Operation Paperclip


“Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. The untermenschen (sub-human ) is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands and legs, eyes and mouth and even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being…”

-Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer SS, lecturing on the use of Jews, Gypsies and Slavs as slave labor, Munich, 1942


courtesy jcourt.net

Have you watched a cockroach after you sprayed it with insecticide? It will straighten it’s legs and lift itself up on its toes like a ballerina, its hooded eyes rolling around, bewildered. It will try to spread its wings but they won’t deploy, because the insecticide has paralyzed them within a micro-second. It will then go belly up, its torso convulsing, bent in an almost complete u-shape. There it will be, helpless, its legs flailing frantically, while its antennae weave drunkenly about.

The arthropod will writhe for a minute and then slacken as its body slowly straightens back up. Did it feel pain? You won’t know. A cockroach is a silent creature so you won’t hear it scream. Anyway, you don’t give a flying eff if it did feel any pain or not. Chances are you will pick it up gingerly with a kleenex, your face screwed up in apathetic disgust. You will chuck it into the garbage bin and go wash your hands even though you did not actually touch the little bastard.

The insecticide used to kill the cockroach most likely was a chemical of the genre known as an organophosphate, the brainchild of Gerhard Schrader, a German chemist who in the early 1930s, began work on insecticides, for his employers, Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG (or simply IG Farben).

Literally meaning, “community of dye-making corporations”, IG Farben was much more than a dye maker. In it’s heyday, it was the largest chemical company in the world and the fourth largest industrial corporation, after General Motors, US Steel and Standard Oil.

Initially, Schrader’s research was aimed at creating a substance that could kill bugs that ruined crops and lowered food grain yield. A very noble goal indeed, given that the world population was exploding at the time and food production was unable to keep pace.

Organophosphates, more commonly known as nerve agents, kill by paralyzing the central nervous system. They inhibit a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, preventing it from doing its job, which is to transmit the brain’s commands to the muscles and glands, through the body’s central and peripheral nervous system. Acetylcholine acts as the body’s “off switch” for glands and muscles. Without an “off switch,” the glands and muscles would keep being stimulated constantly, causing them to tire and no longer be able to sustain the constant palpitating motion of the lungs that enables breathing.

In 1936, while researching on ever more effective organophosphates, Schrader accidentally stumbled upon a nerve agent so dangerously toxic that, when a tiny drop of it accidentally landed on the skin of a large pig that was waiting to be used as a test subject, the animal collapsed, convulsing and thrashing around. Within seconds blood started oozing out of its ears and its mouth began foaming. Its eyes bugging out of their sockets and the pig died within a minute.

courtesy mail omline

Tabun cannisters being confiscated in Syria (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty Images)

A pig being a very hardy animal, Schrader’s bosses at IG Farben surmised that this new chemical could be much more effective on humans if it could be mass produced and weaponized. Thus was born the deadly nerve agent, tabun, a colorless gas with a faint fruity odor. At that moment in history research on nerve agents was going on in America and Britain too and agents similar to tabun had in fact been discovered and even patented, for use as disinfectants and pesticides and also to delouse Mexican laborers and fruit pickers at the border. The Americans had not yet developed anything near as potent as tabun, though they were close.

1930s Germany was a seminal period. The newly born Nazi government was gearing up for the military rampage that was to follow. Suddenly, IG Farben found itself flush with millions of Reichsmarks in government funding. The cash didn’t belong to the German government actually. It had been confiscated from Jewish assets and bank accounts in Germany as well as Switzerland, a singularly hypocritical and duplicitous nation that did not then and does not now, have any morals whatsoever, when it comes to usurping confiscated wealth.

With the help of the funds made available, Schrader and a senior colleague, Otto Ambrose, discovered a string of nerve agents, beginning with tabunsarin and soman, each deadlier than the next. The IG Farben conglomerate soon received a mandate from its Nazi masters to begin building large production facilities, carefully camouflaged under groves and orchards or underground, using slave labor, supplied by the SS in a business arrangement that looked like a slaves-for-hire service.

IG-Farbenwerke Auschwitz

The IG Farben Buna-Werke complex which was built within the Auschwitz-III concentration camp. At the height of the war, at least 30000 slaves from the Auschwitz camp were put to work here. (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)

By the time the guns of the Second World War fell silent, over 30000 tons of these nerve agents had been produced and inserted inside a large stockpile of artillery rounds and bombs. What do you know, during period starting 1934 up until 1945, German companies must have published annual financial reports with a zero under ‘payroll and wages’ overheads.

The nerve agents were never used by the Nazis, thank God. Except Zyklon-B, a cyanide-based disinfectant and pesticide also produced by slave labor at an IG Farben subsidiary called Degussa AG.

