cover image Wernher Von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon

Wernher Von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon

Dennis Piszkiewicz. Praeger Publishers, $61.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-275-96217-3

Rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (1912-77)--who helped develop the U.S. missile arsenal during the Cold War, built rockets for NASA, helped put astronauts on the moon and designed Disney's Tomorrowland--was a major in the Nazi SS and one of Hitler's elite. Designer of Germany's V-2 rocket, which killed thousands of British civilians during WWII, von Braun supervised the rocket's construction at the Nazis' Mittelwerk factory, which used slave labor from the nearby Dora concentration camp. This gripping, well-documented biography shatters von Braun's claim that he never witnessed maltreatment of prisoners--a claim buttressed by the U.S. Army in its attempts to cover up von Braun's Nazi record to facilitate his entry into the U.S. Space historian Piszkiewicz (The Nazi Rocketeers) synthesizes available bits of information that prove von Braun's complicity. SS Major von Braun made at least one ""official visit of inspection"" to Dora in 1944 and participated in a Nazi administrative meeting at Mittelwerk to discuss bringing in a thousand French civilians as slave laborers; over 700 of them later died there. Moreover, in a letter to Mittelwerk's production manager, von Braun tells how he himself went to the notorious Buchenwald camp to arrange for the transport of more prisoners to Mittelwerk. Von Braun, who became a U.S. citizen in 1955, was a national hero to many and prophet of the space age. Including a history of the U.S.-Soviet space race, this biography makes a convincing case that he was also a war criminal, his past sanitized for expediency. The book may provoke moral outrage and a reassessment of the history of America's space program, launched with the help of 118 German rocket scientists brought here from Hitler's Third Reich. (Nov.)