Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Innocent by Usefulness

Born in 1912, Wernher von Braun came from a conservative Junker family. As a student in Berlin, he fell in with a rather louche group of rocket enthusiasts. In the 1930s, patronage came from the army, which set up a special rocket base on the Baltic Sea, at Peenemünde, where von Braun worked from 1937 until 1945. It was there that he helped to build the A-4 (V-2) missile. Six thousand of these missiles were produced, and about 3,000 were launched against London and Antwerp in the last year of World War II. After the war, von Braun claimed that his main interest had been in space flight all along. His work for the German Army had been an unfortunate necessity because that was where resources could be obtained, and, besides, it was dangerous to resist the Nazi state. In fact, von Braun was very far from being an innocent visionary who took Nazi money in order to pursue his dream. He was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and he knew that he was developing weapons at Peenemünde and that the weapons were manufactured by slave labor. He had enough contact with Nazi leaders to understand quite clearly what kind of regime it was, and he helped to persuade Hitler to give top priority to the V-2. Von Braun escaped from justice and moral judgment with the help of the American authorities, who wanted to employ him in the missile and space programs.


  1. We have to live with the fact that Hitlers success was based more on consense than on fear and obedience. For quite a long time, maybe until 1941?

    Joachim Fest once wrote, if Hitler in the year 1939 had been assassinated, perhaps he would have been considered the fullfiller of german history.

    In the prussian culture obedience played a big role. Yet in the nobility, especially in the ancient families with a long tradition, this obedience to le Roi de la Prusse was not blind, implicated faith to ethic intrepidity and was potentially leading to disobedience. A great jewish observer, Valeriu Marcu, therefore propped great hope into what he called the "true Germany, which still has to move".

    But there was no "true Germany" answering to Marcu's hope. At a certain point the situation had reached a degree of perversion... only very few persons had the courage and inner strength to resist. Especially some exponents of the churches (Bishop von Galen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer...), some exponents of the officer's caste around Stauffenberg and some "true prussians" like Ernst Niekisch and Henning von Tresckow. Henning von Tresckow organized for two times an attempt to kill Hitler. He acted even twice in this dangerous undertaking. Ernst Niekisch resisted from the beginning with unbelievable, stubborn courage, continuing to publish his "Der Widerstand" until he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Sebastian Haffner called Niekisch - a coulourful and elusive personality - "the last great Prussian and Hitler's real antagonist".

    Wernher von Braun's opportunism ist starteling. Yes, Tom Lehrer's song is great.

  2. What about Herbert von Karajan?

    He became member of the Nazi Party in may 1933.

    What about Karl Böhm?

    He was a member of the "Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur" which was a cultural association founded by Alfred Rosenberg, the chief ideologist of the Nazi movement.

  3. @ epitimaios
    In “Die verdammte Pflicht” Alexander Stahlberg pictures the lameness of prussian families.

  4. @cs

    Thank you very much. I will read it.

  5. Please only thumb through this book! Most parts are full of vanity….

  6. The fear to be considered conceited, futil, vain and egocentric was one of the reasons that kept coscientious prussians off from individual initiatives. Very strong feelings pushed to make a step in the right direction, very strong feelings in the same moment induced to make a step backwards.

    Stronger than this, was the fear of unpredictability. May be Stauffenberg's assassination attempt even went wrong BECAUSE of this (reasonable) fear. Noone could be sure that the chaos after Hitler's assassination would have been governable, everyone knew that staying in the center of the events was extremly dangerous.

    The major fear probably was the fear of a second, ultimate, definite "Versailles". This time GUILT was undeniable and enormous. It was realistic to argue "First we have to win the war. THEN we will kill Hitler. Otherwise we will have to accept a merciless peace."

    Every German should remember this reasonable fear. In order to appreciate how merciful the peace we got then was.