How is Heisenberg Responsible for the Nuclear Bomb

On April 14, 1941, the head of America’s tiny Uranium project was sent a note that “a reliable colleague” had informed him that “a large number of German physicists are working intensively on the problem of the Uranium bomb under the direction of Heisenberg, that Heisenberg himself tries to delay the work as much as possible, fearing the catastrophic results… so he gave advice to us to hurry up.[1]”  Here is the shocker: the information in this letter was completely false! 

Werner Heisenberg actively worked to get more funding for “his” uranium project and had no desire for the allies to “catch up” to him.  Luckily, he wasn’t very convincing, and, even at its height only around 40 scientists worked on the project with around 1,000 slaves (as compared to ?? scientists and ?? manufacturing people 130,000 people for the Manhattan project).  In fact, when the allies found the German’s uranium setup in 1945 according to the leader of the allies in charge of it all it, “amounted to was a little underground cave, a wing of a small textile factory [and] a few rooms in an old brewery[2]”. He added, “It was so obvious that the whole German uranium setup was on a ludicrously small scale[3]”.  So why did the Germans fail so miserably in their quest for a bomb?  And why was a brilliant scientist like Heisenberg working on a bomb for the Nazis in the first place and why were the Americans so terrified of Heisenberg?  To tell this story, I am going to give a lesson on not only *why* but also *how* the nuclear bomb was created! 

I would like to start in June of 1922, 11 years before Hitler came to power when a graduate student named Werner Heisenberg went to Gottingen from Berlin to hear Niels Bohr speak.  Boldly, the 20-year-old Heisenberg objected to some of Bohr’s points and Bohr invited the young man on a walk after the talk and inspired Heisenberg on the poetry of quantum mechanics.  Soon, Heisenberg and his friend Wolfgang Pauli (as well as a visiting scientist from Italy named Enrico Fermi) were spending a winter semester on the Bohr theory in Göttingen under the delightful tutelage of Max Born. By January 1923, Heisenberg almost failed his dissertation because he was so bad at experimental physics[4].  The next day, Heisenberg went to Max Born and asked if he still wanted him as his assistant, which he did as long as Heisenberg took a course of experimental physics from Born’s co-worker James Frank.  After a few weeks, Frank decided that Heisenberg was hopeless and it wasn’t worth the effort so they stopped torturing Heisenberg but the two remained friends and Frank would turn to Heisenberg for theoretical help when Born wasn’t available[5].  Two years later, in 1925, Heisenberg told Born that “he had written a crazy paper and did not dare send it for publication.[6]” Born, “began to think about it day and night,” then, one morning, Born recalled, “I suddenly saw the light: Heisenberg’s symbolic multiplication was nothing but the matrix calculus, well known to me since my student days.[7]” For the next 6 months Heisenberg, Born, and a fellow student named Pasquel Jordan created Matrix theory. Then, mere months later a 39-year-old Austrian named Erwin Schrodinger published his wave model which, according to Schrodinger had “no genetic relation whatever with Heisenberg.”  In fact, Schrodinger wrote that he “felt discouraged, not to say repelled, by [Heisenberg’s] method of transcendental algebra.[8]”  Threatened, Heisenberg wrote Wolfgang Pauli, “the more I reflect on… Schrodinger’s theory, the more disgusting I find it… I consider [it to be] crap. [9]” (It turns out both methods work).  In the fall of 1926, Niels Bohr invited Heisenberg to Copenhagen to try to solve this dilemma.  While in Copenhagen Pauli sent Heisenberg a strange result: in theory the more he could accurately measure the position of a particle, the less accurately he could measure the momentum (mass times speed) [10].   Heisenberg used the “new laws” of quantum mechanics to derive this relation, now called the uncertainty relation.  This was even more hated by Schrodinger and soon all the international colloquia were taken over by this debate. 

Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg

By February of 1928, 26-year-old Heisenberg was so famous that he was appointed as the head of the physics department at the University of Leipzig where he and Pauli created quantum field theory.  This is when outside factors took over.  In October 1929, the American stock market fell off a cliff and the faltering economy dragged the whole world into a global depression, especially in Germany.  Desperate, many Germans started supporting either the burgeoning Communist party or a group of racists led by a buffoonish moron named Adolf Hitler. Heisenberg didn’t like either group and started to focus on his philosophy that was born in his days of the German boy scouts, called the pathfinders, which was a pseudo-religious paramilitary group dedicated to revitalizing the German honor and a rebirth of the chivalry of medieval knights where science was the “supreme form of truth and even morality.[11]”  This wasn’t a passing childhood phase as even in 1945, 43-year-old Heisenberg tried to justify his behavior to an Allied scientist named Gouldsmit where Gouldsmit complained to a friend that Heisenberg was spouting, “some abstract parallel or relationship between Christian ethics, a knighthood in the middle ages and the Nazi doctrine.[12]”  Not surprisingly, the pathfinders morphed into the Hitler youth movement. 

In around this same time period, 1930 or 1931, Heisenberg met a very young physics student named Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker.  Weizsäcker was from a prominent German family (his father was a diplomat and, eventually, the state secretary for the Nazi regime, and his older brother became the president of Germany in the 1980s!), and he shared Heisenberg’s “idyllic” view of German science.  In fact, Weizsäcker decided that Heisenberg was the apotome of German science and said meeting Heisenberg was “the happiest day of my life”.  Weizsäcker became Heisenberg’s assistant and lifelong promoter and henchman.  [Henchman might sound like a strange word, but I have a secret wiretap from 1945 when Weizsäcker worries that Max von Laue is “incompetent” and offers to “undertake a little intrigue[13]” to keep him out of Germany for Heisenberg’s behalf which Heisenberg adds his advice on how to perform.] 

Anyway, back in 1932, despite the fact that Hitler only won 37% of the vote, the president was so scared of communists that they made him chancellor and after the communists were blamed for a fire in February of 1933, Germany declared martial law and by the end of March, Hitler was able to pass a law to enact any law he wished.  By April 7th, Hitler wrote a new law (The Civil Service Law) that all communists and people of “non-Aryan” descent had to be fired with an exception for World War 1 veterans: doctors, lawyers, musicians, and, most importantly to Heisenberg, university professors.  Max Born (who was Jewish) ran off to the Italian Alps, and Heisenberg turned to the elder Max Planck for advice.  Heisenberg then learned that Planck had actually personally talked to Hitler but had gotten nowhere convincing him to keep Jewish scientists in Germany.  Many people noted how despondent Planck was after the conversation, but Heisenberg seemed to have gotten a different vibe (Planck was apparently convinced that Hitler was so pathetic he was not long for power) and wrote Born, “Planck has spoken…with the head of the regime and received the assurance that the government will do nothing beyond the new civil service law … I would ask you not to make any decisions yet, but wait and see how our country looks in the fall.[14]”  Born agreed to try to delay, but by July, Wolfgang Pauli, then working in Switzerland, found Born a job in Cambridge, and Born stopped waiting for Hitler to relent or be removed from power.  In November of 1933, Heisenberg learned that he was being awarded 1932’s Nobel Prize in Physics which he wrote Born that he was embarrassed to earn without him and Pasqual Jordan (who had turned into a Giant Nazi).  By early 1934, Heisenberg wrote his other mentor from Gottingen, James Frank, who had emigrated to Copenhagen, “I fear that a long time will pass before such a time of scientific enthusiasm will be possible once again in Germany.  But I want to hold out here.  That I will do everything in my power for our Gottingen, you may be sure.”

