Grab an extra coffee or double your usual pour of whiskey and get comfortable. This one is a doozy.
The race was on between the United States and the Soviet Union to collect as many doctors, scientists, engineers, and other useful individuals as possible from Germany. The US and USSR were already anticipating conflict with one another following the defeat of Germany. Long before the “Space Race,” the “Brain Race” was taking place between the two superpowers.
The search for doctors and the scientists [specifically chemists in most cases] follow concurrent timelines in separate locations. I’ve tried to separate the two groups’ story lines as best as possible to avoid too much jumping back and forth. The number of names to keep straight increases as more players enter the game, so keeping them grouped together will hopefully help in understanding the connections between them.
The content of Part Three will be very dark, but I feel it is necessary to share the content exactly as it happened in order to contrast the depraved actions of these individuals against the prestigious positions many of them later held in the United States.
I also noticed many parallels between German strategies of the time and the handling of chemical and biological threats facing the US and world today. Another parallel worth noting is the difficulty of prosecuting individuals for what “everyone knows” when judicially admissible evidence is difficult to obtain.
Meanwhile, the top review for Annie Jacobsen’s book on Amazon complains that the book is “too grim” and “provides a one-sided and negative view” of the scientists and doctors recruited during Operation Paperclip. It disturbs me that quite a few people apparently feel the author was “unfair” to perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The majority of my information comes from her book, along with some interviews, news articles, and declassified documents.
LUFTWAFFE’S MOST WANTED
The US Army Air Forces were on the hunt for German doctors who had been employed by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. [Note: the US Air Force did not become its own uniformed branch separate from the Army until 1947.] These doctors had performed revolutionary experiments exploring the effects of flight on the human body. The Nazis were said to be “breaking new ground [in] air-sea rescue programs, high-altitude studies, and decompression sickness studies.” These studies set out to examine how pilots performed “in extreme cold, at extreme altitude, and at extreme speeds.”
The co-founders of the Aviation Medicine Laboratory at Wright Field were hoping to “track down” as many Luftwaffe doctors as possible and convince them to come work for the US Army Air Forces. Those men were US Major General Malcolm Grow, Surgeon General of the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe and Lieutenant Colonel Harry Armstrong, chief surgeon of the Eighth Air Force, both of whom were “physicians, flight surgeons, and aviation medicine pioneers.”
General Grow hoped that if he acquired enough German doctors he could convince the War Department to fund a new research laboratory where the doctors would continue their research. Armstrong was on board with this plan, helped develop a strategy for finding and approaching the doctors, and departed to Berlin to put it into motion.
Lt. Col. Armstrong had a list of 115 Luftwaffe doctors he was interested in “interviewing.” Number one on that list was Dr. Hubertus Strughold, a physiologist who held a similar position in the Luftwaffe that Armstrong did in the US military. The two men had crossed paths many times during the 1930s throughout their careers in aviation. Both were willing to describe each other as “quite good friends” prior to the war.
Dr. Strughold was a difficult man to find. While on the hunt for his former friend, Armstrong encountered a respiratory specialist named Ulrich Luft who had recently had his entire laboratory looted by the Russians. Armstrong told him he was searching for me to work for the US armed forces and willing to compensate anyone who led him to Dr. Strughold.
Lt. Col. Armstrong was not the only American searching for Dr. Strughold. US Major Leopold Alexander, a medical war crimes investigator, had Strughold’s name on his own list; the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects [CROWCASS]. There is no evidence as to whether Armstrong knew that Strughold was on the suspected war criminals list; placement on that list meant that under current policy the US could not hire him.
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC’S FIRST GLIMPSE
Life magazine printed a feature story about the liberation of the death camps in their May 7, 1945 issue. For the vast majority of American citizens, this was the first visual look into the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
The following are a few of those images from Life:
Many more publications followed with published photos of the camp victims and survivors. The American people were, of course, horrified, mortified, and disgusted. The general public believed that “winning the war” was not nearly enough; individual Nazis should be held accountable at tribunal for their specific crimes.
The tracking down and investigation of war criminals was spread out across multiple organizations. Finding them was the responsibility of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force [SHAEF]. The United Nations War Crimes Commission [UNWCC] was responsible for the investigation of the crimes. The UNWCC had three separate committees for different stages in the process. CROWCASS coordinated with both groups to provide updated lists of potential targets.
The aforementioned war crimes investigator Major Leopold Alexander began his life and career in Germany. He was a “rising star” in the German medical community, alongside his mentor Dr. Karl Kleist, until Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party took power in 1933. Alexander had left the country to study abroad just days before Hitler was declared Chancellor, a move that likely saved his life.
Despite his talents in the medical field, Alexander was a Jew, and therefore not welcomed back into Germany after the Third Reich took power. In April 1933 they instituted the “Reich’s Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,” which was a fancy way to say that it was now illegal for “non-Aryans” to work as civil servants, including university professors.
Alexander first arrived at Dachau on May 23, 1945. As his plane approached the landing area, survivors at the camp waved and cheered in excitement at the approach of more Americans. His first inspection of Dachau did not turn up much evidence; he would later discover this was because he did not yet know exactly what he should have been looking for.
He moved on – for now – to Munich to interview a radiologist named Georg August Weltz at the Luftwaffe’s Institute for Aviation Medicine. Dr. Weltz reported to the Luftwaffe Air Marshall Erhard Milch, who in turn reported directly to Hermann Göring. One of Weltz’s medical colleagues in the same circle was Dr. Strughold, the man for whom Alexander and Armstrong were both searching.
