Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Operation Paperclip

Who knew? I remember the end of World War 2 and the Nuremberg trials, but I never heard there were high-ranking men of Hitler’s regime who were brought to America and put to work in medicine and space exploration under a secret program known as Operation Paperclip. The name was chosen because a paperclip was used to code the profiles of these men, who were suspected of or proven to have committed heinous war crimes. While some Nazis were hanged for war activities, these scientists and specialists were wooed to the states and often given nice homes and salaries to keep them here, supposedly to insure they would not move to Russia to share their knowledge there.

Once in the United States, many of these men reinvented themselves as victims of the Third Reich, ordered to do what they did, rather than admit they participated in atrocities at concentration camps. Author Annie Jacobsen has included the stories of 21 of these men who worked on rockets, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine, to name just a few areas affected by their research. Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger were two of the more than 1600 of Hitler’s technologists who came to America. Many of them made important contributions in their fields. Some, however, may have been linked to the thalidomide tragedy in the 1950s, and some were forced to leave the country after their past became known.

Operation Paperclip tells of one man who rose to top level positions in private companies, rubbed shoulders with top brass, consulted with the military on rockets and attended many “classified” meetings. Some became lecturers in their fields, deftly avoiding questions about their background by simply saying they were cleared to come to America.

Jacobsen’s listing of “principal characters” helps readers maintain perspective. She also includes more than 100 pages of notes along with an index of people and government groups, etc. This is not a quick read, but it is an important read, for it opens our eyes to the moral implications of what has gone on behind closed doors.

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