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler

At around this time, Heisenberg’s Italian friend Enrico Fermi had discovered something crazy.  A little backstory: at the time they knew that atoms had a nucleus that was composed of positive protons and neutral neutrons and neutrons had just been discovered two years previously in 1932.  Fermi had then tried to see what would happen if he hit the nucleus of the heaviest atom Uranium with neutrons.  His hope was that the nucleus would absorb the neutron and then the neutral neutron would decay into a proton and expel an electron in what is called beta decay.  Presto-change-o is a new heaviest element.  As the irradiated uranium had more beta radiation than normal uranium, Fermi concluded that he might have succeeded.  But, on a whim, Fermi put a piece of wax between the neutron source and the uranium, and shockingly, the radiation went off the charts!  It seemed like the wax slowed down the neutrons and slower neutrons created more radiation.  But why?  And had Fermi actually created a new element?  In 1934, Fermi published his paper with the exciting title, “Possible Production of Elements of Atomic number higher than 92” and chemists around the world were fascinated.  In Berlin, the Physicist Lise Meitner showed it to her friend the Chemist Otto Hahn and Hahn recalled that a co-worker was amazed that, “after receiving the exciting news about Fermi’s work in Italy… we could even sleep a wink before trying to repeat the experiments.[15]”  That might not have been enough to spend their lives but then a former student of Hahn and Meitner named Aristide von Grosse claimed that Fermi’s results were just isotopes of Uranium (meaning uranium with more neutrons) and not with more protons.  Hahn recalled “we felt bound to find out which of the two was right, Fermi on von Grosse. [16]”  Hahn and Meitner (who had jointly discovered protactinium atomic number 91) in 1917 were well placed to do these experiments but their work was cut short by politics.  First, in 1936, Planck was unable to get another term as President of the Institute, and the remaining Jewish employees were fired.  Lise Meitner managed to hang on but was even more handicapped by the regime so Hahn noted, “one constantly hears essentially only my name for an investigation in which Lise Meitner has participated at least as much as I have.[17]” In March of 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, and Meitner finally realized she was in mortal danger.  Luckily, Niels Bohr helped her escape in secret to Sweden and Otto Hahn gave her his mother’s diamond ring to bribe guards.  Just after Meitner reached Sweden, Hahn was shocked to find that when he hit uranium with a neutron instead of increasing the atomic number by one like they expected they ended up with some material with about half the atomic number (Barium).  Meitner and her nephew Otto Frisch (who was visiting her from Bohr’s institute), deduced that the atom had split (Frisch named this process “fission” after the biological effect where cells split).  Meitner then predicted this effect would reduce the mass by a tiny bit and produce a lot of excess energy from (E=mc^2).  Hahn published without mentioning Meitner or Frisch (although in his defense, he wasn’t allowed to include Jewish names in a German journal) and in 1944, Otto Hahn won the Nobel Prize without any mention of Meitner.  (Planck had nominated both Meitner and Hahn for Nobel Prizes in Chemistry multiple times in the 1930s, and for Lise Meitner alone for Physics after the war but to no avail).

In early February, a Czech Physicist named George Placzek, who had escaped to England, visited Bohr in Princeton.  Over breakfast, Bohr remarked that the confusion about fission was over and Placzek disagreed: Otto Hahn had found that neutrons with around 25 eV of energy were easiest to absorb, but they didn’t see decay at that energy, so what was going on?  Bohr jumped up and demanded that they go to “Fine Hall” where his offices were located after a five-minute walk, Bohr announced, “Now here this, I have understood everything”  

15 million Reichmarks vs. 500 million pounds sterling. Bagge “In Germany, we had to fight enormous battles for a couple of thousand marks, and, in addition, we looked on as our activities were bombed over and over again. Also, some of our leaders looked down on the matter of isotope separation and only tolerated it on the margins.”  On Friday, August 10, “The last days were for us under the spell of the press and radio announcements about the atom bomb. After we had learned enough, the idea took hold with our older gentlemen here that it was very important to compose… a statement to the effect that in Germany work was not done on the atom bomb, but rather on a stabilized reactor.. So an appropriate statement was written by Heisenberg and Gerlach.” 

