When I started on Part One of this series, I thought I would be able to contain all of it in three parts. To cut down on the length of each individual post [which will still be quite long], I will be splitting the series up into several more parts. There are many pieces of the puzzle that, if cut out, would take away from showing the true evil of some of the men who came to the US under this program. One of my goals is to demonstrate the true evil they orchestrated and link it to the cultural influence they were able to exert on America.
As the story goes, Adolf Hitler put a bullet through his own head around 3:30 in the afternoon inside his Führerbunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. The Red Army was estimated to be about 500 meters from reaching his bunker by that time. There is still contention as to whether it was actually Hitler or a body double – increased by Russia’s unwillingness to allow for proper DNA testing of the alleged skeletal remains – but that’s a story for another time.
Later that day, Major General Dr. Walter Schreiber was also captured by the Russians. There is video of him surrendering with his hands up, walking out of another bunker. Schreiber claimed, until his death, that the video was a forced reenactment and that he never surrendered willingly.
Siegfried Knemeyer, head of aviation engineering for the Reich, had fled on foot and was later found hiding under a bridge by the British, who captured and arrested him.
Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and a few hundred more Nazis were hiding out in the Bavarian Alps at a ski resort called Haus Ingeburg. Von Braun stated years later that, “there was little for any of us to do but eat, drink, sunbathe, and admire the snow-capped Alps. There I was living royally in a ski hotel on a mountain plateau, the French below us to the west, and the Americans to the south. But no one, of course, suspected we were there.”
When they heard the news of Hitler’s demise over the radio on May 1, von Braun and Dornberger realized their time was running short as “free men.” They sent von Braun’s brother Magnus down the hillside to attempt a negotiation with the Americans who were nearby. The Americans requested that Wernher come down himself. He assembled a crew consisting of the his brother Magnus, Walter Dornberger and his chief of staff Herbert Axster, an engine specialized Hans Lindenberg, and the two engineers who had hidden documents for them in the Dornten mines, Dieter Huzel and Bernhard Tessmann.
They were taken to an American camp and treated quite nicely. They “were served fresh eggs, coffee, and bread with real butter,” and they got “private rooms to sleep in with pillows and clean sheets.” When the international press arrived, the group bragged about their invention of the V-2 and smiled for the photos. They even posed for photos with individual American GIs and casually asked when they would get to meet “Ike” [General Eisenhower]. One of the American intelligence officers noted that among the group, “there is recognition of Germany’s defeat, but none whatsoever of Germany’s guilt and responsibility.”
THE SCRAPBOOKER OF AUSCHWITZ
Those involved with the chemical weapons production had all scattered and were proving very difficult to track down. Near the top of the “wanted list” for the Americans – both the military and the Cartels Division were after him – was Hermann Schmitz, one of the more prominent board members of IG Farben. In addition to war crimes, he was also being pursued due to international money laundering schemes. He wasn’t just an IG Farben board member; he was also the director of the Deutsche Reichsbank and the director of the Bank for International Settlements in Geneva.
The Americans who first found him [and his “dumpy Frau of a wife”] immediately realized he was someone of prominence and import to the Germans. He had birthday cards on his desk from Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring and had his own air raid shelter behind his house.
US Major Tilley arrived to further interrogate Schmitz. In doing so, Tilley discovered a safe hidden behind a wall panel in Schmitz’ office. Inside was a photo album scrapbook containing photos of the town of Auschwitz beginning in 1940 and chronicling the construction of the IG Farben chemical factory that was built at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Russians had not yet shared the photos and information they uncovered from Auschwitz with the Allies, so Tilley was unaware of the true significance of the find. He knew it must be important, as it was said that Schmitz began openly weeping as the scrapbook was removed from his property.
DON’T BE CAUGHT WITH DIRTY DRAWERS
When the Americans caught up with Otto Ambros, he claimed to be a board member of IG Farben who had been sent to oversee their soap and detergent factory in Gendorf. The soldiers who first encountered him had not been provided the list of high priority assets, and as such were unaware of his role in the slave labor that had taken place there.
Ambros and his deputy assistant had spent the past four months retrofitting the factories at Gendorf to appear as though they legitimately had only ever produced soaps and detergents. To add to the illusion, they even provided the American soldiers with bars of soap and laundry detergent, warm showers, and washing facilities. The Americans got their first real baths and clean uniforms in more than a month.
When confronted about the very thin, feeble workers with shaved heads in the facility, Ambros fabricated another story: he said they were war refugees from Poland and he was providing them with housing and employment while they tried to get back on their feet after escaping the war. He had the audacity to make these claims directly in front of the slave laborers that had been under his rule for the past few months.
