Peenemünde Interviews Project: Karl Heimburg 11/9/1989 (Tape 3 of 3) B

Web Video Text Tracks Format (WebVTT)


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Michael Neufeld: TAPE 3, SIDE 2 of interview with Karl Heimburg.

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Michael Neufeld: NOW, you, uh, at the end of '44 sometime, did you say November or December, you went to Lehesten?

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Karl Heimburg: Yes, Yes, to Lehesten.

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Michael Neufeld: Um huh. And so, did you -- were you added on to a crew of people that had already been there? I mean, did you expand the operation? [[Cross Talk]]
Karl Heimburg: There was..

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Karl Heimburg: Ah, we were not -- we were independent of that group which was there testing the combustion chambers, and what we had in mind was to create a new test facility for complete vehicles, to check out things that might come up on the side of the tubes, in order to correct that.

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Karl Heimburg: You know, we got some information from the tubes side, that ah, that ah, had not functioned properly, and that had to be changed.

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Karl Heimburg: And of course we wanted to continue with that, and therefore we had in mind, OK, we build a test stand up at Lehesten; and I believe I had told you that I went to Berlin after we had the first plans, in order to get the necessary agreements with them to build it; to get the money for that.

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Karl Heimburg: And the answer I got at Berlin, which was, "Why don't you go on with your planning? We think your planning is pretty good." And my understanding was very clear, OK, you think the war is at an end, and that is the reason I asked the question, "Does it look that bad?" and he said, "It looks worse."

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Michael Neufeld: Umhmm. So you went ahead with trying to build up a new test stand for total vehi.. complete vehicles before they were shipped to the field. [Cross Talk]]
Karl Heimburg: Right.

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Michael Neufeld: So was your activity then mainly in planning?

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Karl Heimburg: Mainly planning. We had no other possibility. Planning. And then we got the order, you have to go to Oberammergau.

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Karl Heimburg: And with other people they named, such and such people. There were about 50. We left in motor vehicles to go to the south, and there were quite a few from the different groups of Peenemunde.

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They came from different places. And this was an order of the SS. The SS probably tried to use us as an argument with the Americans or the British. This is what I believe. I'm not sure.

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And while I was there, they found out that our design group - they were not too far off from Lehesten - they had found out the papers were not burned. And Riedel had stated --

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Michael Neufeld: Which Riedel is this?
Karl Heimburg: This was Riedel III,
Michael Neufeld: Yeah, Riedel 3
Karl Heimburg: Riedel III who came here to the United States, too.

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Karl Heimburg: And uh, we were three. And we got three new bicycles, and all bicycles looked alike, and I could only say, "How in the hell can you do that? You have three new bicycles and we go on the same trip. Everybody will see that. That it's very strange." And at that time you know, Lehesten and the other place were already occupied by the Americans.

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Karl Heimburg: So we had to go through the lines. And then we were held at one place for about two weeks, and then we left again. And uh, when I arrived at Lehesten, I was told that, "An American colonel is waiting for you." And I went. Believe I mentioned that to you before.

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Karl Heimburg: I visited him and said, "I am so and so," and he was really surprised when I mentioned that, and said, "Where do you stay?" I said I stayed in the local hotel. "Would you please stay there so that I can call you when I need you for questioning?" I said, "Sure. I'll do that."

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Karl Heimburg: And then I checked and found out the papers were burned. That was not correct, that the papers were not burned. They were burned.
Michael Neufeld: Which papers were burned?
Karl Heimburg: Drawings and eh..

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Karl Heimburg: ..the files. The files were burned... [[Cross Talk]]

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Michael Neufeld: Of Mittel..
Karl Heimburg: before the Americans came in.

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Michael Neufeld: Of Mittelwerk? or of Lehesten? [[Cross Talk]]

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Karl Heimburg: No, that was not Lehesten, that was the name,

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I do not recount the name right now, where our design people were placed.

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Karl Heimburg: We the testing.. [[Cross Talk]]
Michael Neufeld: At Bleicherode?

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Karl Heimburg: Not Bleicherode, no.
Michael Neufeld: No not Bleicherode? Not Bleicherode.

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Karl Heimburg: Bleicherode that was, I'd say the headquarters. And the different groups were located different places.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmmm hmm.

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Karl Heimburg: Ok, it will come to my mind. Anyhow, I'll check that it was not more than five miles away from Lehesten, where they were located, where Riedel was located with his group.