On August 6, 1945, BBC reported “The Allies have spent five-hundred-million pounds on what President Truman calls the greatest scientific gamble in history – and they’ve won”

1958 Robert Jungk published “Brighter than a thousand suns” to paint the German’s actions as “living under a saber-rattling dictatorship, obeyed the voice of conscience and attempted to prevent the construction of atomic bombs” Which was from von Weizsäcker who said the exact same thing. Jungk later regretted his words, “That I have contributed to the spreading of the myth of passive resistance by the most important German physicists is due above all to my esteem for these impressive personalities, which I have since realized to be out of place.”

In 1941, however, the Americans took this letter at face value and within months, the United States started the Manhattan Project.  So, how did a brilliant man like Heisenberg get this so wrong and how (and why) did American spies take so long to realize the truth? 

“We knew that no one but Professor Werner Heisenberg of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute could be the brains of a German uranium project.  Every physicist in the world knew that.”  “We continued to fear that German atomic-bomb development might prove superior to ours until we reached Strasbourg” where they found that papers were not even labeled secret and nothing was in code!  In August 1944 or 1945 the Germans were about at the level that the Americans were in 1940!  Had a picture from the University of Michigan in 1939.  When Heisenberg was captured, he was offered a job in America but Heisenberg refused, “Germany needs me.  If American scientists wish to learn about the uranium problem, I shall be glad to show them the results of our research [18].”

Weizsäcker recalled after the war: “I had a long talk with Otto Hahn about this matter in October 1939, when I was quite active in the research.  I said to him: ‘Please join the Uranverien, not to help us, but to help yourself, because you will protect your Institute by doing so.  You will be doing something which is officially judged to be important for the war effort, and therefore your Institute will continue.  Your people will not be dispersed to other projects or to the front.’ He said, “Well, I think you are right, I shall’ but then he became quite emotional and said: ‘but if my work leads to a nuclear bomb for Hitler, I will commit suicide.”  “Hahn was not the man to make a bomb.  He continued to study radioactive substances, and that was not a great problem.”  According to Weizsäcker *after the war* Heisenberg said in September or October 1939, “Hitler will lose this war. It is like the end game in chess, with one castle less than the others.  He will lose his war. Consequently, much of Germany will be destroyed … [but] the value of science will still be there and it is necessary that science should live through the war, and we must do something for that.” “After a year or so, we realized that so much work was needed to make a bomb that we had no chance of making it.  From that moment on, the moral problem more or less disappeared for us. The question was just how to survive.” 

Atomic Bomb

When we think of the origin of the Nuclear bomb, we usually think of Robert Oppenheimer, and it is true that Oppenheimer was the head of nuclear research by Albert Einstein, and it is true that Einstein’s theories are behind how a nuclear bomb makes energy out of mass.  I contend that no other scientist is as responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb as Werner Heisenberg. 

“you cannot sup with the devil even with a long spoon”

Frish was inspired by Bohr’s prediction that the lighter Uranium 235 was responsible for fission, not 238U, so, he used a “gravity” method of separating isotopes pioneered by Klaus Clusius in Germany.  “In its simplest form [the method] merely required a long tube standing upright with an electrically heated wire along its axis.  This tube was to be filled with a gaseous compound of the element… [and] the lighter isotope would accumulate near the top of the tube while the heavier isotopes would tend to go to the bottom.  All simplicity itself.”  While waiting for a glassblower, was asked to write a report on fission for a chemical journal and started to rethink using uranium fission for a bomb.

