The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War

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Wernher von Braun is known to many as a brilliant pioneer of rocketry who left Germany in 1945 to become a key advisor in America's space program. Until now, few realize the bloody legacy he left behind. The Nazi Rocketeers tells the story of how von Braun and his fellow scientists abandoned their initial dreams of space exploration in favor of creating the devastating V-2 ballistic missile. This weapon enabled the Nazis to precipitate mass destruction and loss of life. Contrary to previous accounts, this history proves that von Braun and his colleagues were not forced under duress to turn their rockets into weapons of war. They were, in fact, highly ambitious members of the Nazi movement who willingly put their creation to lethal use. In return, honors were bestowed on them from the Third Reich and Hitler himself. Perhaps the most shocking revelation is the collaboration between the scientists and the SS in the exploitation of concentration camp slave labor for the building of the V-2 missiles. In addition to addressing an overlooked portion of World War II study, this book is a sobering testament to the consequences of corrupted genius.

In the late 1920s, Herman Oberth, an early theoretician of space travel, told the world of his plan for using liquid-fueled rockets as vehicles for space travel. To his surprise and delight, he found himself with a group of young German disciples, prominent among them Wernher von Braun, who wanted to turn this dream into reality. During the years of the Third Reich, with von Braun as their technical leader, these men developed the first modern rockets and attended at the birth of the Space Age. Although von Braun and his fellow rocket scientists dreamed of exploring space, they readily embraced the goal of creating weapons of terror and mass destruction. The myth they encouraged after the war described them as brilliant visionaries whose genius was exploited by the Nazi regime. Now, 50 years later, The Nazi Rocketeers tells the true story of how these men enthusiastically participated in the Nazi cause and crimes.

The Nazi Rocketeers describes how Hermann Oberth, Wernher von Braun, and their colleagues progressed, from the innocent dream of space travel, through the development of the V-2 ballistic missile, to the transfer of their technological legacy to the Americans. Other notable Nazi Rocketeers are Army General Walter Dornberger, career soldier and von Braun's mentor; Albert Speer, technocrat and advocate of the rocket as a weapon; and SS General Hans Kammler, architect of Auschwitz and director of the V-2 rocket war. The book tells how Wernher von Braun and many of his fellow rocket scientists were early and active members of the Nazi movement; von Braun was both a member of the Nazi party and a major in the SS. For their service to the Nazi cause, they were honored by the Third Reich and by Hitler himself. Most damning is the revelation that they actively collaborated with the SS in the exploitation of concentration camp slave labor to build the V-2 missile. This rocket, when used as a weapon, killed thousands; yet tens of thousands of prisoners died at the Dora concentration camp, where the rockets were built under the direction of the SS and the rocket scientists. The Nazi Rocketeers tells the story of the technical genius and moral corruption of the creators of the first modern rockets.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The German rocket pioneers, led by Wernher von Braun, were inspired originally by dreams of spaceflight in 1930s Weimar Republic. But the combination of economic depression and the enormous expense of their research led this group of dreamers to enter the employ of the army that funded their research, so long as the rocket team produced missiles for the Third Reich. In the throes of Germany's impending defeat, Hitler ordered their V-2 rocket into mass production at rates that required the use of slave labor from Nazi concentration camps. At war's end, von Braun and his team surrendered to the Americans; in the States, they continued building rockets that included the first ICBMs as well as the Saturn V, which took men to the moon. Piszkiewicz's retelling of their story portrays the Germans as willing participants in Nazi war crimes in an account that lacks the sympathetic slant of Frederick Ordway and Mitchell Sharpe's The Rocket Team (LJ 8/79) or the complexity of Michael Neufeld's The Rocket and the Reich (LJ 1/95). Given the ambiguities of the rocketeers' story, the recommended choice among the three accounts remains Neufeld's.-Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
At first, Wernher von Braun and his fellow German rocket scientists dreamed of exploring space, but they readily embraced the goal of creating weapons during the years of the Third Reich. After the war they encouraged the myth that described them as brilliant visionaries whose genius had been exploited by the Nazi regime. Here, Piszkiewicz tells the real story of the scientists' progression from dreaming of space travel, through the development of the V-2 ballistic missile built under the direction of the SS using concentration camp slave labor, to the transfer of their technological legacy to the US. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275952174
  • Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1150L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

DENNIS PISZKIEWICZ has been an enthusiast of space exploration since his childhood in the 1950s.

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Table of Contents

1 When Space Travel Was Science Fiction 3
2 The P. T. Barnum of Rockets 15
3 The Baron's Son and the Soldier 23
4 The Birth of the Third Reich and the Death of Conscience 29
5 Rockets for the Reich 39
6 Rocket City: The Secret Base at Peenemunde 49
7 Casualties of the Blitzkrieg 59
8 The Architects of Destruction: The Men Who Built Armaments and Auschwitz 69
9 The First Spaceship and the Fuehrer's Dream 79
10 The Missile Arsenal: Demonstrations for Leaders of the Reich 89
11 A Command Performance for the Fuehrer 99
12 The Flames of Peenemunde 111
13 Rockets Rising from the Ashes 123
14 The Nazi "Metropolis": A Subterranean Rocket Factory 133
15 Dangerous Occupations: Rockets and Politics in the Third Reich 143
16 The Business of Death 151
17 The Plot to Kill the Fuehrer 163
18 Vengeance Weapon-2 171
19 "Compared to Dora, Auschwitz Was Easy!": Death and Survival in the Rocket Factory 177
20 Final Flights from Peenemunde: Von Braun Plans for the Future 183
21 Scorched Earth: Hitler's Solution to Defeat 195
22 The Alpine Redoubt: A Refuge and a Trap 207
23 Twilight of the Trolls: The Death of the Third Reich 215
24 Weapons for the Next War 227
25 Aged Rocketeers and Astronauts 239
26 Time's Vengeance on the Nazi Rocketeers 243
References and Notes 247
Index 261
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