Investigative piece on top secret U.S. operation

by | Sep 19, 2016 | Book Reviews

Operation Paperclip (The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought  Nazi Scientists to America)
Annie Jacobsen
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
575 pages, $30 

Author Annie Jacobsen, a Princeton University graduate, already proved her superb investigative and writing skills in her New York Times bestseller, Area 51. Her latest book, Operation Paperclip, ought to be a bestseller as well as required reading. it focuses on a top secret U.S. government operation begun in May 1945 allowing U.S. entry of hundreds of Nazi scientists at the end of WWII.

Likely the most controversial exposed U.S. government program, Jacobsen masterfully presents a chilling read that leaves no stone unturned with material previously undisclosed. We penetrate the shadowy Cold War world and the attempt, at moral compromise, to gain superiority over the competing and crafty Soviets.

After all, the U.S. intelligence expectation was for an all-out-war between the two superpowers by 1952. At stake were those elite Nazi scientists who facilitated Hitler’s war machine of weapons of mass destruction with mass crimes against humanity. The book highlights 21 of those scientists, now deceased, deemed indispensable to American security and even survival. Eight of those were close to the highest Nazi leadership of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Herman Goring. Fifteen were full-fledged Nazi Party members with 10 members of the notorious SA and SS. Six faced trial at Nuremberg.

The most famous of them, von Braun rose to direct the Marshall Space Center and was the Saturn V launch vehicle’s chief architect, making possible the moon landing. With his star celebrity status in the Space Age, he was enabled by his employers, U.S. Army and NASA, to conceal his Nazi past until 1985 and was almost awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ford, though he did receive the Medal of Science. Von Braun joined a SS cavalry unit as early as 1933 becoming a proud SS officer. The V-2 rockets whose development he supervised, rained death and terror on 3,000 cities, and slave laborers were forced to work inhumanly at the Nordhausen underground complex which was liberated on April 11, 1945, by the 104th infantry Division.

Rabbi Steven S. Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress, charged, “As long as we reward former servants of Hitler, while leaving his victims in D.P. camps (my family and i were in Germany’s Wetzlar camp, 1947–1949) we cannot even pretend that we are making any real effort to achieve the aims we fought for.”

Eleanor Roosevelt sponsored a conference at the Waldorf Astoria drawing attention to Paperclip, calling for preventing Germans from entering the U.S. for 12 years. Her guest of honor, Albert Einstein, the world’s most renowned scientist who fled to the U.S. in 1933, alerted President Truman of the danger of accepting those who served Hitler. Perhaps the most poignant words came from The Society for the Prevention of WWiii with its thousands of intellectual members, including William L. Shirer and Daryl Zanuk, “These German ‘experts’ performed wonders for the German war effort. Can one forget their gas chambers, their skill in cremation, their meticulous methods used to extract gold from the teeth of their victims, their wizardry in looting and thieving?”

A host of critical issues are raised in the wake of this most comprehensive landmark study that is bound to disturb our conscience with questions that can only be pondered and debated, but perhaps without clear resolution: Are there no moral constraints to government programs deemed essential for national security? Do all means justify certain ends? Who should be entrusted with weighing the ethical component of a given operation? Are there any regrets, no regrets, lessons for the future?

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors.