The late German actor who starred in the wildly popular television crime show "Derrick" was a member of Hitler's notorious Waffen SS, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported Friday.

Horst Tappert, who played the beloved baggy-eyed detective from 1974 to 1998 in a programme that ran in more than 100 countries, was a member of an SS tank regiment on the Russian front, according to the report.

According to archives listing next-of-kin for Wehrmacht soldiers, Tappert joined the Waffen SS at the latest in 1943, the newspaper said.

Tappert died in 2008.

Several prominent Germans kept quiet after the war about their service in the Waffen SS, an elite corps responsible for some of the Nazis' worst atrocities.

"In his memoirs as well as in all his public remarks on the war years, Tappert never made mention of this," the newspaper said.

"In an interview he said he was a medic and was taken prisoner at the end of the war."

The report was based on the findings of sociologist Joerg Becker, who, while working on a biography of another academic, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, looked into the personal histories of members of a theatre company she co-founded.

Tappert belonged to the troupe in 1947. When Becker examined the archives of the notification service for next-of-kin of Wehrmacht soldiers in case they were killed in action (WASt), the researcher found the actor's name.

The Berlin-based WASt, which also has vast files on soldiers who survived the war, said Tappert started as a reservist in an anti-aircraft battery before joining the tank regiment.

Association with Hitler's SS has come back to haunt other high-profile Germans.

A Nobel laureate, Gunter Grass, saw his substantial moral authority undermined by his 2006 admission, six decades after World War II, that he had been a member of the Waffen SS as a 17-year-old.

Update, 6:36 p.m. EST: The headline for this story has been corrected for accuracy.