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Immediately after Nazi Germany was defeated in World War II, as many as 1,600 Nazi scientists and their dependents were smuggled into the United States by Operation Paperclip.
Many claims were made about Nazi secret weapons during World War II, including nuclear power and flying-saucer-type aircraft. Regardless of the credence one puts into claims that the Vril Society had a saucer-shaped antigravity craft by 1934, there was no question among the Allies that prior to the outbreak of the war, Nazi technology had been superior to theirs. If the glowing “foo fighters” that harried Allied airmen were not the products of Nazi technology, the V-2 rockets, prototypes of jet airplanes, and the discovery of particle/laser-beam weaponry certainly were. The U.S. War Department decreed that the United States should scoop up as many German scientists and specimens of their work as possible.
Maj. Gen. Hugh Knerr, deputy commanding general for administration of U.S. strategic forces in Europe, surveyed the German scientific and industrial establishments and acknowledged that America was “alarmingly back ward” in many areas of research. He agreed with the suggestion that the U.S. occupation force should seize both the “apparatus and the brains” that created it and put them back to work as soon as possible—or the United States would remain several years behind.
While all the responsible thinkers in the occupation forces agreed that the German scientists and their families should be taken to U.S. shores as soon as possible, it had been made a law that no former member of the Nazi Party could immigrate to America. Even a cursory examination of the 1,600 scientists and their dependents who had been assembled for immediate relocation in the United States yielded the predictable finding that at least 1,200 of them had been members of the Nazi Party. Informed of this bit of intelligence, President Harry S. Truman decided that the national interest of America was of primary importance and pronounced that only those who had been more than nominal Nazis or had actively supported their military efforts would be denied entrance to the United States.
The operation still had to be conducted in utmost secrecy. The war had been costly and bitter, with many American lives lost. The American public would not respond favorably to the knowledge that many of the scientists being given a free ride to the States had worked in laboratories and factories that were located in Nazi slave labor and death camps. The operation was conducted by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency, and the scientists and their family members who were selected to be taken to the United States had paperclips binding their scientific papers to the standard immigration forms, hence the name “Operation Paperclip.”
Operation Paperclip was not made public until 1973, after the first astronauts had set foot on the moon, when the participation of such individuals as Wernher von Braun and many of his German colleagues were acknowledged as having been integral to the success of the U.S. space program. Von Braun’s mentor, Hermann Oberth, widely recognized as the “father of modern rocketry,” also entered the United States under Operation Paperclip, as did Dr. Hubertus Strughold, the “father of space medicine.” In 1977 the Aeromedical Library at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine was named after Strughold. In 1984 Arthur Rudolph, who had been awarded NASA’s Distinguished Service Award in 1969, left the United States rather than face charges for Nazi war crimes.
Operation Paperclip also allowed entrance to the United States to Reinhard Gehlen, Nazi intelligence mastermind, who helped Allen Dulles restructure the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon”; Otto von Bolschwing, infamous for holocaust abuses; and SS colonel Otto Skorzeny.