Changing Sides

On 2 May 1945, Wernher von Braun and his closest associates turned themselves in to American troops in the Allgäu Alps. The developers of the V2 rocket had spent the preceding days in an idyllic hotel in Oberjoch, playing cards and enjoying good food, wine, and the spring weather.

The unit had been moved from Peenemünde to the Harz Mountains in March, and from there to Bavaria in April. Having learned of Hitler’s death on the radio the night before, they decided to contact the advancing U.S. troops. They deliberately offered the Americans their expert knowledge, assuming this would protect them from being treated as war criminals.

That assumption proved correct. Von Braun and his team arrived in Texas in September 1945. On behalf of the U.S. Army, they initially developed missile weapons there; later they went to work for NASA. Von Braun played an important role in the U.S. satellite programme and the moon landing. Despite his Nazi past, he thus came to be celebrated as a scientist in the U.S.A. and the Federal Republic of Germany.

(Michael Löffelsender)

Reference: Michael J. Neufeld, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, New York 2007.