Memorial Stones Placed
September 8, 2004
On September 8, 2004, a ceremony took place at Koekoekslaan in Wassenaar, The Netherlands. The city of Wassenaar made the decision to place a small memorial stone with inscribed plate to remember the first V-2 rocket attacks against London. The V-2 monument was placed at Konijnenlaan. It was from this intersection of streets the Germans fired the first V-2s on London beginning September 8, 1944.
Mayor Van den Muijsenberg of Wassenaar unveiled the monument on September 8, at 18.35 hours, the exact time of the launch. The first rocket came down in the London district of Chiswick, killing three people and wounding seventeen. Some historians see this date as the beginning of the modern warfare.
The small monument in Wassenaar is made of black granite, some 60 cm of height. On the angled top is a plate with text in English and Dutch stating; this is the place where the first rockets on London were fired. Along with a delegation from Chiswick there be a delegation of the community and representatives of Stichting Wassenaar 40'45, Stichting 3 Maart 45, Stichting V-2 Platform, and International V-2 Research Group.
also held in the London suburb of Chiswick, where
one of the first
fired from Wassenaar impacted. A similar-style
memorial stone was
at No. 3 Staveley Road in Chiswick.
September 03, 2003
Recently a V-2 combustion chamber was pulled from the Blackwater River in Essex. It is thought that this particular V-2 impacted in the river on January 16, 1945 at 4:00 PM. The engine was unfortunately removed by some unknown person before it could be preserved.
Vliegtuigbom Wassenaar, tot ontploffing gebracht
July 26, 2001
WASSENAAR, HOLLAND - In een weiland vol met koeien wordt een Britse vliegtuigbom uit de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Wassenaar tot ontploffing gebracht. De knal bracht bij de dieren, die net buiten de gevarenzone aan het grazen waren, een lichte schrik teweeg.
Het projectiel kwam aan de oppervlakte tijdens graafwerkzaamheden voor de aanleg van een verdiepte garage en een zwembad in de achtertuin van een villabewoner. Tijdens de oorlog vuurden de Duitsers vanuit dit gebied V-2-raketten af op de Britten, die op hun beurt de Duitse stellingen bestookten.
Omdat de bom op scherp stond, bracht de Explosieven Opruimingsdienst de blindganger met een gepantserde shovel naar een 300 meter verderop gelegen weiland. Zo'n zestig omwonenden, die tijdelijk hun huis uit moesten, toonden zich dankbaar over de professionele wijze waarop de klus tot een goed einde werd gebracht.
Recently in a field near Wassenaar, an unexploded Allied bomb was found. The Allies mounted many bombing strikes against the V-2 rocket sites in this area during the war. The bomb was rendered safe by the controlled explosion brought by the EOC. The cows were only momentarily startled at the detonation. Even fifty years after the war, ammunition and bombs are discovered very frequently in Holland.
Martin Schilling, Developer of V-2 Missile, Dies at 88
May 8, 2000
Martin Schilling, a German-born retired executive of the Raytheon Company who worked with Wernher von Braun at Peenemunde, Germany, during World War II to develop the world's first large ballistic missile, the V-2, died on April 30 at a clinic in Burlington, Mass. He was 88. Dr. Schilling, who lived in Lexington, Mass., died from heart failure, said his son Gerd.
The 47-foot-long V-2 (the designation stands for Vergeltungswaffe 2, or Vengeance Weapon 2) with its one-ton warhead, was one to inspire dread among Allied civilians and soldiers alike. About 1,000 V-2's were fired at London during the war, and some 4,000 were launched against Allied soldiers. Because the V-2 traveled at an altitude of 60 miles and a speed of one mile per second, faster than the speed of sound, there was no warning of its approach. Furthermore, because it was not a "smart bomb" that could be aimed with at least a degree of precision, the hit-or-miss V-2 was considered a terror weapon.
For Dr. Schilling, however, who was entranced by the possibilities of Jules Verne-style space travel, the V-2 could be a thing of beauty. At one test flight from Peenemunde in 1944, Dr. Schilling recalled to his son Gerd, he watched through a telescope an experimental V-2 rising to an altitude of 118 miles, the edge of space. It was, he said, "a beautiful picture, showing the tiny rocket against the immensity of space," he told his son. His specialty turned out to be the development of control vanes in the fiercely hot exhaust plume of the rocket motor. The vanes kept the rocket pointed straight up and later on its correct course until it built enough airspeed to be guided by its external fins. Today's rockets are kept on course at low speeds by the swiveling of the motors.
