The Nazi Scientists:
Some serious questions to answer
by Peter Mac It has now been revealed that successive Australian Governments after World War II recruited 127 former German scientists, including 41 who were known to have been members of the Nazi Party or associated organisations. Although it is likely that some of the Nazi scientists were not directly involved in war crimes, others clearly have serious questions to answer. Some, for example, worked for the military as cartographers or surveyors. Others became members of Nazi stormtrooper units or the SS, which were associated with the genocidal invasion and occupation of most of Europe. Some were employed in the design or production of the V1 and V2 rockets that killed thousands of British civilians. A number worked for I G Farben, the company which produced the hideous "Zyklon B" gas used to massacre millions of inmates of German concentration camps. However, the issue of the guilt or otherwise of the scientists has been compounded by that of the complicity of western governments in the postwar recruitment programs. Some of this was blatant. The recruitment by the United States of scientists such as the infamous Dr Verner Von Braun, for work in fields such as rocket development and biological warfare, has been widely criticised. However, it now appears that successive Australian Governments did the same thing in recruiting German scientists, for example for the Woomera rocket programs and Weapons Research Establishment. Other countries were also involved. One group of German rocket scientists offered their services to the Australian Government in 1949 and were only reluctantly rejected when it was discovered that they were already working for the French Government. Moreover, it now appears that successive Australian Governments which recruited former Nazi scientists deliberately suppressed information which might have led to their prosecution for war crimes. It has now been revealed that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) testified to the authority investigating war crimes, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), that the screening process for the scientists was satisfactory, and that any found to have had unacceptable Nazi affiliations would have been rejected. This highly questionable finding (what constitutes "unacceptable" affiliations, and who determines this?) was subsequently accepted by the SIU. The former head of the Australian war crimes investigating team, Robert Greenwood, also commented that details of the scientists' background may have been deliberately withheld from the SIU by ASIO. The moral responsibilities of people under fascist governments has always been one of extreme difficulty. Many people living in Germany under fascist rule did not join the Nazis, but simply kept their heads down and tried not to be noticed. Many who had no fascist beliefs joined Nazi organisations in order to protect themselves or their families, and many joined under duress. However, even simple work could contribute to fascism, by freeing up other sectors of the workforce to participate in Nazi activity. Aware of this, many of the people who worked in countries under Nazi rule actively opposed the government. Former CPA member and electronics engineer Jim Celkys, for example, did not join the Nazi Party or any of its organisations, and carried out extremely dangerous clandestine radio broadcasting work for the allied war effort. Some who joined the Nazis believing in fascism did not take part in war crimes, and later rejected fascist ideology. Many of those who worked in Australia were known to have had Nazi pasts. However, their amicable and productive working relationships, including their relationships with those who had suffered as a result of fascism, testified to a determination to make amends for the past. Some committed themselves to progressive or working class causes. However, there were others who had participated in crimes against humanity in the name of fascism, and who retained their commitment to fascism. Several former Nazi officers who came to Australia after the War have now been accused of the wartime persecution and massacre of Lithuanian civilians. They have so far escaped extradition and trial for these crimes. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre recently described Australia as a safe haven for "holocaust perpetrators and mass murderers." There are many examples of the falsification or distortion of wartime and post-war history by Western governments for reasons of political expediency. For example, in 1946 the film director Alfred Hitchcock produced on commission from the British Government a stunningly powerful documentary about the Nazi concentration camps. However, as a result of the Cold War it was suppressed for 40 years, on the grounds that some of the footage was incomplete. The British Government has now launched an investigation into Britain's involvement in the recruitment of the German scientists by Australia. The Australian Government has so far refused to hold a similar enquiry. The Wiesenthal Centre's Director, Dr Efraim Zuroff, has called for the Australian Government to hold an enquiry into the matter of the former Nazi scientists as a matter of urgency. He commented: "The Australian public deserves to know why those scientists were admitted and whether this policy was dictated by cynical self-interest or total inefficiency."