Heinz Barwich

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Heinz Barwich (born July 22, 1911 in Berlin , † April 10, 1966 in Cologne ) was a German nuclear physicist. He was the first director of the Rossendorf Central Institute for Nuclear Research (ZfK) near Dresden and later Vice Director of the United Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna . After the Second World War, he was instrumental in the Soviet atomic bomb project. At the time he was one of the most internationally known physicists in the GDR ; In 1964 he fled to the west.

Heinz Barwich (left) in conversation with Robert Havemann at the annual meeting of the Physical Society of the GDR in 1958

Studies and PhD

Barwich was born and raised in Berlin-Lankwitz . In official biographies of the GDR it is said that he comes from a "working class family". In fact, his father, Franz Barwich, was an activist in the labor movement at the time and one of the theorists of anarcho-syndicalism . He wrote numerous writings on anarchism and on the Russian revolutionaries Michail Bakunin and Pjotr ​​Kropotkin and their ideologies.

When he was sixteen, Barwich graduated from high school in 1927. He then did an internship at AEG in Berlin.

He professed left ideologies in the 1920s and 1930s, and therefore later enjoyed particular confidence in the USSR .

In 1929 he began studying electrical engineering at the TH Berlin-Charlottenburg , where he attended lectures by the great pioneers of modern physics such as Max Planck , Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg , "to name some of the most famous". They may have been the reason for his change of course in 1930, when he switched entirely to mathematics and natural sciences until 1933 . He wrote his diploma thesis with Gustav Hertz on the measurement of Planck's quantum of action with the help of the photo effect , with him he also received his doctorate in 1936 on issues of isotope separation by the diffusion method, which Hertz worked on as a pioneer in this field at the time.

Activity in the time of National Socialism

Barwich followed Hertz immediately after completing his dissertation at the Siemens Research Laboratory II in Berlin, after Hertz, as a “quarter Jew” , had been withdrawn from his examination permit. This fate befell many scholars of Jewish origin in the 1930s who then sought their way into industrial research . However, the research laboratory had to stop its work on nuclear physics and deal with war-relevant issues relating to ultrasound technology, especially torpedo ignition. From 1934 to 1945 Barwich worked as a research assistant in the research laboratory of Siemens & Halske , which from the beginning of the war in 1939 dealt with work for the Navy to improve torpedo detonators.

In the Soviet Union

Through his preoccupation with the problems of the elementary separation process in a pump and the course of the processes in the cascade, Barwich made himself a comrade-in- arms with the nuclear specialists, who were brought to the USSR in Sukhumi in 1945, around Nobel laureate Gustav Hertz , Manfred von Ardenne , Max Steenbeck and others. As one of the few nuclear specialists, however, he voluntarily went to the USSR in 1945 , as he later describes: “On June 10, 1945, I decided to go to the Soviet Union. I was 33 years old, married, had three young children and a fourth was expected. I was also unemployed. So the decision was not difficult for me. "

From 1945 to 1955 Barwich worked as a nuclear physicist and specialist in isotope separation in the service of the USSR. He was temporarily housed with other German scientists in the institutes in the Ural region and in Agudsera south of Sukhumi ( Abkhazia ).

After the first successful atomic bomb test in 1951 together with Gustav Hertz and it was Yuri Krutkow the Stalin Prize second degree awarded the USSR.

Return to the GDR

After his return from the Soviet Union to the GDR, Barwich worked as a consultant for the German Academy of Sciences (DAW). From 1955 to 1964 he was director of the Rossendorf Central Institute for Nuclear Research (ZfK) near Dresden , which was founded in 1956 to set up nuclear research in the GDR. His employees at the time were Professor Kurt Schwabe and the nuclear spy Klaus Fuchs . At the same time he was a professor with a teaching position for nuclear technology at the Technical University of Dresden .

From 1961 to 1964 he was Vice Director of the United Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna , of which he was a member of the advisory team as a representative of the GDR. At that time he was one of the leading nuclear physicists in East Germany.

According to his own statements, Barwich had never been a member of any party, neither in the KPD, nor in the NSDAP or SED. During his research in the GDR he was a member of the National Council of the National Front , Vice President of the German Peace Council , co-founder of the Research Council and member of the " Council for the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy in the Government of the GDR".

