Interview with Herbert Axster, Chief of Staff of the V2 rocket program and later a target of Operation Paperclip. Phone interview, 1987.

[Above: (left to right) Herbert Axter, Walter Dornberger and Werner von Braun, after their surrender to the US Army, 1945.]

Thanks for allowing me to speak with you, Dr. Axster, as was mentioned I would like to ask only a few questions to help with a history project. Our friend Emil said to ask you some good questions and that you are a good entertainer.

Herbert: Ah yes, he would say that of me now, would he not? Ask away what you wish, I am an old man so my memory might give you puzzles more than anything.

I understand you worked on the V2 rocket program and I am interested in, first, knowing how you lived during the 3rd Reich, and how life was for you?

Herbert: Well my memory serves me good for this. I only came to the V program because I was a patent lawyer and had a specialty in the rocket engine. My friend was General Dornberger [Major-General Dr. Walter Robert Dornberger was the leader of Germany's V-2 rocket program and other projects at the Peenemünde Army Research Center-Ed.] so he personally sought me out. Before all that I lived before the war as a lawyer who specialized in technical aspects. As far as life, life was good for sure. When the Nazis came to power they changed Germany, for the good or bad.

They were an interesting group, they were anti-capitalists and communists, but enacted many policies that were part of both ideas. There was a free market with state control, and workers rights were upheld like never before. This model is criticized by both systems, yet the Nazis made it work. Not many people had any complaints; the workers were well paid and had great benefits. Paid holidays and sick time were a Nazi creation. I would say the people were very happy to be under this regime. Of course if you were against the regime then it was harder, but for farmers, workers and businesses it was surprisingly a good regime.

My wife would say she and her family were better off under Hitler than anyone else. I know my office was very busy with all the requests for patents and technical assistance. The war we could do without, but with peace everything was good for us. The only people who hated it were the lazy do nothings, anarchists, communists, and criminals. These were the ones who were sent away to the camps, and then made to work on building projects later.

Did you serve in the military?

Herbert: Oh yes, I was in the army, for not one war, but both. Yes, I was in the first war as well. I became accustomed to artillery and thus became an artillery officer for the second war. I went on to command a battalion, and was very successful at that. It is even hard for me to this day to recount to you this time. The war was not something we care to remember, our comrades yes, but not the war. I will tell you the second war was worse than the first. I remember in the first war there was sickness because of the English blockade which lasted well after the end. Many of the weak and sick died because there was no food or medicine.

I remember reading that we had very advanced medicine, but key ingredients had to be imported and they could not get through. The communists then launched many revolutions which broke out into open wars. There were also wars on the eastern frontiers with the newly formed Polish state. It was because of all these things that Hitler was able to come to power; he understood what the problems were and had solutions to fix them. I know one thing he did that was brilliant was he worked out treaties with the Allies which brought trade and created jobs. He made attempts to demilitarize as well but the Allies refused, only agreeing to allow Germany a small fleet and air force.

I remember the speech he gave in which he asked all of Europe's leaders to do away with weapons and focus on healing the continent. They all laughed and refused, this was in 1934 or '35, I believe. So it sowed the path for war later on. I was considered part of a reserve since I had prior service, so in 1939 when war was declared, I was again called up to serve.

Can I ask if you ever got to work on secret projects before the war?

Herbert: No, I was a lawyer remember, I was not in the military yet. I did receive patent requests that were of a very sensitive nature, and the military did intervene at times to remove the patent from the national office. When this happened they paid the person and the firm, and moved it under secret research. It was only later in the war that I was asked to join the staff of Peenemünde to work as a liaison between the national office and those working on the many projects.

[Above: The mighty V-2 rocket. Years ahead of the Allies in technology, they had absolutely no protection against it.]

One question I did want to ask, and our friend said it was OK, what do you think of all the claims of war crimes the Allies have leveled against Germany?

Herbert: Well, I can not say fully, one must understand that war propaganda plays a very big role, even today, in how one views the war. Take for example how German soldiers were treated when captured by the enemy, the hatred stirred up by false propaganda caused the deaths of countless people. I did not work with the camps so I do not know if the SS was doing those things. They showed us the photos and evidence that they claim make a good case. One issue I might speak about is the stories coming from the east where they claim many civilians were butchered. I know the war in the east was brutal, involving many ethnicities who hated each other.