Dr. Weltz was in the business of testing the limits of Luftwaffe pilots and experimenting with unorthodox life-saving techniques. Many of the Luftwaffe pilots who were shot down during the Battle of Britain in 1940 did not die from freezing in the icy English Channel but rather from hypothermia after being rescued. Others died in the icy waters only minutes before the rescue ships arrived.
Therefore the Luftwaffe command wanted to know if it was possible to “unfreeze a man” after death – to bring him back to life. From Jacobsen’s book:
Dr. Weltz told Dr. Alexander that he and his team of researchers had performed groundbreaking research in this area. Weltz declared that they had in fact made a “startling and useful discovery.” The results, said Weltz, were “simply astounding.”
Dr. Alexander asked, “What kind of results?”
Weltz hesitated to provide details but promised that the US Army would be very interested in the knowledge he possessed. Waltz asked Dr. Alexander if a deal could be made. Weltz said that he was interested in securing a grant with the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Alexander explained that he had no authority with any private-sector foundation and that, before anything else, he needed Weltz to tell him about this so-called “astounding” discovery.
Weltz said that he and his team had solved an age-old riddle: Can a man who has frozen to death be brought back to life? The answer, Weltz, confided, was yes.
He said this was possible through a “rapid rewarming technique” they had invented and had been used by the Luftwaffe air-sea rescue service. Weltz claimed that the experiments had only been conducted on large animals – cows, horses, and adult pigs – and denied that humans had been used experimentally.
Alexander asked Weltz to show him the facilities and equipment used for these experiments. Much of the equipment in Munich had been hidden on abandoned farms. Their first stop was to a dairy farm, where there was an advanced low-pressure chamber [high-altitude chamber] hidden in a barn. These were used to test the limits on the body of pilots at different altitudes of flight. The significance of this would be learned later.
Their next stop was to another farm and another barn outside Freising, Germany. There were records of freezing experiments, but they all involved small animals such as mice and guinea pigs. They proceeded to a smaller shed towards the back of the property, within which were “two dirty wooden tubs, both cracked.”
It was an extraordinary moment, Dr. Alexander would later testify, horrifying in its clarity. Neither of the tubs could possibly fit a submerged cow, horse, or large pig. “What these tubs could fit was a human being,” Dr. Alexander said.
The grim reality of Dr. Weltz’s Luftwaffe research became painfully clear. “I came away from all these interviews with the distinct conviction that experimental studies on human beings, either by members of this group themselves, or by workers well known to and affiliated [with] the members of this group, had been performed and were being concealed.”
MAELSTROM OF DEPRAVITY
After only two weeks in Germany, “the deviance of Nazi science overwhelmed” Dr. Alexander. In a letter to his wife, he wrote:
German science presents a grim spectacle. Grim for many reasons. First it became incompetent and then it was drawn into the maelstrom of depravity of which this country reeks – the smell of the concentration camps, the smell of violent death, torture, and suffering. German doctors were not practicing science, but rather really depraved pseudoscientific criminality.”
The doctors in the Third Reich operated under the ideology that classified some people as Untermenschen – subhumans. Groups included in this designation included Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, Slavs, Russian prisoners of war, the handicapped, the mentally ill, and whomever else the Nazi core leadership decided they didn’t like. Because of this, they were considered no different than lab mice and were experimented upon as such.
Heinrich Himmler said of the idea:
The sub-human is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes, and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being. Not all of those who appear human are in fact so.
This philosophy allowed not only for cruel and unusual treatment of the victims of experimentation, but also as a justification of genocide.
The Third Reich enacted “The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring” under which they sterilized and eventually euthanized as much of their population of mentally ill persons as they could, including tens of thousands of children.
Many doctors admitted their knowledge of the mass executions of children to Dr. Alexander. Among these was his former mentor, Karl Kleist. After their interview, he never spoke to Kleist again, but that didn’t stop Kleist from showing up on a US recruiting list several years later.
GOD AND RADIO
At a US Army camp on the way to his next destination for interviews, Dr. Alexander shared a supper with an Army Chaplain and minister, Lieutenant Bigelow. Alexander was looking for some guidance regarding what he had learned so far, but Bigelow, it turned out, knew more than Alexander about some of the experiments.
Bigelow explained that a bootleg radio broadcast hosted by Dachau survivors had went out over the airwaves earlier in the day. They spoke of horrific experiments performed on other prisoners involving freezing, in which they were held down in tubs of ice water, usually until death, to see if they could be brought back to life. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the connection between these experiments and those allegedly performed on animals by Dr. Weltz.
Dr. Alexander finally caught up to Dr. Strughold in Göttingen, Germany at the Institute for Physiology. He admitted that himself and many other Luftwaffe doctors were aware of human experimentation as far back as late 1942. He said that a man and his wife who were now dead, Dr. Sigmund Rascher and Nini Rascher, were the ones responsible for the freezing experiments at Dachau.
Several more doctors interviewed at the institute told the same story: Dr. Rascher was in charge of the experiments, but he and his wife were now deceased. All of the doctors alleged that they only experimented on consenting colleagues and students in much less dangerous studies while at the institute. They conveniently left out all of their trips to Dachau to experiment on unwilling slaves outside the institute.
One important new piece of information came out of the interviews: Rascher was also a member of the SS. Prior to this, investigators did not have definitive proof or admission that the SS was also involved in the human experimentation.
BAD GUYS LOVE CAVES
The vast majority of Nazi documents uncovered after the war were found hidden in various mountainside caves and mine shafts. Despite Hitler’s “scorched earth” policy regarding incriminating evidence, a large number of prominent players in the war kept their documents and hid them rather than destroy them. This implies a certain level of optimism on their part; they were acting with the assumption that they would be free men again in the future and able to reclaim their stash.
