Review of Eric Lichtblau's “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe Haven For Hitler's Men”Books
tags: book review, Eric Lichtblau, The Nazis Next Door
Write a nonfiction history to read like a novel offering suspense, interesting characters, both good guys and bad, and a bestseller is assured, perhaps even able to attract students said to be bored by history. It's all here but involves much of what Americans should have been informed about much sooner.
Eric Lichblau writes that our World War II spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and its successor, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), employed Germans to spy on the Soviet Union as the Cold War evolved. Not just “nominal” Nazis, but ardent Nazis such as SS officers and both alleged and proven war criminals. Then, having performed their services as spies, came to the U.S. as immigrants, their wartime services to Adolf Hitler being withheld from the Immigration officials. With but a few exceptions, hundreds of these new American citizens lived long and comfortable lives in their adopted fatherland.
Also covered by the author is Project Paperclip, orchestrated to exploit Nazi technology and employ in the U.S. selected experts, the best known being the late Dr. Wernher von Braun, Nazi Germany's premier ballistic rocket expert. Though those employed were regularly described as scientists, few were. Most were engineers, as was Von Braun (described by his biographer as a “brilliant rocket engineer and manager of engineers”) and his brother, Magnus. Many were technicians such as explosives experts, skilled electricians and metal workers. One Herbert Asxter, “was brought to America not because of any technological expertise—he was a lawyer by trade—but because of his management expertise . . . .” Even more indicative of little screening of the “rocket experts” wasWalter Weisemann “a Nazi public relations officer” whom Von Braun called “an eminent scientist.” Arthur Rudolf, a high school graduate who became production manager in the Nazis' underground rocket factory came to the U. S. for employment as an Army civil service employee and later with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he received high honors. Subsequently, however, he was judged a war criminal, gave up his U.S. citizenship and voluntarily left the country in a deal to avoid prosecution—but retained his government pension! His boss in both Nazi Germany and the U.S. was Dr. Wernher von Braun.
The story of Operation Paperclip (so named as paper clips were attached to the files of desired experts)begins at the end of the European conflict. The “unconditional surrender” of the Third Reich meant that the Allies had the ability to exploit German technology and technologists, high on the list being Germany's long-range ballistic rocket the A4, later designated the V2, the vergeltungswaffe, which translates as “reprisal weapon.” The German rocket program was centered in the city of Nordhausen and the nearby underground factory producing the ballistic rocket.Outside the entrance to Mittelwerk, the underground factory, was Dora, a large concentration camp that once housed upward of 20,000 slave laborers procured by the SS and processed through the infamous Buchenwald.
On April 11, 1945, Nordhausen, along with Mittelwerk and Dora were captured by an advance unit of the U.S. 3rd Armored Division. What they found in the Boelcke Kaserne, an abandoned German army barracks in Nordhausen, shocked even these battle-hardened Americans: Hundreds of corpses lay sprawled over the acres of the big compound. More hundreds filled the great barracks. This was duly reported “up the line,” and the 104th Infantry Division was summoned to aid the living as the 3rd Armored Division unit continued its pursuit of Nazi forces. (A photograph of the Boelcke Kaserne dead appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives.)
On April 17, 1945, the Army's Stars and Stripes newspaper produced a front page account: 22,000 Nazi Slaves Made V2s in Deep Underground Factory. The next week Nordhausen was visited by a congressional delegation to bear witness to the crimes associated with German rocket production and close behind was Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. attached to the Naval Technical Mission.
In addition to the dead and dying at Boelcke Kaserne barracks, many slave-laborers still able to walk were marched away by the SS. Their fate, later reported by an American unit that captured the town of Gardenkaden, proved to be one of the worst war crimes encountered by American troops.
As the American forces closed-in on the rocket complex able-bodied prisoners were moved north to concentration camps still in German hands. When the SS guards learned they could not reach a Nazi-held camp, they had to deal with eliminating their prisoners as ordered by SS leader Heinrich Himmler. With the aide of a local resident, they found a large barn, forced some 1,300 prisoners inside, blocked all exits and set the building on fire. It was still smoldering when a U.S. Army unit arrived. They interviewed a few prisoners that had escaped and photographed the barn. This is described in detail by a French historian, Andre Sellier, in A History of the Dora Camp (1998).
This and other relevant information was available to the author of The Nazis Next Door, being public knowledge in 1945 and at resulting war crimes trials. Yet, the author writes: “The anonymity of Dora was no accident. General Patton and the military had eagerly publicized America's liberation of Dachau and other concentration camps, but they wanted no such publicity surrounding the secrets of Dora...It was as if the place never existed.”
