Certainty about Werner Heisenberg

About the US-Murder Plans Against the German Nuclear Physicist Werner Heisenberg

By Dr. Gerhard Sommer

There were many speculations about the desire and the capability of the German Reich to build and use the atom bomb, similar as one speculates whether or not Hitler ever planned to use poison gas, and if not, why not. The research meanwhile has concluded that Hitler evidently was the only states leader who--probably because of his personal experiences in the first world war--was rigorously opposed to the use of weapons of mass destruction and against any inhumane warfare against civilians. Undisputed is and will be at least that in the Second World War only the Allies used weapons of mass destruction for the mass murder of innocent civilians, a fact which obviously was meant to be obfuscated by the above mentioned speculations about Hitler. Thus, it was not a German atom bomb that shocked the world with total destruction, but the "Jewish" from the USA. What also went unnoticed up to now is the fact that apparently all means were justified to the US Secret Service during World War II to prevent even the mere possibility of the development of a German atom bomb--parallels to the current conflict with Iraq are no coincidence. In the following, it will be shown how the murder of Werner Heisenberg was planned with the help of his former ‘friends’ and ‘colleagues’ in order to prevent the German bomb. The question arises, of course, if Werner Heisenberg was the only object of such U.S. murder plans.


Uncertainty (in the sense of "unclear"), is the title of a biography of an American author about the physicist Werner Heisenberg--with reference to the epoch-making discovery of the "Unschärferelation," the Uncertainty Relation (David C. Cassidy, Uncertainty. The life and science of Werner Heisenberg, W.H. Freeman, New York 1992).

Now, the uncertainty came to an end with the book of another American, even if several decades will pass before they become certainty in the awareness of the newspaper reader or even the educated physicist. It was attempted to murder Werner Heisenberg--it is about nothing less. And it is not uncertain who contrived the assassination. They were ‘colleagues,’ even ‘friends’ whom Heisenberg never did any harm or even intended to do harm. They were students, former assistants, allegedly admirers of Heisenberg’s genius. They were physicists whose names were mentioned too frequently to be called only unimportant figure heads of the history of physics.

Thomas Powers (Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb, Knopf, New York 1993) published the kidnapping and murder plans in a substantial biography, based on recently released British and American secret service files. But he did not do it in the same way as murder plans concocted by the National Socialists or Fascists are usually edited today. He disassembled the plans in tiny parts and scattered them over many sections of his book. As it is done when a forbidden part of history has to pass censorship. As it is customary when the fascism of the anti-fascists can not be mentioned by name because of the circumstances. To be sure, the murderously inclined gentleman’s club, who never had to take responsibility for the invention of the all-contaminating nuclear bomb, furnished excuses and considered it appropriate to play it down, both in the case of mass murder of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in the case of the almost successful murder of a colleague. Not rarely, the author shows his understanding for this. But mitigating circumstances, as in any ordinary criminal case, are not normally already taken into consideration during the phase of collecting the evidence. Thomas Powers actually did not blur the murder traces in his book. But he hid them, as far as the true instigators and perpetrators are concerned, inside of a huge pile of negligible information. One has to look for it like for the proverbial needle in the haystack. But he who seeks will find.

Powers spells out the plain facts clearly enough: Since December 1943, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was pursuing the plan to abduct Heisenberg while visiting Switzerland, and it assigned a certain Colonel Eifler with the task to build up a special unit for this purpose. The main problem at that time was that it was not exactly known where Heisenberg was residing. As a result of an indiscretion of the German nuclear physicist Wolfgang Gentner in conversations with the Zurich Physicist Scherrer, who was an informer of the OSS, it finally turned out that Heisenberg lived in Hechingen. It was then decided to no longer use Eifler’s service. Powers assumes that his superiors had lost confidence in his ability to conduct the operation in secrecy:

Werner Heisenberg, * Dec. 5, 1901, † Feb. 1, 1976

"Small surprise here; there was no hiding Eifler’s gung-ho, brutally direct approach to whatever he undertook." Powers, p. 313)

