Wernher von Braun

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Wernher von Braun at the Marshall Space Flight Center , 1964

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (born March 23, 1912 in Wirsitz , Province of Posen , German Reich ; † June 16, 1977 in Alexandria , Virginia , United States ) was a German and later American rocket engineer, a pioneer of rocket weapons and space travel .

Due to his pioneering work, he enjoyed a high reputation first as a leading designer of the first high-performance, fully functional liquid rocket, Aggregat 4 ("V2"), and later because of his managerial work in the construction of launch vehicles for NASA missions.

childhood and education

Wernher von Braun's father was the East Prussian landowner and later Reich Minister of Food, Magnus Freiherr von Braun . His mother was Emmy von Braun, daughter of Wernher von Quistorps (1856–1908), a landowner and member of the Prussian manor house . Wernher's older brother Sigismund (1911–1998) worked in the Foreign Office from 1936 in the Third Reich and also in what would later become the Federal Republic of Germany. The younger brother Magnus (1919–2003) became an organic chemistry engineer.

As a child, von Braun was interested in music and science. For confirmation , his mother gave him an astronomical telescope in 1925 , whereupon he observed space with fascination and developed a passion for astronomy. At the age of 13 he experimented with fireworks rockets in the Berlin zoo . When he got his hands on the book The Rocket for Planetary Spaces by Hermann Oberth , the utopias that he had taken from the adventure novels by Jules Verne and Kurd Laßwitz became real for him. In order to be able to understand the specialist book, he tried to improve his previously mediocre performance in mathematics. He was also inspired by the book The Problem of Navigating Space by the Slovenian astronomer and astrophysicist Herman Potočnik .

von Braun's high school diploma, 1930

He attended the French grammar school in Berlin until 1925 and then lived in the boarding school of the Hermann Lietz School at Ettersburg Castle near Weimar . From 1928 he attended the newly founded Hermann Lietz School in Spiekeroog . Due to good performance, he was able to take the Abitur examination there early at the age of 18 in April 1930 .

In 1928 he became a member of the Space Agency . After graduating from high school, he worked in his spare time with Hermann Oberth and members of this association at the rocket airfield in Berlin in Reinickendorf on rockets with liquid engines . In 1926, Robert Goddard had already successfully launched a liquid rocket.

After finishing school, he did a six-month internship at the Borsig locomotive factory in Berlin, which was required for an engineering degree. There he learned "that there is absolutely nothing that exceeds precise, accomplished and thorough work," as he recalled decades later.

Von Braun studied from 1930 at the Technical University in Berlin-Charlottenburg and in the first half of 1931 for one semester at the ETH Zurich . In 1931 he learned to fly at the Grunau gliding school , which was managed by Wolf Hirth . In November 1932 he passed his examination for the intermediate diploma in mechanical engineering at the TH Berlin. He then changed his subject and enrolled on November 30th at the University of Berlin in physics. On December 1, 1932, on the initiative of the department head of Department 1 of the Army Weapons Office Testing, Ernst Ritter von Horstig, he joined the Army Weapons Office's rocket program as a civilian employee . In the same year he was elected to the board of the association for space travel. He carried out his experiments on the premises of the Army Research Center in Kummersdorf about 30 kilometers south of Berlin . In 1934 he received his doctorate from the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin. phil. "Constructive theoretical and experimental contributions to the problem of liquid rocket" with a work on his doctorate . The dissertation and its original title were secret and only became generally accessible in 1959/1960 through the publication of a special issue of the DGRR . In the same year 1934, unit 2 designed by Braun , started from the North Sea island of Borkum , reached an altitude of 2,200 meters. In the years 1935–1937, von Braun developed a rocket engine in close cooperation with the Ernst Heinkels team and the test pilot Erich Warsitz , which was first tested in Kummersdorf and later in Neuhardenberg on an aircraft, a Heinkel He 112 .

Career in the time of National Socialism


A4 rocket on the premises of the HVA Peenemünde , March 1942
Memorial plaque for prisoners killed in the Peenemünde satellite camp,
Greifswald new cemetery . At least 171 prisoners who died between November 1943 and September 1944 were cremated in the Greifswald crematorium ; other bodies were buried on site.

At the end of 1935 it became more and more clear that the area in Kummersdorf was unsuitable to continue to house the rapidly expanding missile program. To test the new, significantly larger missiles, a test zone of several hundred square kilometers was required, for which only the Baltic Sea was considered. The air force and army agreed to set up a joint research facility on the island of Usedom .

From 1937, von Braun was the technical director of the new Peenemünde Army Research Center (HVP). Among other things, he was in charge of the development of the unit 4 , called A4 for short, the first large rocket with liquid fuel. From August 1943, after Operation Hydra's bombing raid on Peenemünde, series production of the rocket was relocated to other locations in the German Reich and named V2 (retaliation weapon 2) after its first use in London in September 1944 . The unit 4 was the first operational surface-to-surface rocket with a liquid propulsion system. Another new feature of this rocket was the ability to follow the flight path with a gyro system and to stabilize it with actively controlled thrusters and air rudders and to automatically compensate for deviations.

In 1942 a prototype exceeded a summit height of more than 80 km for the first time, in 1945 around 200 km were reached. According to the definition of the International Aeronautical Association (FAI), the Aggregate 4 rocket was the first man-made object in space by reaching an altitude of over 100 km.

In Peenemünde there was a satellite concentration camp from June 1943 . There was also a second concentration camp , a prisoner of war camp in Karlshagen and the camp near Trassenheide , which housed a total of 1,400 prisoners. There were also over 3,000 " Eastern workers " from Poland and the Soviet Union. Von Braun himself is quoted in the minutes of a meeting on August 25, 1943: "The workforce for [...] middle and rear production could be brought from prisoner camp F1."

In a memo from April 16, 1943, the person responsible for building the A4 factory, Arthur Rudolph , later director of the Saturn V development program , mentioned the extremely poor living and working conditions of the forced laborers , including many Eastern workers and French . HVP manager Walter Dornberger stated in the minutes of the meeting dated August 4, 1943 that he signed the number of HVP forced laborers: "The ratio of German workers to concentration camp prisoners should be 1:15, at most 1:10".

The British tried to destroy the HVP with " Operation Hydra " on the night of August 17-18, 1943. The main targets also included killing the scientists in their accommodations. Von Braun was able to save himself in a bunker.

Entanglement in National Socialist politics

Wernher von Braun in Peenemünde , spring 1941

On November 12, 1937, Wernher von Braun applied for membership of the National Socialist German Workers' Party , to which he was accepted on December 1, 1938 with the party number 5,738,692. According to various sources, this party membership was retroactive to May 1, 1937.

On May 1, 1940, Wernher von Braun became a member of the General SS , where he received SS number 185.068. He was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer on June 28, 1943. According to Bernd Diroll's "Personal Lexicon of the NSDAP", he joined the Schutzstaffel on November 1, 1933, where he already had the SS no. exhibited. According to Diroll, von Braun was accepted back into the SS in 1940 as SS-Untersturmführer . Ulli Kulke's “Space Striker : Wernher von Braun and the Race to the Moon” notes on p. 86 that Wernher von Braun belonged to the student riding school of the SS in Berlin-Halensee between autumn 1933 and summer 1934, that he was a member of the riding school. SS was. Volkhard Bode and Gerhard Kaiser also give in their book “Raketenspuren. Gunsmiths and Military Base Peenemünde ”(p. 46) states that von Braun was an SS candidate from November 1, 1933 . Accordingly, it was actually a question of a re-entry of the Brauns in the SS in 1940, which also the SS number for 1940, which was low should explain. The seniority list of the SS (SS-Obersturmbannführer and SS-Sturmbannführer) published on October 1, 1944 lists him under serial number 3.230, where he was on the staff of the Baltic Sea Section. His SS membership was unknown to the public for a long time, and rumors were little believed. This became known to the general public only after his death, although before that he wore his SS uniform sporadically and regularly in the last months of the war in order to protect himself against the increasing distrust of Kammler and other SS officials, while Dornberger's staff from Peenemünde followed suit in February 1945 Bleicherode and was evacuated to Oberammergau in April 1945 .

With the development of the unit 4, he had created a weapon that could bring a ton of explosives to its destination with unprecedented range and speed. The accuracy was always so low that it was primarily only suitable as a terror weapon against the civilian population. This later led to serious allegations against von Braun, as he should have been aware of this fact during development. Nevertheless, he not only continued the work, but continued to campaign massively for the potential of missiles.

During one of these advertising visits by Brauns to the Fuehrer's headquarters in Wolfsschanze in East Prussia , Hitler personally awarded him the title of professor. Von Braun said: “After my conversation with Hitler, I happened to see that Speer was discussing something with him - behind the scenes, as it were. A few moments later, Hitler stepped up to me, held out his hand and said: Professor, I would like to congratulate you on your success. "

In February 1944 von Braun was summoned to Heinrich Himmler's office . Himmler wanted to secure influence over the A4, which von Braun rejected. On the night of March 21-22, 1944, von Braun was arrested by the Gestapo together with Helmut Gröttrup , Klaus Riedel and his brother Magnus at the instigation of Himmler . They were accused of betrayal and degradation of military strength as well as von Braun personally preparing to flee to England , which could be punished with the death penalty. It was only because of its special importance in the missile program that it was released again after Dornberger intervened with Wilhelm Keitel and with the HVP defense officer Major Hans Georg Klamroth with Albert Speer, with Hitler's intervention .

On October 29, 1944, von Braun and Walter Dornberger were awarded the Knight's Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords after using the A4, now known as V2, on the western front .


Main tunnel of the tunnel system in Kohnstein near Niedersachswerfen , V2 drive units in the production of the Mittelwerk , 1945

On the night of August 17-18, 1943, the HVA Peenemünde was bombed in the course of " Operation Hydra ". In order to protect the production of the A4 from further bomb attacks and to keep it as secret as possible, it should be moved underground. As a result, a new subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp with the cover name " Dora Labor Camp " was set up on the southern edge of the Harz Mountains. The prisoners of the concentration camp were used by the SS, under inhumane conditions, in the tunnel system in Kohnstein mainly in tunneling and in the underground works of Mittelwerk GmbH . In Mittelbau-Dora, series production of the A4 has now also taken place. This period of Braun's life is also viewed very critically by many historians, as he could hardly deny responsibility for this production. Others accuse him at least of opportunism .

In a letter dated November 12, 1943, he requested the number of 1350 workers, which at the time always meant concentration camp prisoners. Some inmates of the concentration camp also later testified that they had seen him visiting the workplaces. It is assumed that there will be five to twenty stays at the Mittelwerk. Von Braun gave these numbers in a court case on October 14, 1947 in Texas. Von Braun himself stated that he did not know about the misery of the forced laborers and was not responsible for their use. However, he reported in an interview in 1969 that he had been to the Mittelwerk himself: “When the blasting work for the expansion had already started, but production had not yet started […] at that time, some prisoners were housed in these tunnels. I went through these temporary accommodations with the visiting group of visitors. ”He also admitted that the, literally,“ hungry figures ”were in a“ pitiful state ”, impressions that“ would weigh heavily on the soul of any decent man ” . According to his own account, he was ashamed at the time that things like this were possible in Germany, even in the face of the war.

There is a letter from Brauns dated August 15, 1944 to Albin Sawatzki , who was responsible for planning and controlling the A4 production. This proves that von Braun was in Buchenwald concentration camp and selected prisoners there himself. Many reports and documents speak for his involvement in the processes in Mittelbau-Dora. In Adam Cabala's experience report: “[…] the German scientists with Prof. Wernher von Braun at the helm also saw everything every day. When they walked down the corridors, they saw the labor of the prisoners, their hard work and their torment. During his frequent presence in Dora, Prof. Wernher von Braun never protested against this cruelty and bestiality. Even the sight of the dead did not move him: In a small area next to the ambulance booth, heaps of inmates who had tortured to death by the yoke and the terror of the vengeful overseers lay in heaps. [...] But Prof. Wernher von Braun passed it, so close that he almost touched the corpses ”.

Von Braun lived temporarily in Bleicherode in 1944 (20 kilometers from the Mittelbau-Dora camp), the Bleicherode subcamp started on October 26, 1944. The Kleinbodungen subcamp opened on October 3, 1944, just four kilometers away in the neighboring town for an average of about 620 concentration camp prisoners. Around Nordhausen, only eight kilometers away, spanned a whole network of 40 subcamps of the Mittelbau concentration camp. In the late summer of 1944, his brother Magnus von Braun was transferred directly to Dora-Mittelbau, where he developed gyroscopes , servo motors and turbo pumps for the A4.

Dead inmates in the Mittelbau-Dora inmate barracks, taken on April 11, 1945 after the camp was liberated by members of the United States Army Signal Corps

In connection with the expansion of Mittelbau-Dora and the subsequent production of the A4 rocket and other weapons, according to the official count in the SS files, around 12,000 forced laborers died. According to recent estimates, the actual death toll could have been as high as 20,000. The use of the weapon claimed a total of around 8,000 victims, mainly among the civilian population. The V2 was thus the only weapon whose production claimed more victims than its use.

At the allied trial in 1947, in which only crimes were tried in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, von Braun was neither charged nor called as a witness. However, his brother testified as a witness there in the Nordhausen trial against the camp management of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp . Like Wernher von Braun, he was meanwhile in US service.

V2 service and end of the war

Victim of a V2 impact on November 27, 1944 in Antwerp
Magnus von Braun , Walter Dornberger , Herbert Axster , Wernher von Braun, Hans Lindenberg and Bernhard Tessmann (from left) on May 3, 1945, after their arrest by US troops

A total of around 3,000 V2 rockets were used, around a third of them against London and the same number against Antwerp , which with its port was of great importance for the Allied supplies. An attack was also directed against Paris, which had been liberated by the Allied forces .

The explosive force of all the V2 rockets fired together, however, was hardly more powerful than a single medium bomb attack in World War II. The effect was psychological because there was no defense or advance warning against this “ miracle weapon ” - but the actual military-strategic importance was minimal.

On April 11, 1945, US troops occupied the production facilities in Bleicherode , the Mittelwerk . One hundred A4 missiles were transported to the USA, where they formed the basis of the US missile program.

A few days earlier, the rocket pioneers around Wernher von Braun and General Walter Dornberger were relocated to southern Germany on the orders of Hans Kammler in order to escape the advancing occupiers. They then moved into a barracks in Oberammergau . The group later split up and Wernher and his brother Magnus came to Weilheim in Upper Bavaria . During the journey, Braun's cast had loosened, whereupon they had to go to a private clinic in Sonthofen .

