls featuring the story of Cinderella inside Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World, Florida.


Early life

Scharff was born on December 16, 1907 in Rastenburg, East Prussia (now Kętrzyn, Poland) to Hans Hermann Scharf and Else Scharf (née Jahn) and was the second of three sons, the elder being Eberhardt and the younger, Wolfgang, who died in his teens. Hanns Scharff spelled his surname differently than the surname he was born with, adding an extra ‘f’ on the end of it in his adulthood, presumably a reflection of earlier Scharffs in his family tree who spelled the name using the double-f.

Scharff’s father, a Prussian Army officer before and during the First World War, died in 1917 in Wiesbaden from wounds received during WWI on the Western Front in France in July 1916. He was the recipient of the Iron Cross (I and II Class), the Reuss Cross, and the Hanseatic Cross, "all for bravery in combat," [Toliver, p.15] something for which his son was immensely proud. [Toliver, p.21]

Scharff’s mother was the daughter of one of the founders of one of the largest textile mills in Germany. Her father, Christian G. Jahn, lived at the spacious Villa Jahn in Greiz, Germany, just south of Leipzig, and adjacent to the large textile factory compound. After Hans Scharf’s first stint in the army prior to WWI, he joined Christian Jahn as a partner in the textile business, moving his family into the Villa Jahn to live with his father-in-law. His son, Hanns Scharff, was raised in the Villa Jahn until adulthood and schooled in Leipzig. It was during his schooling there that he was first trained in various forms of art [Several, August 1997] , which would eventually serve as a basis for his new profession after WWII.

Pre-war career

Scharff's older brother, Eberhardt, was expected to take over the textile business from his grandfather, Jahn. Hanns Scharff himself was also encouraged to learn the family business and trained for three years in textiles and weaving while still a teenager. Next, he was trained in merchandizing and marketing, and finally exporting. Scharff then traveled to work in the Adlerwerke Foreign Office in Johannesburg, South Africa to gain experience in sales (specifically of the Adler automobiles produced in Frankfurt, Germany) for one year. However, he was so successful at his job that instead of returning to Germany he was promoted to Director of the Overseas Division and continued to make Johannesburg his home for the next 10 years leading up to the outbreak of World War II.

While in South Africa, Scharff met and married a South African Britisher, Margaret Stokes. Margaret was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Claude Stokes, first a pilot in Rhodesia in 1913, and later a squadron leader in the Royal Flying Corps. Claude Stokes was shot down during aerial combat in 1917 by Germany's famous Baron Manfred von Richthofen, more commonly known as the "Red Knight" or the "Red Baron." Stokes was the Red Baron's 58th victory. [Toliver, p.83-84] Scharff said of his father-in-law's encounter with Germany's "Ace of Aces":

They recognized each other by their squadron insignia and when the German saw his opponent going down, he landed next to him and brought him, heavily wounded, into a field hospital. The Baron took brotherly care and brought chocolate, cigarettes, and even some champagne to the squadron leader as he lay dying. He was with him at the end. [Toliver, p.84-85]
In an ironic twist, it was nearly on this same day that Scharff's own father died from his wounds during the war. [Toliver, p.85]

World War II

Pre-Auswertestelle West military career

Scharff was visiting Greiz, Germany during the summer of 1939 when World War II broke out. His visa was summarily revoked and he was more or less stranded in Germany. After finding work in Berlin and while living again at the Villa Jahn with his wife and then, three children, he was drafted into the German Wehrmacht as a Panzer Grenadier; he subsequently trained for two months in Potsdam. Scharff was originally intended to be deployed to the Russian Front. However, when Margaret Scharff learned of her husband's destination, she, angry at the thought of a fluent English-speaking German soldier's life being wasted at the Eastern Front, intervened. She talked her way into the office of a German general in Berlin and plead her husband's case, convincing the general of the error which was about to take place. The general sent a telegram to Scharff's Panzer unit, informing his superiors that Scharff was to be transferred immediately to the "Dolmetscher Kompanie XII" (Interpreters Company 12), based in Wiesbaden, to serve as a German/English interpreter. Scharff had been slated to leave for the Russian Front the morning the telegram arrived to reassign him. The remaining of his fellow grenadiers were sent on to Russia. [Toliver, p.18-20]

After traveling by train to Wiesbaden, Scharff asked at the train station where Dolmetscher Kompanie XII was based, not having been given any indication of its location before leaving his Panzer unit. Unfamiliar with Kompanie XII's existence, the Military Police at the train station directed Scharff to report to another Panzer grenadier battalion, again destined for the Eastern Front. Frustrated and concerned over his new battalion's unwillingness to transfer him to his correct unit, Scharff recalled a letter that his father had written to each of his boys shortly before he died. In the letter to Scharff, his father told him that should he ever need help or guidance to contact one or both of his dearest friends in his regiment, Major Ledebur and Major Postel. Scharff contacted the then-Lieutenant Colonel Postel about his situation, who agreed to take it up with the Commanding General, whom he knew personally. The next morning the Commanding General telephoned the Panzer unit and ordered them to release Scharff to his proper unit in Mainz.