[Bonus fact: Easter Egg hunts are believed by some historians to have been “invented” by Protestant Reformation leader and German man Martin Luther. Upon finding the eggs, the children would crack them open to symbolize the opening of Jesus’ tomb, the concept of resurrection and new life, and the yolk the rising of the sun on the third day. Despite descending from a people who had 400 years of egg hiding heritage, the Nazis were not very good at hiding documents.]
A massive stash of documents and other miscellaneous items belonging to Heinrich Himmler was uncovered in a cave in Hallein, Germany. They turned out to be the most incriminating and most important pieces of evidence regarding human experimentation to be used in the Nuremberg trials.
EXPERIMENTAL CELL BLOCK FIVE
Translations of Himmler’s documents revealed that the freezing experiments were not the only torturous human experiments that took place at Dachau. They also proved that Dr. Rascher was far from the only SS or Luftwaffe doctor who was directly involved in said experiments.
Dr. Strughold’s co-author and close friend Dr. Siegfried Ruff oversaw Rascher’s experiments at Dachau. In addition to the freezing, they also studied the effects of high altitudes on the human body using low pressure chambers [identical to the one previously found hidden in a barn].
Most disturbing to Alexander were a group of photographs showing what happened in the course of the experiments as healthy young men – classified by the Nazis as Untermenschen – were strapped into a harness inside the low-pressure chamber and subjected to explosive decompression. These photographs, astonishing in their sadism, were essentially before, during, and after pictures of murder in the name of medicine. Other photographs among the Himmler papers documented the freezing experiments as they were being conducted at Dachau. Rascher’s experiments were by no means the solo act of one depraved man. There were photographs of yet another of Dr. Strughold’s Luftwaffe colleagues, Dr. Ernst Holzlöhner, holding prisoners down in the tubs of icy water while their body temperatures were recorded as they died. It is believed Rascher’s wife, Nini, took the photographs.
Witnesses at Dachau said that the building hosting the various experiments was referred to as Experimental Cell Block Five. Those who were sent there typically only survived 2-3 days at most. The witnesses were also able to confirm that the use of pigs, cows, and horses [with various adjectives for size, color, etc] in reports were in fact codes for members of the different ethnic and religious groups that were the unwilling participants in the experiments.
Allegedly – the films were not recovered – Himmler hosted movie nights [“motion pictures of the records of the experiments”] in the form of private screenings at the Air Ministry.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVILS
The evidence uncovered by Dr. Alexander and his team had not yet been presented to the US Army Air Force and British Royal Air Force teams who were still conducting interviews with many of the aforementioned doctors and scientists. These investigators had no knowledge of the human experiments – in part due to taking the Nazis for their word in interviews and in part due to willful ignorance. They were still trying to drum up support for the secret laboratory plans concocted by Armstrong and Grow.
Royal Air Force Commander R. H. Winfield wrote in a report:
Strughold was the mainspring of German Aviation Medical Research and had a large staff of colleagues, including Dr. Siegfried Ruff, who all appeared to have suffered tremendously from their isolation during the war years. Strughold [seemed] considerably disturbed about the welfare of his staff who, unable to evacuate Berlin, were now threatened by the Russians.
US Colonel W. R. Lovelace was the American representative in these interrogations. He interviewed Strughold, Weltz, and Dr. Theodor Benzinger [the coordinator for Himmler’s movie nights]. Ignorant to the use of code words in the scientific studies, his report praised their experiments on animals.
Armstrong submitted at 1,500 page report on the atrocities of the human experiments. Before he was finished, the Army Air Forces decided that the majority of scientists interviewed were good candidates and that they would proceed with plans for a new research laboratory.
The AAF report even stated, “no effort was made to assess [the doctors’] political and ethical viewpoints or their responsibilities for war crimes.” They put Dr. Strughold on equal footing in setting up the new top secret lab. He hand picked 58 Luftwaffe doctors to work in the lab. Of the aforementioned, only Dr. Georg Weltz was arrested and sent to the Nuremberg prison.
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO
The US State Department was very openly critical of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil for harboring Nazi war criminals who had managed to escape near or at the end of the war. Because of this, they were hesitant to approve of bringing in Nazi war criminals to work for the US. But they did it anyway, using the excuse that it would be temporary and that “at the end of their exploitation they will be sent back to Germany.
Other departments were not happy with the idea for different reasons. The Department of Justice was slammed with the heavy workload involved in doing background checks on foreign enemies. The Department of Labor was scrambling to find or create legal loopholes that would allow the Germans to work in the US. The Department of Commerce was trying to find a way to avoid granting patents to the Germans.
A man named John J. McCloy was appointed to be the liaison between these departments and the military. He believed that “the program would help foster American military superiority while engendering economic prosperity.” In other words, the ends justify the means in his opinion.
TRASH CAN METAPHOR #1
Captured members of the Nazi high command were taken to a highly secret interrogation facility in Luxembourg code-named “Ashcan.” The official title of the facility was the Central Continental Prisoner of War Enclosure Number 32.
John Dolibois, a member of Army Intelligence G-2, Collecting and Dissemination Division, was ordered to Ashcan after helping identify prominent Nazis at Dachau. He grew up in Luxembourg, but this was the first time he had returned in 14 years. The Palace Hotel, which he was familiar with from childhood, was the building they had converted into the Ashcan facility. Even the guards in front of the building did not know what took place inside – or who was inside.
Within a few minutes of arriving and entering his new living quarters, someone knocked angrily at his door. He opened it and standing on the other side was Hermann Göring – Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, Director of the “Four Year Plan” for a “solution to the Jewish problem,” and the man who would have been Hitler’s successor had the war continued. Göring began complaining about the living conditions; he did not believe he had an adequate pillow and his bed was uncomfortable, for starters.
