West ignored health advances to exploit military research

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Nazi Germany lost many of its best scientists after 1933 as the Jewish intelligentsia fled the country but some scientific areas useful for the regime's military or racial goals flourished.

Nazi Germany lost many of its best scientists after 1933 as the Jewish intelligentsia fled the country but some scientific areas useful for the regime's military or racial goals flourished.

Jet propulsion, guided missiles, computers and calculators, the electron microscope and data processing were all either developed or brought to fruition during the Nazi period.

There were significant advances in atomic physics as a result of the work of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, who pioneered nuclear fission, and discoveries in hormone and vitamin research, pharmacology and the manufacture of synthetic gasoline and rubber. The first television signal strong enough to leave the planet was a broadcast of Hitler's speech at the Berlin Olympics. The opiate drugs methadone (the heroin substitute) and pethidine (a powerful pain killer) were Nazi inventions.

So, more disturbingly, were the nerve gas sarin and the chemical warfare agent tabun. The scientist and converted Jew Fritz Haber's work on poison gas led to the development of Zyklon-B, used in the Nazi death ovens.

There was a particular fear of small but powerful agents undermining the German Volkskorper - the body of the nation. The carcinogenic effects of food dyes, lung cancers in uranium miners, the effects of X-rays and the impact of asbestos were all intensively studied.

There was a great deal of worry about how to maintain the "purity" of Germany's food, air and water, which was linked ideologically to the efforts to eliminate foreign racial elements from the population. Smoking and drinking were seen as a threat to fertility and hence to future generations.

When, at the end of the war, the Allies started to comb through German science in search of findings they could exploit they ignored Germany's pioneering tobacco work, concentrating on research that might be of military importance. Thus rocket bombs and aerotechnical engineering skills were exploited - to the point of kidnapping and transferring the scientists abroad - while sciences that could clearly have helped save lives were ignored.

Robert Proctor of Princeton University observes that American priorities became clear when it launched an effort to resupply Germany with tobacco - in 1948 and 1949, 93,000 tons of it were shipped free of charge to the defeated nation as part of the Marshall plan.

Comments