After arriving at Kompanie XII in Mainz, Scharff trained in British nuances and military organization. During the spring of 1943, Scharff was promoted to "Hauptgefreiter" (Lance Corporal) and transferred to Headquarters in Wiesbaden. Unsatisfied with his job of "manufactur [ing] little round holes" as a clerk at Headquarters [Toliver, p.25] , he joked to the adjutant that he had figured out that the cost of each hole he punched was five cents. The adjutant informed the general of Scharff's calculations, and the general summoned Scharff and told him that he did not like low-ranking personnel "figuring out costs what were none of their business." [Toliver, p.26] However, after hearing Scharff's story, the general agreed to send Scharff--only one of three allowed per year--to the Luftwaffe interrogation center at Oberursel, Germany, to serve as an interpreter assisting the interrogators. [Toliver p.26]

Auswertestelle West Interrogation Officer

The Luftwaffe interrogation center at Oberursel, just north of Frankfurt, was officially known as "Auswertestelle West" (Intelligence and Evaluation Center West). It served as the initial in-processing and interrogation center for all captured Allied Air Force personnel, except for Soviet aircrews, who were interrogated at a separate location. [Toliver, p.14] Upon arrival at Auswertestelle West, Scharff began in the Camp Office--Reception (COR) and was eventually moved up by the Chief of the Fighter Interrogation Section, Captain Horst H. "Big Chief" Barth, to assistant interrogation officers of the American Fighters section responsible for the 8th and 9th Air Forces. [Toliver, p.29-30] It was during his training as an assistant interrogation officer that Scharff claims he learned his interrogation techniques through observation; he was never formally trained as an interrogation officer. [Toliver, p.30]

Scharff assisted two USAAF Fighter interrogators named Weyland and Schröder. While Scharff was on leave in late 1943, Weyland and Schröder went up in a Fieseler Storch aircraft with a Luftwaffe fighter pilot from the Kampfgeschwader 27 unit at Eschborn Airbase. The aircraft's engine malfunctioned, forcing the plane to crash, killing the pilot and Schröder, and mortally wounding Weyland. The accident prompted Barth to promote Scharff to interrogation officer over the USAAF Fighter Section; Scharff was also officially transferred from the Army to the Luftwaffe at that time, but was not promoted in rank. [Toliver, p.37] He was later provided with an assistant interrogator, Otto "Canadian Wild Bill" Engelhardt. [Toliver, p.273]



* [http://allearsnet.com/tp/mk/castle.htm "Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom"] Some photos of Scharff's mosaic work can be seen.
*Fulton, Ben "The Interrogator: After Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, Torin Nelson has some questions about the War on Terror." Salt Lake City Weekly [http://www.slweekly.com/editorial/2005/feat_2005-03-10.cfm slweekly.com] , March 10, 2005
*Grier, Peter and Faye Bowers "How interrogation tactics have changed" [http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0527/p02s01-usmi.html The Christian Science Monitor] , May 27, 2004 edition
*Littlefield, Robert M. excerpt from "Double Nickel - Double Trouble" [http://www.station131.co.uk/55th/Personal%20Accounts.htm#The%20Greifswald%20Incident The "Greifswald Incident"] ISBN 0-9623080-3-X
* [http://www.mcitta.org/scharff0505.htm The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association] "Hanns Scharff: Master Interrogator"
*Scharff, Hanns J. "Without Torture," "Argosy Magazine", May 1950 issue
*Several, Michael "Hanns Scharff: Biographical Information" [http://www.publicartinla.com/CivicCenter/scharff_bio.html Los Angeles Civic Center] August 1997
*Skindrud, Erik "The Good Soldier: Lessons from the past for this generation’s military interrogators" [http://www.ocweekly.com/news/talk/the-good-soldier/15299/ www.ocweekly.com] September 9, 2004
*Smith, Mary and Barbara Freer [http://www.merkki.com/new_page_2.htm Stalag Luft I Online] "The Luftwaffe Interrogators: Dulag Luft - Oberursel"
*Toliver, Raymond F. "The Interrogator: the Story of Hanns Scharff, Luftwaffe's Master Interrogator" AERO Publishers, 1978; Schiffer Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-8168-6470-5
*Vest, Jason "Haunted by Abu Ghraib" [http://www.govexec.com/features/0406-01/0406-01s3.htm www.govexec.com] April 1, 2006
*Wainright, Marshall "The Strange Tale of the Only USAAF Pilot to Desert to the Germans" [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3901/is_200409/ai_n9454071 "Air Classics Magazine"] September 2004

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