Other residents at Ashcan included Hans Frank [“the Jew Butcher of Cracow]; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel; chief of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht General Alfred Jodl; commander of submarines and commander in chief of the German Navy Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz; Supreme Commander of the West Field Marshal Albert Kesselring; foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; and Albert Speer, who we have met previously.
A second “clique” described as the “Real Nazi Gangsters” was also being held there; they were the men who were with Hitler at the very beginning of his rise to power. They included Labor Front leader Robert Ley; editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper and propaganda tool Der Sturmer; Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg; “the man who betrayed Austria and became Reichskomissar of Holland Arthur Syess-Inquart; and Minister of the Interior Wilhlem Frick.
An amusing anecdote from a summary of an interview with Dolibois:
Stripped of their power, small details spoke volumes to Dolibois. Göring was terrified of thunderstorms. Keitel was obsessed with sunbathing and staring at his reflection in Ashcan’s only mirror, in its entrance hall. Robert Ley was repeatedly reprimanded for masturbating in the bathtub. Joachim von Ribbentrop, named by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda as the best-dressed man in Germany for nine consecutive years, was a lazy slob.”
Dolibois also made note of a more concerning fact: none of the men believed they would ever be tried for their crimes; in many cases they were correct.
TRASH CAN METAPHOR #2
The German doctors were certainly not the only specialists that were of great interest to the United States. Scientists – typically chemists – were also in high demand. They were being delivered to and held at a second top secret interrogation center code-named “Dustbin.” Dustbin was set up in the Schloss Kransberg castle, the former Luftwaffe Headquarters inhabited by Hermann Göring.
The US Chemical Warfare Service was investigating the properties and abilities of the tabun chemical agent they seized from the Robber’s Lair. 530 tons of tabun had been shipped to the US and used in field tests within a few months of the German surrender.
US Lieutenant Colonel Philip R. Tarr, British Major Edmund Tilley, and the Alsos director Samuel Goudsmit were still on the hunt for as many scientists as possible. One of their first big name interviews at Dustbin was Richard Kuhn. Kuhn was a very popular chemist prior to the war. He was named the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1938, but was forced by Hitler to reject the award because it was “a Jewish prize.” Other American chemists were present for the interview who had worked with Kuhn prior to the war. Kuhn denied any involvement in chemical weapons creation or production; the Americans did not believe him but did not have enough to arrest him – yet.
OOPS, TOO MUCH DEATH IN THIS BATCH
An IG Farben chemist named Dr. Gerhard Schrader was brought to Dustbin for interrogation. He “accidentally” invented the tabun nerve agent in 1936 while trying to invent a pesticide that could be used on the wheat crops in Germany. The name of the chemical compound was Preparation 9/91. Diluted all the way down to 1 in 200,000 units it killed 100% of field lice in the test area.
He submitted it up the chain of command and they were very pleased with the results – but not for use as a pesticide; it was far too strong for that. They began testing it as a weapon. They injected a healthy ape with a tiny dose – 1/10th of a milligram per kilogram of body weight – and it died in less than an hour. They tried it again as an airborne substance in an inhalation chamber; that ape died in 16 minutes.
Schrader was asked to produce a sample batch for the Germany army so they could replicate it. He was paid 50,000 Reichsmarks (average salary was 3,100 per year) and told to get back to work because they still needed an insecticide.
The head of IG Farben’s board of directors shared the chemical with Hermann Göring and they began working on a plan of how to use the chemical as a weapon if necessary.
Hermann Göring’s favorite thing about the deadly effects of nerve agents was that they would “wreak psychological havoc on civilian populations, driving them crazy with fear.”
Schrader and other chemists being held at Dustbin all laid blame on the large scale production of tabun filled bombs on Dr. Otto Ambros. Many claimed ignorance as to exactly what Ambros did. Karl Krauch, another IG Farben board member, gave up a few pieces of crucial information. He told them that Ambros was in charge of chemical weapons production at Dyhenfurth, Auschwitz, and Gendorf. Mustard gas was also produced at Gendorf and another nerve agent, sarin, was produced at Dyhenfurth.
Krauch also alerted Tilley to something else shady going on: Tarr had already interviewed Krauch prior to arriving at Dustbin. He said that Tarr was very interested in learning more about tabun and sarin and the potential use of it against the Japanese.
This revelation would mark the beginning of a longstanding conflict of interest between Tarr and Tilley.
Ambros, meanwhile, was still living and working without bother in Gendorf. No one had bothered to tell the armed forces stationed there what they had learned about him, so for all they knew, he was still just the jovial local who gave them lots of free soap.
Major Tilley issued memorandums to the Sixth Army Group in Gendorf ordering the immediate arrest of Dr. Ambros on grounds of mass murder and slavery. When they arrived at Ambros’ residence, he was gone. Lt. Col. Philip Tarr had taken him to another American interrogation facility in Heidelberg to be interviewed by members of the Chemical Warfare Service.
SOAP CAN’T WASH AWAY SINS
To better understand Otto Ambros’ role and participation in chemical experimentation, we need to examine a brief history of how he earned his prominent position with IG Farben and the Nazi leadership.
He received a doctorate from the University of Munich in 1925 after studying chemistry and agricultural science under Richard Willstätter, the 1915 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Willstätter, a man of Jewish descent and faith, fled Germany in 1939 and died three years later in Switzerland.