At the end of the war, von Braun and 126 Peenemunde scientists, including Dr. Schilling, were resettled at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, where they continued to develop rocketry. After the team was moved to Huntsville, Ala., they launched America's first satellite into space in 1958, an event that signaled the beginning of the space race with the Soviet Union. Later that year, Dr. Schilling joined the Raytheon Company of Lexington, Mass., which is now one of the world's largest electronics and missile system contractors. For his work on the development of American military missiles, including the Hawk, the Sparrow, the Sidewinder and the Patriot, Dr. Schilling was awarded the Exceptional Civilian Service Award of the United States Army in 1958. At Raytheon, he rose to the rank of vice president for research and engineering and retired in 1977.
Born on Oct. 1, 1911, Dr. Schilling attended the Institute of Technology in Hanover and received a doctorate in applied physics in 1937. After joining von Braun's staff in 1940, he rose to the position of technical director of the German Army test organization at Peenemunde. Although his sons say Mr. Schilling was not a member of the Nazi party, most of his supervisors, like von Braun, were in the party, according to "Reaching for the Stars," by Erik Bergaust (Doubleday, 1960). Dr. Schilling had been recruited by the Peenemunde team because he held a Ph.D. in applied physics and could be valuable in the development of missiles.
Dr. Schilling's wife, Annaliese Lange, died in 1993. In addition to his son Gerd, of Princeton, N.J., Dr. Schilling is survived by another son, Hartmut, of Carlisle, Mass., and a sister, Gertrud Schilling of Dortmund, Germany.
Deetman onthult informatiebord bij monument
Deetman Unveils Plaque at Monument
September 8, 2000
DEN HAAG - Burgemeester Deetman en de heer J. Borsboom onthullen op vrijdag 8 september een informatiebord bij het monument ter herdenking van het bombardement op het Bezuidenhout. Dit bord vertelt het verhaal van het bombardement van maart 1945 waarbij, kort voor het einde van de oorlog, meer dan 500 Hagenaars het leven lieten.
Het bombardement - ook bekend als het bombardement van de menselijke vergissing - werd uitgevoerd door de geallieerden en was bedoeld voor V-2-installaties in het nabij gelegen Haagse Bos. De V-2-raketten, die sinds enkele maanden vanuit het Haagse Bos werden gelanceerd in de richting van Engeland, veroorzaakten de dood van veel Britten en brachten grote schade toe aan Londen.
Op 8 september 1944 werd de eerste V-2 op Londen afgevuurd. Dat gebeurde vanuit Wassenaar. In de zeven maanden die daarop volgenden vonden meer dan duizend lanceringen plaats, steeds vanaf een andere locatie in of rond Den Haag.
Het informatiebord is het gevolg van een initiatief van de heer J. Borsboom, wiens ouders kort voor het bombardement van 3 maart uit het Bezuidenhout zijn weggetrokken. Hij vroeg de gemeenteraad meer aandacht te willen besteden aan de betekenis van de aanwezigheid van V-2-raketten in Den Haag. Omdat het monument 'Bombardement Bezuidenhout, 3 maart 1945' al bestond, heeft de gemeente besloten om daar aanvullende informatie aan toe te voegen.
THE HAGUE - Mayor Deetman and Mr. Jos Borsboom on Friday, September 8, 2000, unveiled an information plaque near the memorial monument to remember the bombardement on the Bezuidenhout community in The Hague. This plaque tells of the bombardement in March 1945, in which, more than 500 inhabitants of The Hague lost their lives shortly before the end of WWII.
This infamous Allied bombardement was directed on a V-2 rocket launching installation in the Haagse Bos (The Hague Forest) and through human error the bombers missed their intended target. The V-2 attacks had been frequent from the Haagse Bos that month and many rockets had been launched toward London causing damage and terror.
On September 8, 1944, the first V-2 was fired on London from Wassenaar. During the seven months that followed, more than a thousand V-2-rockets were fired from areas in and around The Hague.