Shortly before the arrival of the French army in Sonthofen, Dornberger had him brought to Oberjoch , where the Peenemünder leadership group had found shelter in the Sporthotel Ingeburg ( ). There they spent the last days of the war in the best weather and good food.

After the occupation of Upper Bavaria by US troops, the English-speaking brother Magnus von Braun contacted the US Americans, whose strategic interest in German missile know-how they could count on. During the war, the Operation Overcast campaign was specifically looking for German scientists in order to gain access to their knowledge. On May 2, 1945, von Braun and some scientists from his team surrendered to the US armed forces in Reutte in Tyrol.

Because of his membership in the NSDAP , the SS and his close involvement in the warfare of National Socialist Germany as well as because of the construction and construction of the " retribution weapon " V2 using concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers , von Braun's person is controversial today.

Career in America

First years in the USA

In the following time Garmisch-Partenkirchen became the center of many German missile experts interned by the Americans. There they were interrogated by various American agencies about the German missile program. The Americans did not conduct any further investigation into their past to any significant extent. On June 17, 1945, von Braun was brought to Witzenhausen in northern Hesse and supported the American troops in bringing the remaining A4 experts in Thuringia to the West before it was handed over to the Soviet occupation zone as agreed in the Yalta conference . He also helped identify parts and equipment that should not fall into Soviet hands. Von Braun remained interned under strict guard along with Walter Dornberger and other important knowledge carriers.

On September 12, 1945, he was brought from Witzenhausen to Paris and then flown to the United States with a 7-man advance party as part of the secret Operation Overcast . Their new home was Fort Bliss , Texas , where they were under the supervision of the US Army . At the end of 1945 / beginning of 1946, over a hundred more Peenemünde reached Fort Bliss, including his younger brother Magnus. One of their first tasks was to instruct the American experts in the operation and construction of the A4. In the period that followed, they regularly started A4 for test purposes from White Sands . It was not until December 1946 that their presence in America became public. Until now, von Braun was only known to a small group in the USA, which was to change drastically in the years that followed.

Maria von Braun (1963)
Von Braun family
Von Braun before the start of Pioneer  March 4, 1959

Surprisingly, von Braun got engaged in writing to his cousin Maria von Quistorp (* 1928) at the end of 1946. In February 1947 he traveled back to occupied post-war Germany by ship . During the entire stay he was under military guard, as an attempted kidnapping by the Soviet Union was feared. On March 1, he married in a Lutheran church in Landshut . His parents followed their son and wife on their way back to America, where they spent the next few years. The daughter Iris Careen was born on December 9, 1948.

When she first arrived in America, von Braun had assumed that an ambitious missile program would be launched quickly. However, rocket research was still subordinate to the military and was thus also affected by the prevailing demobilization . It was not until the Korean War that their financial situation improved. In 1950 von Braun and his team moved to Huntsville to take up the development of the Redstone . The Redstone was based on the aggregate 4, but was larger and more powerful. Their first test flight took place in August 1953. At the time, von Braun was responsible for around 1,000 employees.

Plans arose early on to launch a satellite into Earth orbit with the Redstone . For this purpose, several Loki solid fuel rockets , bundled in three stages, should start on the Redstone. Von Braun campaigned for the project, but failed before a commission against the concept of the navy. Like Redstone, the Loki was based on a German development, the Taifun anti-aircraft missile .

His second daughter, Margrit Cecile , was born on May 8, 1952. In 1952 his parents also returned to Germany, where they later lived in Oberaudorf ; his mother died in 1959, his father died in 1972. On April 14, 1955, Wernher von Braun and his wife became US citizens .

In November 1955, it was decided to develop a successor package for the Redstone, the Jupiter . The newly created Army Ballistic Missile Agency should be responsible for development. It was directed by Bruce Medaris , von Braun's superior. Although the plans for an orbital redstone were officially suspended, they still wanted to be prepared in the event of the Navy failing. For this purpose, the Reentry Test Vehicle was developed, a redstone with an upper stage identical to the proposed satellite concept, only the last stage was to be replaced by a warhead. The rocket was later named Jupiter-C.

Parallel to his work in the Army, von Braun publicly promoted the space program. In October 1951, he attended the First Symposium on Space Flight , a conference held at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Between March 1952 and April 1954 he published a series of articles in Collier's Weekly magazine . The articles were created in a panel of experts that included Wernher von Braun, Fred L. Whipple , Joseph Kaplan , Heinz Haber and Willy Ley . Later there were contacts with Walt Disney . Disney was able to influence public interest through its broadcasts and that was exactly what von Braun was looking for in manned space travel. On March 9, 1955, the show Man in Space was first broadcast, which was seen by 40 million people. This presented manned space travel to the broad US public as technically feasible.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. In the midst of the Cold War , the American public was shown the Soviet superiority in the field of missile technology. As a result of the Sputnik shock , space travel expenses were increased again. After the Navy's Vanguard missile failed to launch, a Jupiter-C launched Explorer 1 on February 1, 1958 . On February 17, von Braun appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the designation Missileman .

