8 Historical Figures Who Did Unspeakable Things

8. Wernher von Braun

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun was a German and later American aerospace engineer and space architect and the man who actually created America’s space program. However, he was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of slave workers, who died while building his rockets in WWII.

Before moving to the US, Wernher von Braun had been an SS officer (the SS, abbreviation of Schutzstaffel meaning “Protective Echelon”) who developed and built the world’s first ballistic missiles, the V-2 rockets, which killed thousands of civilians in London, Antwerp, and elsewhere. After the war, he put on an oblivious scientist act, pretending to have been too focused on his work to have fully understood the horrors of the regime he served.

However, mush like his counterpart Arthur Rudolph, the reality was totally different, Wernher von Braun personally supervised the manufacturing of rockets, using tens of thousands of slave laborers, about 20,000 of whom died of starvation, maltreatment, or were murdered by SS guards while building his rockets.

After freely surrendering to Allied troops on May 2, 1945 he was brought to America after the war in Operation Paperclip, which sought to make use of Nazi scientists, regardless of their wartime activities. He was essential in developing America’s ballistic missile program, and the rocket that launched America’s first space satellite. He joined NASA, oversaw the Saturn V rockets that got us to the Moon, and received the National Medal of Science in recognition.

Despite his many accolades, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization that actively sought the capture and prosecution of Nazi’s after the war, stated that if Wernher von Braun were alive today he would certainly have been put to trial and prosecuted as a Nazi war criminal.

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