Ambros started his career with BASF, one of the six companies who merged to form IG Farben [and split back to their individual entities post-war]. He was heavily involved with the production of synthetic rubber, nicknamed Buna, which was crucial to the production of tires and tank treads for the Germany military. Hitler ordered a massive new Buna factory to be constructed and Ambros helped broker a deal between the Nazi government and IG Farben. Ambros had been friends with Heinrich Himmler since elementary school, and he gladly used that relationship to get things done quickly.
Auschwitz was the chosen site for the new Buna factory. Ambros’ selling point was that the concentration camp next to the factory “could provide an endless labor supply because the men were cheap and could be worked to death.” Farben agreed to pay the SS three Reichsmarks per day per laborer [slave] supplied from the concentration camp. That money would go straight to SS cash reserves, not to the slaves. Himmler offered 1,000 slaves for the construction of the factory with promises of 30,000 available in reserve as demand needed.
Ambros was then put in charge of the chemical weapons development at Gendorf [mustard gas] and Dyhenfurth [tabun nerve agent] in addition to his duties with the Buna production at Auschwitz. Ambros was the one who brokered the deal between IG Farben and the SS for the procurement of Zyklon B gas, which was used in the extermination chambers at many concentration camps. He also oversaw production of the soman nerve agent and the sarin nerve agent; sarin was named after the creators, with the “A” standing for “Ambros.”
Each of the aforementioned chemicals were used on human slaves.
While awaiting word of what Tarr and Ambros were up to on their journey, Tilley interviewed an IG Farben board member named Baron Georg von Schnitzler [I just assume there is a dachshund with that name somewhere in the world]:
Tilley: “You said yesterday that a [Farben employee] ‘alluded’ to you that the poisonous gasses [sic] and the chemicals manufactured by IG Farben were being used for the murder of human beings held in concentration camps.”
BGVS: “So I understood him.”
Tilley: “Didn’t you question those employees of yours further in regard to the use of these gases?”
BGVS: “They said they knew it was being used for this purpose.”
Tilley: “What did you do when he told you that IG chemicals were being used to kill, to murder people held in concentration camps?”
BGVS: “I was horrified.”
Tilley: “Did you do anything about it?”
BGVS: “I kept it for me because it was too terrible. I asked [the Farben employee] is it known to you and Ambros and other directors in Auschwitz that the gases and chemicals are being used to murder people?“
Tilley: “What did he say?”
BGVS: “Yes, it is known to all the IG directors in Auschwitz.”
“DAMNING & SCANDALOUS”
Tarr had taken Ambros on a journey to find blueprints for special silver-lined canisters that were used in the production of the tabun nerve agent. The US had worked out how to make the tabun but did not have the proper equipment to do so. For reasons that have never been explained, Tarr sent Ambros and another German [only referred to in documents as “Herr Stumpfi,” not his real identity] unattended and without escort to search the factory that produced the canisters.
When Ambros and Stumpfi first arrived at the factory they were supposed to raid, the US Counter Intelligence Corps arrested them. Ambros told them they were authorized to be there; the CIC called Tarr, confirmed this statement, and let them go free.
In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, Ambros did not return to the American facility. Instead, he ran off to an IG Farben “guesthouse” where he was given refuge. When Tilley and the British uncovered Ambros’ hiding spot, Ambros fled once again, this time into the French zone. The French, not knowing the “full story” of Ambros, made him a deal: they would employ him as a plant manager at an IG Farben plant in their zone if he gave them information about the chemical weapons.
Yet another interested party soon joined the hunt for Ambros: an American chemist named Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind, who was helping the US inspect IG Farben plants; ordinarily, he was employed by the Dow Chemical Company in the US. Hirschkind interviewed Ambros; this meeting was set up and attended by Tarr. Hirschkind parted with the optimistic statement to Ambros, “I would look forward after the conclusion of the peace treaty to continuing our relations as a representative of Dow.”
The interview was known and set up by Tarr, but Tilley did not find out about it until much later.
From Jacobsen’s book:
All documents regarding the Ambros affair would remain classified for the next forty years, until August of 1985. That an officer of the US Chemical Warfare Service, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, had sheltered a wanted war criminal from capture in the aftermath of the German surrender was damning. That this officer was also participating in meetings with the fugitive and a representative from the Dow Chemical company was scandalous.
INSANE & IMPATIENT IS A DANGEROUS COMBO
The US also had an interest in the biological weapons invented by the Germans. If Japan had not surrendered after deployment of the two atomic bombs, the next step for the US was going to be using biological warfare on Japanese crops to disrupt their food supply.
Dr. Kurt Blome was brought to Dustbin to face interrogation on this subject. Blome told the US that Heinrich Himmler was the primary individual involved with the commission of biological warfare strategies. The information given indicated that in addition to being insane, when Himmler became desperate he also became both very impatient and stupid.
According to Blome, Hitler did not approve of the use of biological weapons [a statement I find hard to believe] and as such, Himmler kept much of the planning secret from Hitler. Himmler was very adamant that the bubonic plague should be weaponized against the Allies. Blome and Himmler had met to discuss these plans multiple times between the summer of 1943 and the end of 1944.
At their first meeting, Himmler asked Blome to begin researching and inventing various methods of spreading plague bacteria in a weaponized form. Blome pointed out the strong likelihood of the Germans also being infected by the bacteria throughout the course of the war. Himmler thus told Blome to immediately begin creating a vaccine for the Germans to protect against the plague; vaccination would be mandatory prior to unleashing the biological weapons.
He added that, to expedite the research, Blome should skip all animal research and use human beings as test subjects. He said the human experimentation was necessary for the war effort and that “to refuse was the equivalent of treason.”