The plaque near the monument is the result of an initiative by J. Borsboom, whose parents survived the Bezuidenhout bombardement of March 3, 1945, only because they were absent from the Bezuidenhout area. Borsboom contacted the city council to secure funds for this information board and to draw attention to the local V-2 rocket activity during the war and its influence on the civilian population of The Hague.
Mittelbau Colour Photos Recovered
Images of the Guilded 1943-1945
October 30, 1999
FRANCE - Following the recent discovery of new colour photographs taken by the infamous German photographer Walter Frentz, showing the concentration camp of Gilded, -the Mittelbau (Central Works), Hanns-Peter Frentz has presented the photos to the French people. The son of Walter Frentz, Hanns-Peter Frentz, recently discovered the rare colour photos while going through some of his deceased fathers belongings. The photos can be seen in a recent publication by La Coupole Museum. The book recalls, through photos and drawings, the history of the camp, the first steps of the space conquest, with the assembly by the deportees of the first stratospheric rockets of the history, better known by the name of V-2.
The era of the conquest of space started in 1936, on the grounds of Peenemünde, in the north of Germany vis-a-vis to the Baltic. The technical research of the rocket was directed by Wernher von Braun under the authority of Wehrmacht. The first successful launching of the rocket A-4 (original name) occurs on October 3, 1942. The bombardment of Peenemünde by the Allies in 1943 then forces the Germans to located a better site suited for manufacture of the rocket. Hitler decides to install the factory in an underground site in Central Germany which, will be made up of prisoners coming from the camp of Buchenwald.
Mortality among the prisoners is particularly significant until the final construction of the works outside the Tunnel. Some escaping French could carry out drawings which, illustrated the hell of the camp correctly. The manufacturing plant (Mittelwerk) is completed when these reports/photos by Walter Frentz are taken at the beginning of the summer 1944. One sees immense halls, very clean, the surfaces of storage, the multitude of the parts and the assembly line. The prisoners would resemble actual German factory workers if they were not in striped prisoner uniforms. The setting is identical to that of the camp of Thérezin, except that the recipient is not the Red Cross, but Hitler himself.
But the hidden-truth and the ill treatments the SS inflicted onto the prisoners are not on the photographs. During their imprisonment, the workers made drawings representing the life with the camp, the calls, hangings, the corpses and of many portraits - that colour the picture even more realist than these photos.
V-2 Plant Survivors Publicize Their Story
By BRETT DAVIS
Times Washington Correspondent
November 30, 1999
WASHINGTON - During World War II, a group of German engineers, led by the brilliant Wernher von Braun, developed the V-2, the world's first ballistic missile.
At the war's end, U.S. and Russian forces scrambled to get those German engineers and their knowledge. The U.S. Army won most of the race, spiriting von Braun and 128 of his compatriots to America. They settled in Huntsville and transformed the Nazi wartime technology into a series of space vehicles, beating the Russians to the moon and helping the world dream of space travel. In two decades, they became American heroes. That's the version of the story most people remember, but a group of survivors of the underground plant where the V-2 was built want to add something to that history.
V-2 factory workers who live in America are forming a loose-knit group to share their memories. They don't want the V-2 to go down in history as just a brilliant product the Nazis devised that was later put to good use by America. They also want people to remember the V-2s were built by slave laborers from concentration camps worked to death by Nazis desperate for a weapon to turn back the advancing Allied armies.
''People have now started to realize what happened there,'' said Alex Baum, who was a member of the French resistance and was captured and sent to the underground V-2 plant. He now lives in California. ''We want to make the public more aware,'' Baum said.
The president of the group is an anthropology professor from American University, whose husband had a relative who died in the Holocaust. Gretchen Schafft said she and her husband decided to find out about the relative, who they thought had died in the notorious death camp Buchenwald. Instead, they learned he died in a place called Dora. ''We didn't have any idea what Dora was,'' Schafft said in a recent interview at her home in Silver Spring, Md.
Ernst Stuhlinger, a Huntsville rocket team member who co-wrote a 1994 biography of von Braun titled ''Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space,'' said von Braun gets a lot of blame he doesn't deserve from Holocaust survivors. ''They remember von Braun because he made a name for himself after the war,'' Stuhlinger said. ''They are inclined to put all the negative aspects of the Nazi regime on von Braun.'' In his book, Stuhlinger quoted von Braun as saying he was powerless to improve conditions for the workers.
