Wernher von Braun is hurriedly invited to come live in the US, work for the US space program, provide the US with valuable intelligence regarding rocket science.
At Peenem u nde Army base, the man responsible for orchestrating the building of the V-2 rocket, work that began on August 28, 1948, is also the man overseeing the carving out of anhydrite rock two underground tunnels at Dora Mittelbau--with the slave labor of prisoners from Buchenwald. Von Braun is determined to build his V-2 to travel five times the speed of light. Look out London, Brussels, Paris. Many of the inhabitants of these cities, however, never had time even to look up.
Von Braun, Patrick Hicks writes in "V-2 and Saturn: A Tale of Two Rockets" (Guernica, January 11, 2019), was "the center of gravity for the V-2 program at Peenem u nde: all major decisions orbited around him, and he made sure his rockets hit their intended target."
But the body count begins at home, at the site of creation. Ten thousand Jews dig through the anhydrite, and no matter how many die where they worked from tuberculous, typhoid, or pneumonia, writes Hicks, there are replacements, almost as emaciated as the workers. When the dead bodies were more than anyone could ignore, let alone walk over, Nazi officials at the Dora Mittelbau camp asked headquarters for help. We need our own oven! And more engineers arrive to build an oven to dispose of human beings worked to death in the world's largest underground laboratory for the making of the V-2.
Von Braun joins the Nazi Party in 1937, and he excels once he's put in charge of the camp at Dora Mittelbau. Heinrich Himmler pays a visit and, so pleased at what he sees, Himmler promotes the young von Braun to SS-Sturmbannf u hrer von Braun. Hitler pays a visit and the scientist presents a film in which the V-2 rocket soars off the launch pad. Hitler promotes von Braun to "professor on the spot."
It's all good for von Braun, but not so for thousands of others. As Hicks reports, von Braun's V-2 kills 1,696 in Belgium, 1,403 in the UK, 76 in France, and 19 in Holland. Twenty thousand mainly Jewish prisoners lost their lives in the building of the V-2 rocket. At the end of World War II, however, the Americans didn't want to know about the atrocities committed at Dora Mittelbau. The US Army may have been stunned at the wonders uncovered in the tunnels, but it "kept the crimes against humanity that occurred at Dora classified."
The Russians! The Russians!
The US "opened its arms to these men." Walter Dornberger, von Braun's partner and "enthusiastic" Nazi, along with Arthur Rudolph, who maintains a "constant supply of prisoners at Dora," are waved in.
Welcome! Lady Liberty welcomes you all!
The narrative of Operation Paperclip makes it possible to justify the work permits of Nazi scientists as long as there's no mention of underground "tunnels" or "Jewish labor" or the "V-2" or that ravine filled with human ashes at Dora Mittelbau. In fact, Hicks argues, "sticky questions are made to disappear" because these scientist were recognized as "indispensable" for the development of space program that would launch Americans beyond earth's orbit and on to the moon.
The scientists, enjoying ticker-taped parades and awards, are promised the moon: wealth and luxury, anything you desire! "Propellant and sheet metal were given priority over blood and bone; certain numbers were given priority over others."
It doesn't seem likely that the two events, the Holocaust and the Saturn V lifting off for the moon, happened, writes Hicks. But both did happen. The horror of the Holocaust and the awe of the moon walk in 1969.
Neither events are impossible.
Months before Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins are to land on the moon, the three, training in a remote "moon-like desert" out West, encounter an Indigenous elder.[i] For several tribes, this territory is home.
What are you doing here?
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