In place of Eifler, another man was given a different order in August 1944: Morris Berg, a former baseball star, was to murder Heisenberg during a physicist’s colloquium organized by Scherrer in Zurich. Thus, a suggestion was reactivated which had already been made in October 1942, when Heisenberg traveled to his ‘friend’ Scherrer in Zurich for the first time. On the following two pages, I forego any commentary. I only combine the broadly scattered parts from Powers’ hidden presentation in such a way that an evidently straight story is presented in a readable form. Page numbers in the following text are according to the original English edition, the sources referred to by Powers are not given.

"[...] in the last week of October 1942, probably on the 26th or 27th, Bethe was contacted by an agitated Weisskopf, who had just received a letter from Pauli at Princeton. [With two pieces of information ...] The second [piece of information] was Wentzel’s news that Heisenberg would be visiting Zurich to give a lecture at the university in December [1942], only a little over a month away. Bethe and Weisskopf agreed the Allies were thus given a chance to cripple the German bomb program with a single bold stroke--the kidnapping of Heisenberg on neutral ground." (p. 190)

"[... Weisskopf and Bethe] were far from warlike men, but this was war. They were certain Heisenberg was working on a German bomb; they had a bright idea, and they submitted it in haste to the one man they knew with an open channel to the authorities-Robert Oppenheimer.

The channel was indeed open. Oppenheimer replied the following day, thanking Weisskopf for his ‘interesting letter,’ saying he already knew the central facts and had passed them on to ‘the proper authorities,’ but had ‘taken the liberty of forwarding your letter’ as well." (p. 192)

"Back in Cambridge by the end of the first week of November, Bethe sought out Samuel Goudsmit, the Dutch-born University of Michigan physicist who had been working on radar there for several months. Goudsmit had no official knowledge of the American bomb project, but like most physicists-especially those with European backgrounds-he knew from friends that something was in the works. Bethe described the news from Pauli’s letter and Goudsmit immediately agreed the chance to lay hands on Heisenberg in Zurich should not be wasted." (p. 193; Goudsmit immediately wrote a letter about this to the British Secret Service circles, who also actually received it.)

"The American bomb program was not taken over by the U.S. Army until June 1942, and General Leslie Groves, put in command in September, concerned himself mainly with questions of internal security for nearly a year before giving one of his aides the job of gathering intelligence on the Germans [i.e. a possible German program for atomic bombs]." (p. 155)

"[... Groves received] alarmed memos of project scientists, and Groves concluded they would never ‘stick to their knitting’ until he convinced them the Germans were getting the full attention of a serious intelligence effort. But placating the scientists was not Groves’s only motive for doing something about the Germans." (p. 216f.)

"To Furman [the new head of his own secret defense organization] Groves spelled out the two halves of his problem: little or no information about the Germans, and constant agitation by scientists furious at the military for failing to take the German danger seriously. The job Groves had in mind for Furman would address both halves through an effort to gather information about the Germans with the aid of the worried scientists themselves; later on there might be some special projects for Furman to handle." (p. 218)

"The bombing of German cities was routine, but the choice of [the Berlin suburb] Dahlem as target was not. In one of his many historical notes written after the war, Leslie Groves refers to ‘the bombing of the Dahlem sector in Berlin which we undertook at my request to drive German scientists out of their comfortable quarters.’ Groves’s success, however, was not quite complete" (p. 338f.)

"Bethe and Weisskopf both say [during an interview with the author] they were not present when the proposal to kill leading German scientists was made to Groves, but both agree it was quite in character with other coldblooded decisions Oppenheimer made during the war years.

[...] What Oppenheimer, Weisskopf, Bethe, Morrison and especially Samuel Goudsmit knew about the attempt to go after Heisenberg seems to have had an important effect on the way they treated him after the war. In particular, they would all-and Niels Bohr as well-find it hard to accept as a fact that Heisenberg had completely lacked anything like their own determination to build the world’s first atomic bomb." (p. 258f.)