Schafft said the Dora survivors she met told her what it was: hell. (In fact, Stuhlinger's biography quotes von Braun as calling the place ''hellish.'')
In the early years of the war, von Braun and his rocket team developed the V-2 at a Baltic Sea site called Peenemünde. When the allies learned of the site and bombed it, the V-2 factory was moved underground to a series of tunnels carved into the Harz Mountains. The place was run by a government-owned company euphemistically called the Mittelwerk, or ''central works.'' It was fueled by prisoners from nearby concentration camps, including Dora. Thousands died. In fact, more people died building the V-2 than did being hit by it.
Baum was a teen-ager active in the French resistance when he was captured and sent to Buchenwald, and then to Peenemünde, where he and about 400 fellow prisoners worked on the rockets. ''We had to work very, very hard, constant running, schnell, schnell, but we had soup and we had a decent facility where we could sleep,'' Baum said. ''We worked 12 hours a day and then 12 hours rest, seven days a week.'' And then things got worse. Peenemünde was bombed and Baum went to Mittelwerk, where he helped build the tunnels, a grueling process that killed thousands.
''Dora was a hell,'' said Baum.
''We had to build the tunnels. Imagining it, it's not even possible. We lived there in the tunnels in the beginning,... we had to sleep underground, day shift or night shift there was mining, explosions, you lived under tremendous dust. ''We didn't have showers for maybe six to eight months. We had one cup of water to drink a day, and we had a cup of coffee, a piece of bread and soup, that's it. We lost a tremendous amount of people.''
Ed Wynschenk was born in Holland and sent to the camps at 15 when the Nazis invaded. He went from Auschwitz to Birkenau and then, at the end of the war, to Dora, where his toes had to be cut off because of gangrene. On April 11, 1945, all the inmates were forced on a death march as the Nazis abandoned the V-2 tunnels in the face of the advancing Russian and American armies. Because he couldn't walk, the Nazis left him behind.
"The soldiers came the next day, the 12th. Many cried. The American soldiers were trained to fight other soldiers,'' Wynschenk said. ''They were not prepared for what they saw and smelled when they opened the gates of hell.''
Ragene Farris was one of those liberators. He was with the 329th Medical Battalion. He had seen V-2s in pictures but was not prepared for seeing them in the tunnels, with so many half-dead walking skeletons around. ''We went through it and saw all this amazing equipment and came out about three or four miles away. We didn't really understand the intensity of this factory effort,'' Farris said. ''It was just amazing to me, for a 24-year-old soldier to go in there and see what these people had done, and later recognize that a lot of people were killed by these rockets.''
Farris attended a reunion of camp survivors at the camp site in 1998, and has become friends with Yves Beon, a French author and former inmate who has pushed for greater awareness of the camp, most notably with his book ''Planet Dora,'' published in the United States in 1997.
Beon was a member of the French resistance who was captured and sent to the camps, first to Buchenwald. ''People said you are a lucky guy because you are not going to Dora,'' said Beon, who still lives in France. He was transferred to another camp in the middle of winter, ''and when I arrived there it was snowing, terribly cold, and there was a guy with a shovel and we asked him, 'Where are we? What's the name of the camp?' He said, 'This camp is Dora.' I said, 'My god, this is it.' ''
Schafft also met Beon in the course of her research, and he urged her to lead an organization of Dora survivors in America. Since then, Schafft has been talking to Mittelwerk survivors and is planning a newsletter for the handful of slave laborers who live in this country. She may also host a get-together if Beon comes to the U.S. for a visit.
Some survivors don't want to be reminded of their time there, while others find it helpful to talk about their memories. ''They have many different opinions of how much they want to remember,'' Schafft said. Most are united in one thing, Schafft said - they don't want Wernher von Braun to be remembered as an unmitigated hero. ''I think most of them know about von Braun,'' Schafft said. ''They want the American public to know he was the technical presence behind this hellish life that they led.''
Baum said he remembers von Braun both from Peenemünde and Dora, although he had no contact with him or the other German engineers at the time by orders of the SS. He remembers one day when the top German brass, including Heinrich Himmler, the head of the dreaded SS and the second-ranking official in the Third Reich, visited Peenemünde. Von Braun praised the V-2 to them, Baum said.