Zyklon-B was a chemical that turned into deadly hydrogen cyanide gas, when it came into contact with air. The gas was extensively used from 1941 to 1944 by the Nazis to ‘resettle’ outside of this world, more than 1.2 million Jews and other untermenschens that Himmler had referred to in his speech above.

A very similar process began with the German rocket scientists of Peenemunde, led by a dapper, blonde haired 31-year old Prussian named Wernher Von Braun. Around 1943, at Dora, a sub-camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, Von Braun built the Dora-Mittelbau complex and put SS-facilitated slave labor to work inside a huge underground factory, building the V-2, a gyroscope guided rocket which he had designed, that packed a 1-ton high-explosive Amatol warhead and could hit a target 200 miles away, flying at more than six times the speed of sound. This was a revolutionary flying bomb that could reach across the English channel and devastate cities deep inside England.

The Germans hoped that Von Braun’s V-2 would reverse the course of the war. For a brief period starting in September 1944 when they were finally ready to fly, over 3000 V-2s were launched at London and other major European cities.

Von Braun was a brilliant designer and the rocket he had invented was a superb piece of engineering, but he had not counted on one thing. The mass production of the V-2 required more than just design skills – healthy workers.

Those hordes of frail, emaciated prisoners did a terrible job of building the sophisticated rockets. Every second launch was a disaster, either blowing up at the launch-pad or crashing into the English Channel. Von Braun’s minions executed by hanging, fifty prisoners a day as punishment for shoddy workmanship but that did nothing to improve quality control.

By the time the lathes in Von Braun’s V-2 manufacturing plants ground to a halt at the end of the war in 1945, more people had died building the rockets than were killed by it as a weapon.


Jewish inmates hard at work building assemblies for the V-2, at Mittelwork GMBH, Dora-Mittelbau Complex, situated inside the Buchenwald concentration camp. The V-2 chief, Wernher Von Braun liked to drop in at Buchenwald and hand-pick prisoners for his factory (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)

In any case the V-2 came a bit too late. The tide of the war had already turned decisively against the Germans. The senior most Nazis were already planning their escape routes or dreaming up deals with the Allies. The Soviets were fighting back from the east, reclaiming lost territory. The Allies were landing at various points on the western Atlantic coastline all across Europe. The Luftwaffe had been decimated. Soon the war would be over, but even though they were the vanquished, German rocketry and chemical weapons know-how were still a bit ahead and the Americans were salivating at the thought of getting their hands on all that free technology.

The end of the war heralded an unprecedented economic boom in America and with it, brought about a metamorphosis in its ethos. In a span of a decade, through the end of the 1940s, the United States transformed itself from a nation that liked to mind its own business and hesitated to join in any conflict outside its shores (other than meddling in poor defenseless Central American dictatorships of course), to an empire-building hegemony that embraced conflict and would let nothing stand in its path. From then on, the end would justify the means and still does even today.

The IG Farben scientists and Werhner Von Braun’s rocketeers, benefitted immensely from this transformation. To address the universal condemnation of its connivance with the Nazis, IG Farben arranged first its own disappearance and rebirth. It emerged, unscathed and unpunished, to prosper as six separate business units, among them such household names as Bayer, Hoechst, Agfa and BASF.

Von Braun and his colleagues did not have to bother at all either. They settled into comfortable lives with their families inside gated communities, while their American minders attempted a massive whitewashing exercise, wiping the slate clean of their heinous pasts.

Describing the German scientists as rare minds whose continuing intellectual productivity was invaluable to the security of ‘the great American people’, the US Department of Defense’s Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) devised a plan that quarantined German scientists, engineers and technicians in an allied base in Western Germany and systematically air-lifted them and placed them inside research labs in the US.

Code named Operation Paperclip, the airlift and settlement of the Nazis inside America remains by far the single most diabolical instance in contemporary history, of the exoneration of individuals who had actively aided and abetted the mass murder of millions of innocents.

Dr. Wernher Von Braun, the SS Sturmbannfuhrer who at the height of V-2 rocket production had employed over 30000 slave laborers who toiled under the most horrific conditions, went on to head NASA and was universally acknowledged as the ‘father of the US space program and the man responsible for putting humans on the moon’. Perhaps that is why even the moon has a dark side.