“The captured neutrons simply disappear into the nuclei and are lost to the chain reaction.  To deal with this in a reactor, one embeds the uranium fuel elements in a matrix of a non-neutron absorbing material, such as graphite or heavy water.  Such materials are known as moderators.” So, a uranium 235 splits, and spits out fast neutrons, then the moderators slow them down so that they can make more uranium 235 splits.  But this takes time, “as if it took days for the flame in a stick of dynamite to move from one end of the dynamite stick to the other.”  However, Frisch wondered about pure 235U, so you didn’t need to slow down the neutrons with moderators, wondered how much pure U235 you would need.   Otto Frisch moved in with his friend Pieerls (whose wife Genia Peierls was described as, “a woman of nearly over-powering energy, which was largely devoted to hospitality” In fact, “several generations of physicists lived in the Peierls home in Birmingham.”  Frisch made a guess on what is called the cross-section (which he ended up guessing around 10 times too big), and got a critical mass of 700 grams! Not tons about the size of a ping pong ball.  “Of course, I discussed the matter with Peierls at once… we came to the conclusion that with something like 100 thousand similar separation tubes one might produce a pound of reasonably pure uranium-235 in a modest time, measured in weeks. At this point, we stared at each other and realized that an atomic bomb might after all be possible” [The actual number is 56 kg].  Wrote a report to Henry Tizard, “On the construction of a ‘super-bomb’ based on a nuclear chain reaction in uranium”.  Formed a committee chaired by JJ Thomson’s son, code-named MAUD because Lise Meitner had relayed to her nephew that she was OK to Maud Ray Kent.  They thought it was code but really, Maud Ray of Kent was Bohr’s kid’s governess. 

 Fritz Houtermans was a scientist at Gottingen and friends with everyone (Wolfgang Pauli and Rudolf Peierls were his best men at his marriage in 1930).  Houtermans was a communist and went to England in 1933 and then migrated to the Soviet Union in the 1935 but he grew dissatisfied with the oppression and tried to escape, instead, he was imprisoned by the NKVD in December of 1937, and then after the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, he was transferred to the Gestapo in May of 1940.  Max von Laue worked to free him and in August he was released and got a job in a private laboratory in the suburbs of Berlin (until he got in trouble for claiming that his tobacco was needed for the war).  In 1941, Houtermans read Weizsäcker’s report on neptunium, realizes it would work better with Plutonium, and got very, very worried that a bomb is imminent. Plutonium was much harder than it seemed.  First, you need a reactor (the Germans never succeeded on this) and separate the plutonium from the results, then the Plutonium tends to also make 240 Plutonium as well as the 239 Plutonium and the 240 is unstable and tends to spontaneously fission and then detonate the rest, called pre-detonation.  According to a scientific historian, “dealing with the above was probably the hardest problem solved at Los Alamos,[19]” which they solved by implosion.  LEAKS it to the allies which are put in the letter. 

Peierls noted that although Heisenberg was, “a brilliant theoretician he was always very casual about numbers” An author noted that, “Fermi, in contrast, was a great engineering physicist – the better experimenters usually are – as well as a brilliant theorist. Fermi could estimate the order of magnitude of things within, as one witness put it to me, a ‘gnat’s whisker’.  Heisenberg’s inability to do this sort of thing made him, as far as the German program was concerned, often part of the problem rather than the solution.” 

From 1939-to 1940 Heisenberg and von Weizsäcker also spent time teaching and conducting other research. 

“Heisenberg certainly set back the reactor project by his insistence on inferior designs of his own devising”

Max Born to Simon October 18, 1948 “Heisenberg is, without doubt, one of the most gifted men in theoretical physics, and nobody can resist his cleverness and charm. In regards to politics… the problem is whether to mix these things up with scientific questions.”

Critical Mass: So, some neutrons escape off of the surface and are lost forever.  “a ping-pong ball size lump of uranium weighs over 2 pounds” 

Heisenberg explained (1943) that, “it had always been the historic mission of Germany to defend the West and its culture against the onslaught of eastern hordes and the present conflict was one more example… perhaps, a Europe under German leadership might be the lesser evil” When Casimir objected especially because of the Nazis “Mad and cruel anti-Semitism” Heisenberg said he thought things would “change for the better once the war was over”!

“I have done that,” says my memory

“I could not have done that,” says my pride…

Finally, my memory yields – Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil

Moderator problem.  You want something light so the Uranium will slow down and not bounce, but not able to absorb neutrons.  Hydrogen is very light, but will just absorb a neutron to become a deuteron. (Heavy water).  Carbon seemed good, like graphite used in pencils but impurities of boron will “soak up neutrons like a sponge.”  January 1941 Bothe experimented with carbon but found that it didn’t work

[Funny note, the element after Uranium is called Neptunium as Neptune is the planet after Uranus, and the element after Neptunium is Plutonium as Pluto is the “planet” after Neptune.]  Plutonium 239 (94 protons, and 145 neutrons). 

