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How We Sold Our Soul–Operation Paperclip?

The Articles in the Category cover a vast range of history not only in our country but in the world as well. The category is entitled “How We Sold Our Soul”. In many cases our history has hinged on compromises being made by the powers at be. They say hind-sight is 20/20, which is why I am discussing these land mark decisions in this manner. The people that made these decisions in many cases thought they were doing the right thing. However in some instances they were made for expediency and little thought was given to the moral ramifications and the fallout that would result from them. I hope you enjoy these articles. The initial plan is to discuss 10 compromises, but as time progresses I am sure that number will increase.

Operation Paperclip was a secret United States intelligence program in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from former Nazi Germany to the U.S. for government employment after the end of World War II in Europe, between 1945 and 1959.

On the origins of Operation Paperclip

It’s just a few months after the landings at Normandy and you have Allied forces making their way across the continent, headed toward Berlin and Munich, and with them, sort of scattered among the soldiers, are these small teams of scientific intelligence officers. And they are searching for the Reich’s weapons. And they don’t know what they might find. One example was they had no idea that Hitler had created this whole arsenal of nerve agents. They had no idea that Hitler was working on a bubonic plague weapon. That is really where Paperclip began, which was suddenly the Pentagon realizing, “Wait a minute, we need these weapons for ourselves.”

n the fall of 1944, the United States and its allies launched a secret mission code-named Operation Paperclip. The aim was to find and preserve German weapons, including biological and chemical agents, but American scientific intelligence officers quickly realized the weapons themselves were not enough.

They decided the United States needed to bring the Nazi scientists themselves to the U.S. Thus began a mission to recruit top Nazi doctors, physicists and chemists. American and British organizations teamed up to scour occupied Germany for as much military, scientific and technological development research as they could uncover. 

Trailing behind Allied combat troops, groups such as the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) began confiscating war-related documents and materials and interrogating scientists as German research facilities were seized by Allied forces. One enlightening discovery—recovered from a toilet at Bonn University—was the Osenberg List: a catalogue of scientists and engineers that had been put to work for the Third Reich.

Wernher von Braun (center) in 1961 with fellow Operation Paperclip scientists working on a Saturn rocket. Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

In a covert affair originally dubbed Operation Overcast but later renamed Operation Paperclip, roughly 1,600 of these German scientists (along with their families) were brought to the United States to work on America’s behalf during the Cold War. The program was run by the newly-formed Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), whose goal was to harness German intellectual resources to help develop America’s arsenal of rockets and other biological and chemical weapons, and to ensure such coveted information did not fall into the hands of the Soviet Union

Although he officially sanctioned the operation, President Harry Truman forbade the agency from recruiting any Nazi members or active Nazi supporters. Nevertheless, officials within the JIOA and Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner to the CIA—bypassed this directive by eliminating or whitewashing incriminating evidence of possible war crimes from the scientists’ records, believing their intelligence to be crucial to the country’s postwar efforts. The U.S. government went to great lengths to hide the pasts of scientists they brought to America. 

One of the most well-known recruits was Wernher von Braun, the technical director at the Peenemunde Army Research Center in Germany who was instrumental in developing the lethal V-2 rocket that devastated England during the war. Von Braun and other rocket scientists were brought to Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, as “War Department Special Employees” to assist the U.S. Army with rocket experimentation. Von Braun later became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, which eventually propelled two dozen American astronauts to the Moon.

Braun wasn’t the only Operation Paperclip recruit to have personally participated in atrocities. Rocket expert Arthur Rudolph was brought to the US in 1945, and he worked for the Army and NASA. He too helped develop the rocket technology used in the Apollo program, and was awarded NASA’s highest honor, its Distinguished Service Medal. In 1984, Rudolph surrendered his American citizenship and moved to West Germany to avoid prosecution after an investigation by Eli Rosenbaum, of the US government’s Nazi-hunting bureau the Special Investigations Office, uncovered evidence of his participation in war crimes. Rudolph had worked at a factory attached to a concentration camp in which at least 20,000 people died, used prisoners for slave labor, and been present at hangings.

Hubertus Strughold was another aerospace expert who came to America with the help of Operation Paperclip, and he worked with NASA and the Air Force on space exploration and nuclear weapons. But in his years as a Nazi scientist he’d participated in horrific war crimes, including overseeing torturous and often fatal experiments on Dachau detainees that involved locking them in pressure chambers and ice water tanks. One of his fellow former Nazis later said that Strughold could have intervened on behalf of the Dachau victims had he chosen to, because he was the head of the facility behind the experiments.