The Soviet success in America had shown the unproductive competition of the armed forces. For this reason, the civil aerospace authority NASA was founded in July 1958 . From the start, those responsible at NASA wanted to take over von Braun's department, which was experienced in rocket development. However, the budget would only have been enough for about 2000 of the 5000 employees, only when the financial situation had improved a year later, the takeover of the entire department was secured.


Wernher von Braun with US President John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1963
Von Braun in front of the engines of the Saturn V.

Von Braun and his team were officially transferred to NASA in October 1959. The decision to build the Saturn rocket (later Saturn I) had already been made . In addition, the Mercury program was promoted, which should enable an astronaut to fly into space for the first time.

On June 2, 1960, von Braun's third child, son Peter Constantin, was born. That same year, von Braun became director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, a position he held until 1970. The Mercury spacecraft was still in the test phase when Yuri Gagarin once orbited the earth with Vostok 1 in April 1961 . It wasn't until three weeks later that Alan Shepard followed on a redstone, with only a suborbital flight . Looking for an answer to outdo the Soviets, President Kennedy visited the Marshal Space Flight Center in early May. Here Wernher von Braun convinced him, with a time and cost plan in hand, to carry out the moon landing. Kennedy agreed. On May 25, President Kennedy announced the manned flight to the moon within the decade as a destination before the American Congress.

In the next few years the development was accelerated and the Mercury program was replaced by the Gemini . Eventually, up to 400,000 people worked on the Apollo program . Two years before the date set by Kennedy, the Saturn, developed under von Braun's direction, took off on its maiden flight with Apollo 4 in 1967 . The second manned launch in the following year ( Apollo 8 ) was also the first human flight into lunar orbit .

Braun's greatest success and the fulfillment of long-standing dreams was the manned moon landing in 1969. His Soviet rival Sergei Koroljow , the father of Soviet space travel , had died in 1966. It was only after Korolev's state funeral that von Braun found out about his existence and performance, as the Soviet space program was subject to secrecy.

From 1970 to 1972 Wernher von Braun was director of a newly created planning office at NASA, which was supposed to deal with the future of US space travel. Von Braun campaigned for a manned Mars mission . However, the program was discontinued due to financing problems - not least due to the ongoing Vietnam War . In addition, he pushed for technical simplifications of the new space shuttle system , which at the time was still much larger and more complex in planning.

Change to the private sector

Disappointed by the severe budget cuts by the US Congress, he left NASA in 1972 and became one of the vice presidents of Fairchild , an aerospace company. There he advocated, among other things, new types of communication satellites , which should enable a connection to remote areas.

In the first few weeks after his move to Fairchild became known, the company's share price rose 30%. His work often took him abroad. He met the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi , the Shah of Persia and the Spanish heir to the throne Juan Carlos . In July 1975 he became a member of the Supervisory Board of Daimler-Benz .

During a routine medical examination in mid-1973, an X-ray revealed abnormalities next to his left kidney. A short time later, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland , a tumor-infected kidney and surrounding tumor tissue were removed. After just a few days he had recovered from the operation and a few weeks later he was able to go back to work.

Grave of Wernher von Brauns, 2008

Two years after the first cancer operation, a colon tumor was discovered and removed during a follow-up examination . From then on, his steadily deteriorating health did not allow him to leave the hospital from November 1976.

On December 31, 1976, Wernher von Braun retired; on June 16, 1977 he died of his illness in Alexandria , Virginia , and was buried in the local Ivy Hill Cemetery (Section T, Grave Site 29). On the tombstone are the name, the year of birth and death and the reference to Psalm 19.2  EU : “The heavens tell of the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. ”Von Braun was a Protestant Christian.


In 1974 he held a total of 25 honorary doctorates , including from the following universities:


Wernher von Braun with Walt Disney (left), 1954

Wernher von Braun quickly gained great popularity in the USA, also because of the publications of his books and public appearances. He was best known for three television productions of Walt Disney : Man in Space (1955), Man and the Moon (1955) and Mars and Beyond (1957). In these short films made by Ward Kimball , von Braun appeared alongside Disney and explained his theories. Von Braun was a skilled rocket marketing strategist and managed to work with the Walt Disney Company . In the short film Man in Space , von Braun explains, among other things, the general functioning of the rocket and the influences that space travelers should be able to withstand. With 42 million viewers, the film is the second most successful TV show of all time on US television.

His book The Mars project influenced the of George Pal -produced science fiction film Conquest of Space ( Conquest of Space , 1955). And as early as 1960, his life story was filmed under the title Wernher von Braun: I Reach for the Stars as a US-German co-production with Curd Jürgens in the title role.

When von Braun rose to be a luminary in the US space industry, questions were occasionally raised in public and on television about his past in the Third Reich. Von Braun always distanced himself from National Socialism and also denied complicity in the National Socialist crimes in World War II.