“Sometimes we wondered if our government had not spent more money on our intelligence mission than the Germans spent on their whole project.” 

“in the beginning, the Germans were sure they were going to win the war anyway, so there was no urgency about building a bomb.  The Americans, on the other hand, were certain that the Germans were building a bomb and were ahead of them”

“We feel it is our duty to stay in Germany.”

“It seems quite clear that there is a very, very strong feeling that one must not risk any of you brilliant key people working for Russia”

Hahn: “we were cheating our government”

PAGE 231

Heisenberg, 1946 “Dr. Hahn, Dr. von Laue and I falsified the mathematics in order to avoid the development of the atom bomb by German scientists” <- TOTAL LIE

“I do hope Heisenberg is not now claiming that they tried, for reasons of principle, to sabotage the project by asking for such minimal support!” Albert Speer  “rather put out”

Goudsmit took van Laue and Hahn because he wanted them to be able to go back to Germany and not be kidnapped by the Russians and wished for them to help plan German science post-war.

German scientists wondered how to use this to improve their reputation.  They had worked with Nazis, some were avid Nazis, but they could say that they, unlike their American compatriots, refused to make a terrible weapon.  They could regain their moral stature.  Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker (protégé of Heisenberg and son of Hitler’s #2 foreign ministry leader).

At the end of 1935, the Nazis created the Nuremberg Laws which codified a series of laws specifically attacking German Jews from almost all employment and removing the limitation on World War 1 vets, and by the end of the year, one in four Physicists in Germany had been fired[20]!  Planck managed to fenagle exemptions for several Jewish scientists, especially in the Prussian Academy and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute where Planck was president.  Then, in 1936, Arnold Sommerfeld retired, and Heisenberg was floated as his replacement, but the Nazis did not like how many Jewish scientists were involved with quantum mechanics (and they didn’t see any nationalistic advantage of theoretical physics…yet).  In July 1937, the Nazi scientist Johannes Stark published an attack ad that called Planck, Sommerfeld, and, especially Heisenberg, “bacterial carriers of the Jewish spirit who must be eliminated just as the Jews themselves.[21]” Incensed, Heisenberg wrote to Himmler directly demanding an investigation into the accusations[22].  This didn’t work the way he wanted as Heisenberg didn’t like meeting with the SS (he even had his mother call up Himmler’s mother to ask Himmler to take it easy on her boy)!  Shocked, Heisenberg debated leaving Germany as he told Arnold Sommerfeld that he had, “no desire to live in Germany as a second-class citizen[23]” (Heisenberg seemed fine with staying in Germany where *other people* were second-class citizens or slaves or worse).  Anyway, in March of 1938, a powerful Aerospace engineer named Ludwig Pradtl, spoke up for Heisenberg, “not because of Heisenberg as a person, but because of his concern for German Physics” and less than two weeks later Heisenberg heard the good news that Himmler would support Heisenberg as long as Heisenberg didn’t get too “political”.  This seemed to change Heisenberg, and he became determined to do whatever he needed to do to remain a 1st class citizen in Germany.

Meanwhile, things became even direr in Berlin, especially for the Jewish people still living there.  Six months after annexing Austria, in late October of 1938, Hitler expelled all Polish Jews living in Germany but Poland won’t let them in, so the poor deportees end up stuck in no-mans-land between the two countries.  A few weeks later, on November 7th, a teenager living in Paris whose parents were trapped in that terrible situation, snapped and shot and killed a Nazi diplomat.  The Nazis then claimed it is a grand Jewish plot and for two days burn synagogues, trash houses, and businesses, and kill dozens of people in what was known as the night of the broken glass (Kristallnacht).  After that, they made a law forbidding Jewish children from attending school and sent 30,000 Jewish men to concentration (labor) camps.  Unable to defend anyone in science anymore in December of 1938, Planck resigned his secretary-ship at the Prussian Academy (after 26 years) and was fully retired from science work. 