''I understand German, too, because I was raised in Alsace-Lorraine (a region of France on the German border),'' Baum said. ''I could hear von Braun talking about the ultimate weapon that's going to destroy the United States and everything else. We (the prisoners) were not very close, but we could see them.'' Later, he would see von Braun visit the Mittelwerk, usually in the company of top military officials. ''He was very desperate to get this thing going, and he knew exactly what was going on,'' Baum said.
Stuhlinger's book does recount a scene where V-2s were test fired at Peenemünde before Himmler, as Baum remembered. One V-2 misfired but the other worked. Von Braun said that indicated the rocket needed more work, the book says, but Himmler pushed to move it into production. ''We never thought our rocket would be ready for military use before the end of the war,'' Stuhlinger said in an interview. ''We wanted to develop it as a future space rocket. Von Braun wanted to keep the project alive, but he did not want to have his rocket used as a weapon.''
But long after the war, when von Braun was held up as a visionary hero responsible for putting Americans on the moon, it was the von Braun praising the V-2 to his Nazi superiors that Baum remembered. He said he tried to telephone CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who was egging NASA on to victory in the space race, to tell him about Dora and what went on there. ''His staff said we wouldn't touch that story with a 10-foot pole,'' Baum said. ''I had called (journalist) Walter Lippman, and he says, I wouldn't touch that story with a 10-foot pole.''
Few people did touch it, for a long time. The story of the underground Mittelwerk ''was not known hardly at all'' during the space race days, according to Michael Neufeld, curator at the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum and author of a book about the V-2, ''The Rocket and the Reich.''
''It was essentially written out of history between 1947 and the 1960s, when it was essentially invisible, and only gradually emerged from that state of total invisibility,'' Neufeld said. In the 1960s, when von Braun was first achieving worldwide renown, East German's communist government publicized his honorary membership in the elite Nazi SS and his connections to Dora in an attempt at an expose, but Neufeld said the American press didn't bite.
A French citizen named Jean Michel published his memoir of Dora in 1975, and in English in 1979, which led to renewed interest in the story of Dora and the Mittelwerk - particularly from the Justice Department's new Nazi-hunting agency, the Office of Special Investigations.
That office eventually persuaded former von Braun team member and Huntsville resident Arthur Rudolph to leave the country rather than face prosecution for his part in the Mittelwerk, where he served as production manager. He mounted a lengthy battle to regain his citizenship and clear his name, but ultimately died before he was successful. "The Rudolph case was really the big bombshell and breakthrough'' in getting the story of the V-2 factory out to the public, Neufeld said. ''The controversy has gone on ever since.''
Former rocket team members in Huntsville and elsewhere rallied around Rudolph as he tried to clear his name, and they rally around the memory of von Braun, who died of cancer in 1977. Stuhlinger's biography quotes von Braun as saying the underground Mittelwerk plant haunted him, but there was nothing he could do. Von Braun mostly worked at Peenemünde and made only brief visits to the Mittelwerk, where he said he never saw any prisoners abused or killed.
But after one visit he did remember the environment as ''hellish. My spontaneous reaction was to talk to one of the SS guards, only to be told with unmistakable harshness that I should mind my own business, or find myself in the same striped fatigues!''
Martin Adler, who now lives in Detroit, was born in Hungary and, like Baum, was a teenager when the Nazis threw him in the camps. He went first to Auschwitz, then to Buchenwald, and then learned he was headed for a place called Dora. ''Dora was actually a death sentence. Anybody that went to Dora, the rule was to die,'' Adler said. The rest of his family died in the camps - his father was shot within three weeks of arriving with him at Dora - but Adler found himself in the clothing depot, where he was beaten and starved but not worked to death.
He compares von Braun to another famous Alabamian, George Wallace. ''George Wallace, he was very racist, and then the weather changed,'' Adler said. As for von Braun, ''he was a scientist and he wanted to excel, and he wanted to excel in the work that he did. If the regime was Nazi, so be it.''
Again, Stuhlinger's book offers a response, in von Braun's own words: ''The most depressing thought is the fact that I was absolutely without power to do anything substantial. Even if I had left the place and my work and gotten to jail, (SS leader) Himmler would have given orders to continue, but only under harsher and more stupid conditions. The inmates would undoubtedly have suffered more.''