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Karl Heimburg: And he could prove to me that he had burned the files. So I do not now how that was, uh, who made the mistake to say, they didn't burn the files.

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Michael Neufeld: Umhuh. There are a lot of questions I have about those details, but first let me backtrack.

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Michael Neufeld: You stayed in, you stayed in Lehesten from December through to the beginning of April, approximately? Is that when you evacuated to Bavaria?

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Karl Heimburg: About, yes.

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Michael Neufeld: So in that time, you, you only worked on paper studies?

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Karl Heimburg: When did the Russians come into Lehesten, do you know that?

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Michael Neufeld: Oh, that wasn't until June or July, July probably.

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Karl Heimburg: July. OK, I know it was summer time.

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Karl Heimburg: When we were then evacuated by the Americans.

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Michael Neufeld: Yeah But I mean I'm talking about before the war is over.

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Karl Heimburg: Yeah, right, right.

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Michael Neufeld: Before the war is over, you worked in Lehesten for a few months. [[Cross Talk]]
Karl Heimburg: For a few months.
Michael Neufeld: But you only stayed working on drawing board studies basically.
Karl Heimburg: Right, Only only studies.

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Michael Neufeld: And the Lehesten engine testing went on until March?
Karl Heimburg: That went on independent from us. Until the Americans came.
Michael Neufeld: Mm-hmm.

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Michael Neufeld: So that went on, I know that Mittelwerke shut down March 18 or something like that.
Karl Heimburg: That was probably around the same time.
Michael Neufeld: Yeah, and then and then the Americans didn't come for a while,
Karl Heimburg: Yeah.
Michael Neufeld: And nothing, and uh...

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Michael Neufeld: --but you were evacuated to Oberammergau.
Karl Heimburg: Yes.
Michael Neufeld: In that area. You stayed there for how long?

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Karl Heimburg: Oberammergau, out there not more than four or five, six weeks or so, before I gladly took that job going back. [[laughter]]

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Why were you glad to take the job going back?

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Karl Heimburg: Instead of hanging around doing nothing. Somehow, [[laughter]] I didn't like that.
Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. That's what you did basically after you got to Oberammergau, just hang around.
Karl Heimburg: Yes, that's right.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. So you weren't connected to von Braun and Dornberger, the group that gave up on May the 2nd. They were farther away.
Karl Heimburg: No. Again, this is a question you can ask Tessmann too. Tessmann was at the same place as von Braun, when the Americans came in, and uh

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Karl Heimburg: Tessmann was uh sent out to conceal files in the Harz Mountains.
Michael Neufeld: Yeah, but that was even before the surrender.
Karl Heimburg: That was before the surrender.

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Michael Neufeld: Tessmann and Hutzel, because of course, Hutzel
Karl Heimburg: Yeah you're right
Michael Neufeld: Hutzel, Hutzel wrote his book about, I've read Hutzel's book about that.
Karl Heimburg: Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.

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Michael Neufeld: But the thing that mystifies me about your story is, um you, at least von Braun and some of the others had wanted to save the central files of Peenemunde.

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Karl Heimburg: Yeah, that is so.
Michael Neufeld: You know, because these are the ones that were buried by Hutzel and Tessmann.
Karl Heimburg: Hutzel and Tessman, Yeah

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Michael Neufeld: Uh, why were you, why was Riedel and so forth, why was he out to make sure that the files had been destroyed, at Lehesten?
Karl Heimburg: Uh you know, each, each group had its own files,

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Karl Heimburg: and only the central filing system was to be protected, as I understood it, and separate filing systems should be destroyed. This is how I see it.
Michael Neufeld: Why was that the case? I mean, I'm not quite sure what it would gain you, one way or the other, from doing it that way.

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Karl Heimburg: I think they tried to avoid that too many separate files fell into the hands of the American side.
Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. They were concerned that the bargaining chip-­
Karl Heimburg: Yes, separate bargaining.

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Michael Neufeld: That they would have a bargaining chip of the central files that that not be undermined.
Karl Heimburg: That's right.
Michael Neufeld: So that was the main concern in burning the files.
Karl Heimburg: This is what I think was a reason.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. So you were told by, did you say it was Rudolph who told you that the files should be burned at that location or?
Karl Heimburg: No, no, that was not Rudolph. You know, we had our command system Bleicherode, and we got from Bleicherode this order.