On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and on September 3rd, France and the UK, and its allies declared war on Germany.  Also, the fascists had millions more Jewish people and other “undesirables” to deal with and the systematic oppression of Jewish people ramped up to more organized methods, for example, in November of 1940, they forced over 400,000 Polish Jews to live in a square 1.3-mile fenced enclosure called the Warsaw Ghetto where they attempted to kill all the residents by starvation.  The Germans also enslaved millions of non-Jewish Poles as slaves.  When Warsaw was finally liberated in 1945, less than 6% of the total pre-1939 population were still alive and living in Warsaw, where around 6% of the survivors were Jewish people in hiding.[24]  In June 1940, the Germans attacked Ukraine and attempted to kill all Jewish people in their path by shooting people in mass graves. 

At the same time as these horrific attacks were happening, the German government slowly learned that it was a bad idea to kick out all their Jewish scientists, especially their theoretical physicists, and the allies learned that it was terrifying that some scientists stayed in Germany, especially Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn, and Werner Heisenberg.  It started innocently enough in 1934 when Italian scientist Enrico Fermi

When Meitner’s and Hahn’s discovery of nuclear fission (and the corresponding energy of the process) was published in January 1939 the international science community immediately realized that nuclear fission could be used for power on a grand scale.  Not only that but it was proven that when the fission occurred it released more neutrons that could hit other uranium atoms causing them to decay in a chain reaction.  By August, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning him of the possibility of a nuclear bomb and advising that he fund, “a group of physicists working on chain reactions.”  By April 1939, the New York Times was proclaiming that “Scientists say [that a] bit of Uranium could wreck New York”.  However, pretty quickly the majority of scientists and political leaders decided that it would take tons of uranium to produce a bomb and it was not feasible.  On hearing from Churchil a Lord Hankey in England wrote in December of 1939, that he was relieved, saying, “I gather we may sleep fairly comfortably in our beds. [25]”  There was still research in England, America, and Germany but none of it was getting very far or was well supported financially.

Then This report turns out to be totally fabricated, very few people were studying uranium bombs in Germany and Heisenberg didn’t believe it was possible to produce a bomb (we have secret recordings of Heisenberg from 5 years later when he heard of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and he believed it was fake).  Finally, Heisenberg was not “delaying” work, he was actively trying to get the German government to fund “his” nuclear research as a good way to regain some power and prestige in Hitler’s Germany, and to keep his students from being conscripted to the front.  For example, in June of 1942, Heisenberg gave a report to Albert Speer, the Nazi head of War production, on “Atom smashing and the development of the Uranium Machine” where, “Heisenberg had bitter words to say about the Ministry of Education’s neglect of nuclear research, and the lack of funds and materials, and the drafting of scientific men into the services.[26]” Speer, however, said that he knew, “Hitler’s tendency to push fantastic projects by making senseless demands[27]” and decided to downplay Heisenberg’s words.  The letter about the “reliable colleague”, however, galvanized the Americans to take nuclear power very seriously.  The anxiety increased in July when Niels Bohr told the allies that Heisenberg had visited Bohr in Denmark and tried to get Bohr to do some propaganda for the Nazis (Germany had invaded Denmark in 1940), and terrified Bohr with his talk of nuclear power.  By December 6, 1941, the US started the Manhattan Project which had a startling number of refugees who had escaped Hitler or Mussolini.

Just a day after on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked America at Pearl Harbor and the US finally joined the war.  Hitler was very upset as his victory seemed inevitable without American interference and he decided that Pearl Harbor was a Jewish conspiracy! (OF COURSE).  Hitler also became “concerned” that he might not have enough time to kill every Jewish person in Europe with bullets and starvation and started the “final solution”  using Zyclon-B to poison millions in camps, a poison that was a derivative of Zyklon-A created by Fritz Haber at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the 1920s as a pesticide. 