The most recent book about Dora is Beon's own "Planet Dora,'' a fictionalized but, reality-based look at prison camp life seen through the eyes of the prisoners. Von Braun makes no appearance in the book, and neither does Rudolph, but Beon has no good feelings about them. ''For us they were just the same as the SS,'' he said. After the war, "when I heard that Wernher von Braun was considered in the states as an American hero, I could not stand it.''
Neufeld said scholars have not come around to a very balanced view of von Braun. The school of ''Huntsville history,'' as he calls the rocket team members' version of von Braun's war years, goes to great lengths to separate von Braun from any Nazi sympathies or the slave labor question. Likewise, Neufeld said, some von Braun critics toss around war crimes accusations that just don't hold up.
"There's really a divided opinion,'' he said. ''It tends to be very black and white. There's the anti-von Braun camp and the pro-von Braun camp. There isn't a lot of middle ground.''
© 2000 The Huntsville Times. Used with permission.
August 16, 1998
The old enemies within ... a rocket test of guided weapons at Woomera, using technology gleaned from the V2 rocket used by the Germans during World War II. Almost a quarter of the German scientists recruited by Australia immediately after World War II were members of the Nazi party. GERARD RYLE and GARY HUGHES reveal the cover-up.
OPERATION Matchbox was born out of the ruins of postwar Nazi Germany as Allied intelligence officers began combing the rubble to plunder the Third Reich's priceless military and industrial secrets. They quickly identified the greatest prize of all - the scientists and technicians who had made Germany such a feared world power. That realisation would see hundreds of Nazi scientists and technicians spirited out of Germany to Western countries.
While the American and British involvement in this operation has previously been exposed, Australia's full role has remained a well-guarded secret for almost half a century. At least 127 German scientists and technicians were recruited by the Australian Government between 1946 and 1951. And like America and Britain, Australia was prepared to turn a blind eye to their political backgrounds and the key roles they played in the Nazi war machine. Members of Hitler's SS, the Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers), other Nazi paramilitary groups and the Nazi Party itself were among those quietly ushered into Australia by government officials who secretly acknowledged the potential public outcry if what they were doing ever leaked out.
Also welcomed were such key military figures as the former head of the top-secret Messerschmitt jet aircraft works at Peenemunde, where the V2 rocket was developed; the radar expert who masterminded the electronic jamming that allowed Germany's battleships to break out to sea in 1942; one of the developers of the helicopter; an expert in bomb-proof concrete who built the pens that protected Germany's U-boat fleet from air raids; the inventor of an electronic aiming device that allowed German aircraft to locate and destroy Allied tanks at night; a Germany Army poison gas researcher; and the German High Command's chief cartographer.
With them came at least 10 scientists who had worked for I.G.Farben, the massive chemical conglomerate that supported Hitler's bid for world domination, made a fortune by exploiting slave labour from Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, and invented the Zyklon-B poison gas used in concentration camp gas chambers. One high Nazi state functionary from Germany's occupation government in Poland was recruited by Australia because of his knowledge of margarine production.
Another former member of the Nazi Party was contracted to work in the Australian Government's Defence Research Laboratories in Melbourne. When asked if he had undergone "denazification", he replied: "No. Why should I? There is no reason."
"Denazification" tribunals were established in the Western zones of occupied Germany after the war. The aim was to remove from positions of power or influence those who had helped the Nazi cause. Flown out after signing contracts with the Commonwealth, the German scientists and technicians scattered across Australia to work for government instrumentalities and private industry. At least 10 went to work at the Commonwealth's Defence Research Laboratories in Melbourne and Adelaide. Two were employed by the Commonwealth's Aeronautical Research Laboratories at Melbourne's Fishermens Bend, one being cleared for classified work up to secret level in supersonics research.
The hidden full story of Australia's recruitment of Nazi scientists has been pieced together for the first time by the Herald from more than 150 files holding more than 10,000 documents in the National Archives in Melbourne and Canberra, including ASIO dossiers. It is a story of government cover-up and duplicity and the silencing of insiders who voiced their moral objections to what was going on.
Australia's involvement in Nazi science began on September 18, 1945, when a top-secret cable arrived in Canberra from the British Government advising that Britain had decided to recruit "a limited number of German scientists and technicians ... on defence research work in order to develop military potential at Germany's expense". Australia was invited to take part and place "bids" for scientists with the Americans, who were masterminding the scheme.