"Since December 1943 Groves had been pursuing the proposal to organize the kidnapping of Heisenberg. The OSS had agreed to undertake the job, and had assigned it to Colonel Carl Eifler, who began immediately to recruit a team for the task. But of course no operation could proceed without one basic fact-where Heisenberg might be found." (p. 287)

"It was Wolfgang Gentner, all unknowing, who found Heisenberg for the Americans." (p. 288)

"Eifler was left in no doubt that Heisenberg’s survival was not the mission’s highest priority.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’ve got him into Switzerland, we’re ready to take him out now but I’m about to be arrested by the Swiss police--what do I do now?’

Buxton said, ‘You deny the enemy his brain.’

‘The only way to do that,’ Eifler said, ‘is to kill him. So I kill him, and the Swiss police arrest me--what happens then?’

‘Then,’ said Buxton, ‘we’ve never heard, of you.’" (p. 266)

"[...] on June 23 [… Donavan] informed Eifler that the Heisenberg kidnapping had been scrubbed by the Manhattan Engineer District. Of course Donovan did not identify the MED by name, and he offered the barest explanation for the change in orders: the project was no longer necessary, the race for a new type of bomb was over--’We’ve cracked the atom,’ he said." (p. 312)

Physicists in an extermination frenzy: from left: Niels Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi (http://sage.me.utexas.edu/~uer/manhattan/people.html)

"But the attempt to kidnap or assassinate Heisenberg was not dropped, as we shall see. A new effort was organized over the summer of 1944, and shortly after Furman left Rome for London, Berg was picked for a steadily growing role in the renewed effort." (p. 313)

"Berg was Jewish, but it was not Nazi anti-Semitism that angered him; it was book-burning.." (p. 296)

"But Berg was not idle in London while he waited for the plan to go forward. During long walks in the country he continued his private tutorial in atomic physics with his Princeton friend, Bob Robertson, and he received many cables and pouch letters, including one from [the OSS agent] Loofbourow in Zurich, who reported that Heisenberg and Max von Laue met every Wednesday with the Swiss scientist Walther Dallenbach at his research institute in Bissingen. Loofbourow also reported that the way to Scherrer’s heart would be a present of 100 grams of heavy water for experiments with his institute’s cyclotron." (p. 390)

"On December 10, Berg crossed the Channel for Paris, where he saw Tony Calvert [a member of the security staff of the Manhattan-Project] and Sam Goudsmit. Goudsmit gave Berg a small container of heavy water-a present for Paul Scherrer. A week later Berg left for Switzerland." (p. 392)

"Berg was a lifelong scribbler of notes, and when he died he left behind much paper. Among it were many raw notes on the episode in Zurich. At least twice he seems to have set out to write a history of his wartime work for the OSS; each ended after a furious bout of scribbling. Twice also Berg told friends what he had been sent to Switzerland to do, and among his many handwritten notes is a brief, fragmentary account of the conversations in Paris. It was Tony Calvert who told him that the OSS--’the great Donovan grapevine’--had just learned of Heisenberg’s impending arrival in Zurich, subject of the Bern cable sent to Goudsmit on November 28. Berg wrote: ‘--gun in my pocket.’

Then on the next line: ‘nothing spelled out but Heisenberg must be rendered hors de combat.’ The French phrase translates literally as ‘out of the battle.’ There is a very narrow range of ways in which a gun may be used to take an opponent out of the battle." (p. 392)

"At least twice during the eight or nine days in Zurich Heisenberg brushed by an agent of the OSS [Morris Berg] armed with a pistol and authority to kill him. It was Scherrer who had invited Heisenberg to Zurich, who kept the OSS informed, and who arranged for the OSS agent to be present." (p. 395)