Peenemünde, Dornberger, Olbricht, Leeb, v. Braun

Wernher Von Braun with his Nazi masters, Peenemunde, 1942 (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)


Wernher Von Braun with JFK, c.1963 (Photo courtesy: nasa.gov)


Wernher Von Braun with the massive Saturn-V  SC-1 rocket that tore the Apollo vehicles away from the gravitational pull of the earth and set them on their course to the moon (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)


‘Missileman’ Von Braun on the cover of Time Magazine, 1958 

By the time the Americans were done, Operation Paperclip had whisked away 1500 German scientists to the US and installed them in defense labs across the country and their families into comfortable suburban lives inside plush gated communities with cook-outs, pot-lucks and garden parties.

Almost all those individuals who were whisked away to the west, had been card-carrying Nazi Party members, most of them ardent Nazis who should have been executed or better still, handed over to their former captives for justice to be meted out. Instead, Operation Paperclip turned them into an elite community, a feted and pampered intellectual property.

Albeit in all this, the Americans had a point that seemed pertinent at the time – if they hadn’t got the men first, the Soviets would certainly have. This view however holds very little water. As early are 1902, nerve agents similar in toxicity to tabun and sarin had already been developed for pesticide applications, in America.

Likewise American rocketry was not that far behind the Germans, certainly not far enough to justify bringing in genocide abettors. Letting them fall into Soviet hands would really not have been that big a deal. Besides, hasn’t history shown us that a technological lead is only momentary? How long did it take the Soviets to catch up with their own nuclear weapons?

By the early 70s, when Nasa’s Apollo program had wound down and America no longer needed the expertise of its genocide abetting Nazi scientists, it began to discard them one by one. Public awareness of the gruesome pasts of these men was growing and having them around was becoming a liability. Wernher Von Braun was made to retire and had he not died of cancer in 1977, he would surely have faced the same fate as his esteemed Nazi colleague, Arthur Rudolph, the award-winning director of the Saturn-V rocket project at Nasa.

All of a sudden, in 1984, Rudolph’s Nazi past began to be investigated and soon he was given a choice of either deportation back to Germany or incarceration as a war criminal. Rudolph chose to leave. Another member of the ‘Paperclip 1500′, Dr Walter Schreiber, was spirited away to Argentina by the nefarious US Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency with a visa and a job, when a 1952 leak revealed Nuremberg evidence which showed he had issued written directives to doctors under his supervision for conducting horrific medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners.

I am reading Annie Jacobsen’s Operation Paperclip, a gripping narrative on the operation. Jacobsen is an American freelance journalist and contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine. This book however is by no means a revelation. Others, like Linda Hunt (former executive producer of CNN’s investigative unit), Christopher Simpson (Journalism Professor) and investigative journalist, Tom Bower, have written extensively on it.

pclip2 courtesy pbs.org

Even though it was supposed to be a top-secret operation, Paperclip was leaked to the press by the end of 1946, just a year after the war ended. Jacobsen’s book however is by far the most graphic and detailed account of the events that occurred and can easily stand out as a reference book on the subject. It records the post-war efforts, the guile and coercion that went into locating those rocket and chemical weapon scientists who were quite understandably terrified that they would be prosecuted for war crimes and were either hiding from the Allies or trying to make blueprints-for-freedom swap deals. Jacobsen specifically identifies 21 Germans and their roles in the use and experimentation with slave labor.

The book, to me, also makes yet another statement, an indirect one, about a nation that has this propensity to pretend to be the sole beacon of justice and truth and its people who have an equally immense reservoir of the milk of forgiveness and a collective tendency to look the other way, as long as they continue to be guaranteed their mid-day soaps and reality shows, their SUVs and their camping trips, their cheeseburgers, Budweiser and baseball. And their pompous state-of-the-union addresses that have, at least once in every breath, the words ‘the great American people’.

Perhaps at some future date, America’s reality shall bear some resemblance to America’s rhetoric, but I won’t hold my breath for that to happen anytime soon. Through contemporary history, there has been a virtual parade of cover-ups of the most despicable acts, all of which were perpetrated ostensibly for the security and well-being of that same hallowed entity, ‘the-great-American-people’.

Were it not for the courage and resilience of a handful of intrepid folk like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Watergate), Seymour Hersh (Mai Lai-Vietnam), Ralph Nader (American automobile industry), Edward Snowden (NSA’s assembly line-style eavesdropping) and CBS 60  Minutes (Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal), some of us would still be misled by the faux glow from this so-called beacon of truth and freedom.

Reading Jacobsen’s Operation Paperclip, one cannot help but be concerned that maybe all those conspiracy theorists were right about 9/11 being an inside job.

For now it looks as though ‘the great American people’ have lost the will to force their rulers to live up to the standards which they demand from other nations.


Other books on the subject:

Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990 – Linda Hunt, 1991

Blowback – Christopher Simpson, 1988

The Paperclip Conspiracy – Tom Bower, 1987


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