Although defenders of the clandestine operation argue that the balance of power could have easily shifted to the Soviet Union during the Cold War if these Nazi scientists were not brought to the United States, opponents point to the ethical cost of ignoring their abhorrent war crimes without punishment or accountability.

Why the U.S. Government Brought Nazi Scientists to America After World War II

As the war came to a close, the U.S. government was itching to get ahold of the German wartime technology

Wernher von Braun, one of the architects of the Apollo program, was a Nazi scientist brought to the U.S. in secret in 1945. NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have put an end to World War II, but they weren’t the only destructive weaponry developed during the war. From nerve and disease agents to the feared and coveted V-1 and V-2 rockets, Nazi scientists worked on an impressive arsenal. As the war came to a close in 1945, both American and Russian officials began scheming to get that technology for themselves. So it came to pass that 71 years ago today, 88 Nazi scientists arrived in the United States and were promptly put to work for Uncle Sam.

In the days and weeks after Germany’s surrender, American troops combed the European countryside in search of hidden caches of weaponry to collect. They came across facets of the Nazi war machine that the top brass were shocked to see, writer Annie Jacobsen told NPR’s All Things Considered in 2014. Jacobson wrote about both the mission and the scientists in her book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists To America.

“One example was they had no idea that Hitler had created this whole arsenal of nerve agents,” Jacobsen says. “They had no idea that Hitler was working on a bubonic plague weapon. That is really where Paperclip began, which was suddenly the Pentagon realizing, ‘Wait a minute, we need these weapons for ourselves.’”

But just studying the weapons wasn’t enough, and the U.S. military wasn’t the only country eyeing Nazi scientists—their one-time allies in the Soviet Union were doing the same thing. If the Soviets were going to press their former enemies into service, American military officials didn’t want to be left behind.So the U.S. government hatched a plan to bring 88 Nazi scientists captured during the fall of the Nazi Germany back to America and get them back on the job. Only this time, according to, they were working for the U.S. under a project known as “Operation Paperclip.”

While the military did what they could to whitewash the pasts of their “prisoners of peace,” as some of the scientists called themselves, many had serious skeletons in their closets. For example, Wernher von Braun was not just one of the brains behind the V-2 rocket program, but had intimate knowledge of what was going on in the concentration camps. Von Braun himself hand-picked people from horrific places, including Buchenwald concentration camp, to work to the bone building his rockets, Jacobsen tells NPR.

Operation Paperclip was top secret at the time. After all, the devices these men helped design killed many people throughout Europe, not to mention the deaths their government was responsible for on the battlefield and in the concentration camps. Even agents with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which the U.S. government tasked with hunting down top Nazi officers who went on the lam after the war, were unaware for decades of the extent to which government officials were collaborating with their quarry, Toby Harnden reported for The Telegraph in 2010.

While many of the men who were brought to the U.S. under the program were undoubtedly instrumental in scientific advancements like the Apollo program, they were also supportive and responsible for some of the horrors experienced by victims of the Holocaust. Operation Paperclip has certainly left a questionable legacy. 

On the U.S. government’s efforts to mask the scientists’ past

There began a propaganda campaign by the U.S. government to whitewash the pasts of these scientists who we very much knew were ardent Nazis. And it happened on a number of levels, from the bureaucrats in Army intelligence who were asked to sort of re-write the dossiers, on up to the generals in the Pentagon who flatly said we need these scientists, and we’re going to have to re-write some history. And that’s where it becomes very tricky and very nefarious.

You have to be a Nazi ideologue to move up that chain of command so high. It’s almost like someone who is a hedge fund manager in the United States trying to take the line that they don’t believe in capitalism, you know? That they’re just trying to earn a living for their family. I mean, if you’re going to rise to the top of your field, you maintain the party line and that is what I found was the case with Paperclip.


It’s hard to a imagine a greater case of moral compromise than Operation Paperclip, by which the U.S. government delivered a rogue’s gallery of Nazi scientists to America, all in the name of Cold War competition and in the spirit of post-World War II spoil-taking.

