Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
In light of the U.S. government's decisions to deport Karl Linnas and to bar Kurt Waldheim, NASA's veneration of Nazi old-timers deserves renewed scrutiny. In 1969, NASA's Distinguished Service Award went to Arthur Rudolph for his work as project director of the Saturn V moon rocket. When he left the country in 1984 rather than face charges as a Nazi war criminal, Rudolph and the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations signed an agreement. That agreement, which I made public in a television documentary carried over Cable News Network in March of last year, says nothing about the NASA award. "Any contention that the agreement with Rudolph bars the government from revoking his medals is utter nonsense," said Eli Rosenbaum, who negotiated the agreement for the O.S.I.
After Rudolph left the United States, there were immediate protests that NASA should take away the award. Elizabeth Holtzman, who drafted the law allowing the government to deport Nazis, wrote in a telegram to Reagan, "It is a disgrace for an American medal to remain in the hands of this bestial killer." In 1985, Representative Bill Green introduced a bill to force NASA to rescind the award. But during a NASA appropriations hearing that year, the agency's general counsel, S. Neil Hosenball, misled Green into believing that the O.S.I. agreement protected the award, and Green abandoned the effort. Recently Green saw the agreement for the first time and realized that "it clearly does not protect Rudolph's distinguished science award as I had been led to believe by the NASA general counsel's testimony." He is now reintroducing his bill.
Meanwhile, NASA has developed no more sensitivity to this issue. On March 23 the agency held a Wernher von Braun birthday reception at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, honoring eighty-three old timers. Two of those-Dieter Grau and Guenther Haukohl-- are under active investigation by the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit, as I revealed on CNN over a year ago.
Fortunately, U.S. taxpayers did not pay for this reunion; the $730.45 spent on refreshments, photography and a bus were "nonappropriated funds" from employees' vending machine purchases, according to NASA's April 20 response to my F.O.I.A. request. However, The Birmingham News reported that the space center's director, James Thompson, vowed to make the von Braun celebration an annual event and urged current NASA employees to ''rub elbows with these old guys--maybe some of their experience will rub off on us."
Presumably, that "experience" will exclude their wartime activities. Von Braun's own admissions in U.S. Army records show that the man NASA touts as a hero was an S.S. major who frequently visited the underground rocket factory where a black American flyer and 25,000 other prisoners from the concentration camp Dora died. During one visit, according to documents shown on CNN, von Braun attended a meeting that discussed rounding up citizens off the streets of France to be brought to Dora.
NASA spokesman Bob Lessels said Rudolph was not invited to the von Braun party. Just in case Rudolph is asked to attend future events, Representative Green is sending a letter to NASA and to the Attorney General saying, "Rudolph should not be permitted to enter the U.S. for a NASA reunion or any other purpose." And O.S.I. director Neal Sher told me last year that Rudolph "is on watch lists; he cannot get a visa; and if he were found in the United States, he would be subject to arrest."
When people learn that I cover stories on Nazis, they often ask if I know of groups supporting "nests" of Nazis in America, than react with surprise when my immediate answer is, "Yes, the Federal government." NASA should clean up this nest--soon.
Linda Hunt, former executive producer of CNN's investigative unit, is completing a book on Nazi scientists in the United States.
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