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  • It was the immediate aftermath of World War Two, and a large group of European citizens

  • was being brought into the United States.

  • But these weren't war refugees or immigrants - they were members of the Axis powers and

  • insiders in one of the most notorious regimes of all time.

  • Why did the United States government roll out the red carpet for more than a thousand

  • Nazis?

  • It was 1945, and the genesis of what would become Operation Paperclip was starting in

  • the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

  • The war was starting to wind down, with victory in Europe looking all but assured, and the

  • US and British armies wanted to make sure that the valuable resources and innovations

  • created by Nazi Germany wouldn't be lost with the regime's defeat.

  • They created T-Force, a joint army mission to secure any scientific and technological

  • targets before they were destroyed either by the Nazis or by looters and invading armies.

  • This mission would grab rocket technology, aircraft and naval equipment, and synthetic

  • rubber and oil catalysts.

  • But there was another target of T-Force - people.

  • The German war machine employed countless scientists in industrial technology, weapons

  • design, rocketry, and nuclear technology research.

  • While Nazi Germany lost the war due to Hitler's poor decision-making and sabotage of his own

  • war machine - leading some of his top military men to scheme to kill him at one point - the

  • Nazis had been in a tense race with the Americans to develop the nuclear bomb, and employed

  • some of the smartest and most dangerous scientists in the world.

  • And the United States had a reason to get them in their custody.

  • While the war wasn't quite over yet, the minds of many top American military experts

  • were already turning to the war that was just around the corner - the Cold War.

  • The Soviet Union was one of the few countries that had been on both sides of the war - aligning

  • with Hitler, and then joining forces with the Allies after being invaded by the Nazi

  • army - and they would come out of the war more powerful and influential than ever.

  • In the aftermath of post-war negotiations, they would gain control of much of eastern

  • Europe and half of the divided Germany - and would become the primary superpower challenging

  • America.

  • The Space Race was just around the corner - but first would come the brain race.

  • As Hitler's regime fell, many of the high-ranking scientists working for the Nazi regime found

  • themselves falling out of favor.

  • Hitler was notorious for turning on his allies due to paranoia, and prominent figures like

  • rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun found themselves on the run and branded traitors.

  • That created an opportunity, and on July 20th, 1945, the US military officially greenlit

  • Operation Overcast, a mission to recruit German scientists and use their know-how to help

  • end the war in Japan.

  • It would be renamed Operation Paperclip months later - denoting the signature paperclip the

  • officers would use to mark the files of the scientists they planned to recruit.

  • But it was about to become a much bigger project.

  • In 1946, the Nazi regime had scattered to the winds.

  • Many of the regime's top officials had either killed themselves or been arrested to face

  • war crimes trials.

  • But the scientists were often in a grey area.

  • Many either worked isolated from the most brutal crimes of the regime, or had limited

  • involvement.

  • They weren't targets for war crimes prosecution, but many of them were still arrested and found

  • themselves in military custody.

  • That made them easy targets for recruitment, and President Harry Truman allowed for the

  • recruitment of more than a thousand German scientists.

  • And they had some unintended help from Nazi Germany's leaders.

  • After the failed conquest of Russia in 1941, Germany shifted its focus to building their

  • technology for the war ahead.

  • When they first instituted the draft, countless scientists and intellectuals were taken from

  • their work and turned into generic soldiers.

  • This was not good for their science division, and in 1943 the head of their military research

  • division, Werner Osenberg, composed a list of scientists and engineers who could be more

  • useful in research work.

  • This document, the Osenberg list, was later found by a Polish laboratory worker and made

  • its way to MI6.

  • The allies now had a useful list of the smartest people put to work by the Nazis.

  • But recruiting them would come with no small amount of controversy.

  • As the full scope of Nazi Germany's war crimes became clear, many were hesitant to

  • collaborate in any way with its architects.