This was the cream of Hitler’s crop – the rocket-science geniuses and genocidal doctors who did so much to make the Third Reich what it was: a blitzkrieg-ing, slave-laboring extermination machine, the epitome of 20th-century inhumanity.

Bureaucracies, of course, especially state departments and intelligence agencies, are often tasked with splitting the difference between abhorrent actors and what they can do to advance noble ambitions, and that was the necessary mind-set of Paperclip.

Europe’s rubble had barely begun to smolder when, in 1944, as Allied armies advanced on Hitler’s Berlin, teams of U.S. experts were plundering the abandoned apartments of Nazi scientists. The future of U.S. superiority in everything from chemical and biological warfare to the fruits of its space program depended on gaining these German brains.

Never mind, for the moment, that more than a few of these specialists were behind murderous medical experiments at concentration camps, would be accused of war crimes, stand trial at Nuremburg, and in at least one case – that of Theodor Benzinger – would mysteriously vanish from the defendants’ list. Once released into U.S. Army custody, Benzinger would toil comfortably for the American military for the rest of his long career. He invented the ear thermometer, hurrah.

Jacobsen shows how governmental secrecy and its blinkered morality veiled, for so long, the enormity of Nazi crimes perpetrated by the hundreds of technologists who were put on the U.S. payroll.

But does time dull our capacity for outrage over Jacobsen’s accounting? We’ve long known, after all, that a Nazi player such as Werner von Braun — so central to the sky-screaming V1 and V2 rockets, those Nazi “wonder weapons,” or Wunderwaffe, that Hitler launched against Great Britain and northern Europe — was an indispensable factor in America’s space program. Indeed, he was the rock star of NASA’s early days, celebrated by Walt Disney, and much honored.

It’s not exactly news that other lights of the Third Reich were succored on U.S. shores despite their war crimes. Jacobsen’s intense investigation brings to the surface more Nazi names and deeds, and the full extent of Paperclip’s duplicity, at a moment, perhaps, of cultural exhaustion regarding America’s checkered choices.

For as hard as it has been to wrap our minds around the facts of the Holocaust – and, for many of us, it took the artifice of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and the realism of Schindler’s List to do so – it’s even harder to assess the value-to-evil ratio of Operation Paperclip.

Would America have become the world’s superpower, would America’s life-saving advances in science and medicine have been possible without Nazi brainpower? Quite possibly – our Manhattan Project beat Hitler in the race to develop an atomic bomb. But if not, would that have been worth the price of prosecuting and punishing the Nazi eggheads rather than granting them a whitewashed sanctuary?

Resources, “What Was Operation Paperclip? This controversial top-secret U.S. intelligence program brought Nazi German scientists to America to harness their brain power for Cold War initiatives.” By LAURA SCHUMM;, “Why the U.S. Government Brought Nazi Scientists to America After World War II: As the war came to a close, the U.S. government was itching to get ahold of the German wartime technology.” By Danny Lewis;, “The Secret Operation To Bring Nazi Scientists To America.” By Annie Jacobson;, “Hunters‘ Nazi NASA Scientists Are Based on the True Story of Operation Paperclip: The American government secretly recruited former Nazi researchers—including those who had participated in horrific war crimes.” By Gabrielle Bruney;, “Fact check: Nazi scientists were brought to work for U.S. through Operation Paperclip.” By Miriam Fauzia;, “‘Paperclip’: How the USA made a deal for Nazi scientists.” By Matt Damsker;


On Wernher von Braun’s Nazi past

He is a great example, because you wonder where the deal with the devil really happened in terms of his whitewashed past — because the U.S. government, NASA in particular, was so complicit in keeping his past hidden.

In doing the research, one discovers that not only was von Braun a Nazi, but a member of the SS. And not only was he running the underground slave labor facility where his rockets were being built — he wasn’t running the facility but he was in charge of the science there — but when they were running low of good technicians, Wernher von Braun himself traveled nearby to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he hand-picked slaves to work for him as laborers.

When you see that kind of activity during the war, and you have to imagine what he saw and what he knew, it’s impossible to excuse him from his Nazi past.

On the fates of the Nazi scientists

They all had different trajectories, but none of them seemed to have been held accountable for what happened and what they were involved in during the war. Dr. Benzinger, who was one of the Nazi doctors, came here, and when he died at the age of ninety-something he had a wonderful obituary in The New York Times lauding him for inventing the ear thermometer. Entirely left out of the story was the work that he performed on concentration camp prisoners.

