The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/v/von-braun.wernher/press/museum-transport-exhibit



Another Look at Hero of Space Exploration: Wernher von Braun
 AP Photo NY108
 By LARRY THORSON
 Associated Press Writer
     BERLIN (AP) - A big portrait of Wernher von Braun at a Berlin
 exhibition isn't intended to lionize a hero of space technology.
 Rather, it's to expose his feet of clay.
     Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party and its elite SS. He
 built V2 rockets as weapons of mass terror, using slave laborers
 who were unlikely to survive.
     There is no known public expression of his remorse, the exhibit
 says.
     The same Wernher von Braun was named one of the "100 most
 important Americans of the 20th century" by Life magazine in 1990
 for building the rockets that put U.S. astronauts on the moon.
     Entitled "I only worked for technology," the exhibit profiles
 von Braun and other Germans who made important scientific
 contributions to Adolf Hitler's war effort. Most of them escaped
 punishment.
     The Museum for Transport and Technology, which attracts 300,000
 visitors a year, put on the display as a reminder of little-known
 or forgotten wartime activities of Germans who were big post-war
 successes. It is the museum's way of commemorating the 50th
 anniversary of the downfall of the Third Reich.
     Von Braun, who died in 1977 at age 64, was taken with about 120
 other German rocket scientists to the United States after World War
 II. Competing with German scientists whom the Soviets took back as
 prisoners, he was the leading force in U.S. space weaponry and
 exploration.
     "But at what price?" asks the catalogue for the exhibit, which
 opened April 5 and runs until Oct. 1. "Can there be any
 justification ... for using men who worked with full conviction for
 a criminal system?"
     Although U.S. officials knew about von Braun's wartime work, he
 and other Germans with expertise in rocketry were quickly accepted
 into essential U.S. defense projects in the Cold War era.
     Museum Director Guenther Gottmann said the United States and the
 Soviet Union hid the backgrounds of their German rocket scientists.
     "It was as if they had only ever thought of going to the moon,
 and, most unfortunately, there was a short phase when the evil
 Nazis misused them," Gottmann said in an interview.
     The catalogue reprints a letter, recently discovered by German
 historians, in which von Braun discusses using a French physicist
 from the Buchenwald concentration camp in the subterranean rocket
 factory called Mittelbau-Dora. To his credit, von Braun asks for
 "easier conditions" for the man.
     About 20,000 of the 60,000 slave laborers at Mittelbau-Dora
 died. Most fell victim to the Nazi policy of "extermination by
 work."
     The V2 rockets were inaccurate but terrorized civilians, causing
 some 5,000 deaths in Britain and Belgium.
     High school teacher Klaus Kantiem, visiting the exhibit for
 ideas to pass on to his physics students, noted that most of the
 facts about von Braun and the others were known to Germans.
     "But it's quite good to ask the question: Where is the border
 between good technology and something dangerous?" said Kantiem,
 adding that the exhibit made him think of such current issues as
 supplying nuclear technology to Iran or North Korea.
     Among other notables mentioned in the exhibit is Heinrich
 Nordhoff, who built the Opel "Blitz" truck that was the
 military's workhorse. General Motors, Opel's post-war owner,
 dismissed Nordhoff because of his wartime work. He was then hired
 to run Volkswagen's big factory at Wolfsburg, and he made the VW
 Beetle into a huge success.
     Adm. Karl Doenitz, who used the best technology available in
 leading the deadly U-boat war, met a different fate. He was
 sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at the Nuremberg war crimes
 trials, the exhibit notes.
     Gottmann said he received one protest call from an acquaintance
 of von Braun's two days after the exhibit opened, but otherwise
 there had been no critical comment.
     Some previous German efforts to commemorate German space
 pioneering have stoked controversy.
     Two years ago, Peenemuende, where the V2 was developed, wanted
 to open a museum trumpeting itself as the birthplace of space
 flight, but saying nothing about slave labor or casualties caused
 by the rockets. That plan was canceled after widespread protests.
 

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.