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Operation Paperclip: How the USA helped Nazi criminals from WWII evade justice to advance its own military ambitions

US President Truman had in September 1946 officially approved Operation Paperclip, in secret, and had expanded it to include over 1000 Nazi scientists. Later reports and documents have revealed that over 1600 Nazi scientists were brought in, their crimes were whitewashed and they were given a new life to work for the US government.

As the Russia-Ukraine war rages and a lot of discussions, blaming and shaming goes on around the word ‘Nazis’, a story of deceit and cunning lies buried. The history of World War II is a testimony of how one ideology, sold with high doses of ultra-nationalistic, racist opium, caused one of the largest genocides of history. The Nazis were defeated, and stripped from power by the collective forces of the Western world, but did the ideology really die?

While the USA has made a lot of movies and written a lot of stories on how it defeated Nazism and rescued the world from the evil called Hitler, in reality, their actions after the war were a little less glorious. After defeating the Nazis in Germany, the USA went to great lengths to bring some of the most prominent Nazis home and spent a considerable amount of money and efforts to rehabilitate them, because they wanted the Nazis’ weapons and their skills. The secret US government operation that carried out this task was named ‘Operation Paperclip’.

American journalist Annie Jacobsen in her book ‘Operation Paperclip’ has mentioned that not one or two, not 10 or 12, but as many as 1600 of Hitler’s best scientific and technological minds were brought to the USA under the secret program.

When and how ‘Operation Paperclip’ began

Operation Paperclip began in the last days of WWII, around May 1945. The scientists hired by the USA were not just mere token Nazis who just took orders to protect their work and earn their livelihoods. Many of them were from Hitler’s close circles, dedicated members of the Nazi party, and some even belonged to the ultraviolent factions within the party. Many of them even had faced trials for their crimes, but eventually were smuggled to the USA and had their records wiped clean, so they could continue their work of weapons development for the US government.

When the Allies started combing the European countryside looking for caches of German weapons, they were shocked to see the level of sophistication and advancements made by the Nazi scientists in developing weapons of mass destruction, chemical warfare, bioweapons, and military technology, Jacobsen writes. There were caches of nerve agents, bioweapons like bubonic plage and a range of other technologies that the ambitious powers, starving to dominate the world, just could not leave behind. What followed was a competition between the USA and the Soviets to grab those weapons and tech.

Dr Eugen Haagen, one of the most notable names in the fields of biological science and vaccines at those times, had reportedly worked in close coordination with Hitler’s Reich Research Council led by Herman Goring, at the University of Strasbourg. There, they tested pathogens on healthy prisoners captured and sent by the Nazis. Haagen was ‘missed’ by the US government because he had chosen to work with the Soviets after the war. But two of Haagen’s team members, Dr Kurt Blome, the Deputy Surgeon General of the Third Reich, and Surgeon General Walter Schreiber were immediately sought by US officials and eventually brought to work in the USA, Annie’s book narrates.

Kurt Blome had admitted to running horrific medical experiments on healthy prisoners. Reports indicate that his area of expertise included ‘inducing’ cancer in healthy individuals through viruses, and infecting prisoners with diseases like Typhus. The US government sent germ warfare specialists from Camp Detrick, Maryland, to interview Blome. He worked for the US government for years, on programs that are ‘classified’.

Dr Kurt Blome, image via Wikimedia

Schreiber, though taken by the Soviets at first, was soon tracked down by the CIA and was brought to work in Texas. However, the bad publicity around his horrific war crimes was so great that he was eventually sent to Argentina.

V-2 rocket and space tech, brought by Nazis who deserved the death sentence

The V-2 rocket was considered the most advanced weapon of its category at that time. The 46-feet long rocket could carry up to 2000 pounds of explosives and was capable of travelling at speeds 5 times the speed of sound, unprecedented in the 1940s. No Allied weapon was able to match it and Europe was praying that it never falls on one of their cities.

