Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobson. (Excerpts regarding Hitler’s Chemists – Otto Ambros)
Otto Ambros was a fastidious man. His calculations were exact, his words carefully chosen, his fingernails always manicured. He wore his hair neatly oiled and parted. In addition to being Hitler’s favorite chemist, Ambros was the manager of IG Farben’s synthetic rubber and fuel factory at Aushwitz.
“The concentration camp already existing with approximately 7000 prisoners is to be expanded.” Santo noted in his official company report. For Ambros, Farben’s arrangement with the SS regarding slave laborers remained vague; Ambros sought clarity. “It is therefore necessary to open negotiations with the Reich Leader SS [Himmler] as soon as possible to discuss necessary measures with him,” Ambros wrote in his official company report. The two men had a decades-old relationship; Heinrich Himmler and Otto Ambros had known one another since grade school. Ambros could make Himmler see eye-to-eye with him on the benefits that Auschwitz offered to both Farben and the SS. – Operation Paperclip. page 153.
Otto Ambros was key to making the Buna factory a success. With his knowledge of synthetic rubber and his managerial experience–he also ran Farben’s secret nerve gas production facilities–there was no better man than Otto Ambros for the Auschwitz job….
Major Tilley waited at Dustin for the return of Tarr and Ambros. It was now clear to him that there was no single individual more important to Hitler’s chemical weapons program than Otto Ambros had been. Ambros was in charge of chemical weapons at Gendorf and Dyhernfurth, and he was the manager of the Buna factory at Auschwitz. From interviewing various Farben chemists held at Dustbin, Tilley had also learned that the gas used to murder millions of people at Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Zyklon B, and it was sold to the Reich by an IG Farben company. In one of these interviews, Tilley asked IG Farben board member Baron Georg von Schnitzler if Otto Ambros knew that Farben chemicals were being used to murder people.
“You said yesterday that a [Farben employee] ‘alluded’ to you that the poisonous gasses [sic] and the chemicals manufactured by IG Farben were being used for the murder of human beings held in concentration camps,” Major Tilley reminded von Schnitzler in their interview
“So I understood him,” von Schnitzler replied.
“Didn’t you question those employees of yours further in regard to the use of these gases?”
“They knew it was being used for this purpose,” von Schnitzler said
von Schnitzler confessed, “I asked [the Farben employee] is it known to you and Ambros and other directors in Auschwitz that the gases and chemicals are being used to murder people?”
“What did he say?” asked Major Tilley.
“Yes; it is known to all the IG directors in Auschwitz,” von Schnitzer said.
Few men were as important to IG Farben during the war than Otto Ambros had been. IG Farben began first producing synthetic rubber in 1935, naming it Buna after its primary component, butadiene…. Otto Ambros poured over maps of this region, called the Upper Silesia, in search of a Buna factory site, he found what he was looking for. The production of synthetic rubber required four things: water, flat land, good railway connections, and an abundance of laborers. Auschwitz had all four. Three rivers met in Auschwitz, the Sola, the Vistula, and the Przemsza, with a water flow of 525,000 cubic feet per hour. The land was flat and sixty-five feet above the waterline, making it safe from floodwaters. The railway connections were sound. But the most important was the labor issue. The concentration camp next door could provide an endless labor supply because the men were cheap and could be worked to death. For Farben, the use of slave labor supply could take the company to levels of economic prowess previously unexplored.
pages 151 – 155
It was only a matter of time before an American chemical company would learn of the army’s interest in a whole new field of chemical weapons. An American chemist, Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind, was in Germany at this same time. Dr. Hirschkind was conducting a survey of the German chemical industry for the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service while on temporarily leave from Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Hirschkind had spent several months inspecting IG Farben plants in the U.S. and British zones and now he was in Heidelberg, hoping to meet Ambros. Lieutenant Colonel Tarr reached out to Colonel Weiss, the French commander in charge of IG Farben’s chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, and a meeting was arranged.