Germany had many allies, which is not known outside of Germany. These allies wore German uniforms and equipment so any bad things they did were done in German uniforms. If, and I stress if, they committed crimes it would appear that Germans soldiers did it. I am told a nasty trick by the partisans was to dress in our uniforms and terrorize those who were friendly to us. The Russians are the main ones feeding these stories to the west, so I would tell you to show caution in what you believe. I can share with you this personal experience that many of us had. The Russians wanted us to be sent to them so they got people to say we committed war crimes so we would have to be deported according to treaties. The people wanted to please their new overlords so they agreed with or made up fanciful stories to keep sympathy on themselves and to remove any suspicion of being a sympathizer.

We had Ukrainians work on our farm, as most all German farmers were allowed to hire foreign workers. As crazy as it sounds, even prisoners were allowed to be sent to farmers, as there was a shortage of workers due to the war. The Hitler Youth even had a program where they would spend a summer helping out on farms to plant and tend the fields, they called it Land Year [Landjahr-Ed.]. We treated our workers very well; they had good quarters, and could leave at anytime. They had to work, as that's what we paid them for, but after their work day, they could relax, read, hike, bicycle, or whatever. I know some were not paid, and were volunteers who were promised German citizenship if they completed so many months. Today they are called slave workers, but this is not true, they were free to go. Only prisoners who were watched by old guards were the only ones who had no choice. I met some of them later on, and they reported no abuse to me at all. I was on Dornberger's staff and had to notate the treatment.

For what point would it benefit someone to abuse a worker he desperately needed, nay, you treat them kindly and take care of them. Abusing or killing would have been counter-productive and more work actually. Speer went to great lengths to lay out plans to get a larger labor pool, and to abuse this pool, or kill it would make no sense. I even saw the SS treat these prisoners well; I saw no shoving, hitting, or verbal abuse. I can tell you I had no love for the SS, so that's saying something. It would be self-defeating to cause resentment of the prisoners, as they already disliked us as it was. There were many communists, resistance fighters, and anti-Nazis in these camps I am sure they were watched closely, but not abused.

When the close of the war was at hand, I do know in some areas prisoners revolted and attacked the guards. They were not given a second chance and shot, but this was a small group and did not happen widely. This is where some of the abuse stories come from, but if they revolted and attacked what choice was there for punishment? Now after the war was over, the abuse allegations started, even against me later on. As I hypothesize, the people who were left under the occupation, especially Russians, wanted to present a face that they were oppressed, so they started to say we forced them to work, then abused them. This aided the Russians as they could then demand someone be sent over to them, and this is the true reason there was tension among their former allies. They knew Germany possessed advanced technology and they wanted it. They figured if they started saying the Germans were guilty of abuses and killings in their zone, then the Allies had to turn us over. They did so for a short while until they realized what the game was. This is why the Paperclip operation was put into effect, to steal German scientists before Stalin could.

So I will tell you these people who say these things today against us are only telling one side of the coin. It is because they want to be seen as anti-Nazi and a victim at the same time. They do not want anyone to know they willingly worked for Germany and were treated quite correctly. It saddened us to hear that our workers turned on us, but what choice did they have? Admit to helping us and face resentment, or say we forced them to work and abused them, and receive sympathy. One other point I will tell you, I was once by Leningrad, I can tell you everything was done to get the civilians out of the city. The goal was to get the city to surrender, but the political officers forced them to stay. This resulted in many civilian deaths but we kept trying to get a peaceful pause to help them, all were refused.

There were even pleas by the Red Cross to allow them out but their leaders shot down emissaries. I heard we even tried to trick them to give up by pretending being the commanders, which almost worked. We could not lift the siege as it would have endangered our lines, many civilians died who did not need to.

Do you think Germany could have won the war, and how?

Herbert: Well we almost did, so yes I do. I will tell you under the Nazis we had an explosion of genius. There were inventions that came out of that time that propelled the western world into the modern age. Medicine was the primary research up until the war. I would dare say if the war never happened we would have a cure for cancer and many chronic diseases. It was Hitler's wish that Germany would lead the world in medical research and breakthroughs. Now it is America with German research. When the war started the research was focused on military matters. Germany developed weapons that were the envy of the enemy.

