Review

An American in Exile: The Story of Arthur Rudolph

  • by Thomas Franklin. Huntsville, Alabama: Christopher Kaylor Company, 1987. 366 pages, $16.95, Hb., ISBN 0-916039-04-8.

Reviewed by Robert H. Countess

In the spring of 1986 I had the pleasure of interviewing several men who played key roles in the German rocket development program and in the subsequent American space program, which has taken us to the moon and far beyond. The program was one that I named "The Marketplace of Ideas" and it aired regularly over Huntsville's public radio station, WLRH.

My first guest was author Mitch Sharpe, who co-authored, with Fred Ordway, The Rocket Team (Crowell, 1979), the major treatment of Wernher von Braun and his colleagues at Peenemünde. Sharpe, who lives in Huntsville, is now at work on a manuscript dealing with "the other rocket team," the hundred or more German scientists who were taken to the Soviet Union under contract for a specified time. After these "lesser lights" had fulfilled their duties, the Soviets allowed them to return to their homes.

The other guests were Drs. Georg von Tiesenhausen, Ernst Stuhlinger, and Walter Häussermann, also members of the Peenemünde team, who live in Huntsville. Stuhlinger is a four-time winner of the prestigious Humboldt Award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Society in the German Federal Republic. He appears in the "Acknowledgments" of James Michener's Space. He studied under Drs. Hans Geiger (of "Geiger counter" fame) and atomic physicist Werner Heisenberg.

In my introduction to the program with Stuhlinger I remarked that in view of the emphasis given to February as "Black History Month," it might also be justified to denote other months for special emphasis. I suggested a "Teutonic-Germanic History Month" and indicated that, as a history teacher, if I were confronted with the dilemma of choosing which people has made the greatest contribution to Western Civilization, the ancient Greeks or the modern-to-contemporary Germans, I would have a very difficult time deciding -- an infelicitous dilemma. For the modern period the Germans (to include the Dutch, et al.) would be selected hands down. From the ancient period, the Greeks.

I then cited the anti-German misanthropes Theodore Kaufman and Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (one could even include his father), whose infamous plan for the genocide of Germans is well known For the former see Time magazine's March 24, 1941 (page 95) review of Germany Must Perish; for the latter see Germany Is Our Problem (Harper, 1945). It is too bad that these two genocidalists are not around to be hauled into court so that the United States can implement the Senate approved "Genocide Convention" of 1986. I can hardly think of two more suitable candidates for such a trial.

Dr. Stuhlinger indicated that after he had returned from the Russian Front and joined the von Braun team, he received notice one day that he had become a member of the National Socialist Party and that about two dollars a month would be taken out of his pay. This is of interest in that after the war, these gentlemen were categorized by some U.S. intelligence officers as "ardent Nazis." Later, their files were altered to "Not an ardent Nazi." This alteration-insertion has been used by the Nazi-hunter vigilantes to "prove" that the U.S. altered the records so that these "murderers" could be brought to the U.S. to aid our rocket effort. It is most unfortunate that Neal Sher, Eli Rosenbaum, and Allan Ryan, Jr. -- all highly paid zealots in the Justice Department's OSI (Office of Special Investigations) - are not analytically minded types, or they might have been able to view matters more intelligently.

Stuhlinger noted that in his experience "ardent Nazis" were not sent to the Russian front. He also stated that he, Arthur Rudolph and Dr. von Braun were particularly interested in developing rockets to go to the moon. His own desire stemmed from a space fantasy movie he saw as a youth. The German Army had missiles of destruction in mind. When he came to the U.S. and to Ft. Bliss, Texas, he again wanted to work on moon rocketry, but the U.S. Army wanted missiles for destruction. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. When the Soviets put Sputnik into space and the U.S. was feverishly lamenting its second place in the space race, Stuhlinger said that the German scientists - now in Huntsville -- pulled out their drawings which they had worked on over the decades (beginning at Peenemünde!) and began to work in earnest on space rocketry.

On February 23, 1987, PBS Television aired a "documentary" on the German rocket scientists that was so obviously a diatribe against these great Americans that one wonders why it was not aired on "Show Time" or "MTV." It was called "Front Line," and Dr. Stuhlinger watched it aghast He remarked over my radio program that it was "full of inaccuracies and misconceptions." One wonders why the producers did not send someone to Huntsville to interview these clear-minded scientists for their version of events, especially since Sher and Rosenbaum were either very young or not yet born at the time of the war.