“A LIAR AND A MEDICAL CHARLATAN”
Those were the words used by US Major Gill to describe Professor Doctor Friedrich Ludwig Kurt Blome, the deputy surgeon general of the Third Reich and vice president of the Reich’s Physicians’ League. Intel reports suggested that he reported directly to Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, or both. He was operating under the claim of “cancer research,” which was the front for the Nazi’s biological research programs.
Dr. Blome stuck by that story. He was also known to be on a panel of Nazi doctors who were “focused on hygiene,” claiming it was related to disease control. The word “hygiene” was a false cover for “ethnic cleansing.” In other words, the type of “hygiene” Dr. Blome was concerned with involved “special treatment” [mass murder] of prisoners who had diseases, especially Polish prisoners with tuberculosis.
The interrogations of Dr. Blome did lead to one milestone for the Americans: he became the first high-ranking Nazi to openly admit to the mass extermination of Jews and other groups deemed unworthy by the Third Reich.
“I can not approve of the way new advances in medical science have been used for atrocities. [In my capacity as deputy surgeon general] I observed new scientific studies and experiments which led to later atrocities, eg mass sterilization, gassing of Jews.”
Major Gill showed Dr. Blome the evidence that Operation Alsos had uncovered the previous year: the letters found between Dr. Blome, Dr. Haagen, and Dr. August Hirt discussing the need for more human subjects in better condition. Additional letters had been found from Dr. Blome to Dr. Hirt instructing him to research what mustard gas will do to “living organisms,” which the Americans now fully believed were humans, not small animals, as the Nazis were claiming.
DON’T BE SALTY
The former “general manager” of the Mittelwork slave labor factory buried under the mountains in Nordhausen, Georg Rickhey, was now spending his days running operations in a salt mine about 90 miles from the V-2 factory. He was attempting to hide out and “blend in” with the locals in hopes that he would remain undiscovered by the Allied forces who were searching for him.
He was not so fortunate. US Colonel Peter Beasley was following leads regarding both Rickhey and Albert Speer and came upon a paper trail – and a trail of local whispers – that led him right to Rickhey. The documents they found verified that Rickhey was the liaison between the Mittelworks and the Ministry of Armaments; in other words, he was the direct connection between the slave labor camp and Albert Speer.
Once Rickhey was captured, Col. Beasley offered him the following terms:
“I’ve got a job for you. I want you to begin right now writing out a full description of yourself and all the activities of the V-2 factory, and what your people were working on. When the is complete, we will accept you as an official of the German Government; we have patience and time and lots of people – you have lost the war and so far as I am concerned you are a man who knows a lot about rockets. As an American officer, I want my country to have full possession of your knowledge. To my superiors, I shall recommend that you be taken to the United States.”
Rickhey agreed with enthusiasm. He showed the Americans where he had hidden forty-two boxes of documents related to Nordhausen and the V-2 rockets. The documents were in German; thus Beasley decided he would bring Rickhey back to London with him to begin translating the stash.
NOT A VERY CLOSE SHAVE
Albert Speer was arrested by the British while he was in the middle of shaving. He had been hiding out at a castle owned by one of his Nazi friends. The Americans had already been spying on him for two weeks and having “casual discussions” with him for several days. The town in which he was located was under British jurisdiction, which is why they performed the arrest.
Paul Nitze, head of the US Strategic Bombing Survey, had particular interest in Albert Speer in regards to using his knowledge to further the US chances of victory in the Pacific against the Japanese. He interrogated Speer regarding which Allied bombing campaigns had caused the most and the least amounts of damages in hopes of understanding what strategies were and were not effective.
Speer denied any knowledge of the mass exterminations of minority and religious groups. Meanwhile, one of Speer’s deputies in charge of organizing slave labor told the Americans that Speer should be hanged for his role in torture and executions.
Many other members of the Nazi government were located in the same town as Speer. They and Speer were arrested and flown to a “top secret interrogation center” called Ashcan.
“DIE STUNDE NULL” – ZERO HOUR
I will directly quote from Annie Jacobsen’s Operation Paperclip book here:
The War in Europe was over. Germans called it die Stunde Null, zero hour. Cities lay in ruins. Allied bombing had destroyed more than 1.8 million German homes. Of the 18.2 million men who had served in the German army, navy, Luftwaffe, and the Waffen-SS, a total of 5.3 million had been killed. Sixty-one countries had been drawn into a war Germany started. Some 50 million people were dead. The Third Reich was no more.
Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler were dead. Albert Speer was in custody. So were Siegfried Knemeyer and Dr. Kurt Blome. Otto Ambros was under house arrest in Gendorf, with no one in CIOS or Alsos yet having figured out who he really was. Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and Arthur Rudolph were in custody, working toward contracts with the US Army. Georg Rickhey had a job in London, translating documents for the US Strategic Bombing Survey.
