By November of 1945 ww2 on the western front was brought to a close and the Nazi war machine was brought to its end but there was still one problem. Before and during the war Nazi Germany had invested tons of money and effort into military and scientific research and now these scientists were being tried for possible war crimes in Nuremburg. The end of ww2 had also left the world divided along two sides the USSR with communism vs the USA and Britain with capitalism. So there was now a race for who could gobble up the most scientists to fuel their own scientific advancements and win the cold war.
The thing was that the idea of bringing over tons of Nazis even if they were scientists didn’t sit well with many in Washington after all the details of holocaust were just coming to light . Truman agreed to allow some scientists and engineers to come over but only if they took part in a process called denazification to make sure they didn’t continue to hold Nazi views and were not war criminals. The issue was this was the process was slow and many of the best scientists the Nazis did some pretty awful things during the war. To make matters worse the USSR didn’t have these qualms and were taking academics by gun point.
Enter operation paperclip. The OSS the father of the CIA and Army Counter Intelligence hatched a plan they would find ex Nazis they wanted and then simply write false backstories for them making sure to take out anything that might be seen as a war crime or holding Nazi beliefs. By 1960 1600 people were brought to America under somewhat dubious vetting. Many of these people made great scientific advancements for the US one of them was Werner Von Braun considered to be the father of NASA. Some however should have been left to the justice of the war crimes courts.
One such person was Kurt Blome. Blome was a research doctor who was supposed to be working on cures of cancer and creating vaccines as head of the SS medical research , in fact his job was much darker. He was given the permission to use prisoners in concentration camps in his experiments. He was caught having used holocaust victims to help create a plague vaccine a process that meant exposing many to the plague. He also was charged with developing ways to use nerve gas in the war. There is strong evidence that he used sarin gas on prisoners in Auschwitz. While working for America he agreed to release info on German bio warfare and worked developing chemical weapons. Blome was later brought to justice when the French captured him and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Hubertus Stronghold shows if anyone just how controversial Paperclip was but also how it added to American science things get more controversial. While working for the Germans Strongholds job was study aviation medicine and the effect of high altitude flight. Unfortunately like many he used the many prisoners of the camps to do that research. He is accused of subjecting people to hypothermia as well as low air pressures both issues high altitude pilots would face and some of the subjects were killed by the effects. However, the information about Stronghold that really damaged his name was he used 6 epileptic children in experiments involving lack of oxygen while all the subjects survived it was enough to remove his name from the award given for advancements in space medicine. But why did this jerk deserve an award named after him in the first place? Well Stronghold became NASA’s head doctor and played a huge role in designing the first space suits and life support systems. It largely because of him that the Apollo astronauts survived their missions.
We are still learning information that was covered up by paperclip. It’s now thought that the USA might have even been interested in Joseph Mengele probably the worst of the Nazi scientists. Operation Paperclip calls back to that age-old question of science is it ever worth crossing the ethical line. Some of these men committed awful acts and developed weapons that were used to kill thousands of allied soldiers in the war but without men like Von Braun and Stronghold we may have never landed a man on the moon. It’s just not easy decide if paperclip was in fact worth it or what the effects would have been if all these people were tried for their crimes. All we can do is remember the atrocities committed by the Nazis and try to make sure that modern science uses more humane methods.