"Scherrer himself left no memoir of his role in the war; he destroyed most of his papers after he retired from the ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zurich University), and he apparently never discussed the war years with friends. Many of his students, at any rate, knew nothing of his extensive contacts with the OSS over a period of nearly two years, and his old friend Wolfgang Pauli sometimes complained in later years of Scherrer’s silence about the war. The only substantial surviving evidence of what Scherrer felt about these matters is to be found in OSS cables reporting his views, and in notes which Morris Berg made at the time of his conversations with him." (p. 396)

"With the OSS officer Leo Martinuzzi as companion, Berg arrived at the University of Zurich on Rämistrasse in good time for the seminar on theoretical physics scheduled to begin at 4:15 on December 18. There was no security of any kind; anyone was free to join the small group gathered for Heisenberg’s talk" (p. 397)

"Berg scribbled a kind of running account. He caught Heisenberg’s eye. "H. likes my interest in his lecture," Berg wrote." (p. 398)

"Berg wrote, 'As I listen, I am uncertain--see: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle--what to do to H… discussing math[ematic] while Rome burns--if they knew what I’m thinking.’ […] Berg did nothing." (p. 399)

"Berg went further when he described the episode to his friend Earl Brodie three or four years after the war. […]

As Brodie remembers it:

He said they wanted to get Heisenberg out of Germany and into Switzerland to give a lecture. Berg was sent to shoot him and he didn’t do it. He’d been drilled in physics, to listen for certain things. If anything Heisenberg said convinced Berg the Germans were close to a bomb then his job was to shoot him--right there in the auditorium. It probably would have cost Berg his life-there would have been no way to escape." (p. 393)

Leo Szilard, here together with Albert Einstein, the mental grandfather of the atomic bomb and promoter for it’s use against Germany, assisted the implementation of the ‘Manhattan Project’ to build the US atom bomb. Together with Enrico Fermi, Szilard succeeded with the first chain reaction. Both physicists had left Germany because of hostility toward Jews.

The all too convenient excuse of the allied physicists--especially those who ‘originated from Europe’--that they worked at the American atomic bomb because of naked fear from a German atomic bomb, which they absolutely had to get ahead of, runs through the history of the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki like a ritual. During the past 50 years, nobody really looked closer at the motives of these people. Powers repeats this assertion again and again as well. But on the other side, Powers’ book offers for the first time facts which appear to render such excuses untenable. General Groves, for example, was informed on January 5, 1944, by formal letter of the British allies that the German atomic bomb was a pure phantasm:

"All the evidence available to us leads us to the conclusion that the Germans are not in fact carrying out large-scale work on any aspect of TA (Tube Alloys) [the British code word for atomic bomb]. We believe that after an initial serious examination of the project, the German work is now confined to academic and small-scale research, much of which is being published in current issues of their scientific journals." (Powers, p. 284f.)

These assessments of the situation, which by the way proved to be quite correct, were for reasons, not yet released for critical authors for investigation, politely shrugged off by General Groves as irrelevant. The reader has to draw his own conclusions. The keyword did probably already fall: In order to make the scientists ‘stick to their knitting’. At least those who did not want the bomb for pure revenge. After all, one cannot depend on all Jews having complementary feelings to anti-Semitism.

Thomas Powers does not seem to belong to those authors who don’t know what they are writing about. He belongs to those who do know--but don’t say what they think. He did at least dare not to blindly repeat everything. Power’s final assessment for Oppenheimer, one of the big executioners of mankind, is worth to be quoted here unabridged:

"When Oppenheimer [after the first atom bomb test on July 16, 1945] returned to the base camp and stepped down from the jeep his look, his stance, his walk spoke triumph to his friend I. I. Rabi. Rabi himself had declined to work on the bomb; he hated the thought that this was the culmination of three centuries of physics. But he consented to hold the overworked Oppenheimer’s hand, to brace him when he flagged, to witness his triumph at Alamogordo. ‘His walk was like High Noon,’ said Rabi. ‘I think it’s the best I could describe it--this kind of strut. He’d done it.’