On July 28, 1945, Dr. Hirschkind met with Ambros and Lieutenant Colonel Tarr in Heidelberg. Ambros brought his wartime deputy with him to the meeting, the Farben chemist Jurgen von Klenck. It was von Klenck who, in the final months of the war, had helped Ambros destroy evidence, hide documents, and disguise the Farben factory in Gendorf so that it appeared to produce soap, not chemical weapons. Jurgen von Klenck was initially detained at Dustbin but later released. The Heidelberg meetings lasted several days. When Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind left, he had these words for Ambros: “I would look forward after the conclusion of the peace treaty [to] continuing our relations [in my position] as a representative of Dow.”
Only later did FIAT interrogators learn about this meeting. Major Tilley’s suspicions were now confirmed. A group inside the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, including his former partner, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, did indeed have an ulterior motive that ran counter to the motives of CIOS, FIAT, and the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Tilley’s superior at Dustbin, Major Wilson, confirmed this dark and disturbing truth in a classified military intelligence report on the Ambros affair. “It is believed that the conflict between FIAT… and LT-Col Tarr was due to the latter’s wish to use Ambros for industrial chemical purposes” back in the United States.”
“All documents regarding the Ambros affair would remain classified for the next forty years, until August of 1985. That an officer of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, had sheltered a wanted war criminal from capture in the aftermath of the German surrender was damning. That this officer was also participating in meetings with the fugitive and a representative from the Dow Chemical Company was scandalous.”
page 157 – 159
By 1964, Ambros had been a free man for thirteen years. He was an extremely wealthy, successful businessman. He socialized in Berlin among the captains of industry and the professional elite. When the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial started, he was a board member of numerous major corporations in Germany, including AEG (Allgemeine Elekrizitats Gesellschaft), Germany’s General Electric; Hibernia Mining Company; and SKW (Suddeutsche Kalkstickstoff-Werke AG), a chemical company.
page 415 – 416
In separate letters to Finance Minister Ludger Westrick and Deputy Finance Minister Dr. Dollinger, a new secret was revealed, though Ambros promised not to make public a piece of the information they shared. “Concerning the firms abroad where I am a permanent co-worker advisor,” Ambros wrote, “I won’t name them [publicly] because I don’t want to tip off any journalists who might cause trouble with my friends. You know about W.R. Grace in New York… and I hope I can stay with Hibernia Company. Concerning the firms in Israel,” Ambros wrote, “stating their names publicly would be very embarrassing because they are [run by] very public, well-respected persons in public positions that have actually been at my home and are aware of my position, how I behaved during the Reich, and they accept this.”
The “well-respected” public figures in Israel to whom Ambros referred have never been revealed. That Ambros also had worked for the American company W.R Grace would take decades to come to light. When it did, in the early 1980s, the public would also learn that Otto Ambros worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission, “to develop and operate a plant for the hydrogenation of coal in a scale of 4 million tons/year at the former IG Farben industry.” That a convicted war criminal had been hired by the Department of Energy sparked indignation, and congressmen and journalists sought further details about Ambros’s U.S. government contract. In a statement to the press, the Department of Energy insisted that the paperwork had been lost…
Letters on White House stationary reveal that Deputy National Security Adviser James W. Nance briefed Reagan about how it was that the U.S. government could have hired Otto Ambros. Nance’s argument to the president was that many others hired him. “Dr. Ambros had contracts with numerous officials from Allied countries,” wrote Nance. “Dr. Ambros was a consultant to companies such as Distillers Limited of England; Pechiney, the French chemical giant; and Dow Europe of Switzerland. He was also the chairman of Knoll, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of the well known chemical corporation BASF.” President Reagan requested further information from the Department of Energy on its Ambros contract. Nance told the president, “The DOE and/or ERDA [The Energy Research and Development Administration] do not have records that would answer the questions you asked in the detail you requested. However, with Ambros’ involvement in the company shown and his special knowledge in hydrogenation of coal, we know there were productive contacts between Dr. Ambros and U.S. energy officials.” Even the president of the United States could not get complete information about an Operation Paperclip legacy.
In the midst of the scandal, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle telephoned Ambros at his home in Mannheim, Germany, and asked Ambros about his 1948 conviction at Nuremberg for mass murder and slavery.
“That happened a very long time ago,” Ambros told the reporter. “It involved Jews. We do not think about it anymore.”