While they had their own super weapons, nothing came close to ours. We were on the verge of deploying guided missiles to bring down the bomber formations. We had night vision to fire at the enemy in the dark and hit them. We had sarin gas [sarin is an extremely toxic nerve agent-Ed.] , which if Hitler would have deployed, would have won in Normandy and broken Bagration [Operation Bagration was the codename for the massive 1944 Soviet offensive-Ed.].

There were many secret weapon programs around us, but I did not have clearance to see them, I heard rumors about everything from super bombs, jet fighters, missiles, rockets, and sound waves. As I say, these propelled society into the modern times. I know the SS tried to take over all the weapons research because they believed Hitler was too soft, and the army disloyal. There was this SS general named Kammler [Hans Kammler was an SS-Obergruppenführer responsible for civil engineering projects and its top secret weapons programs-Ed.] who was in effect our boss. He was given the highest level of authority in 1944 and armies were moved to protect the bases where he was overseeing research. There was said to be a wonder bomb that would win the war.

I know this is the atom bomb and it was never able to be used due to the delays of delivery methods. Some of the research that was ongoing should have been done far earlier but a terrible mistake Hitler made was thinking peace could be made early on and shelved many projects until 1943.

[Above: Herbert Axster is seen here to the left of von Braun (in an arm cast) after their surrender to the American Army. Click to enlarge.]

So are you saying Germany had a Manhattan Project, and developed a nuclear bomb? Our history books say nothing of this.

Herbert: Well you can't always believe what history books say, the writers sometimes are misled or liars. I can tell you with most certainty that a bomb was developed in 1945. I remember my friend General Dornberger told me Kammler asked him if a small bomb of the utmost power could fit in a V2 and then be guided to Moscow or New York. They wanted this device to change the fortune of war yet not affect Europe when it went off. We provided the guidance system for this task, and knew it was feasible. It is my opinion Moscow would be hit first, as it was closest, then see how the Allies reacted.

Kammler was moving many secret projects to Austria and in what is now Czechoslovakia and Poland, back then it was called the protectorate. The area had many factories and research sites. Whole armies were sent there to defend this area from the Russians and it was not until well after May 8th that they stopped working. The SS had built tunnel systems to carry on research and I know a reactor from Berlin was moved into this system. These tunnels have long been destroyed and hidden, as the Russians do not want anyone looking into them. Our rockets were moved into these systems to protect them from the bombers.

I saw many of the systems and they were all self-contained, I was surprised by the size and organization they had. They housed thousands of workers and had everything from sick bays, canteens, and sleeping quarters. Contrary to popular Russian propaganda, the Amber Room or any other art was not put in the tunnels. We needed the space for war production and research. Much of our nuclear research was moved here as well, and this is key. Look at the photos of America's bombs; you will notice they look very different from one another. They were two different types; one was uranium, and the other plutonium. This was from the same supposed team working to quickly develop a super weapon. One team and one team only. You don't come up with two types of bombs from one team. The Americans captured our bomb, and then used our research to finish their own. That's why it was 4 months after the war in Europe that they used it on Japan. German scientists were able to fill in the blanks for the Americans.

When I was forced to leave, the papers slyly poked at us that Jewish scientists, whom Hitler kicked out, invented the bomb. I know this to be a lie; I saw many cases filed against them for plagiarizing others works. They fled to avoid prosecution, Einstein was one of them. He was only a great scientist because of being propped up by his friends and the press. Something else they won't teach you is that we had Jews working for us as well. They loved their country and ignored the politics and in turn were left alone. Even the SS knew of these things and let it slide. It is my firm stand that von Braun is the father of America's space and rocket program; Germans like Hahn are the father of the nuclear program. It was all stolen technology. I say this because we had no real choice; it was either serve America or Russia.

[Above: Head of NASA and America's space program, Wernher von Braun and President John F. Kennedy at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama during a rocket exercise, September 11, 1963. Someone once said 'The USA and Russia do not have American or Russian space programs, they have German space programs'. After the war, such as during America's Operation Paperclip, both countries scrambled to find Germany's scientists. One thing that was found common amongst these men of genius: they all were card carrying members of the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP). Yes, the world's greatest geniuses were Nazis.]

