10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US

Khalid Elhassan - April 16, 2018

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Walter Dornberger. Wikimedia

Walter Dornberger Worked Tens of Thousands of Slave Laborers to Death

Walter Robert Dornberger (1895 – 1980) was a German artillery officer and WW2 Major General, who was in charge of the manufacture and deployment of the Nazis’ V-2 rockets. He also played a prominent role in other projects at the German rocket research center in Peenemunde. He used slave labor in his projects, and tens of thousands of his slaves were worked to death, perished of maltreatment, or were executed in Dornberger’s hellish factories and worksites.

Dornberger had enlisted in the German army at the outbreak of WWI, was captured late in the war, and spent two years in French POW camps. Upon his release, he remained in the army, which sent him to study ballistics and engineering, and he became one of Germany’s leading ballistics experts. He was put in charge of developing rockets, and in the 1930s he teamed up with the brilliant Wernher Von Braun, and began perfecting the rocket engine.

In 1937, the rocket program was relocated to Peenemunde, where the first V-2 was successfully tested in 1942. Dornberger was in charge of deploying the V-2s, and he directed the firing of roughly 3000 rockets at London, Amsterdam, and other urban areas during the war. About 2800 people were killed by the V-2s, most of them civilians. In a sad irony, more people died manufacturing the V-2s than were killed by the missiles. Dornberger, who was put in charge of V-2 production, had made ruthless use of slave labor, and tens of thousands of his workforce had died in atrocious working conditions.

After the war, Dornberger was arrested by the British and held for two years while being interrogated for war crimes. He got away with it, however, when Wernher Von Braun, the brilliant rocket expert who was one of the first Germans secretly sent to the US in Operation Paperclip personally requested Dornberger’s assistance. So the British released him into American custody, and Dornberger was secretly brought to the US. He became chief of the US Army’s Weapons Department, and was put in charge of America’s V-2 missile development program.

Afterwards, Dornberger spent 15 years as director of R&D at Bell Aircraft Corporation, helped develop the world’s first air-to-surface nuclear missile, and played a role in creating the Space Shuttle. Upon retirement, he lived in Mexico, then returned to Germany, where he died in 1980. All in all, he had a highly fulfilling postwar career, despite his war crimes – for which he had at least been detained for a couple years while being interrogated. As will be seen in the next entry, Wernher Von Braun, who sprung Dornberger from British custody and got him into the US, got away scot free with his war crimes.

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Wernher Von Braun enjoying a Coke. Historical Media

Wernher Von Braun Was a Space Visionary, and a War Criminal Who Got Slave Workers Killed by the Tens of Thousands

On the one hand, Von Braun (1912 – 1977) was a genius, visionary, and a brilliant engineering manager who is rightly credited as the father of America’s space program. We went to the Moon, in large part, thanks to him, and if the day ever comes when humans set foot on Mars and colonize the Red Planet, it will also be thanks to him in large part. Mankind owes Von Braun a huge debt for his contributions to the space sciences. On the other hand, the man was a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of thousands of slave laborers who perished while toiling on his rockets in atrocious conditions, of which he was fully aware.

During WW2, Von Braun was an SS Sturmbanfuhrer – equivalent to an army Major – who developed and oversaw the manufacture of the V-2 rockets, the world’s first ballistic missiles. His rockets, carrying a one ton explosive warhead, rained down terror and claimed the lives of thousands, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, in London, Antwerp, and other cities. After the war, he pretended to have been an oblivious scientist, too engrossed in his blueprints, calculations, and other pointy head work, to fully comprehend the horrors of the regime he served.

In reality, he had been quite comfortable with the Third Reich, the Nazi party, and the SS, until late in the war. Far from being oblivious to Nazi horrors, Von Braun was personally involved in Nazi atrocities, and was a direct, hands-on participant in war crimes. Among other things, he personally supervised the manufacturing of rockets, using tens of thousands of slave laborers. An estimated 20,000 slave workers toiling to build Von Braun’s rockets died of starvation, maltreatment, or were murdered by their guards while building his rockets. He was often at the slave labor facilities, and had firsthand knowledge of the horrific workplace conditions.

After the war, he was one of the first Germans secretly moved to the US in Operation Paperclip. He was put to work by the US Army to develop its intermediate range ballistic missile program, and he developed the rocket that launched America’s first space satellite. When NASA was created, he joined it as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, and was put in charge of the Saturn V rockets that sent the Apollo Program’s spacecraft to the Moon. In recognition of his services, he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1975.

Wernher Von Braun thus presents a conundrum and a moral dilemma. He is a pioneer who undoubtedly contributed much to the advancement of mankind in the space sciences. If our species ever becomes a multiplanetary one – something many scientists see as the only safeguard against our extinction in the next millennium – it will be thanks in large part to Von Braun. It is no exaggeration to say that he was history’s most important and influential rocket engineer and space advocate. So there is no question that the man did a lot of good in his life.