The political scientist Rainer Eisfeld writes about von Braun's designation as a visionary, which continues to this day : "Braun profited from his adaptation to the zeitgeist, which pushed away the implication of his own actions by avoiding a vision." In his 1996 book Moonsüchtig , Eisfeld describes the story of the engineers for whom - under the direction of Brauns - technology became an end in itself and who denied their deep involvement in the barbarism of National Socialism to the last.

Braun is usually considered to be a brilliant rocket designer. More recently, his strengths have been seen in the management of huge military-industrial technical projects as well as the art of attracting ideas to government representatives and the general public. In the course of the American lunar landing program, there has been increasing criticism of the cost increases, which were fueled by political discussions over the Vietnam War and the race riots and which led to cuts in the NASA budget. Helmut Gröttrup , one of his employees in Peenemünde and later head of the German collective in the Soviet rocket program , confronted von Braun with the thesis that "automatic space probes can achieve the same scientific data with an effort of only 10 or 20 percent of the cost" and money better spent on other purposes. Von Braun justified manned space travel with the argument that it would "help humanity to immortality if they had to migrate from the uninhabitable earth to another planet".

Von Braun has made several musical themes:

  • The American songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote in 1965: Once the rockets are up / who cares where they come down, / "That's not my department", / says Wernher von Braun. Translation: Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down, "That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
  • The Berlin Krautrock band Mythos released a piece on the album Dreamlab in 1975 with the title "Dedicated to Wernher von Braun".
  • In 1987 Lawrence (Larry) Grossman performed the musical song A Pawn for Wernher von Braun on Broadway .

After the successful Apollo moon landings, Wernher von Braun continued to pursue far-reaching plans with great enthusiasm, including the manned flight to Mars . At NASA and also among the US public, it was not only met with enthusiasm. An editor of Reader's Digest commented: "Wernher von Braun would like to continue spending money like a drunk sailor" (quoted in Eisfeld ).

On the occasion of the 100th birthday in 2012, the so-called Peenemünde Declaration was published on the initiative of the Polish-German cultural forum Insel Usedom , in which the idealization of Brauns is warned and a "scientifically serious analysis" of Brauns' role in National Socialism is demanded. The first signatories include historians such as Werner Buchholz , Bernd Faulenbach , Anton Schindling and Thomas Stamm-Kuhlmann , but also politicians such as Thomas Freund (former state secretary in the state government) and Karin Timmel (district administrator).

Naming and renaming

In 1994 the Braun lunar crater was named after him by the International Astronomical Union .

The Wernher-von-Braun-Gymnasium in Friedberg near Augsburg, which has had this name since 1979, renamed itself after years of discussions, television reports, appeals - including from Minister of Education Ludwig Spaenle (CSU) - and demands from the Aichach-Friedberg district council. The school announced this in a statement on December 20, 2013. Associated with this were a distancing from the namesake and the statement that Wernher von Braun was no role model for schoolchildren. Since February 1, 2014, the school has been officially called "Staatliches Gymnasium Friedberg".

The Wernher-von-Braun-Schule in Neuhof near Fulda, a comprehensive school named after him since 1975, also decided after lengthy discussions to rename it. Since February 2015 it has been called the " Johannes Kepler School". Wernher-von-Braun-Strasse was also renamed Johannes-Kepler-Strasse at the same location.

The Wernher von Braun secondary school in Rheinstetten had this name for 35 years. In 2007 the decision was made to change the name to “Realschule Rheinstetten”.

Wernher-von-Braun-Strasse in Memmingen was renamed Rudolf-Diesel -Strasse in June 2014 . Some other streets in German cities are named unchanged after Wernher von Braun, although efforts are being made in some places to rename them. In Fürstenfeldbruck there was a multi-year renaming debate, but an amendment to several street names associated with anti-Semitism, racism and National Socialism was initially rejected.

The Von Braun paradigm is named after him.

Fonts (selection)

  • Constructive, theoretical and experimental contributions to the problem of the liquid rocket (= rocket technology and space research. Special issue 1). German Society for Rocket Technology and Space Travel eV, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen [1959], DNB 458755338 (constructive, theoretical and experimental contributions to the problem of the liquid rocket 1934).
  • The Mars Project. Study of an interplanetary expedition . Frankfurt am Main 1952.
  • Across the Space Frontier , 1952 Verlag Viking; (Ger. Station in Space. 1953; then under The Conquest of Space. 1958) Editor Cornelius Ryan, with Joseph Kaplan, Heinz Haber, Willy Ley, Fred L. Whipple
  • with Willy Ley , Fred L. Whipple: Conquest of the Moon , 1953 Verlag Viking (Ger. Die Eroberung des Mondes. 1954) Editor Cornelius Ryan.
  • with Willy Ley: The Exploration of Mars (Ger. The exploration of Mars. 1957).
  • with Willy Ley and others: Start in space. A book about rockets, satellites, etc. Spacecraft. 1958.
  • First Men to the Moon (German. First trip to the moon. 1961).
  • Reach for the stars. The meaning and possibilities of space travel. Discussion . Ehrenwirth, Munich 1962.
  • Space Frontier (German manned space flight. 1968).
  • together with Frederick I. Ordway: The Rockets' Red Glare (Eng. rockets. From fire arrow to space transporter. 1979).
  • as editor series: The knowledge of the present. German Book Association, Berlin / Darmstadt / Vienna 1968 ff.


