While some rockets had been tested in the US, the expertise lay in Germany and so, with Europe in the hands of the Allies in 1945, numerous Nazi scientists and engineers who had remained in West Germany or France (or indeed those who had fled from the Russians in Eastern Europe to allied occupied areas) were brought to the US in order to put their knowledge to use.
One such scientist was Arthur Rudolph, who came began working with the British rocketry efforts in mid 1945 before being transferred to the US to work with the US army and NASA. He would go on to develop several key rockets, including the Saturn V which would later put the first man on the moon.
Inept FBI Background Check
However, it was the inadequate investigations by the FBI into Rudolph’s involvement and actions in war-time Germans which would eventually raise eyebrows in the US.
In his initial statement to the FBI in 1949, having been officially granted a visa to the US three years earlier to work on various projects, Rudolph said:
“Until 1930 I sympathized with the social democratic party, voted for it and was a member of a socialdemocratic union (Bund Techn. Agst. u. Beamt.) After 1930 the economical situation became so serious that it appeared to me to be headed for catastrophe. (I really became unemployed in 1932.) The great amount of unemployment caused expansion of national socialism and communistic parties. Frightened that the latter one would become the government I Joined the NSDAP (a legally reg. entity) to help, I believed in the preservation of the western culture.”
So Rudolph insisted that he joined the Nazi party because he had seen it as the only alternative to communism, a line which must have gone down quite well with the FBI, considering the growing fear of communism in the western world.
If this were completely true however, why would Rudolph voluntarily join the SA (a paramilitary organisation under Hitler’s leadership during the 1930s)? The SA were well known for violent attacks on Jews and anti-fascist movements. This is hardly the action of a man who only wanted a passive alternative to communism.
The True Arthur Rudolph Revealed
The incompleteness of the FBI enquiry into Rudolph became all to clear when from 1979 to 1983, information came to light about how Rudolph had conducted operations as production manager of the German V-2 rocket program.
In April 1943 he requested 1,400 prisoners from SS concentration camps in order to fulfill his labour needs. There is also evidence that this labour was in keeping with the usual harshness of the SS-led concentration and labour camps. The final production line at Mittelwerk would later be revealed to have used the forced labour of over 60,000 detainees under harsh SS rule. This camp would become one of the many infamous locations where US Marines liberated the small number of survivors.
All of this would somehow manage to escape the initial inquiry by the FBI.
While I guess this is somewhat understandable, given the volume of Germans engineers, scientists and diplomats they had to investigate, it’s surprising that it took nearly forty years for it to be discovered.
It was deemed in 1983 that Rudolph had involvement in this atrocity by requesting the forced labour of detainees at the camp. Therefore, while it is believed he was under harsh pressure by the OSI to do so, Rudolph gave up his US citizenship and emigrated back to West Germany along with his family.
An Eerie Parallel With Wernher von Braun
It should be noted that the FBI investigation of Arthur, which included numerous comments from colleagues and friends recommending him as a person that was loyal, honorable and trustworthy, almost perfectly mirrors the nearly identical investigation of Wernher von Braun - which was very likely equally inept and poorly conducted. The fact that the Secretary of Defense transferred the records of over 1,000 German scientists to the National Archives, but for some reason chose to withhold the records of von Braun.
Could it be that the Secretary of Defense doesn't want the American people to know the truth about the former Nazi that literally launched the American space program?