  • Defenders of the program argued that the scientists likely had little to do with the horrors of

  • the death camps, but many scientists including von Braun used slave labor to build the German

  • war machine.

  • President Truman was reportedly hesitant to approve it, but felt that the growing threat

  • of the Soviet Union was more important.

  • But as they arrived in America, many of the German scientists came under new scrutiny.

  • Had the United States made a deal with the devil?

  • Several scientists who were brought to the United States were later accused of having

  • more involvement with Nazi crimes than thought.

  • George Rickhey worked as an engineer at one of Nazi Germany's largest factories, and

  • was responsible for the production of several of the country's most powerful bombs.

  • After being brought to the US as part of Operation Paperclip, he was accused of close ties with

  • the SS and Gestapo and getting many of his workers from a nearby concentration camp.

  • He became the only Operation Paperclip recruit to be returned to Germany for trial - and,

  • after being acquitted at trial for lack of evidence, never returned to the United States.

  • But another recruit had even more shocking skeletons in his closet.

  • Walter Schreiber was one of the later recruits of Operation Paperclip, coming to the United

  • States in 1951.

  • He gained the Americans' attention after escaping Russian custody, and was one of the

  • Nazis' top medical scientists.

  • He worked in medical research for the Air Force, but not long after he began a shocking

  • bombshell dropped.

  • A Holocaust survivor accused him of being involved in medical experiments committed

  • at the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp.

  • If the allegations were confirmed earlier, he likely would have been tried at Nuremberg.

  • Instead, his career with the US came to an unceremonious end, and he chose to leave for

  • Argentina.

  • But many of the other Operation Paperclip recruits had much more storied careers in

  • the US.

  • The US military had one primary focus for their recruitment - aerospace technology.

  • Getting better, faster, and more precise aircraft was essential for any future wars, but the

  • focus was just as much on the next frontier.

  • It would be only twelve years after World War Two when the first satellite was launched

  • into space by the Russians, and the space race would be on in earnest.

  • Many of the German scientists had made massive leaps forward in rocket technology, and the

  • government wasted no time putting them to work.

  • It was this field where Operation Paperclip would bear its biggest fruit.

  • Wernher von Braun wasted no time going to work for the United States.

  • He had already been out of favor with Hitler and was on the run when he was captured by

  • Americans.

  • He would be joined by other German talents, including aircraft designer Herbert Wagner

  • - the first scientist recruited by the program - and Kurt Debus, Arthur Rodolph, Hermann

  • Oberth, and Eberhard Rees, pioneering rocket engineers.

  • All claimed to be apolitical scientists glad to turn their back on Nazi Germany - although

  • many Holocaust experts questioned that description.

  • But the United States wasn't the only ones with their sights on these scientists.

  • Starting in October 1946, the Soviet Union began their own counterpart to Operation Paperclip

  • - Operation Osoaviakhim, which recruited over two thousand German scientists and specialists,

  • along with four thousand civilian family members.

  • Witnesses described this operation as fast and efficient, resembling a draft more than

  • a recruitment.

  • A scientist named Fritz Preikschat described being rounded up by Russian soldiers with

  • machine guns and taken to Russia to work - something he would tell to the US military in 1952 after

  • being released from his Russian duties and being recruited by the Americans, making him

  • the only person to work on both sides of the Space Race.

  • But for many of the American recruits, it would be a shocking change in fortunes.

  • Wernher von Braun and other scientists wasted no time in going to work for the Americans,

  • and they proved to be worth the recruitment efforts.

  • The knowledge of German rocketry and airplane technology they brought with them was quickly

  • incorporated into American designs, and many of them gained prominent positions.

  • Von Braun worked on sensitive projects including both the American ballistic missile program,

  • and the rockets that launched the first American space satellite, Explorer 1.

  • And an even more prominent organization was about to come calling.

  • It was 1960, and the focus of the space race was shifting from breaching the atmosphere

  • to putting human beings safely in space - and eventually the moon.