The future of war and weapons hung in the balance. What would happen to the Nazi scientists? Who would be hired and who would be hanged? In May 1945 there was no official policy regarding what to do with any of them. “The question who is a Nazi is often a dark riddle,” an officer with the Third Army, G-5, wrote in a report sent to SHAEF headquarters in May. “The question what is a Nazi is also not easy to answer.”
Over the next few months, critical decisions about what to do with Hitler’s former scientists and engineers would be made, almost always based on an individual military organization’s needs and justified by perceived threats. Official policy would follow, one version for the public and another for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). A headless monster called Operation Paperclip would emerge.
CEASE & DESIST – UNLESS YOU DO IT FOR US
The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued JCS Directive 1076 ordering all German military research to cease. Approximately 1,500 German scientists were being held separately from other POWs in various locations.
The War Department and General Eisenhower were dragging their feet in regards to creating an official policy to handle the German scientists, doctors, engineers, etc. Major General Kenneth Wolfe of the US Army Air Forces and chief of engineering and procurement at Wright Field was not willing to wait around before attempting to put the Germans to work for America. Wolfe went to Nordhausen to meet up with Colonel Trichel and the Special Mission V-2 team. After seeing the superior technology firsthand, he pushed even harder to expedite the process of bringing Germans to America.
US Major Robert Staver, the head of Special Mission V-2, was also in support of putting the Nazi scientists to use as quickly as possible. From the time he entered the Nordhausen tunnels, estimates were that the Red Army would be arriving within 18 days; the sense of urgency was only increased by this.
Staver oversaw the transport of 400 tons of rocket parts back to the US, but without technical manuals and details, the Americans had no idea how to put them together properly [and safely]. He began interviewing locals for information regarding scientists who may be hiding in the area, offering bribes of cigarettes, alcohol, and Spam in exchange for information. He was given the name and location of Karl Otto Fleischer, who was said to report directly to General Dornberger.
Staver gave Fleischer an ultimatum: give us information or go to jail. He knew that documents were hidden nearby, but not the exact locations. Fleischer claimed ignorance and suggested speaking to one of Wernher von Braun’s deputies, Dr. Eberhard Rees. Rees played dumb as well and gave up the name Walther Riedel, chief of V-2 rocket motors and structural design.
Riedel also claimed to have no idea where the documents had been hidden. He did come up with a list of 40 other scientists that the Americans should consider for any type of “deal” they might offer. Riedel threatened that if he and the others were not brought to America, they would gladly accept any deal the Russians offered instead.
He was very enthusiastic about the possibility of a space program, as shown in a summary of the interview notes in Jacobsen’s book:
Riedel was obsessed with outer space vehicles, which he called “passenger rockets.” In one interview, Riedel insisted he’d designed these passenger rockets for “short trips around the moon,” and that he’d been pursuing “space mirrors which would be used for good and possibly evil.”
Complicating the process was Dr. Percy “HP” Robertson, who had worked on Operation Alsos and was now sent to collect the scientists and move them to another location for interrogation. The two were at odds over who was in charge of the prisoners. Staver refused to let go of his prisoners just yet, taking a note from their book and using the Russians as his bargaining chip to buy more time to interrogate them and locate the V-2 documents.
Robertson also had a helpful piece of information: another Nazi he had interrogated claimed there was a stash of documents near a salt mine and were sealed into a mine shaft. Robertson followed this lead; the trail led him to some familiar names: Wernher von Braun and General Dornberger.
This was the Allies’ initial plan to hold war criminals accountable through tribunals. The goal was to “democratize and demilitarize postwar Germany and Austria.” Those who went through trial were to be placed into one of five categories:
- Major Offenders
- Party Activists, Militarists, and Profiteers
- Individuals who were “Less Incriminated”
- Nazi Party Followers
- Those who were Exonerated
The Nazis were all hoping to increase their chances of being offered jobs with the Americans while also being afraid to “say too much” lest they incriminate themselves in the devilish crimes they orchestrated. They believed that the more value they could promise bringing to the Americans, the less likely they were to face a tribunal.
Hundreds of them were transferred to and were being held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics. Many treated it more like a retreat and break from work than as though they were being held captive. Dieter Huzel said that the air was fresh and the food didn’t run out, and that “rain was infrequent and almost every day sunbathing was possible.” Others now being held here, in addition to Huzel, included Wernher von Braun, General Dornberger, Bernhard Tessman, and Arthur Rudolph.
GOOSE CHASE – ROUND UP THE WHOLE FLOCK
Staver made plans to take Walther Riedel with him to meet with Otto Fleischer to track down the location of the V-2 documents. Staver gave the ultimatum again: give up the information or go to prison. They were given 24 hours to decide.
