Operation Paperclip: The Forgotten History Lesson


Emilee Davis graphic

Immediately following World War II, the United States launched a secret operation that employed Nazi forces. The end of the war created new beginnings in science and inventions.

WWII ravaged Poland and lead to the death of over six million Jewish people in concentration camps. Soon after the war ended in 1945, the U.S. decided the Nazis could prove useful in the country’s efforts to develop new weaponry.

The U.S. took note of weapons that were invented and used in WWII such as chemical agents. There was an emphasis on recruiting Nazi scientists, because there was “potential” in their knowledge of rocketry. One of those scientists included Wernher von Braun, who was a vital part of developing Apollo 11. 

Nonetheless, the union of the U.S. and their enemy, who they very recently combatted to free concentration camp prisoners and stop the Nazi regime, was a bizarre and questionable partnership. 

Though plagued with a violent, genocidal past, the U.S. overlooked their crimes and instead recruited the enemy to collect their knowledge. The success provided by the Nazis was upheld while their crimes were pushed to the side. To this day, we praise members of Operation Paperclip such as Wernher von Braun and Dr. Theodor Benzinger. In fact, The New York Times published Benzinger’s obituary in 1999 without a single mention of his role as a part of the Nazi regime.

Thousands of Nazis were recruited, several of whom were implicated in war crimes. According to investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, “there were many, many thousands of Nazi collaborators who got visas to the United States while the survivors did not, even though they had been, for instance, the head of a Nazi concentration camp, the warden at a camp or the secret police chief in Lithuania who signed the death warrants for people, or Nazi concentration camp guards.”

Though there are plenty of publications about the Nazi doctors’ and scientists’ achievements involved in Operation Paperclip, there is barely any mention of their past nor their participation in Operation Paperclip. 

Eric Lichtblau noted in an interview with NPR that “scientists who were being brought into the United States, brought to military bases in Alabama and Texas and San Antonio and Ohio and all around . . . were high-level Nazi Party members who were not only aware of, but in many cases, actively involved in the Nazi atrocities.” 

Although a “successful” plan, Operation Paperclip remains a relatively obscure part of the United States’ history. The main portions of the mission that are public and discussed are the successes and victories that came from it.