The lead scientist of the German rocket program was Major General Walter Dornberger, a close associate of Himmler. The physicist who oversaw the V-2 rocket development was Wernher Von Braun. Dornberger was notorious for using slaves in his workshops and fields and had reportedly worked hundreds of slaves to death. The V-2 rockets caused thousands of deaths in England. Eventually, Walter Dornberger was arrested by the British forces and was tried for war crimes. However, Wernher Von Braun had been taken to the USA and he had specifically asked for Dornberger. So the USA brought Dornberger too, who soon started making V-2 missiles for the Americans.

Dornberger later worked for years at the Research and Development wing of Bell Aircraft Corporation. He helped the USA by developing the world’s first surface to air nuclear missile and even the space shuttle. The war criminal, who had starved thousands to death in labour camp lived a very successful and privileged life to a ripe old age.

Wernher Von Braun, who had also starved and overworked tens of thousands of slaves in labour camps, and was a decorated, celebrated star of the inner circle Nazis, eventually went on to develop ballistic missiles and space satellites for the USA. He was made the director of the Marshall Space Flight Centre and played a crucial role in developing the Saturn V rockets. He was given the National Medal of Science in 1975.

Some other prominent Nazi war criminals that the USA made its own

Some of the other prominent names in Operation Paperclip were Reinhard Gehlen, one of Hitler’s chief intelligence officers who oversaw the brutal torture and interrogation of prisoners, and was recruited by the USA for the information he had on the Soviets. He was reportedly paid millions of dollars under a 1949 contract by the CIA and helped create a network that eventually smuggled over 5000 Nazis away from facing trial and jail time in Germany.

Otto Ambros, a chemist who was tried at Nuremberg, was granted clemency with USA’s help and was brought to work in the USA in the US military’s chemical Corps. Theodor Benzinger, Siegfried Knemeyer, Kurt Debus, Hubertus Strughold are some of the other prominent names.

The JIOA and Pentagon

When the Allied forces began to find a large number of Nazi scientists, the US government put up the JIOA (Joint Intelligence Objective Agency) at a specialised office in the Pentagon. The JIOA carried out the recruitment of the Nazi scientists and their placement in various programs under the US military and CIA. For some ‘top level’ scientists who were too close to Hitler, the US government created special operations for them to work in US facilities in occupied Germany.

US President Truman had in September 1946 officially approved Operation Paperclip, in secret, and had expanded it to include over 1000 Nazi scientists. Later reports and documents have revealed that over 1600 Nazi scientists were brought in, their crimes were whitewashed and they were given a new life to work for the US government.

The allies had held the Nazi scientists at two luxurious locations, the first was the Palace Hotel in Luxembourg that was named ‘Ashcan’, and the second facility was the Crane Mountain Castle in Hesse, Germany, codenamed ‘dustbin’.

In later years, as the media started breaking the reports of the US government helping the Nazis through Paperclip, to avoid public condemnation, the USA initiated investigations against many Paperclip scientists over their links to the Nazi party and war crimes. However, not a single scientist was ever found guilty. Only one scientist, Georg Rickhey, had to face a formal trial and he too, was acquitted.

In the initial days, after the first Nuremberg executions, when some media reports highlighted the US efforts to bring home Nazis, the US government had even run a propaganda program, telling the public that ‘these silver-haired men with American jackets’ were not members of the Nazi party but good men with families who can bring prosperity to the USA.

The Soviet version of Paperclip

Soviet Russia and the USA were engaged in a fierce competition since the WWII days that would eventually be called the Cold War. While the Allied forces hunted in areas of Europe under German control, the Soviets had their own version of Operation Paperclip going on. As per reports, Operation Osoaviakhim is said to have siphoned off over 6000 German scientists and their family members from the Soviet-controlled areas of Germany to employment and rehabilitation in the Soviet Union.

Conclusion

While the term Nazi has been vilified and hated for understandable reasons, powerful nations looking to advance their ambitions of global dominance had not shied away from benefitting from the Nazi ideology and its products. The sheer number of Nazi collaborators taken away and the amount of efforts, money and politics invested to whitewash their crimes shows how the lofty ideals of justice preached by the West are just hollow gimmicks employed to hide their ruthless endeavours to dominate the world.

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Sanghamitra
Sanghamitra
reader, writer, dreamer, no one

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