Fact check: Nazi scientists were brought to work for U.S. through Operation Paperclip

The claim: After World War II, Nazi scientists joined NASA through Operation Paperclip 

There have been many events, both big and small, that have shaped U.S. history. Among them, a Facebook post claims, is a secret U.S. program that recruited Nazis.

A modified version of the popular meme of Homer Simpson vanishing into a hedge depicts Simpson bearing a swastika on one shoulder and an arm extended in a Nazi salute. “World War II: ends,” reads the text above, which goes on to suggest former “Nazi scientists” subsequently shifted over to NASA, as illustrated by Simpson reemerging in a T-shirt emblazoned with the agency’s distinctive logo and a red baseball cap with the America flag.

The sentiment within the comments seemed largely accepting of the claim.

“What was the alternative for them?” asked one. “Since herr fuhrer (sic) liked to shoot people…”   

“Art imitates life,” wrote another sharing a GIF featuring images from the Marvel movie franchise of an evil Nazi scientist character and a newspaper clipping with the headline “Germany scientists recruited by U.S.”.   

USA TODAY awaits comment from the Facebook user who posted the meme in the public group Official Flat Earth & Glove Discussion. 

Operation Paperclip

In 1945, the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency, a subcommittee established by the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was tasked with retrieving German scientists, doctors and engineers who were identified as intellectually vital to the Third Reich. 

Journalist Annie Jacobsen states in a 2014 interview that this was prompted by the Allies’ concerns over Hitler’s potential weapons arsenal. 

“Fall of 1944, right after the Normandy landings, scattered among the Allies’ troops are these little units of scientific intelligence officers and they’re working to find out Hitler’s biological weapons, his chemical weapons and his atomic weapons,” said Jacobsen, author of “Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program to Bring Nazi Scientists to America.” 

These intelligence officers eventually discovered while the atomic weapons program was not as advanced as initially feared, Hitler’s biochemical weapons were. The hunt “for this scientific treasure and ultimately for the scientists themselves” thus ignited Operation Overcast, renamed Paperclip for the paperclips attached to the files of the most “troublesome cases,” Jacobsen writes in her book. 

The U.S. was not alone in this endeavor. Britain, France and especially the Soviet Union sought to enlist these German scientific experts, as well. A U.S.-Soviet technological rivalry marked by the Space Race and Cold War would also serve as a motivation, and justification, for Operation Paperclip’s existence.  

The Nazis and their contributions

By the fall of 1945, German scientists starting arriving on U.S. soil. Not all the men recruited were Nazis or SS officers but the most prominent and valued among them were, having worked either directly with Hitler or leading members of the Nazi Party, such as Heinrich Himmler and Herman Göring. 

Wernher von Braun, a rocket engineer, was instrumental in developing the first U.S. ballistic missile, the Redstone, and later the Saturn V rocket while serving as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. As a Nazi ideologue and member of the SS, he traveled to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he “handpicked slaves to work for him as laborers,” said Jacobsen in a 2014 interview with NPR. 

Hubertus Strughold, a physiologist and medical researcher, headed the German Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine, known for its torturous medical experiments on inmates from the Dachau concentration camp. Strughold claimed ignorance of any such activity until after the war, yet he appeared among a list of 95 doctors at an October 1942 conference discussing their findings. In the U.S., he was chief scientist of the aerospace medical division at Brooks Air Force and has since been credited as the father of space medicine. 

Walter Schreiber, a former Nazi general, also oversaw inhumane medical experiments involving bioweapons that resulted in countless of deaths. Following the war, he was captured by the Soviets but defected to the U.S. He worked for various government entities before finally settling in Texas at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine, Jacobsen writes. 

While Schreiber would later serve as a witness during the Nuremberg trials, he, von Braun, Strughold and the rest of their fellow Nazis brought to the U.S. would never be held accountable for their own atrocities. Operation Paperclip remained secret throughout much of the Cold War.   

Our rating: True

We rate this claim TRUE because it is supported by our research. Operation Paperclip was a secret initiative launched by the U.S. government to recruit German engineers, doctors, physicists, chemists and other scientific experts for U.S. technological advancement, especially in anticipation of the Cold War. Many recruited German scientists did work for NASA and various other government entities. They were not held responsible for their war crimes. 

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