Initially, Australia's Department of Defence and Department of Munitions - responsible for weapons research - declined. The only interest was from Victoria's then Labor premier, John Cain senior, who asked whether scientists were available to help the State Electricity Commission exploit the State's rich brown coal deposits. But 11 months later, Australia's Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, was sent a private briefing note from the Australian High Commission in London explaining how Britain had already selected about 120 scientists. It warned that the Russians were recruiting scientists in Western zones of occupied Germany. CHIFLEY was advised that if Australia "decides that it would be wise to take advantage of the specialised skill of Germans in particular directions, it would be advisable to get busy now before other countries have selected the best of the candidates".
A top-secret memo from London two months later warned that the Russians had abandoned an agreement among the Allied powers not to recruit scientists with Nazi backgrounds and were in some cases kidnapping leading scientists from the Western zones.
"Both the US and UK are planning to prevent this moving of German scientists and technicians eastwards since it would increase significantly the war potential of Russia," the memo said. The leader of the Australian Scientific and Technical Mission in London said an estimated 1,500 scientists would have to be permanently moved out of Germany to Western countries. "It was stated at one meeting in connection with this problem that ultimately it might be possible to absorb a certain number of Germans on the guided missile project in Australia," he wrote.
Things suddenly began to move quickly. In November, Australian officials travelled to Frankfurt for discussions with the Enemy Personnel Exploitation Section of the Allied Field Intelligence Agency (Technical), from which scientists were available. German scientists and their families were being scooped up from Berlin and the Russian zone and spirited away to the areas of Germany controlled by the Western allies, where they were held at secret locations. The scheme was codenamed "Operation Matchbox". It was from Matchbox that many German scientists started their long journey to Australia. Other Western countries had to seek permission to take scientists from the Americans. The Australian "bids" were placed through Britain's Darwin Panel, established to select the most valuable recruits.
In December 1946, Federal Cabinet approved the establishment of the Employment of Scientific and Technical Enemy Aliens (ESTEA) scheme and Australia became a member of the Darwin Panel.
It was a formality. The Americans had already agreed to the first German scientist going to Australia - an expert in the gasification of brown coal earmarked for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. Under ESTEA, which was run by the Commonwealth Government's Division of Industrial Development out of its offices at 187 Collins Street in Melbourne, the scientists were formally approved for recruitment by a 10-man committee.
A key member of the committee was Melbourne University's Professor of Biochemistry, Victor Trikojus, who had been interned as an enemy alien for three months in 1940 after making a pro-Nazi speech in 1937 following a visit to Nazi Germany. Selected scientists were given initial nine-month contracts with the Commonwealth Government and had their airfares paid to Australia. They would then be subcontracted out to government instrumentalities or private companies, including some of the country's leading industries. At least 55 of the scientists were sent to Victoria and more than 50 to NSW. Others went to South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland.
ESTEA arranged for the scientists to send monthly payments of 400 German marks to support their families in Germany. In some cases, extra food and fuel rations for the families were arranged through Australian military personnel in Germany. If the scientists and technicians proved satisfactory and wanted to stay, they were offered permanent jobs and arrangements were made to bring their families to Australia by ship. The fares were either paid for by employers or deducted from the scientists' weekly wages.
In one case, Chifley personally authorised the Commonwealth to pay for the fares of the family of a German scientist destined for a research post at Melbourne University. ESTEA arranged loans for the Germans through the Commonwealth Bank, organised the shipping of their scientific equipment, personal libraries and household goods - including a grand piano - and helped a number of scientists in their attempts to bypass currency controls to get money out of occupied Germany.
Australian authorities worked to try to unfreeze the bank account of a former officer in the Storm Troopers after it had been locked by Allied military authorities in Germany. Individual ESTEA dossiers, some of them more than 120 pages thick, also detail how those running the scheme pressured the Immigration Department to ignore medical problems, including suspected tuberculosis, in some of those coming to Australia. Once the families arrived, the Department of Immigration fast-tracked permanent residency applications for the Germans.
Some of the scientists rose to prominence in Australia's scientific community, their Nazi backgrounds safely locked away in Government files for half a century. One Nazi Party member, who had joined the Sturmabteilung as a storm trooper in 1933 - the years Hitler took power - and spent five years as a bodyguard to the Nazi hierarchy, found his way into the pages of Who's Who in Australia in 1971 for his work in telecommunications.