I asked Dr. Stuhlinger why he thought the OSI went after Dr. Rudolph. He conjectured that it may have been his advanced age and ill health. Earlier, Neal Sher had contacted two other German scientists here in Huntsville, and asked them for statements about Peenemunde and the treatment of prisoners. They engaged an attorney, however, who informed Mr. Sher that if he had any questions, these would have to be addressed to his clients through him. The matter was dropped. Many insiders think that had Dr. Rudolph taken this approach from the beginning, he would still be a U.S. citizen, living comfortably near his daughter in California.

Shortly after interviewing Dr. Stuhlinger on "The Marketplace of Ideas," I invited Thomas Franklin, a writer for the Huntsville News, whose twenty-part series on Dr. Arthur Rudolph had appeared during February-March of 1987. He had spent three days interviewing Rudolph in Wellingsbüttel, a suburb of Hamburg, in the fall of 1986. These newspaper fascicles became the first half of the book under review.

The hour-long live interview went very well, and all the phone calls were positive, except for one from a very naive man who assumed that if Rudolph had been a National Socialist, then he ought to be deported. The caller also assumed that the PBS program was accurate and true, etc.

Since I thought Thomas Franklin had just begun to scratch the surface of a topic of great interst to Huntsvillians in general and to the significant German community there, I scheduled him (along with Dr. Walter Häussermann) to return the following Monday and continue. I had not counted, however, on a mid-course change of philosophy by the station's program director, who until then had always been friendly and supportive.

Today I hold the view that someone put inordinate pressure on him. When, the following Monday, my guests and I arrived at the station, we learned that there "had already been too much talk about Dr. Rudolph" The "M.P.I" hour that day carried a canned program instead, and my "career" as a volunteer quickly went downhill. The old reliables were trotted out I was "neo-Nazi" and, of course, "anti- Semitic."

I then sent a copy of the Franklin interview tape and the newspaper series to National Public Radio's Ann Edwards in Washington. Speaking with her over the phone, I was told that she wanted to do a segment on the Rudolph case. She assured me that she was independent of such intimidation. It is now nearly a year since she declared her interest, and after many phone calls to her, she has not yet followed through on her verbal commitment

During the month of August, 1987, I met with Dr. and Mrs. Rudolph in their small but comfortable apartment in Germany, and talked with them about their situation. The Rudolphs warmly appreciated my visit. They long to be back in California near their daughter. Most certainly they deplored the tactics by which they had been led to surrender their U.S. citizenship. Sher and OSI have targeted an octogenarian with a bad heart and few resources as a war criminal and a threat to the well-being of the U.S.A.

The Friday evening before I arrived, German television aired yet another "Holocaust" appeal for mesmerized German televiewers. The Rudolphs were particularly upset over the singling out of Rudolph by name by OSI's authority, Eli Rosenbaum, who called him "a murderer."

My personal interest in the Rudolph case goes back to my high school days in Huntsville (1951-55), when the town was a sleepy, typically Southern cotton town of 16,000 people. I quickly became aware of fellow students whose first and last names I could not easily understand or spell. There were Ueter, Tschinkel, Debus, Roth, Stein, and then the hard ones like Ursula, Dieter, Wolfgang, Hans, et al. Some wore sandals and leather shorts and had longish hair styles and just looked different. But they were nice, and serious about their studies. I even dated the daughter of Dr. Kurt Debus on a couple of occasions, and I lunched at the home of the Tschinkels, where I saw, for the first time, wheat germ on the table. At first I was apprehensive about taking into my body something called "germ."

Over the years I have made a modest attempt to learn to read and speak German and have traveled to the "Germanies" (including the Federal Republics seven times, with two years in residence thanks to Uncle Sam's largesse. In recent years, however, I have made a studious effort to learn of the contributing factors to the two great wars of this century, and to understand the present legend known as "the Holocaust."

Thomas Franklin's An American in Exile gives readers a chance to draw their own conclusions as to the facts of Rudolph's past and as to the justice of his treatment at the hands of OSI. The book includes interviews with Dr. Rudolph, his friends, and family members, who related their experiences of trauma in Nazi Germany and the goals and challenges of the space program. There are also included complete transcripts of an OSI interrogation of Rudolph. The latter will enable, I judge, the reader to marvel OSI's audacity in bringing a case against Rudolph.