- chronologically ascending -


Web links

Commons : Wernher von Braun  - Collection of images

Individual evidence

  1. among others: Michael J. Neufeld: Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War , Vintage Books, New York 2007, ISBN 978-0-307-38937-4 , p. 21; after the beginning of chapter 2 Sunny Boy "So when Wernher completed his confifmation studies [...] 23 March 1925, his parents gave him a present [...] Instead, at the behest of his mother, they presented him with a telescope . 'This was a hit far beyond our expections', she said a quater century later; he took up observing with eager [...]. In the year 1925 would prove to be the critical turing point in Wernher von Braun's life [...] a newfound fascination with the Moon, the planets, and the stars. "
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m Michael J. Neufeld: Wernher von Braun. Visionary of space, engineer of war. Translated from the English by Ilse Strasmann. Siedler, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-88680-912-7
  3. ^ Gerd Koischwitz: Six Villages in Swamp and Sand - History of the Reinickendorf District of Berlin . "Der Nord-Berliner" Wilhelm Möller oHG, Berlin 1984, DNB  871131145 , p. 198 .
  4. Wernher von Braun's speech to the school community (May 23, 1975) ( Memento of July 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive ).
  5. Wernher von Braun. In: The German Way & More. Retrieved February 29, 2020 .
  6. Christopher Lauer: Circumstances and requirements for Wernher von Braun's entry into the Heereswaffenamt . Berlin March 5, 2018, p. 15th f .
  7. Christopher Lauer: Circumstances and requirements for Wernher von Braun's entry into the Heereswaffenamt . Berlin March 5, 2018, p. 20th f .
  8. Philipp Aumann: Armaments on the test stand: Kummersdorf, Peenemünde and the "total mobilization" published by Ch. Links Verlag 2015, ISBN 9783861538646 page 53
  9. Secret dissertations in Kummersdorf accessed on February 6, 2020
  10. Mass grave at the rocket ramp . Historian Jens-Christian Wagner on Heinrich Lübke's role in the deployment of concentration camp prisoners in Peenemünde. In: Der Spiegel . May 28, 2001, ISSN  0038-7452 , p. 218 ( online ).
  11. a b c d e f g h i j k l Rainer Eisfeld: Moonstruck. Wernher von Braun and the birth of space travel from the spirit of barbarism . To Klampen Verlag, Springe 2012, ISBN 978-3-86674-167-6
  12. ^ Matthias Schulz: Rocket Jungle: Ascension on Usedom. In: Spiegel Online . May 28, 2001.
  13. Mass grave at the rocket ramp . Historian Jens-Christian Wagner on Heinrich Lübke's role in the deployment of concentration camp prisoners in Peenemünde. In: Der Spiegel . May 28, 2001, ISSN  0038-7452 , p. 218 ( online ).
  14. Till Bastian : High Tech under the swastika: from the atom bomb to space travel . Militzke, Leipzig 2005, ISBN 3-86189-740-7 , p. 222 .
  15. a b c The future needs memory: Wernher von Braun (1912–1977) , biography , accessed on May 19, 2018
  16. a b Volkhard Bode, Gerhard Kaiser: Raketenspuren. Gunsmiths and Peenemünde Military Base , p. 46
  17. See ZDF documentation: Der Raketenmann: Wernher von Braun ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.zdf.de
  18. SS seniority list of October 1, 1944, serial no.3.230
  19. Ulli Kulke: Weltraumstürmer: Wernher von Braun and the world run to the moon , p. 86 , Googlebook, accessed on May 19, 2018
  20. ↑ Name dispute about Wernher von Braun. In: Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial. Retrieved November 1, 2019 (a photo from June 28/29, 1943 with Wernher von Braun in SS uniform is shown).
  21. Ruth Kraft: http://www.raketenspezialisten.de/pdf/ruth_kraft_01.pdf. (PDF; 100 kB) April 9, 2011, accessed on November 8, 2019 : “Dr. I only knew von Braun in civilian clothes, mostly casual, always wearing the same somewhat worn felt hat or a sailor's hat. Only once, at the official May Day celebration, which was a compulsory event for all of us, did he stand, surrounded by Wehrmacht officers, some from Berlin from the Army Weapons Office, in the black uniform of the SS. "
  22. ^ A b Franz Kurowski: Allied hunt for German scientists. The Paperclip company . Langen Müller, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-607-00049-2 (295 pages).
  23. Matthias Schmidt : Albert Speer, the end of a myth. Scherz, Bern / Munich 1982, ISBN 3-502-16668-4 . New edition: Netzeitung, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-938941-00-6 .
  24. ^ Walter Dornberger : V2 - The shot into space. Story of a great invention . Bechtle, Esslingen 1952, p. 224–225 (296 pages): "After a visit to Stettin, in close cooperation with Major Klamroth, after a few days we succeeded in getting Professor von Braun to Schwedt and then completely free."