During his interviews with Alsos agents at Dustbin, Blome added the following justification:
History gives us examples of human disease affecting the outcome of wars. We know that from antiquity up till the time of the Napoleonic wars, victories and defeats were often determined by epidemics and starvation. [The failure of Napoleon’s Russian campaign] was due in great part to the infection of his horses with Glanders, a highly contagious bacterial disease.
While his scientists were overseeing vaccine creation, Blome was still testing dissemination methods of the bacteria. Himmler could not help but keep sticking his nose into the process and forcing Blome to try his ideas. One of his worst suggestions was to fill up large cages of rats infected with the bubonic plague, put them on German U-boats, and release them in international waters near Allied territory so they would swim to land and infect the residents.
Blome immediately knew this idea was ridiculous, but was under orders to test it out anyway. He took a boat out on a small lake in Berlin and released 30 [uninfected] rats into the water. They were “even dumber than he expected,” and “had no idea where the shore was and swam around in different directions.” Twenty of them drowned within a time frame of 10-30 minutes. The other ten made it to shore, but mostly by luck; they weren’t anywhere near each other. This was at a distance of one-half mile. The distance necessary to swim from international waters would have been three miles at this time in history.
[Bonus fact: Three miles was a distance whose origin came from the distance a cannon could fire from a ship and still hit structures on land in the 18th and 19th century; present day international waters begin at 14 miles. In the US, coastline states may govern up to 3.5 miles off their coast, at which point the federal government takes over until the 14 mile mark.]
The second meeting resulted in Himmler suggesting that Blome was not able to work quickly enough and thus assigned him an assistant, Dr. Karl Gross from the Waffen-SS Hygiene Institute. Blome believed Gross was put there “to spy on him.” He said that Himmler and Gross were on the same script in that, “the methods of raging biological warfare must be studied in order to understand the defense against it.” This once again implied injecting the plague into human test subjects.
In February 1944, Himmler demanded a third meeting with Blome. Himmler was “enraged” because a successful vaccine had not yet been developed. His impatience turned to desperation again. He asked Blome if they could “do something for now” such as “disseminate influenza that would delay the heralded Anglo-American invasion in the West.” Blome said this was not possible. Himmler then suggested more ideas of diseases to attack with, including viral strains of hoof-and-mouth disease and tularemia [rabbit fever]. Blome pointed out that those and similar suggestions would also require vaccination of the Germans as a precaution against inevitable infection of their own on the battlefields.
Himmler’s next idea was to use the cattle plague [“rinderpest”] in England and America to disrupt their food supply. If he couldn’t infect humans, giving the cows their own plague was the next best thing. An international agreement prevented any vials of rinderpest to be stored in Europe, and the only known supply was in Turkey.
Himmler sent a veterinarian from the Reich’s State Research Institute, Dr. Erich Traub, to Turkey to retrieve the virus. Blome supervised trials in which they had Luftwaffe planes spray the virus onto an isolated island off the coast of northern Germany. However, he never learned the results, as he left Traub to collect the data, and Traub was captured by Russians shortly after the initial tests began.
Blome was summoned for his fourth meeting with Himmler in the spring of 1944. Himmler was paranoid that the Allies were preparing for a biological attack against the Germans due to some “curious reports,” including:
Grass had come floating out of the sky over some part of Austria and a cow that had eaten some of it had died. Some small balloons had been found near Salzburg and Berchtesgaden [near Hitler’s mountain residence, the Berghof]. Potato beetles had been dropped in Normandy.
These suspicious events combined with the pressing approach of the Red Army towards Poland, the current site of Blome’s laboratory, caused Himmler and Blome to agree to move all biological weapons research to a forest outside the village of Geraberg.
Around the same time, the study of the biological weapons and the vaccines were separated into two separate research institutes. Hermann Göring reassigned “epidemic control” to the command of the Reich’s Surgeon General, Dr. Walter Schreiber. Blome remained in charge of biological weapons research.
This made Blome the “sword” and Schreiber the “shield,” as described years prior by the Alsos team who uncovered the letters about biological research in France.
Further complicating things for the Americans, Blome informed them that Schreiber had surrendered to the Soviets in Berlin and that German intelligence had determined that the Russians had a very extensive biological weapons program. Even worse, the Russians had seized Blome’s former laboratory, all the equipment within, and all remaining supply of the rinderpest virus.
SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING
Jacobsen begins “Hired or Hanged,” Chapter Ten of her book, with the following summation of the complicated nature of handling the various German prisoners:
The future of the scientists at Dustbin was obscure. Would they be hired by the US government for future work, or would they be prosecuted by the Allies for war crimes? At Ashcan the future facing Nazi high command was almost certainly grim, although there was much work to do. War crimes prosecutors faced a monumental task. They had to build cases from scratch, a conundrum described by Nuremberg trials prosecutor prosecutor General Telford Taylor after the war. “Our task was to prepare to prosecute the leading Nazis on [specific] criminal charges… The first question a prosecuting attorney asks in such a situation is, “Where’s the evidence?” The blunt fact was that, despite what ‘everybody knew’ about the Nazi leaders, virtually no judicially admissible evidence was at hand.” For evidence, prosecutors like Telford Taylor were relying on interrogators like John Dolibois to glean facts from the Nazis interned at Ashcan.
Colonel Burton Andrus, commander of Ashcan operations, added that the Nazi high command was “determined not to help on the question of hidden loot, the whereabouts of people like Martin Bormann, and the guilt for war atrocities.”
Andrus thought that forcing the Germans to watch the films of war crimes evidence at Buchenwald might convince them to give up more information. He told them:
You know about these things and I have no doubt many of you participated actively in them. We are showing them to you not to inform you of what you already know, but to impress on you the fact that we know of it, too.