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Michael Neufeld: Uh-huh. Which goes back to before the surrender, then.
Karl Heimburg: Yep. Yep.
Michael Neufeld: OK, so that was that. There was one thing you mentioned I think informally that we hadn't talked about. You said that you had

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Michael Neufeld: uh seen Mittelwerk once and it made an unpleasant impression.
Karl Heimburg: Yes, a very unpleasant impression.

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Michael Neufeld: Do you, do you want to talk about that?
Karl Heimburg: Uh, the working conditions underground were uh, very depressing. Let me explain it this way. And you immediately, when you see that, you ask yourself, how could you improve that? Could you? You come finally to the conclusion, no, you can't, because it is not un, un --

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Michael Neufeld: So it was an un-- the tunnels seem like a very depressing working environment?
Karl Heimburg: Very, depressing, very depressing.
Michael Neufeld: Was that because they were cold or dark or damp or all of the above?
Karl Heimburg: All of it. All of it.

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Michael Neufeld: And the, did you have much direct encounter with the prisoners, and the--?
Karl Heimburg: Not at all. Not at all. I-, the only one I had a discussion with was Scheufelen and I didn't even see Rudolph, while I was present there.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Uh, OK, so -­
Karl Heimburg: And this visit was not even a must, but it was an interest, you should have at least seen that once.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm It was really in some ways it covered a massive area underground, did it not?
Karl Heimburg: Oh It did. A massive area. A massive area. You know, they had started out and had constantly increased that, constantly.

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Michael Neufeld: And they'd added many other things there. They'd ended up producing jet engines.
Karl Heimburg: Yes, right.
Michael Neufeld: V-1s and other things inside the facility as well, over time.
Karl Heimburg: Yeah-yeah

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Michael Neufeld: Um, so you were, you had gone back and essentially uncontrolled, from Oberammergau all the way back to Thuringia again, right.
Karl Heimburg: Right. Right.

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Michael Neufeld: And you had gone all the way back there, been contacted by the Americans, and you were then removed from there when the Americans told you that the Russians were coming in?
Karl Heimburg: Ja, we were told, OK, we give you the occasion to get out of that area to the western side, and um the American army brought us to Saalfeld

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in the train. And the train brought us then to southern Germany. And there were quite few who said, no, we want to stay here. And I gave them the advice, don't, don't, get out, get out. "Well, how should our husbands know that we are not here any more but that we are in south of Germany?" I said, "That is something which will be arranged, so don't worry about that, but get out."

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. You're talking to, about the wives of--­
Karl Heimburg: --for example, the air force people whom we had, they were in uniform, and since they were in uniform, they were taken as prisoners and sent into some detention camp, and how should they know where their wives are?

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm
Karl Heimburg: And I knew that, I was absolutely sure, we get those people out of those camps and we did. And then we of course said, "OK, they are in southern Germany, they are not any more in Thuringia."

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Michael Neufeld: Mm-hmm. So you were involved in encouraging other people to evacuate when the Americans evacuated.
Karl Heimburg: Right. Right.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm,because I know that there was, in effect, for some people, they just were warned almost at the last minute. That uh, you hear these stories of, Americans came knocking on the door, said, "You gotta get out of here in 48 hours," or something like that.

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Karl Heimburg: Yeah, No. Uh, we didn't have too many. I believe there were about five who didn't want to go out, and I contacted them personally, that, please, don't. Get out.
Michael Neufeld: Yeah
Karl Heimburg: I convinced them.

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Michael Neufeld: Mm-hmm. So you were, then went to?
Karl Heimburg: I went to Bleicherode from there. I did not go to southern Germany. I went to Bleicherode, and uh in Bleicherode, there was a transfer from Bleicherode which was occupied by the Russians too, then to Witzenhausen.

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[SILENCE] [[background noise- "hello! --- hi, hi"]]

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Michael Neufeld: OK um, you were at Witzenhausen.
Karl Heimburg: At Witzenhausen, [[cross-talk]] and at Witzenhausen we put the group together which should go to the united States, and --

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Karl Heimburg: the first group was selected, and I belonged to the first group of five, and we were sent to Frankfurt and brought into a camp. I had mentioned that to you before. Uh--

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and then, completely unknown to us, the British and the American side, the British requested that they wanted to see the launch of a V-2,

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Karl Heimburg: and this was built up at Cuxhaven, and all of a sudden the five of us, we got the order, you go to Cuxhaven,and we met on the, on the way to Cuxhaven another group, by the way Rudolph belonged to that group too, and --

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we uh got vehicles which were partly destroyed and brought them into shape so that they could be launched, and I believe there were three or five launches, I don't even know any more. And then we went to Landshut and from Landshut we were shipped to the United States, and I was then at that time in the third shipment.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Which was towards the beginning, in the beginning of 1946 or something?
Karl Heimburg: No, this was in November, November '45.
Michael Neufeld: Uh-huh. Um, Did you question much the uh, the idea of going to the United States, or did it seem pretty natural?