  25. Angela Fiedermann, Torsten Hess, Markus Jäger: The Mittelbau Dora concentration camp. A historical summary. Westkreuz, Bad Münstereifel 1993, ISBN 3-922131-94-8 , p. 100.
  26. ^ Gudrun Schwarz: The National Socialist Camps. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-596-30842-9 , p. 211 f.
  27. ^ Jan Friedmann: Mittelbau-Dora - The concentration camp from next door. In: Spiegel Online Kultur. September 11, 2006.
  28. ^ Jens-Christian Wagner: Production of death: The Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Wallstein, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-89244-439-0 , pp. 557, 558 (= Diss., Georg-August-Universität Göttingen 1999).
  29. Ulli Kulke: The two lives of the rocket man . In: The world . October 2, 2008, accessed April 24, 2016.
  30. Bernd Henze: Rocket research: From Witzenhausen to the moon. Why the Soviet flag was almost the first to fly on the earth's satellite. (PDF; 13.7 MB) In: Ostpreußenblatt. July 24, 1999, p. 20 , accessed on September 12, 2019 : “In the Collmann house of the colonial school, closely guarded by the US Army, 80 people from Peenemünde were initially killed by v. Braun quartered. "
  31. Wernher von Braun. In: Time Magazine . February 17, 1958, accessed December 15, 2019 (title page).
  32. Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun. In: Website of Klaus Nerger, accessed on November 23, 2012 .
  33. ^ 3rd Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium: 21st Century Approaches to the Use and Development of Space. In: NASA website, accessed October 25, 2010.
  34. ^ Art at Tegel Airport at frankkoebsch.wordpress.com, accessed on October 11, 2014.
  35. Erik Bergaust: Wernher von Braun. An incredible life . Econ, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-430-11301-6 , pp. 614 f . (Original title: Incredible Von Braun . Translated by Guy Montag and Ursula R. Zeitz).
  36. "I reach for the stars, but sometimes I also meet London" -Wernher von Braun as a pop figure on mdr.de/zeitreise, accessed on June 8, 2017.
  37. cf. Blurb of the quoted work.
  38. Christopher Lauer : A man wants to go up , in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, January 6, 2019, p. 39f.
  39. Ex-German Rocket Scientists. US rocket program 1969. (Video; 6:36 min) In: youtube. Thames Television, July 17, 1969, accessed January 29, 2020 .
  40. Tom Lehrer - Wernher von Braun. YouTube, accessed November 23, 2012 . See also Patrick Coffey: American Arsenal. A Century of Weapon Technology and Strategy. New York 2014, p. 191 (with lyrics), (digitized version) , accessed on February 20, 2017.
  41. Audio recording from 1975, Youtube
  42. ^ Dan Dietz: Off Broadway Musicals, 1910-2007. Jefferson, London, 2010, (digitized) , accessed February 20, 2017.
  43. Video with lyrics, 2008, Youtube
  44. Peenemünde Declaration 2012 on the 100th birthday of Wernher von Braun. Archived from the original on April 7, 2012 ; Retrieved April 1, 2012 .
  45. Friedberger Gymnasium abandons controversial names. In: Donaukurier . 17th December 2013.
  46. Wernher-von-Braun-Gymnasium discards names. In: Münchner Merkur . 17th December 2013.
  47. ^ Controversy over Wernher-von-Braun-Gymnasium “The name is absolutely inappropriate”. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . February 15, 2015, accessed February 10, 2015 .
  48. Gymnasium is renamed: Wernher von Braun disappears. In: Augsburger Allgemeine . January 30, 2015, accessed February 10, 2015 .
  49. Markus Bente: Change of name of our school. In: Website of the Johannes Kepler School Neuhof. February 2, 2015.
  50. Former Wernher von Braun School has a new name. In: Fulda newspaper . February 10, 2015, accessed February 10, 2015 .
  51. Wernher-von-Braun-Straße will probably also be renamed. In: Fulda newspaper. April 11, 2014, accessed December 11, 2014 .
  52. See address of the Johannes Kepler School in the imprint .
  53. https://www.realschule-rheinstetten.de/ ( Memento from February 12, 2003 in the Internet Archive )
  54. Developer of Hitler's wonder weapon: V2 inventor as namesake. In: taz. May 8, 2012, accessed July 1, 2019 .
  55. Rudolf Diesel instead of Wernher von Braun. In: Augsburger Allgemeine. June 20, 2014, accessed December 11, 2014 .
  56. ^ City of Fürstenfeldbruck refuses to change street names. In: Mercury. April 26, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018 .
  57. Test stand 7 table of contents of the rental company Salzgeber & Co. accessed on June 8, 2017.