It would not be until December 1952 that general immigration to Australia from Germany was opened. Applicants were subjected to tight security screening and those with strong Nazi links, including membership of the SS or Sturmabteilung, were rejected.
While ESTEA was not kept a secret, the Nazi backgrounds and wartime roles of German scientists and technicians were closely guarded. Those running it feared the outcry following any public leaking of such details would end the scheme. In March 1948, a personal and confidential memo was sent from Australia House in London to the head of the scheme at the Division of Industrial Development, George Sharwood, regarding a German scientist bound for Australia who had been a squad leader in the Sturmabteilung and one of Hitler's original brownshirts in 1933.
The memo was a "special note ... should facts leak out" giving the scientist's background. "I am writing this to you informally because I feel it is not a matter which is desirable to give too much prominence because of the chance of misinterpretation by those who desire to depreciate the scheme by innuendoes," the memo said. "... it is as well to be forearmed in case by any mischance this information becomes public property and twisted in the wrong form."
Only the names of a small number of selected scientists were made public. Under their contracts, the scientists were banned from talking to the media. Media access required ministerial approval and was normally denied. The ultimate destinations of the scientists in Australia and their employers were kept secret. The official line fed to the Australian public was that only those scientists who were deemed "politically unobjectionable" were being recruited and all had been subjected to stringent security checks.
The reality, as revealed in ESTEA's own files, was something else. The scheme relied entirely on security checks provide by the British and Americans. The closest Australian authorities came to carrying out their own checks was to interview scientists and technicians and prepare "personality reports" on their suitability. Information on political activities and Nazi links in ESTEA dossiers vary from detailed to sketchy or non-existent. In some cases, the files state that scientists have undergone "denazification", but contain no further details on Nazi involvement. One scientist, a former Nazi Party member, was recruited and flown to Australia despite not having been officially "denazified".
In a number of cases contained in the ESTEA dossiers, it was admitted that full background checks could not be carried out because the scientists claimed their personal records and other documents had been destroyed or abandoned while fleeing from the advancing Russians. The Herald was only able to establish the true Nazi links of some scientists by cross-matching ESTEA files with ASIO dossiers. When those on the ground in Germany from ESTEA's "G Section" expressed security reservations about individuals, their concerns were usually dismissed.
In one case, the personality report raised concerns that a particular scientist had been a member of the "general" SS and the Nazi Party and had been interned by the Americans for three years after the war. An accompanying memo from the Australian Scientific and Technical Mission in London said the normal security check would be carried out but "it seems fairly safe that there will be no difficulty whatever in that direction".
Australia's own intelligence service was not so confident. In May 1948, the director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service (the predecessor to ASIO) protested to the Attorney-General's Department that it had not been allowed to carry out security checks on arriving German scientists. In a bluntly worded memo, the CIS's director, Longfield Lloyd, also expressed concern that there was no documentary proof the scientists had been cleared by American or British military authorities.
He singled out three scientists, two of whom had been employed by I.G.Farben and a radar expert who had helped German nightfighters locate and destroy RAF bombers, as being particularly unsuitable.
"... there should not be any tolerance as that which enables such men as these to enter Australia," the CIS director said. "These three should be sent away again at once." He said the radar expert "may be assumed to have been largely responsible for the loss of many Allied forces' lives. IIt is unwise to overlook past affiliations and activities upon the part of an enemy alien and every security instinct is aroused ... It is not reasonable for potentially dangerous aliens to have been brought into Australia without prior security cognizance."
On August 18, 1950, one of the ESTEA scientists, Fritz Albrecht Quandt, was found dead in a London hotel room with a phial of cyanide at his side. Press reports at the time suggested he was the first husband of the wife of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief. But a confidential report compiled by the Australian High Commission in London concluded "there was a Fritz Quandt who had some connection with the leaders of the Nazi Party, but it was definitely not this particular Fritz Quandt". ESTEA was officially shut down in October 1954 with a memo to the Department of National Development's representative at Australia House in London instructing him to "destroy the old ESTEA applications and any files you consider necessary".
© 1998 Sydney Morning Herald. Used with permission.