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Karl Heimburg: Uhh, It seemed to me natural, in this way. Here is a lost war. This takes quite some time until everything is reorganized. So you are better off when you are not in Germany but you are outside of Germany, because I knew the company in which I was in, they would

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have a slow start until they would work again. So I figured you are best off if you are for one year outside, and we figured, well, probably one two years we will be outside and then we will come back, because the idea mainly was not to start a rocket business, but the United states was interested--

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Karl Heimburg: --what were the rockets like, how far can you use them, what can you do with them. And we had even started our second stage for the V-2 at Fort Bliss.

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Uh, but it never came to bear, because after two years, you know, then, or three years, it finally was decided, no, the United states will go into the rocket business too, and we would stay there.

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Michael Neufeld: Did you - So you went without any real intention of going on a permanent basis.
Karl Heimburg: No, not at all. Not at all. I was fairly convinced after two years latest we would be back.

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Michael Neufeld: Mm-hmm. Umm--
Karl Heimburg: But that was a personal opinion and everybody had a different opinion about that. But we all were convinced we won't stay there, we will go back.

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Michael Neufeld: Yeah. I'm not sure what von Braun thought, if that's true of him, but I got the impression that not everybody, would I mean, I'm sure there was a lot of question whether you would be able to stay.
Karl Heimburg: Yeah.

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Michael Neufeld: It seems like some people thought maybe they would want to start rocket development business in the United states.
Karl Heimburg: Yeah definitely [[cross talk]] I'm pretty sure, knowing von Braun, that uh he would like to stay in the United states and start again in the rocket business.

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Karl Heimburg: You know, that was his hobby.
Michael Neufeld: Yeah
Karl Heimburg: There's no question.

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Michael Neufeld: It wasn't just something that you had done during the war. It wasn't something he had done during the war, it was his life.
Karl Heimburg: He had quite, he had quite openly mentioned, it is a shame that we have to use it for war purposes, but it seems that to get further into development, we need to do it.

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Michael Neufeld: Do you remember him specifically saying that?
Karl Heimburg: Yeah.

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Michael Neufeld: At Peenemunde. When did he say that? You think?
Karl Heimburg: Uh, he mentioned that repeatedly, and I heard him say that, I think that was in '43. And I don't know if anyone told you that, you know, von Braun, Hitler was not convinced of the V-2, and since the war changed a little bit,

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Karl Heimburg: he was approached by Speer, and Speer then finally must have convinced Hitler that von Braun should tell him the story of the V-2.

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And Dornberger was the one who told von Braun, "When you come to Hitler, you keep your mouth shut about the possibility to go into space. Don't mention that. In the moment when you do that, he will throw you out, so don't mention that," and he did not.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Where did you hear that story from? Because it's very-­
Karl Heimburg: --by von Braun, too. He, he told us that once.
Michael Neufeld: In the United States.
Karl Heimburg: In the United states, yeah.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. But, I mean, it's very important for the historical record that uh you remember distinctly von Braun saying, during the war, at Peenemunde, that he wasn't happy that it was used for the military.
Karl Heimburg: Yeah, yeah.

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Michael Neufeld: Did that strike you at the time as a trifle risky, for him to say that? Or was it done --?
Karl Heimburg: It was very obvious to me that it was risky. And I was surprised that he mentioned that. But this was not a big crew. A couple or two or three people or so where he mentioned it.

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Michael Neufeld: So that, you mean, in terms of private -­
Karl Heimburg: Yeah, yeah.

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Michael Neufeld: Private testimony.
Karl Heimburg: Private testimony, yes.
Michael Neufeld: Private, private discussion and conversations.
Karl Heimburg: Yeah, yeah

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Michael Neufeld: You mean, it sort of social occasions or something like that? Or just inside the laboratories?
Karl Heimburg: I think that was inside a laboratory meeting when he came by. Oh, I should tell you that story. It's not, again, not anything---

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[[background noise]]
Michael Neufeld: As far as the, as far as this uh anecdote, or the statements of von Braun, he said these only among a few friends?
Karl Heimburg: Yeah.
Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. About -

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Michael Neufeld: --so he wasn't too careless about about who he made these statements to?

