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Archive/File: camps/mittelbau-dora/press/la-coupole.970511
Last-Modified: 1997/05/23

The Observer, May 11, 1997. P. 9

Memorial to Nazis' part in space race

by Robin McKie
St. Omer

Deep inside a chalk quarry in northern France, a
subterranean museum revealing the dark side of mankind's
conquest of space was officially opened yesterday.

Known as La Coupole (the Dome) after its 20ft thick concrete
cap, fitted to deflect Allied bombs, the L8 million museum
has been created out of a silo built by Hitler to launch V2
rockets at London.

A four-mile labyrinth of bays, train tunnels and chambers
was built here, costing the lives of thousands of enslaved
Russian and Polish workers.

Fifty V2s a day were to have been fired from La Coupole's
twin launch pads towards London -- had not Allied troops
overrun the nearly completed silo in the autumn of 1944.

Now its dripping chalk tunnels and rusting reinforced
concrete corridors have been transformed, as a result of a
joint French and European Union investment, into one of the
strangest, most disturbing museums of technology.  You do
not wonder at the glory of interplanetary travel at La
Coupole, but shudder at its grim origins.

Visitors to the centre, near St. Omer, inland from Calais,
wander through the maze wearing headphones that suppoly
commentaries, triggered by infra-red signals at appropriate
spots, in a choice of five languages. Inside the main dome,
there are V1s and V2s, film theatres, slides shows, displays
and models: `a history centre of war and rockets'.

It is here that the Nazi birth of modern rocketry is
carefully exposed, starting with the early work of Wernher
von Braun who was to design a rocket -- the V2 -- that has
all the features of  today's satellite launchers: liquid
oxygen tanks, gyroscopic guidance and graphite vanes for
channelling fuel into engines. His creation could launch a
one-ton payload for 200 miles.

Hitler was intrigued, but had no real use for the V2 until
Germany suffered its first serious military setbacks in
early 1943. Then von Braun's creation was seized on as a
means of terrorising Germany's enemies, in particular
Londoners. The mass manufacture of the V2 was then

In all, 20,000 people died to achieve this goal, at La
Coupole, and at its sister site, Dore [sic] in Germany,
where V2s were assembled by inmates from Buchenwald. These
were `the fuming jaws of a monster,' as one inmate describes
the sites in a film shown in one of la Coupole's two
cinemas. `Two rows of SS guarded the entrance, shrieking so
loudly, and lashing out with such ferocity that they were
like demons. It really was the gates of hell,' recalled Dora
survivor Marcel Petit.

`The tunnel burrowed on under the mountain. Grey-faced
prisoners were everywhere, miserable worms carting rubble
and bags of cement. Near the door of the gallery where we
slept were the night's corpses, dragged out of the blocks
feet first, like so much useless trash that the anthill
casts out.'

A further 16,500 people -- mostly in London and Antwerp --
were killed when V2s and their early counterparts, the V1s,
struck their cities. On average, seven people died for each
of the 5,000 rockets built by the Nazis in the war's closing

And so the modern space era was born. The creators of the V2
went on to design Russia and America's great launchers, a
connection that La Coupole's designers are at pains to

After showing drawings of V2 workers, hung at random by SS
guards, one film then cuts immediately to a scene of Werner
von Braun smiling as he surrenders to the Americans'.

Von Braun brought his expertise, entourage and rockets to
the US, and used them to build America's great rockets,
including the Saturn 5 that took men to the moon. Indeed, so
complete was America's hi-jacking of Nazi Germany's rocket
industry that designers of La Coupole had to ask the US for
a V2 to display in their main dome.

The aim, say the centre's creators, is a museum where young
Europeans can be reminded of past atrocities and of the
roots of modern technology.

For example, exhibitions that mark the achievements of
Ariane, Europe's own space launcher, have been placed next
to one that shows how the area was pillaged by Nazis when
building La Coupole.


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