Pages 418 – 419
In the decades since Operation Paperclip ended, new facts continue to come to light. In 2008, previously unreported information about Otto Ambros emerged, serving as a reminder that the story of what lies hidden behind America’s Nazi scientist program in to complete.
A group of medical doctors and researchers in England, working on behalf of an organization called the Thalidomide Trust, believe they have tied the wartime work of IG Farben and Otto Ambros to the thalidomide tragedy of the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Ambros was released from Landsberg Prison, he worked as an economic consultant to German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and to the industrial magnate Friedrich Flick, the richest person in Germany during the Cold War. Like Ambros, Flick had been tried and convicted at Nuremberg, then released early by John J. McCloy.
In the late 1950s, Ambros was also elected chairman of the advisory committee for a German company called Chemie Grunenthal. Grunenthal was about to market a new tranquilizer that promised pregnant women relief from morning sickness. The drug, called thalidomide, was going to be sold under the brand name Contergan. Otto Ambros served on the board of directors of Grunenthal. In the late 1950s, very few people knew that Grunenthal was a safe haven for many Nazis , including Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck, the inspector of nutrition for the SS, and Dr. HeinzBaumkotter, an SS captain (Hauptsturmfuhrer) and the chief concentration camp doctor in Mauthausen, Natweiler-Struthof, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
Ten months before Grunenthal’s public release of thalidomide, the wife of a Grunenthal employee, who took the drug to combat morning sickness, gave birth to a baby without ears. No one linked the birth defect to the drug, and thalidomide was released by the company. After several months on the market, 1959, Grunenthal received its first reports that thalidomide caused polyneuropathy, or nerve damage, in the hands and feet of elderly people who took the drug. The drug’s over-the-counter status was changed so that it now required a prescription. Still, thalidomide was marketed aggressively in forty-sex countries with a label that stated it could be “given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without any adverse effect on mother and child.” Instead, the drug resulted in more than ten thousand mothers giving birth to babies with terrible deformities, creating the most horrific pharmaceutical disaster in the history of modern medicine. Many of the children were born without ears, arms, or legs and with reptilian, flipperlike appendages in place of healthy limbs.
The origins of thalidomide were never accounted for. Grunenthal had always maintained that it lost its documents that showed where and when the first human trials were conducted on the drug. Then, in 2008, the Thalidomide Trust, in England, headed by Dr. Martin Johnson, located a group of Nazi-era documents that produced a link between thalidomide and the drugs researched and developed by IG Farben chemists during the war. Dr. Johnson points out that Grunenthal’s 1954 patents for thalidomide cryptically state that human trials had already been completed, but the company says it cannot offer that data because it was lost, ostensibly during the war. “The patents suggest that thalidomide was probably one of a number of products developed at Dyhernfurth or Auschwitz-Monowitz under the leadership of Otto Ambros in the course of nerve gas research,” Dr. Johnson says.
The Thalidomide Trust also links Paperclip scientist Richard Kuhn to the medical tragedy, “Kuhn worked with a wide range of chemicals in his nerve gas research, and in his antidote research we know he used Antergan, which we are fairly sure was a ‘sister drug’ to Contergan,” the brand name for thalidomide, Dr. Johnson explains.
In 2005, Kuhn experienced a posthumous fall of grace when the society of German Chemists (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, GDCh) announced it would no longer award its once-prestigious Richard Kuhn Medal in his name. Nazi-era documents on Kuhn had been brought to the society’s attention, revealing that in “the spring of 1943 Kuhn asked the secretary-general of the KWS [Kaiser Wilhelm Society], Ernst Telschow, to support his search for the brains of ‘young and healthy men,’ presumably for nerve gas research.” The Society of German Chemists maintains that “the sources indicate that these brains were most likely taken from execution victims,” and that ‘[d]espite his scientific achievements, [Richard] Kuhn is not suitable to serve as a role model, and eponym for an important award, mainly due to his conduct towards Jewish colleagues.”
It seems that the legacy of Hitler’s chemists has yet to be fully unveiled. Because so many of these German scientists were seen as assets to the U.S. Army Chemical Corps’ nerve agent programs, and were thus wanted as participants in Operation Paperclip, secret deals were made, and the many documents pertaining to these arrangements were classified.
pages 431 – 433