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Karl Heimburg: He was still. He was still, he was restricted, he did not say that to everybody. He told that to people whom he had confidence that they would not misuse his words.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, because that's very important, I mean. People have said that, but we have very little clear evidence,

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for judging his intentions, what he wanted, you know, and and his relationship to the, to the Nazis, [[telephone ringing]] you know, we have to have this kind of information.
Karl Heimburg: To the pleasure I give you one example --

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Karl Heimburg: uh -- oh I don't have that [[background noise]]
Michael Neufeld: You were just talking in conclusion about working with von Braun, and we all know that he had many brilliant aspects and talents, but.
Karl Heimburg: Aspects and ideas.

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Karl Heimburg: And I had once, confirmed, was confronted with a problem, and I was aware you could do it three different ways, but I was not clear in my mind which would be the best one, so I thought, why don't you ask von Braun?

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So I told him, "I have a problem and maybe you can help me." He listened to me. Then he said, "Well, you make your own decision, and I tell you afterwards if it was right or wrong." [[laughter from both speakers]] Which was from his point of view absolutely right. "For that purpose I have you, why should I bother with such projects?" [[laughter]]

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Michael Neufeld: But that wasn't entirely pleasant for you.
Karl Heimburg: No, not at all. [[laughter]]
Michael Neufeld: You were afraid you'd make the wrong decision from his standpoint.
Karl Heimburg: Right. Right, right right.

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You know, after the fact you always have it easy to judge. [[laughter]] But on the other hand, you know, von Braun was really clear, too, look, this is your problem, this is not my problem, I have my own problems, you solve your own problems. And he expressed that more than once very clearly.

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Michael Neufeld: But he seemed to know what was going on in every single area.
Karl Heimburg: Yes. He did.
Michael Neufeld: And you did not see that as interference?
Karl Heimburg: What he did not like at all [[cross-talk]] was, "Well, resolve that problem in a committee." He did not like to hear that.

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"You are responsible, not the committee, committee is never responsible, one man is responsible." And this is in my opinion a necessity, too,

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Karl Heimburg: --so that people cannot conceal themselves behind a screen -- uh-uh, that's your responsibility. I work the same way.

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Michael Neufeld: Mm-hmm. You think that you uh learned something from his management concept?
Karl Heimburg: Oh, definitely. Definitely I learned a few things.

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As I have mentioned, when you work on the government side, do not come out with the real figures. You lose, you lose the project before you have started it. He had taught me that in Germany, and that was true here in the states as it was in Germany.

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. But uh, his command over all areas, I know a number of people said that firstly he had command over all the different aspects, and secondly he talked to everybody from the top to the bottom.

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Michael Neufeld: Right down to the mechanic.
Karl Heimburg: He did. And that was something which some people didn't like at all, and I can understand that. You know, when you are for example head of the design,

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and he talks with the designer without your knowledge, and you come to the designer and you discuss it and you say, "OK, let's do it in such and such a way," and the designer tells you, "Von, Braun, Von Braun told me differently."

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That of course is something you don't like, and you can say,"You, von Braun, when you make such a decision, let me know. Not that I learn that from a designer." And uh,you may have heard the name of Raithel. Raithel was head of the design for some time here, and he left because he couldn't stand that.

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Michael Neufeld: What was, how do you spell his name?
Karl Heimburg: R, a, i, t, h, e, l [[spelled out]]

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm. Raithel.
Karl Heimburg: Raithel.

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Karl Heimburg: So this was let's say, something you as supervisor didn't like if he did that. I didn't experience that so I could not complain about that, but Raithel told me that "this is the reason that I leave." If that only happens once in a year, you can stand that, that's alright, but if that happens repeatedly--

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Michael Neufeld: Mmm-hmm, he'd tell, what do you mean, he told one person one thing and one person another?
Karl Heimburg: No, no, he told the designer how to do that, but he did not tell the boss that he had made the decision,

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Michael Neufeld: Yeah
Karl Heimburg: and of course, when you come to the designer, you you are being told well "von Braun told me so and so."

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Michael Neufeld: Yeah, so this was one of the disadvantages of von Braun's management style.
Karl Heimburg: Ok, that's the reason I mentioned that.

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Michael Neufeld: He had many advantages as well.
Karl Heimburg: Yes, right.
Michael Neufeld: OK. Thank you very much.