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July 19: Operation Paperclip

Lawrence Bush
July 18, 2016


The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff took over management of some 1,600 captured German scientists, engineers and technicians on this date in 1945. The bulk of them would have their records expunged of Nazi links and then be evacuated with their families to America, where they would work, with security clearance, to help develop armaments “at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War,” according to Annie Jacobsen, author of Operation Paperclip. “Although some of these men had been Nazi Party members, SS officers and war criminals,” writes Wendy Lower in the New York Times, “they were valued as vital to American national security. Thus it was O.K., American government officials reasoned, to ignore these scientists’ roles in developing biological and chemical weapons, in designing the V-2 rockets that shattered London and Antwerp and in the countless deaths of concentration camp inmates who fell victim to medical experiments at Dachau and Ravensbrück.” Operation Paperclip was known to exist by the American public, and progressives such as Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rabbi Steven Wise made statements against it, but Cold War policies held firm.

“Nazi scientists were generously remunerated for developing biological and chemical weapons whose cleanup and disposal took decades and cost approximately $30 billion. American experimentation on humans continued during the Cold War in violation of the Nuremberg Code....In the end, it is not clear who was exploiting whom — the Nazi scientists or their American recruiters.” --Wendy Lower

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.