Even sleepy weeks at the Olmsted Center prove to be interesting! While much of the office was conducting fieldwork in Maryland, I was mapping and continuing to research my site: Long Island (Boston Harbor: Long Island, not New York: Long Island). If you’re a history geek with a short attention span like I am, you too probably find yourself falling down a variety of rabbit holes while doing research. Lucky for me, Long Island has many rabbit holes to explore. I figured I should share with you one of my favorite rabbit holes which has to do with Long Island and Operation Paperclip (I prefer Project Paperclip, I think the alliteration is nice, however it’ll be many years before anyone puts me in charge of naming secret military operations).
As WWII began to wrap up, the US government began to address the question of what would happen to the alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Quickly and quietly, the U.S. military began to whisk away key Nazi scientists in the hopes of keeping them and their secrets out of Soviet hands. The military absolved the scientists of their war crimes in return for help in gaining a military advantage over the Soviets. The scientists would be given new names and lives, and be allowed to settle amongst the American people.
One of the places the freshly recruited Nazi scientists would end up was…. LONG ISLAND. RIGHT ON OUR CITY’S DOORSTEP. Housed in Fort Strong and just out of public gaze, the scientists were smuggled onto the island in the dead of night. Living facilities were staffed by German POWs so that word of the operation would not spread to the mainland. Here, the scientists held debates and read papers, the constant chattering in German would lend the fort the nickname of “the German Hotel”.
One of the most infamous Nazi scientists housed on the Island was Wernher Von Braun (shown to the right), the scientist who helped us put a satellite into the sky and *almost* won a presidential medal of freedom until a close advisor reminded the president that such medals were not to be bestowed upon former Nazis. Von Braun was known as “the Professor” amongst leaders of the Third Reich and had always had ambitious dreams of space exploration. These dreams were realized in his successful career in the U.S. after the end of World War II.
The next time you have a chance, take a look across the harbor and contemplate the hidden histories our country has. One of my favorites is that Nazi infiltration did occur, but not as the American public feared it would. We ourselves brought Nazis to the shores of the United States. The more you know!
A few sources to check out (I promise I didn’t make this up):