The scientists who designed Germany’s rockets in World War II were interested not only in developing Nazi secret weapons, but also enthusiastic about pioneering a space program. In fact, Wernher von Braun, who headed the research, was briefly arrested by the Gestapo. Allegedly von Braun had asserted, one evening, that he was sorry he was not working on a spaceship instead of trying to help Hitler win a war that was lost.
A German rocket team had plans of an A11 rocket designed to fling an astronaut into orbit, and an A12 rocket that could launch a payload of eleven tons. The project head, Colonel Walter Dornberger, was developing a rocket that would attack the USA via outer space. Germany even dreamt of building a space-station, equipped with a giant parabolic mirror that would focus the sun’s rays and fry enemy military instillations down below. It can easily be imagined that America and Russia were itching to get their hands on these scientists to develop their own weapons and space programs.
THE SCIENTISTS FLEE
Aware that Germany had lost the war, von Braun assembled his colleagues who deliberated to whom they should surrender. If they stayed put in their Peenemünde rocket base on the Baltic Coast, they risked being overrun by the Russians.
Instead, they opted to flee to the American lines. After stealing a train with forged papers, von Braun and 500 colleagues fled west. Although the SS got wind of the defection and were ordered to kill them rather than allow Nazi secrets to fall into enemy hands, the group managed to evade its pursuers and surrendered itself to an American private in the Bavarian Alps. They warned the Americans that they should race to Peenemünde and Nordhausen (the cave factory) to salvage the rocket parts, before the Russians beat them to it.
This is perhaps one of the few incidences where the West outscored Russia after World War II. The Soviets had to be satisfied with lower level scientists. As Josef Stalin protested to one of his rocket experts, “This is absolutely intolerable. We defeated the Nazi armies. We occupied Berlin and Peenemünde. But the Americans got the rocket engineers.” Meanwhile, the SS had removed 2,000 slaves from Dora and its sub-camps under heavy guard and forced them, on foot or by cart and train, to the town of Gardelegen. Less than half survived the journey. Then the SS herded the survivors into a barn and burned it to the ground. Two days later, American troops found a mere 20 survivors. On April 11, the 3rd US Armored Division reached the Mittelbau-Dora underground rocket factories and discovered, at least, 1,500 corpses and 405 living skeletons.
In August 5706/1946, President Harry Truman authorized Project Paperclip, a plan to bring selected German scientists to America to help in the Cold War against Russia. However, he expressly excluded anyone found “to have been a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazism or militarism.”
The War Department’s Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) duly investigated a first batch of potential German scientists, and the State Department representative on the board concluded that they were all “ardent Nazis.” Shocked at this development, JIOA Director, Bosquet Wev, felt that it was time to bend the rules and wrote a memo warning that “the best interests of the United States have been subjugated to the efforts expended in ‘beating a dead Nazi horse.’” In addition, he claimed that, back in Germany, the scientists would be a “far greater security threat to this country than any former Nazi affiliations which they may have had or even any Nazi sympathies that they may still have.”
To solve the impasse, Military Intelligence “whitewashed” the scientists’ files. In 5745/1985, an investigator studied 130 Project Paperclip scientist reports and found that every one of them “had been changed to eliminate the security threat classification.”
For example, a report on Wernher von Braun, dated September 18, 5707/1947, stated: “Subject is regarded as a potential security threat by the military governor.”
But by the following February, a revamped report stated: “No derogatory information is available on the subject… It is the opinion of the Military Governor that he may not constitute a security threat to the United States.”
Arthur Rudolph benefited from a similar whitewashing. He was operations director of the underground Mittelwerk rocket factory at Dora-Nordhausen, where thousands of slaves worked 72 hours a week on 1,100 calories a day, and 20,000-30,000 workers died from beatings and starvation. Rudolph had belonged to the Nazi Party since 5691/1931, and his 5705/1945 military file warned: “100% Nazi, dangerous type, security threat..!! Suggest internment.”
But the JIOA’s final assessment sang a different tune, claiming that there was “nothing in his records indicating that he was a war criminal or an ardent Nazi or otherwise objectionable.”
Von Braun and 120 ‘Peenemünders’ were brought to America and assembled at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at the White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, to help the U.S. army reassemble the V2s and study German technology. As the Cold War heated up, the scientists were moved, in 5710/1950, to a new rocket center in Huntsville, Alabama.
On January 31, 5718/1958, von Braun’s team launched Explorer I, America’s first earth-orbiting satellite, marking America’s entry into the space race. Two years later, President Eisenhower made the Huntsville group a part of NASA and von Braun helped develop their Saturn multi-stage rockets.
The Saturn V launch vehicle that landed the first men on the moon, in July 5729/1969, was largely designed by German engineers in Huntsville. Its manager was Arthur Rudolph.
As a slave laborer, Jean Michel, commented about that small step for man and giant leap for mankind, “I could not watch the Apollo mission without remembering that that triumphant walk was made possible by our initiation to inconceivable terror.”
Von Braun developed guided missiles for the U.S. Army and became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In 5730/1970, he was appointed NASA’s associate administrator. He and his associates were heaped with honor and prestige, their association with a notorious death-camp conveniently forgotten. Thanks to the Cold War and space race, their Nazi past was disregarded.
“Many years have passed since Dora ended,” another former slave laborer, Yves Béon, concludes in his book, Planet Dora. “You would think that its story was over and done with. It isn’t. At the end of the war, the great powers shared the engineers, the creators, and the fathers of theV1s and V2s.
“Far from punishing them, they supplied them with laboratories, study offices and factories. They were also showered with praises and with money, honor and glory. Nothing was too good for them, and some of them were shown off as good examples to schoolchildren.”
An example of the last accusation is the utilization of von Braun by the Walt Disney organization to popularize space exploration. The skeletons only emerged from the closet in 5739/1979, when Congress created the Office of Special Investigations (the OSI) in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, charged with sniffing out Nazi war criminals who had infiltrated America. One of their first investigations concerned the German rocket engineers. Von Braun was spared embarrassment since he had died of stomach cancer two years earlier.
Rather than face justice, Arthur Rudolph renounced his American citizenship and fled back to Germany, where he died in 5756/1996. Rudolph had admitted to walking through the tunnels once or twice a day, and army records prove that he received daily reports concerning prisoner’s deaths. “I knew that people were dying,” he euphemistically told investigators. The “Paperclip Project” scandal is almost forgotten. Few people remember how expedience triumphed over truth and justice.
John Loftus, federal prosecutor in the OSI, stated it eloquently: “In a way, we Americans are the last victims of the Holocaust, imprisoned by the secrets of the Cold War, locked in the fortress of lies. In a democratic society, there is only one hard way to liberation –Wahrheit macht frei, i.e. truth produces freedom.”