Escape to the west

Nevertheless, he unexpectedly fled to the West in 1964 during the 3rd Geneva Nuclear Conference . He said that the building of the wall had robbed him of the rest of all trust in the “neo-Stalinist Ulbricht system”. He prepared his jump to the West in contact with the CIA , which assured him of help in escaping his family. During the escape, his son Peter and his daughter Beate were taken away by the GDR border guards and sentenced to several years in prison. Later they were ransomed by the FRG.

Barwich himself traveled from the conference to West Germany, where he applied for political asylum in the United States. During his stay in the United States from 1964 to 1965, he was questioned by the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

In March 1965 he returned to the Federal Republic of Germany. He died in Cologne on April 10, 1966.

His autobiography Das Rote Atom (reissued in 1970 and 1984) was published posthumously in the following year .


Barwich was married twice. His first marriage was divorced in 1955 after returning to the GDR. In 1960 he married Elfi Heinrich, who was then working as a specialist interpreter at the ZfK and later became department head at the adult education center in Cologne . His first marriage had four children, a son and three daughters.


In 1951 he received the Stalin Prize in the USSR . He also received the National Prize of the GDR, 2nd class for science and technology. Even today, his person is remembered with respect, for example at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf on the occasion of his 100th birthday.


  • The future belongs to socialism. With Brunolf Baade , ed. from the National Front of Democratic Germany , Nationalrat, Bureau of the Presidium, 1957.
  • The Central Institute for Nuclear Physics at the beginning of its work. With Josef Schintlmeister and Fritz Thümmler , Akademie-Verlag, 1958.
  • Nuclear Physics Textbook. Vol. 3. Applied nuclear physics. With Gustav Hertz , Teubner in administration, 1963.
  • The red atom. As a German scientist in the secret circle of Russian nuclear physics. With Elfi Barwich, Munich / Bern, Scherz-Verlag, 1967 (other editions: Europ. Buch- und Phonoklub, 1969, Fischer-Bücherei, 1970, and Fischer-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt 1984).
  • The separation of gas mixtures by diffusion in flowing mercury vapor . Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1936 (also dissertation, Technical University Berlin).


  • Paul Maddrell: The Scientist Who Came in from the Cold: Heinz Barwich's Flight from the GDR. In: Intelligence and National Security. Vol. 20, No. 4, 2005, pp. 608-630.
  • Paul Maddrell: Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961. Oxford 2006, ISBN 0-19-926750-2 .
  • Pavel V. Oleynikov: German Scientists in the Soviet Atomic Project. In: The Nonproliferation Review. Vol. 7, No. 2, 2000, pp. 1–30 (PDF; 144 kB) .
  • Eckhard Hampe: On the history of nuclear technology in the GDR from 1955 to 1962. The state party's policy on the use of nuclear energy. (PDF; 1.7 MB) Ed. By the Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarian Research e. V. at TU Dresden, Dresden 1996.
  • Wolfgang Horlamus: German engineers and scientists between synchronization, world war and cold war (1933–1948). Dissertation Humboldt University Berlin, Grin Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 978-3-640-11426-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Anarcho-Syndicalism. In: The Communist Construction of Syndicalism - Reprint Series. Mad Verlag, Hamburg 1973.
  2. The separation of gas mixtures by diffusion in flowing mercury vapor. Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1936 (dissertation, Technical University Berlin).
  3. The red atom. As a German scientist in the secret circle of Russian nuclear physics , Munich / Bern, Scherz-Verlag, 1967, pages 19 and 22.
  4. Hardwin Jungclaussen : Free in three dictatorships - How I experienced my life and how I found my happiness. Autobiography. trafo publishing group Dr. Wolfgang Weist, trafo Literaturverlag, Autobiographies Volume 48, Berlin 2015, p. 86, ISBN 978-3-86465-050-5 .
  5. ^ Dorit Petschel : 175 years of TU Dresden. Volume 3: The professors of the TU Dresden 1828–2003. Edited on behalf of the Society of Friends and Supporters of the TU Dresden e. V. von Reiner Pommerin , Böhlau, Cologne a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-412-02503-8 .
  6. Professor Heinz Barwich on atomic research in the Eastern Bloc countries. In: Der Spiegel of October 27, 1965, No. 44, 1965.
  7. United States, Delegation to the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy: Third International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, August 31 - September 9, 1964. United Nations, New York, NY, 1964.
  8. 100th birthday of nuclear physicist Heinz Barwich , press release of the Helmholtz Center Dresden from July 20, 2011.