He put 52 Nazis into one room and began rolling the footage. Many of them had disgusted reactions, as though the footage may have been having an effect on them. They quickly got over it, though, and still refused to provide any useful information to interrogators.
Andrus observed that the Nazis would sit around talking to each out of earshot in the garden but then became silent again as soon as they came indoors. He assumed they were coordinating their stories and what information to withhold or lie about.
Andrus came up with a plan to exploit this: he had a house nearby bugged inside and out so that the outdoor conversations would be recorded. He blindfolded a handful of the Nazis, put them in the back of a truck, and drove them around in circles for several hours to provide the illusion that they were being taken far away.
The plan may have worked if it hadn’t been for those meddling SHAEF commanders. When they first arrived, the Nazis went outside and began talking; their conversation picked up clearly on the recording equipment. Shortly after arrival on that first night, it started raining so they moved inside and returned to silence. Rain fell the entire next day as well, keeping them all indoors and quiet. That evening the SHAEF command called, said they were shutting down the project, and Andrus had 24 hours to return the Nazis to Dustbin.
The next morning they were driven back in the direct, half-mile route. This made it incredibly obvious that the entire thing had been a ruse. This made the Nazis even more determined to maintain silence together.
John Dolibois received notice in August 1945 that Ashcan was going to be closed down and that he would be responsible for coordinating transfer of the prisoners to various other locations.
For reasons Dolibois was not privy to, 33 of the 52 Ashcan internees were going to a new prisoner of war interrogation facility, this one located in the small town of Oberusel. Only later would Dolibois learn that many of these Nazis would be hired by the US Army to write intelligence reports on work they had done during the war.
[…] His prisoner list included Admiral Karl Dönitz, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, General Walter Warlimont, Cabinet Minister Schwerin von Krosigk, OKW Foreign Office head Admiral Leopold Bürkner, and Admiral Gerhard Wagner.
As they returned to Germany from Luxembourg, the Nazis in the back of the transport got quiet as they saw the “destruction and despair” present in their homeland. Three months after the end of the war, hardly anything had been cleaned up or rebuilt. The focus was on obtaining the personnel and knowledge. Dolibois reminded the Nazis that the excess of destruction was due to Hitler’s determination to “fight to the last man.”
Dolibois dropped them off at Oberursel, former home of the Luftwaffe interrogation center, now being used for the same purpose by the Americans. He then turned around back to Luxembourg to get his next truckload of Nazis.
On the way back, Dolibois spotted a convoy of US Army transport trucks pulled off the side of the road. A soldier waved him down to stop, get out, and talk.
I’ll again quote Jacobsen. This is a longer quoted passage than most but a summary does not do the scene justice and her words put it into proper perspective:
John Dolibois climbed out of his jeep. He became overwhelmed by a horrific stench, “sickeningly sweet, nauseating,” he later recalled. He heard retching. Several of the men in his convoy had gotten out of their vehicles and were now throwing up along the side of the road.
“What is that horrible smell? What in God’s name are you hauling?”
The captain climbed out of his jeep. He did not say a word but motioned for Dolibois to follow him behind one of the two-and-a-half-ton trucks. In silence, the captain untied a rope and flipped back a sheet of canvas that had obscured the cargo from view until now. Dolibois stared into the body of the truck. It took him a moment for him to realize what he was looking at: rotting corpses. “Putrefied,” he recalled. “Most were naked. Some still wore the pajama-like striped pants, the concentration camp uniforms, now just rotting rags. It was the most horrible sight I had ever seen.”
The army captain spoke in a flat, emotionless tone. “There are thousands of them, five truck loads,” he told Dolibois. “We’re hauling them from one mass grave to another. Don’t ask me why.” These were bodies from Dachau. Corpses found upon liberation. The army captain’s convoy had come to a standstill after one of the vehicles had broken down. They’d been waiting at the roadside for an escort when Dolibois’ convoy from Oberursel had arrived. The captain asked Dolibois if his group could escort them to the next military station down the road. Dolibois agreed. “I found myself leading a bizarre caravan: six empty ambulances, an empty weapons carrier, followed by five two-and-a-half ton trucks loaded with the obscenity of the Nazi final solution,” remembered Dolibois. The dead bodies were being taken to a proper burial spot on orders from the Office of Military Government, United States [OMGUS].
Back at Ashcan the world appeared different to him now. There, the rest of Hitler’s inner circle remained men “directly responsible for that ghastly transport,” said Dolibois. If John Dolibois ever had a shred of doubt about the degree of barbarism and the collective guilt of the men he had spent three months interrogating at Ashcan, in that moment there was no hesitation anymore. At age ninety-three, John Dolibois says, “I still smell that foul odor of death.”
AT LEAST A HANDFUL WERE HANGED
Only two days later, Dolibois was informed he would be taking the last of the Nazi high command from Ashcan to the Nuremberg prison via transport plane. Even at this stage, the prisoners on the plane spent the entire flight trying to convince him that they were “just following orders.” Yet they were the ones giving the orders. The good news is that the majority of Nazis on this final trip out of Ashcan were hanged after their trials.
WHY BOTHER TELLING THE PRESIDENT?
About a month prior to Dolibois transfer of Nazi high command, the Nazi scientist program was officially approved on paper. On July 6, 1945 the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a memorandum titled “Exploitation of German Specialists in Science and Technology in the United States.” This was code-named Operation Overcast, the official precursor to Operation Paperclip.
They did not tell President Truman at that time.
The Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, G-2, was assigned to “exercise general supervision” and “formulate general policies for procurement, utilization, and control of the specialists.”