Sher and Rosenbaum attempted to paint Rudolph with the anti-semantic "anti-Semitic" brush, claiming that he held "blind hatred for inferior races." (p. 139.) Rudolph replied:

I told them in the interview that I didn't believe in the German master race. Germany, being in the center of Europe, was at the crossroads of many, many people. It was a melting pot, and the idea of a pure Aryan race is nonsense.

Sher and Rosenbaum damned Rudolph for "his taking schnapps with Camp Commandant Forschner." The reader must always realize that the "Holocaust" mentality of Sher-Rosenbaum assumes that the German camps were by definition "death camps." A commandant, so the syllogism runs, must by definition be a murderer of "martyrs" (if the dead and dying are Jews, that is - when have we been treated to a "Holocaust" miniseries on Gypsies martyred by the Nazis? or Jehovah's Witnesses? or Protestants? or Roman Catholic martyrs?). Lastly, the syllogism concludes that not only was the commandant a war criminal but those Germans who served with him were also murderers and war criminals as well.

Tom Bowers, in The Paper Clip Conspiracy (Little, Brown), describes "The Hunt for the Nazi Scientists." Unfortunately, Bower partakes of the error that "Nazi" means per se "criminal." This error is as faulty, in my opinion, as Adolf Hitler's equating "Jew" with "bolshevik." Hitler certainly had reasons sufficient to himself to view all Jews as possible enemies of his Reich, inasmuch as world Zionism had declared war on Germany. To this may be added the Jewish religious observance prayer of "next year in Jerusalem." A people who can sincerely keep praying that their God will deliver them to another land must see how suspicious this prayer renders them in the eyes of their "host" government.

Bower writes of Rudolph being "100 per cent Nazi, dangerous type, security threat ... Suggest internment." This characterization comes from a U.S. government document prepared right after the war. The OSI transcript that Thomas Franklin provides is not, however, available. Franklin got his copy from Dr. Rudolph. One wonders with good reason why Sher and his crew keep their "evidence" from a researcher. One may conclude from reading it that it is because there is nothing incriminating in it

When Franklin was asked about the Bower quotation, he replied that it was an evaluation rather than a fact (See the Huntsville Times, January 10, 1988, p. 7C.) Franklin is obviously correct Would Bower conclude that a Soviet Jew should be barred from entry into the U.S. for praying "next year in Jerusalem," or for having been a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?

Bower claimed that Rudolph had "quite voluntarily gone to see the hanging of some inmates, and thus, Rudolph was guilty of something. The transcript of Rudolph's interrogation by the OSI reveals the context, however. At the Mittelwerk production facility there were numerous Russian inmates, some of them "Kapos" controlling other inmates, that is, an "organization within the organization," according to Rudolph (p. 240.) The order had come down to Rudolph's unit that all work was to cease and that all the inmates inside the tunnel were to assemble in main tunnel number two. The S.S. troops led the inmates to the tunnel where six convicted inmates were hanged. Dr. Rudolph also attended. The osr claim is that they were murdered because of alleged "sabotage." Rudolph asserted that he understood them to be preparing a "putsch," to take over the facility and kill all the Germans.

The reader of at least average intelligence ought to be able to read this account mindful that a government in time of war will protect itself from putsches as well as from material sabotage of its production facilities. Apparently, Bower and OSI lawyers do not find German opposition to possible putsches and sabotage justifiable. Since the legislation which created OSI deliberately restricted itself to alleged misdeeds by the Germans and their allies during the years 1933 to 1945, we haven't been able to test what OSI's attitude might be to Soviet or Israeli residents in America who had repressed anticommunist or Palestinian sabotage or uprisings before coming to these shores.

Franklin's book is, to be sure, written in a popular style, but it clearly presents Dr. Rudolph's side of the case, as well as the transcript of his interrogation by OSI. I think that readers will marvel over how those Justice Department bureaucrats treated an American citizen. Some readers may well wonder if this could not happen to them; there are German-Americans in Huntsville who speak of the Rudolph matter reluctantly because of apprehension as to their own status.

