I had just finished watching the intense Showtime drama “Hunters,” which dealt with a group of people hunting Nazis across America, when I began reading “Whitewashed” by Sandy Berman, founding archivist of The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. As soon as I read the synopsis and saw the similar theme to “Hunters,” in regard to Operation Paperclip, I volunteered to write a review.
I had never heard of Operation Paperclip and did not have a chance to research its validity after watching “Hunters.” Berman’s novel did a great job detailing this secret government project that brought more than 1,600 German scientists and engineers – many of whom were former members and some, former leaders of the Nazi Party – to the United States after World War II (1945-1959) to work on the space program. The project also provided the U.S. a military advantage in the Soviet–American Cold War.
As a result, the U.S. government “whitewashed” the past records of the German scientists and engineers so no questions would be asked about their elicit war activities.
Berman’s novel centers on the 118 former Nazi scientists and engineers brought to Huntsville, Ala., in 1950 to work on the space program. Wrapped around these factual recounts is a story of lost love and the truth behind the events of an alleged suicide of a Jewish student. This all led to the discovery of the details behind Operation Paperclip.
I am not usually a big fan of stories that consistently flash forward and back in time, but Berman was outstanding in paralleling the events of the past (1942 to 1950) with the events of 1968, when the story is based. As Carl Sagan once famously said “You have to know the past to understand the present.”
Once I started reading the book, I found it hard to put down. The characters felt true-to-life around the real historical events of the times. It left me with a hunger to learn more about Operation Paperclip and to understand the dividing line between science, with its race for technology, and the balance of humankind. Berman’s novel has me now questioning whether it was morally right for the United States to bring these individuals into our country while ignoring their detestable war crimes, without any punishment or accountability. It is sometimes scary to think about the offspring of these individuals living among us today who may carry the same distorted ideological thoughts of their predecessors. Let’s hope not.