A few highlights included that “certain German specialists could be utilized to increase our war making capacity against Japan and aid our postwar military research,” that “no known or alleged war criminals should be brought to the United States,” and that “the purpose of the plan should be understood to be temporary military exploitation of the minimum number of German specialists necessary.”
None of those guidelines were followed for very long.
“THE BRITISH PULLED A SNEAKY ON US”
“The British pulled a sneaky on us,” was an actual quote from US Major Staver.
When the British found out that the US was going to be putting Nazi scientists to work, they asked if they could borrow some of them to do their own V-2 rocket tests and experiments. The US agreed, handing over several prisoners, including Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and Arthur Rudolph.
The British called their field tests of the V-2 “Operation Backfire.” The British and Germans worked together on the tests. Arthur Rudolph, former operations director at Mittelwerk, recalled to the biographer of his memoirs the following story:
“The V-2 ran on alcohol the same chemistry as that appearing in say, Jack Daniels and Old Granddad. The people at the test site apparently knew that.”
One night, according to Rudolph, a group of British and German V-2 technicians got drunk together on the rocket fuel. A British officer came upon the group, arm in arm, “apparently comrades now, and lustily singing ‘We Will March Against England’ in the German language.”
Dornberger was kept separate from the group by the British. When Operation Backfire was complete, they retained custody of Dornberger and returned von Braun and Rudolph. This was the “sneaky” the British pulled; they had intended to keep Dornberger the entire time.
MILK THE GOLDEN COW
On September 12, 1945, Wernher von Braun, Eberhard Rees, and five less important V-2 rocket engineers departed Germany for the journey to the US. The crew had a stopover in Paris to pick up four scientists from the Hermann Göering Research Institute before heading for America.
Von Braun was very confident that despite the “temporary” label placed upon their usefulness to the US. In a New Yorker interview with Daniel Lang, von Braun recalled that, “we were interested solely in exploring outer space. It was simply a question with us of how the golden cow could be milked most successfully.”
They were initially taken to Fort Strong, an abandoned Civil War and World War I training camp on a small island in Boston Harbor. The US called it the Operation Overcast Hotel; the Germans called it “Devil’s Island.” Despite the Nazis being allowed to play sports outside on nice days and board games inside on rainy days [including Monopoly, which they referred to as “that capitalist game”], and despite the fact that they hadn’t been shot in the face or hanged to death like they deserved, they constantly complained about their living conditions and lack of freedom.
Six of them were eventually taken to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland to begin organizing and translating documents related to the rocketry programs. Those six were Eberhard Rees, Erich Neubert, Theodor Poppel, August Schulze, Wilhelm Jungert, and Walter Schwidetzky.
Wernher von Braun was transported via civilian train to Fort Bliss, Texas.
ANOTHER GOOSE CHASE
Otto Ambros was still being problematic back in Germany. He had his own network of spies that seemed to always be one step ahead of the Americans and British. Even when he was reported to have left the French zone from time to time, he was able to return before anyone could catch up to him.
Back at Dustbin, interrogations continued. Albert Speer reinforced the information that Ambros was the number one player in the chemical weapons warfare game.
Major Tilley demanded that Ambros was returned to the American zone. Ambros claimed, falsely, that the French authorities would not allow him to leave their zone. Tilley set up multiple sting operations to attempt to catch Ambros off guard, but the German spies were once again ahead of the game and tipped him off each time.
Tilley set up a time and location with Ambros via telephone that he was willing to meet the Americans to negotiate. Tilley’s actual intention was to have Ambros arrested at that time. Ambros’ spies learned this, lured the American representative in, had him speak with an Ambros body double, and then mocked him for thinking Ambros was going to show up.
Tilley interrogated Ambros’ former deputy, IG Farben chemist Jürgen von Klenck. He was at the meeting between Ambros, Tarr, and the representative from Dow Chemical. Wilhelm Horn, another chemist being held at Dustbin, said of von Klenck that he “was a long-standing and avowed Nazi, but it had always grated his pride that such common people as Hitler and his minions were in the highest places.”
Von Klenck was Ambros’ “right hand man” when it came to chemical weapons. He had been the Deputy Chief of Committee-C for Chemical Weapons. He had been ordered by Ambros to destroy all documents about chemical weapons, especially any correspondence or contracts between IG Farben and the Wehrmacht. Von Klenck, apparently another Easter egg hunt enthusiast, had them buried by a third party on a farm outside Gendorf. He had someone else hide them so he would not be capable of divulging the location.
Tilley put together a team to search the area and the documents were quickly uncovered; they were not particularly well hidden and more than one resident of the village knew where they were. They included many contracts for nerve agents between IG Farben and Albert Speer which gave definitive evidence of the sale of tabun and sarin.
There was also a monetary authorization written from Albert Speer to Otto Ambros on behalf of Adolf Hitler for a donation of 1,000,000 Reichsmarks as a reward for his role in the Buna production and the factory contracts at Auschwitz. Plans had been in motion for construction of an additional chemical weapons factory at Auschwitz; thankfully, these plans were unable to be carried out.
On the same day that the Ambros documents were found, a bank safe in Gendorf was cracked open and found to contain more contracts between IG Farben and the Nazis spanning from 1935 to 1945.
Although Tilley was very excited about these finds, senior intelligence officials cautioned him not to get overly confident. They suggested that often when an enemy gives information easily – such as von Klenck with the hidden documents – it may an indication that “a lesser secret has been admitted to deflect the investigation from a more important secret.”
Ambros was not captured until January 17, 1946. He briefly stepped out of the French zone, which was enough to take him into custody. He was turned over to Colonel Andrus, who had now been named commander of the Nuremberg jail. Finally, Ambros was locked up awaiting trial.