The OSI "holy crusade" will no doubt find other victims. Readers would be well advised to learn from Rudolph's too eager willingness to cooperate with this branch of government that one should neither talk nor surrender papers to police agencies like OSI without first contacting an attorney with expertise in this sort of persecution.

One final item should be mentioned. At great personal expense and time, Dr. Friedwardt Winterberg, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Nevada, studied and interrogated the so-called "witnesses" against Rudolph, having learned of the case from a newspaper. On page 158 is the box score of the nine OSI witnesses which the case was based.
 

Gave unfavorable testimony that was accepted: 0
Gave unfavorable testimony that was rejected: 2
Gave favorable testimony: 1
Were mentally unfit to testify: 2
Knew nothing about Rudolph 4
Total 9

The above data are from the German Federal Republic and are consistent with what Dr. Winterberg could learn. OSI has no credible witnesses and its "star witness" (p. 154) was merely the blacked-out name of Hannelore Bannasch, a secretary whose testimony has been a matter of public record for over forty years. The OSI attempted to represent her as one who could incriminate Rudolph and whose identity needed to be protected!

The Justice Department might instead wish to investigate whether or not Sher and Rosenbaum committed an obstruction of justice by its suppressing evidence from the DDR (East Germany), which, if known at the time of the proceedings against Rudolph, might have exculpated him. It has also been claimed that Attorney General Edwin Meese did not wish to see Dr. Rudolph deported, but that he was under tremendous ideological pressure to comply with the new breed of "witch-hunters" stalking the OSI corridors. Perhaps after a new president assumes office in 1989 and Meese has left, someone can inquire of Meese his thoughts on this matter. Meese will presumably no longer be sensitive to political pressures.

After the Israelis kidnapped Adolf Eichmann and assassinated him after his show trial in Jersualem, the handwriting should have been on the wall. Then the Rudolphs of America would have been justly suspicious of the Justice Departments new "Witch Hunt" sub-office, the OSI, established under Jimmy Carter. The Elizabeth Holtzman amendment that birthed this new era of inquisition also coincided with the demise of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a committee long opposed by Americans Left (Stalinist and otherwise). Here readers may want to consult Lydia Denjanjuk's informative two volumes, Nazi War Criminals in America, available from P.O. Box 31424, Cleveland, OH 44131, $10. Her brief biographies of Holtzman, Ryan, ex-Congressman and convicted felon Joshua Eilberg, and Rosenbaum make for interesting reading, especially their pro-Soviet sentiments with reference to accepting Soviet "evidence" at face value.

What does the future hold for Dr. Rudolph? He would like very much to return to the U.S. and have his citizenship restored. He is willing to appear before a Senate committee, with a doctor present and testify as to his mistreatment at the hands of the OSI. Alabama's senior senator, Howell Heflin, has written that he is willing to aid Dr. Rudolph in this pursuit. Rudolph's supporters in Huntsville have worked diligently to this end. Senator Heflin has not carried through on his promise as of this date. One wonders if political considerations may intervene to keep the Senator from becoming involved after all, even though his Alabama constituents like to think themselves independent of the ideological sentiments of Sher and Rosenbaum and their ilk.

Dr. Rudolph is bitter toward the OSI. "I feel persecuted," he told me. But the "Free Soviet Jewry" demonstrators will never take up the cause of Arthur Rudolph He's merely a German and Germans cannot be persecuted -- just deported, imprisoned or assassinated Rudolph is also puzzled.

It is really hard to understand, but for one thing they have to continue to find people to presecute if they [OSI] are to continue to exist. Then too they may be after revenge. They tried to blame me for the death of Jews. They consider all Germans "Nazis" and hence criminals. I could be wrong, but what else could be the reason? As it says in the Old Testament, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (p. 160.)

Huntsville attorney Dieter Schrader wrote in a letter to the editor of the Huntsville Times that the reason Dr. Rudolph is now back in Germany is not because he allegedly committed crimes at the Mittelwerk, but because "we don't need him anymore." It sounds as if the attorney has exposed something of an American pragmatist philosophy reminiscent of soldiers' romantic philosophy: "Find 'em, feed 'em, ________ 'em, forget 'em." Harsh as that sounds to our noble ears, the rape of Arthur Rudolph sounds far harsher.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1988 (Vol. 8, No. 2), pages 224-231.