NASA’s Secret Nazis

Were the Nazis working for NASA in Secret?

“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing” - Simon Wiesenthal

After surviving the Holocaust, Simon Wiesenthal made it his mission to hunt down the fugitive Nazis whose atrocities during the war were going unpunished. While he did unearth many, bringing them to Israel to stand trial for their crimes against humanity, it has now come to light that many were kept safe in the USA.

Former Nazi scientists and academics were sought out, enlisted and harboured by the US government during the Cold War to ensure their “victory” in the space race against the Soviets. Their crimes and their terrifying pasts were swept under the rug as they became invaluable to the American Space programme. They worked for NASA and were praised as military and scientific heroes by the papers.  While Wiesenthal sought justice for the voiceless millions of the Holocaust, some officials of the American government turned a blind eye..

What was operation Paperclip?

Eric Lichtblau’s new novel “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” uncovers the details of this secret and shameful affair ‘Operation Paperclip’ demonstrates that during the Cold War, pragmatism and success overrode morality and ethics. Lichtblau delves into the amoral politics of the operation, exploring how the Reagan government sought to cover up the dealings of their predecessors. This was extended to active protection of former Nazis - even if it meant pressuring, preventing and corrupting their own Justice Department's investigations.

Dachau and “Cold Experiments”

Among those America was protecting was Dr. Hubertus Strughold. Strughold. He is commonly known as the “Father of Space Medicine” and in 1962 the Aerospace Medical Association named an award in honour of him. However, this man was also named as one of the 13 “persons, firms or organizations” implicated in the Dachau concentration camp experiments such as the “cold experiments” subjecting patients to hypothermia and air tight chambers. His institute in Berlin for Aviation medicine was also found to have carried out experiments on young epileptic children in 1943.

While the details of this government-run operation are distressing enough, Lichtblau’s book also sheds light on those who opposed whitewashing these scientists’ pasts, and reports their fight to expose them and the hurdles that were put up to prevent their investigations. The Justice Department began establishing cases on the former Nazis in the 1980’s with considerable difficulty. The successful post-war careers of the German scientists led to officials preventing harm coming their way. Their greatest success was with Arthur Rudolph, the man responsible for taking America to the moon in the Saturn V rocket. After being presented with the case against him, Rudolph acknowledged that he had played a role both in witnessing the slave labour and the executions of the labourers in Mittelwerk. Although he had to revoke his American citizenship and return quietly to Germany in 1984 he was never charged for his war crimes. He died at 89, still a space hero in the eyes of the public.  Sadly, Rudolph was the department’s only success.

What made these investigations so difficult was Regan’s senior advisor, Pat Buchanan. Litchbau writes how Pat Buchanan always “offered a sympathetic ear,” to the scientists’ cause, as he believed they had done nothing to warrant such accusations.  One of the chief Nazi investigators Neal Sher described Buchannan as

..more than a pushback…He was on a campaign to undercut us, to put us out of business, to demean the work.

Even though the department kept on the trail of these scientists, building cases against them even until 2003, many of the scientists died peacefully before the horrors of their past became known - their reputations  intact, and their legacy untarnished by their Nazi war crimes.

Lichtbau’s novel detailing Operation Paperclip and America’s use of former Nazi scientists is available now and has been described by the New York Times as "A captivating book rooted in first-rate research."

Header: Wikimedia Commons

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