Secret? The Stars and Stripes issue of April 17, 1945 was read by thousands of Allied troops with many copies no doubt sent home. The congressional delegation that visited Nordhausen documented what they learned about the underground rocket factory and Lindbergh described what he had experienced in his published journal. Hardly a carefully kept secret. The fact is, American military and civilian leaders, determined to exploit German rocket technology, chose to deny the German rocket experts had any connection to the thousands of prisoners who were starved, beaten and executed. No doubt such information was considered irrelevant to Operation Paperclip. As historian Michael J. Neufeld expressed it in The Rocket and The Third Reich (one of Eric Lichtblau's sources): “The whole story of Mittelwerk and its prisoners was to be obscured as much as possible because it would besmirch Army rocket development.”
While the Nazi rocket experts were mainly engineers there were scientists employed under Paperclip. Second only to Dr. Wernher von Braun in achieving fame and fortune in America was former Luftwaffe officer, Dr. Hubertus Strughold, M.D. Once director of the Aviation Medical Research Institute in the Third Reich, he was recruited by the U.S. Air Force and rose to head its School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio, Texas. Air Force officials insist “we could not have achieved our pre-eminent position in space exploration without the contributions of the German-American. “ What was long -held secret, however, is that this eminent scientist had been listed on the Central Registry of War Criminals for having used live prisoners in his research for the Luftwaffe.
And there is the tale of Major General Dr. Walter Schreiber, who joined Dr. Strughold at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine.
Schreiber, a Nazi MD, was outed in a news article as having approved “some of the ghastly medical experiments which the Nazi performed on hopeless victims.” Unable to defend the indefensible, “The Air Force swooped him out of Texas—not to West Germany, where he might have faced trial for war crimes, but to safer confines in Argentina” (my emphasis).
Though the employment of Germans in the U.S. caused an immediate outcry of protest, led by the German-American immigrant Albert Einstein, the public was assured those selected had been carefully screened and included no “ardent Nazis” or “alleged or confirmed war criminals.” A reported 17 hundred “scientists” were employed in the U.S. under Paperclip. The “screening” was done, it seems, with clouded glasses.
The Nazis Next Door: How American Became A Safe Haven For Hitler's Men, presents the Paperclip story but moves beyond this by covering the Nazis and alleged and convicted war criminals that slipped into the U.S. as immigrants, most recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to spy on the Soviet Union as the Cold War evolved. Their service to the Third Reich served as a favorable reference since the Nazis were indeed “ardent anti-Communists.” Author Eric Lichtblau is a journalist who knows how to tell a story. In addition to revealing long suppressed facts, he delivers truly “unbelievable” plots with suspense and well-drawn characters, both evil and good, the former being ardent Nazis, SS Officers, even alleged and proven war criminals.
Also exposed are American military and civilian officials who`lied to the American public, even destroying or altering official documents. ”
SS General Karl Wolff, commander of all German forces in Italy, “the onetime right-hand man to SS chief Heinrich Himmler,” was expected to "surrender unconditionally," as set by Allied leaders. But Wolff also understood that he was a prime target as a war criminal, thus he moved to negotiate a deal and the person to deal with was Allen Dulles, an America'n agent located in neutral Switzerland (and destined to become head of the postwar Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]).
Only weeks before the end of the Third Reich , General Wolff met with Dulles in neutral Switzerland “sharing a fireside scotch with Himmler's former chief of staff” and cut a deal, Wolff would provide his knowledge of the Soviet Union and Dulles would see to it that the SS General would escape prosecution for war crimes. In a few words author Lichtblau reveals the Nazi mindset: Held in detention, where “he was allowed to continue wearing his German uniform and carrying a gun,” for two years while Dulles worked to clear him (successfully) from prosecution for war crimes, the general complained about his mistreatment: “A Jew is killed in the gas chamber in a few seconds... My comrades and I have been allowed to die every every night for 21 months. This is much more inhumane than the extermination of the Jews.” Hubris extraordinaire
The man Allen Dulles considered a “gentleman” lived a long and comfortable life, something he had denied thousands.
One story, that of Tom Soobzokov, CIA agent, FBI informant, New Jersey community leader, and onetime OSS officer and alleged member of a Nazi death squad, is so over-the top that it alone is worth the price of the book.
The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe haven For Hitler's Men, does an excellent job in reopening the story of our employment of many who had served Nazi Germany: ardent-Nazis, SS officers, even convicted or alleged war criminals. As one American officer expressed it to those opposed: Stop beating a dead Nazi horse. To which I would add: and betray all who had suffered and died during Adolf Hitler's twelve-year reign of terror.
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