How were you treated after the war, and what happened to you?

Herbert: I was sent home by my friend General Dornberger, he wanted me to see to my family. As the Americans started rounding up everyone who was involved in secret weapons, my name was given to them, it was said as a favor to me. It was believed America was realizing we were not the true enemy they had been told. It was believed by many that America would side with Germany and help us finish Russia. Many of the scientists believed this and wanted to come over to the Americans to help continue the fight. It was not until the end we saw they truly were not going to help us.

They started arresting anyone who was part of any of the programs that they wanted more information on. They were quite blunt, either come to us, or we hand you and your family over to the Russians to be sent to Siberia. Of course they did this with brandy and food in a fancy hotel. I was forced to leave my family that December and come over to America to give help with guided missiles. I worked with Braun and many others, earning high praises from our former enemies. That is until the Russians started up with all this war propaganda in the '60s and have not let up. I was hounded into leaving a country I was forced to come to, all because of false accusations. The Americans used me for what they wanted, and then when I was no longer needed, they allowed the forces of hate to come for me. But so shall it be, that is my fate.

Do you think the V rocket programs were effective?

Herbert: In the grand scheme of things, I would say no. These weapons had great potential that was squandered. I do understand Hitler's mindset however, the Allies were targeting German cities to kill the home front and demoralize the troops. In his mind it was important to match the Allies to show we had that power as well. The problem was, and he should have taken notice of Germans, is that it emboldens resolve. He, and to an extent we, were hoping just hitting their cities with a missile would scare them to the peace table. However we learned later it had the opposite effect, their propaganda called them terror or vengeance attacks, and used them as rallying cries for revenge.

This was a big topic for us, how to use these super weapons. To be able to hit an enemy city without planes was truly exceptional. We were working on specific targeting areas so that we could hit ship yards, airfields, and installations. While this was in development, we could only aim for a general area, like London. Many of us wanted to use them in Normandy during the invasion, but small areas were hard to target. I will tell you a secret, Kammler and his men were going to use tabun [Tabun is an extremely toxic nerve agent-Ed.] and sarin gas in the V rockets over Normandy and Russia but Hitler forbade this. They fought within, as many wanted to disobey and wipe out the Allies. This would have done it; a plan was put in place to hit Normandy after pulling back our troops, and [Operation] Bagration in the east.

This would have killed tens of thousands with air bursts. These gases cling to skin and a gas mask would not be effective to stop it. The plan was to use a Blitz type attack, hit London and Moscow, then tell the Allies if they dare retaliate the gas will be burst over their whole territory. A plan developed to also have U-boats shoot missiles into New York. This would have at least made the Allies negotiate a peace as we learned later they had nothing to compare to sarin. They later used this in their stockpile to ward off Russia. However this is in the past and it is a great 'what could have been', but no one would have wanted the deaths of innocents on their hands.

[Above: (left to right) Walter Dornberger, Herbert Axter and Werner von Braun. Click to enlarge.]

[Above: Another shot of Walter Dornberger (second from left) and Werner von Braun.]

[Above: Werner von Braun's gorgeous wife and children.]

[This interview is exceptionally revealing. Like other writers who knew Hitler personally (Otto Skorzeny), Axter puts it on the record that Adolf Hitler was against the use of chemical weapons and even the atom bomb. As Savitri Devi said, Adolf Hitler was 'more sun than lightning', although we wish that he had been more lightning, that he could have won the war and thus freeing us from having to endure the darkness of this horrible modern age. But alas, that wouldn't have been our beautiful Führer. The man who as a young soldier fed the mice in his barracks and helped create animal and forest protection laws that were completely revolutionary in the history of man. Our golden souled Adolf Hitler who every night at midnight fed his beloved dog Blondi. A man who was a vegetarian because he couldn't stand thinking that a creature had to die to feed him. Our Adolf Hitler who detested every day of the war, not just because of its obscene loss of life, but that it stopped him from his true dream: to build and create, to make life better for mankind. We love and admire him so totally because he was the way he was: our Adolf Hitler -- nothing more.-Ed.]

Back to Interviews