The next day, Staver was supposed to meet with Fleischer again, but Fleischer no-showed. Riedel was there with a message for Staver to meet Fleischer at an Inn nearby. This began a goose chase of notes left behind for Staver at several locations that led him on the trail to finally encountering Fleischer. The documents, he said, were in a mine shaft, but the entrance had been blasted with dynamite and was inaccessible.
Fleischer and Dr. Rees were given supplies and money by Staver to put together a crew of local mining men to move the rubble and uncover the documents. It was worth the trouble: more than fourteen tons of documents were organized into crates. They were sent to American offices in Paris for inspection and translation.
Staver used this opportunity to make his strongest argument yet for putting the Germans to work, stating in a message to the War Department:
“Have in custody over 400 top research development personnel of Peenemunde. Developed V-2. The thinking of the scientific directors of this group is 25 years ahead of the US. Later version of this rocket should permit launching from Europe to US. Immediate action recommended to prevent loss of whole or part of the group to other interested parties. Urgently request reply as early as possible.”
The Soviets were now less than 48 hours away from arriving in Nordhausen. Hoping to further capitalize on their success in locating the documents, Staver put some last minute plans into action to capture more German scientists to add to his numbers. He brought Wernher von Braun to Nordhausen and used him as an intermediary to help round up other scientists in the area who had been hiding and convince them to join the Americans instead of the Russians.
In a bit of poetic justice, more than 1,000 Germans – scientists and their families – were tightly shoved into boxcars at the train station to be taken to holding facilities. Anyone who tried to board who was not of “scientific importance” was shooed away with the ends of rifles and left to the mercy [or lack thereof] of the Russians.
As they were leaving, Dornberger gave up the location of another hiding place that the Americans had not yet known about. A detachment went to investigate and found five large wooden boxes of information about the V-2 rockets.
80 select scientists and their families – the most prominent of which was Wernher von Braun – were unloaded in Witzenhausen and ordered to get to work. Army Ordinance began their own work: devising the plans to get these Nazis transferred to the Fort Bliss Army Base in Texas.
SNEAKING INTO DC
Five Nazis were already secretly working in Washington, DC at the same time that the rest were being rounded up. Dr. Herbert Wagner and four of his assistants had been flown in under tight security by Naval Intelligence. Dr. Wagner invented the Hs-293 bomb, the first guided missile successfully used in combat. This bomb had wiped out several Allied ships during the war and the Navy desperately wanted [and needed] the technology to use in the Pacific.
Even back then, political correctness was in use with terminology. Dr. Wagner’s imprisonment was referred to as “voluntary detention” as a way to “soften the reality of being a prisoner.”
The same day as their arrival in DC, a Nazi submarine surrendered itself to the US off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The sub had originally been dispatched to sneak around the Arctic and then down to Japan to aid them against the Allies.
Inside the submarine […] was a cache of Nazi weapons said to contain what few aviation secrets may be left as well as other war-weapon plans and pieces of equipment. One of the wonder weapons on board was Dr. Wagner’s Hs-293 glider bomb, meant for use against the US Navy in the Pacific. Additionally, there were drawings and plans for the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket, experimental equipment for stealth technology on submarines, an entire Me 262 fighter aircraft, and ten lead-lined canisters containing 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide – a basic material used in making an atomic bomb.
Onboard the submarine was Dr. Heinz Schlicke, an expert in electronic warfare. “His areas of expertise included radio-location techniques, camouflage, jamming and counter-jamming, remote control, and infrared.” He was taken into custody, or more likely “voluntary detention,” and moved to the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Meade, Maryland. Within a few days, he was standing in front of American Navy Intelligence giving lectures on war technology.
The FBI, led by the infamous Edgar Hoover, was suspicious of the Nazis being brought into the country. They were at odds with the War Department, who reassured the FBI that their detainees were just interested in the furthering of scientific progress, not the affiliations of their employers, past or present. The FBI gave in to the demands of the War Department and gave the green light to proceed.
[Bonus fact: “The FBI’s bigger concern, read an intelligence report, was how much Dr. Wagner had been drinking lately. The FBI did not consider him a drunkard, but blamed his near-nightly intoxication on the recent death of his wife.“]
Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson wrote to the President’s Chief of Staff the following:
I strongly favor doing everything possible to utilize fully in the prosecution the war against Japan all information that can be obtained from Germany or any other source. These men are enemies and it must be assumed they are capable of sabotaging our war effort. Bringing them into this country raises delicate questions, including the strong resentment of the American public, who might misunderstand the purpose of bringing them here and the treatment accorded them.”
This letter was never shown to President Truman, but inspired a meeting of various War Department staff. They instituted a temporary policy: contracts could be given to German scientists “provided they were not known or alleged war criminals.”
The problem, they would soon realize, is that the better the scientist, the more horrific the crimes he took part in.