  • Von Braun was considered America's foremost expert on space technology, and his research

  • group was incorporated into NASA.

  • Not long after, his fellow former Nazi scientist Kurt Debus would become the first director

  • of NASA's Launch Operations Center.

  • Von Braun and Debus were involved in the design and launch of the Apollo program, and eventually

  • oversaw the successful mission that put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

  • But they were also involved in far more sensitive projects.

  • The first nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were delivered in a very analog

  • way - dropped out of manned aircrafts.

  • But as the Cold War ramped up and the nuclear arms race escalated, it became clear the United

  • States would need a better, faster way to deliver their deadliest weapons.

  • Von Braun quickly named Debus to organize a division on missile firing, and in the early

  • 1950s, they tested the first missiles carrying nuclear warheads - deploying the powerful

  • weapons into the Pacific Ocean in a shocking display of Cold War weaponry.

  • The two scientists were the crown jewels of Operation Paperclip - and received surprising

  • accolades.

  • Both worked for the US Government until they retired, and were highly honored by the end

  • of their careers.

  • Von Braun was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and received the National Medal

  • of Science.

  • Debus has an award named after him at the National Space Club of Florida, and even had

  • a lunar crater named after him.

  • Many scientists believe they helped the United States in the race to the moon.

  • But for many people, they never quite outraced their past.

  • The question of the guilt of the Operation Paperclip scientists has been debated for

  • a long time, with von Braun and Debus getting extra scrutiny.

  • While Debus mostly worked in flight tests and rocket research, and sought out US forces

  • on his own, many say that no one in the Nazi war machine didn't benefit from the regime's

  • extensive use of slave labor.

  • Von Braun is a more controversial case, running large factories that were heavily staffed

  • by slave labor.

  • While he wasn't directly implicated in any war crimes, survivors who were forced to work

  • for him spoke of the harsh treatment they experienced.

  • There were many skeletons in the closets of the recruits - and some came out long after

  • the fact.

  • Arthur Rudolph was one of Germany's top rocketry engineers and a close ally of Wernher

  • von Braun.

  • Much of his work took place at the Mittelwerk factory - a notorious site staffed by prisoners

  • from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps.

  • He eventually defected to US and British forces, and was incorporated into the post-war US

  • team - despite concerns over his background check, which described him as an enthusiastic

  • Nazi loyalist.

  • He worked on both the US ballistic missile program and on the Saturn V rocket under von

  • Braun.

  • He was highly decorated and considered one of the program's most successful recruits.

  • But his story would have a much darker ending.

  • It was 1979 when Eli Rosenbaum, who worked in a US office investigating Nazi war criminals,

  • came across Rudolph's name in a book.

  • It described him as a frequent user of slave labor, and research indicated that he had

  • been involved in the abuse of prisoners.

  • Rudolph was called in for an interview, and interrogated on his past actions and his loyalty

  • to Nazi Germany.

  • It was decided that in exchange for the government not prosecuting him, he would give up his

  • US citizenship and return to Germany.

  • In 1983, he left the United States, becoming a black eye on the face of Operation Paperclip.

  • The program's legacy remains complicated even today.

  • The scientists of Operation Paperclip are all long gone.

  • None were young when recruited, and most died before the dawn of the 21st century.

  • But they built much of the infrastructure of NASA and the United States ballistic missile

  • program - and many are uncomfortable with that.

  • When a major news outlet posted a tweet referring to Wernher von Braun as a “brilliant German-American

  • rocket engineer”, no shortage of angry people on Twitter reminded them that he was in fact

  • a Nazi.

  • The Cold War made for unlikely allies, few more unlikely than the 1600 scientists and

  • engineers recruited by the US military.

  • But history moves fast, and many people were willing to look past their actions in the

  • last war - if it meant winning the next.

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Why USA Brought Nazis to America After World War 2

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/26
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