The elation survived even Hiroshima. Among those at Los Alamos on August 6 when the public address system announced the use of one of the lab’s ‘units’ on Japan was the young physicist Sam Cohen. He remembers vividly the whistling, cheering and foot-stomping in an auditorium that night when Oppenheimer entered at the rear--not from the wings, his custom--and made his way forward up the central aisle through the crowd. On the stage Oppenheimer pumped his clasped hands above his head in the classic self-congratulation of the prizefighter. When at last he could speak, there was no shadow of regret in his words and he did not hesitate to play to the crowd. What Cohen remembers is unambiguous triumph:

It was too early to determine what the results of the bombing might have been, but he was sure that the Japanese didn’t like it. More cheering. He was proud, and he showed it, of what he had accomplished. Even more cheering. And his only regret was that we hadn’t developed the bomb in time to have used it against the Germans. This practically raised the roof.’" Powers, p. 461f.)

A couple of years ago, when I was researching the New York Times for something completely different, I saw the following entry in the year’s index: "German refugees’ role in Atomic Bomb creation discussed". It was a series of four articles which explained the atomic bomb for laymen. Author of the series was William L. Laurence, one of the star journalists at that time of this thoroughly circumcised paper, as Karl Kraus would have said. Part 3, published on September 28, 1945--seven weeks after Hiroshima had been turned into a radioactive field of rubble--carried the title: "Atom Bomb Based on Einstein Theory". The name of the discoverer of nuclear fission, Otto Hahn, does not appear anywhere in the whole series. Part 4, published the following day, carries the title: "Atomic Factories Incredible Sight" and describes with hymnal lines who the creators of the bomb were and how it was created:

"The design and construction of the bombs called for the concentration of the most powerful ‘beam’ of collective intelligence ever brought to bear upon any single project. Some of the outstanding minds in this group came to us as exiles from Nazi and Fascist fury."

The rest I would like to reproduce completely, because I understand fascistic ‘kitsch’ just as good as Mr. Laurence:

"Hidden in the mesas and canyons of New Mexico, peaked by the mountains of the majestic Sangre de Christo, which appear like mountains of fire during sunrise and sunset, this place, Los Alamos, is the ‘most Mars-like’ on of all places in the ‘atom land of Mars.’ With every step one finds incredible things here, a new species of man, the Mesa-Man, lays the foundation of the civilization of the future." (retranslated)

Two years after reading this in the New York Times, I noticed that Mr. Laurence was the only journalist who was allowed to observe the first atom bomb test with his own eyes. The man who guided him through the top secret localities on occasion of this event and who assisted him writing this, was the future Einstein and Nobel Prize laureate Richard P. Feynman. In 1985, he still had a remarkable Weltanschauung:

"The Germans had Hitler and the possibility of developing an atomic bomb was obvious, and the possibility that they would develop it before we did was very much of a fright. So I decided to go […to Los Alamos]." (p. 108)

"We were recruited, by the way, by Oppenheimer and other people […] he was a wonderful man." (p. 110)

"I ended up as a group leader under Bethe with four guys under me.." (p. 112)

"I was an underling at the beginning. Later I became a group leader. And I met some very great men. It is one of the great experiences of my life to have met all these wonderful physicists." (p. 132)

"Then there was John Von Neumann, the great mathematician. We used to go for walks on Sunday. We’d walk in the canyons, often with Bethe and Bob Bacher. It was a great pleasure. And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of Von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was Von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!" (p. 132; all quotations from: Richard P. Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, W.W. Norton, New York 1985).

Already then, I pondered whether these "Mesa-Men," who allegedly laid "the foundation of the civilization of the future," were not simply Judeo-Nazis who--as Israel Shahak has repeatedly emphasized--grow like weeds, especially in America. And since I read Thomas Powers’ book--whose title would more appropriately be: "The War of Heisenberg’s Colleagues. The Secret History of the Mesaic Nuclear Bomb"--I am absolutely certain of this.


First published in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 3(2) (1999), pp. 182-186; translated by Fabian Eschen.


Source: The Revisionist 1(1) (2003), pp. 47-51.


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