However, does that absolve him of his personal responsibility for having gone along with the Nazis’ aggressive war plans? Does it wash away the stain of having been a loyal Nazi and member of the SS? Does it cleanse him of the sin of having been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of slave laborers, who perished while building his precious rockets? Was Wernher Von a Braun a Nazi villain, space hero, or both?

10 Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped Justice Because They Were Useful to the US
Reinhard Gehlen. Warfare History Network

Reinhard Gehlen Was Involved in the Torture, Murder, and Starving to Death of Millions

Not all Nazi war criminals sprung by the US and other WWII victors were scientists, physician, or technological experts. Some, such as Reinhard Gehlen (1902 – 1969), were saved and given a fresh starts because of their expertise in the field of intelligence. Gehlen, head of the Foreign Armies East (FHO) intelligence unit during WW2, had been Hitler’s chief intelligence officer for the Eastern Front. His agents brutally interrogated prisoners, and participated in torturing, murdering, and starving to death millions of Soviets POWs.

Gehlen also organized collaborationist right wing paramilitaries from Ukrainian and other Slavic groups, which fought alongside the Nazi and committed sundry atrocities, often against Jews, under Nazi supervision or on their own hook. After the war, he offered his services to the US, and his considerable knowledge of and expertise about the Soviet Union was deemed too valuable let go to waste on the gallows.

Gehlen had joined the German army in 1920, was appointed to run the German army’s military intelligence on the Eastern Front in 1942, and eventually rose to the rank of Major General. His intelligence gathering produced reports that were accurate most of the time – although he was wrong footed more than once by the Soviets. However, things had already started to go bad for Germany on the Eastern Front when Gehlen was appointed to run intelligence, so his accurate reports were gloomy. Hitler viewed Gehlen and his reports as too pessimistic, and ended up firing him as a result.

Gehlen turned himself in to US Army counterintelligence in May of 1945, and offered to hand over a treasure trove of intelligence about the Soviet Union, stored on microfilm, in exchange for his liberty. He and three assistants were secretly flown to Washington DC, where they were interrogated by military intelligence and the OSS – the forerunner of the CIA. He also met OSS chief Bill Donovan, and Allen Dulles, who headed OSS operations in Europe at the time, and who would eventually get appointed CIA Director by Eisenhower.

Gehlen worked out a deal that shielded him from prosecution for war crimes. He was then hired to resurrect and oversee his vast network of intelligence to spy on the Soviets for the CIA, with whom he signed a contract for $5 million a year in 1949. So long as Gehlen’s organization produced, the CIA gave it carte blanche in its side gig of helping other Nazi war criminals flee Europe to avoid prosecution. He set up an underground escape network that included transit camps, and used fake ports supplied by the CIA, to help over 5000 Nazis flee Europe to South and Central America.

In 1955, the Gehlen Organization was turned over to the West German government, and the following year, it became the nucleus of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND – Federal Intelligence Service), headed by Gehlen. He ran the BND until 1968, when he was forced out due to a combination of ineptness, estrangement from his political patrons, and internal BND scandals. He died the following year.

Gehlen and Wernher Von Braun were probably the two most successfully rehabilitated Nazi war criminals. Not only were their sins whitewashed, but they went on to become heroic figures – at least in the West – after the war. An argument could be made that Gehlen did even better in that regard than Von Braun. He did not become as great a celebrity as Von Braun, or get whitewashed as brightly. However, he had far more blood on his hands to whitewash, and far more atrocities under his rug than the rocket visionary ever did.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Sources & Further Reading

Air & Space Magazine, January 1st, 2008 – What Did Wernher Von Braun Know, & When Did He Know It?

Alliance for Human Research Protection – Operation Paperclip Nazi Rogues

Central Intelligence Agency Docs – Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, Fourth Edition, May 1944

Encyclopedia Britannica – Walter Robert Dornberger, German Engineer

Independent, January 6th, 1996 – Obituary: Faith & Reason: Arthur Rudolph

Jacobsen, Annie – Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (2014)

New York Times, January 3rd, 1996 – Arthur Rudolph, 89, Developer of Rocket in First Apollo Flight

Operation Paperclip – Kurt Blome

Space Medicine Association – The Controversy of Hubertus Strughold During World War II

Voltaire Network – Operation Paperclip: CIA’s Denial of Protecting Nazis is Blatant Lie

Wall Street Journal, December 1st, 2012 – A Scientist’s Nazi Era Past Haunts Prestigious Space Price

Washington Post, June 10th, 1979 – Reinhard Gehlen Dies, Spy For Hitler, US, Bonn

Washington Post, July 2nd, 1980 – W. R. Dornberger Dies, German Rocket Expert

Wikipedia – Reinhard Gehlen

Wikipedia – Wernher Von Braun

World War II Database – Friedrich Hoffman