LONDON (Aug. 22)
Britain has launched an “urgent investigation” into allegations it helped more than 100 German scientists secure military research jobs in Australia after World War II.
The allegations, which surfaced in recently declassified Australian government files, suggest that Britain and the United States handpicked the scientists to prevent the Soviet Union from recruiting them.
Of the 127 scientists who entered Australia between 1946 and 1951, a total of 31 were known Nazi Party members, including 10 who had worked for the German company that invented Zyklon-B, the poison gas widely used in the Nazi death camps.
Once in Australia, some of the scientists were employed on secret defense projects, including weapons development and rocket research.
Revelations that German scientists were sent to Australia, first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, have provoked anger among Jewish groups in Australia and Britain.
In London, Jo Wagerman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote Foreign Secretary Robin Cook last week asking for a full investigation into the affair.
“It is of very great concern that people who may have been guilty of the most horrendous crimes were shielded from justice in this way,” she wrote. “It is vitally important that the veil of secrecy is lifted from this horrendous period.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said the allegations were being investigated “as a matter of urgency.”
“We recognize the sensitivities of the Jewish people who are concerned about this,” said the spokesman. “We are taking this extremely seriously and we will be informing the interested parties of what we find out.”
The files reportedly show that the Western powers were concerned that German scientists would be recruited by Stalin to work on the Soviet Union’s rearmament program.
The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that Britain invited Australia to “bid” for the scientists in a secret cable in September 1945.
Wagerman said she understands that the West did not want to lose its military parity with the Soviet Union, but “the fact that senior Nazis were rehabilitated in this way cannot be excused.”
“There can be no statute of limitation on war criminals, and we hope that Britain will play its part in bringing this episode to a close,” she said.
An inquiry by the Australian government 13 years ago concluded that German scientists were not recruited under the scheme “if they were considered unacceptable due to their association with the Nazi Party.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry criticized the Australian government for not revealing the reported recruitment scheme in the 1986 report.
“When these people came to Australia, the graves [of Jews in Europe] were still warm,” said Jeremy Jones, national vice president of the council and a correspondent for JTA. “Australia must reopen its investigation unit and look at these scientists.”