Planck must have known about some of what was going on with the abuse of his countrymen, as according to the Holocaust Museum documents found that there were 3,000 camps and mini-camps in Berlin alone, and as Planck saw bombing in both Berlin and Kassel, he would have also seen camp victims clearing rubble afterward [28]

But Planck was aware of where he was and his part in it.  While in Sweden, Planck visited Lise Meitner and, according to Lise, Planck told her that, “terrible things ought to happen to us, we have done the most horrible things.” Meitner thought Planck was being too hard on himself and, after the war, wrote to a friend that, Planck, “used the words ‘we’ and ‘us’. And yet this 85-year-old man was more courageous in his resistance than all the others[29]”  Lise Meitner wasn’t as forgiving of her best friend Otto Hahn, writing him just after the war, “[although] you occasionally helped an oppressed person; still, you let millions of innocent people be murdered [and]…you bear responsibility for the occurrences as a result of your passiveness… Perhaps you remember that when I was still in Germany (and I know today that it was not only stupid but a great injustice that I didn’t leave immediately), I often said to you ‘As long as we [the Jewish people] and not you have sleepless nights, it won’t get any better in Germany.’  But you never had any sleepless nights: you didn’t want to see – it was too disturbing.[30]” 

When they were at the farmhouse Diebner wondered if there were microphones installed and Heisenberg just laughed, “oh no,” he replied amused, “they’re not as cute as all that.  I don’t think they know the real Gestapo methods.”  They also thought they were very important and that maybe Stalin, Churchill, and Truman were discussing what to do with them (they weren’t). 

Bagge got depressed: “I shall refuse to go downstairs. I shall eat nothing.  I shall go on a hunger strike” “Note: Begge is much too fat and a course of bread and water would be good for his health”

“Hahn was completely shattered by the news and said he felt personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as it was his original discovery which had made the bomb possible”

Hahn said, “If the Americans have a uranium bomb then you’re all second-raters.  Poor old Heisenberg.”

Hahn told Heisenberg, “At any rate, Heisenberg, you’re just second-raters and you might as well pack up”

Heisenberg “I quite agree”

Hahn “They are 50 years further advanced than we”

Heisenberg “I don’t believe a word of the whole thing.  They must have spent the whole of their 500 million pounds in separating isotopes, and then it is possible”

Hahn added “I didn’t think it would be possible for another 20 years”

Weizsacker said “I think it is dreadful of the Americans to have done it.  I think it is madness on their part”

Heisenberg “One can’t say that.  One could equally well say ‘that’s the quickest way of ending the war’”

Hahn “that’s what consoles me”

Heisenberg “I still don’t believe a word about the bomb but I may be wrong.  I consider it perfectly possible that they have about ten tons of enriched uranium, but not that they can have ten tons of pure uranium 235”

Hahn “you used to tell me that one needed 50 kilograms of “235” in order to do anything.  Now you say one needs two tons”

Heisenberg “I wouldn’t like to commit myself for the moment, but it is certainly a fact that the mean free paths are pretty big”

(Little boy had 64 kg – 141 pounds of enriched uranium)

….

Hahn “when they said at one time one could make bombs, I was shattered”

….

Heisenberg “We wouldn’t have had the moral courage to recommend to the government in the spring of 1942 that they should employ 120,000 men just for building the thing up”

….

Hahn to Gerlach “Are you upset because we did not make the uranium bomb? I thank God on my bended knees that we did not make the uranium bomb. Or are you depressed because the Americans could do it better than we could?”

Gerlach “Yes”

….

Heisenberg “I believe this uranium business will give the Anglo-Saxons such tremendous power that Europe will become a bloc under Anglo-Saxon domination. If that is the case it will be a very good thing”

Lesart =

The next day:

Heisenberg: “How have they actually done it? I find it is a disgrace if we, the professors who have worked on it, cannot at least work out how they did it.”

The scientist Jeremy Bernstein annotated the Farm Hall transcripts with the following, “For anyone who reads this discussion, and who has the appropriate technical background, the notion that the Germans had extensive knowledge of these matters, but which they kept to themselves for moral reasons, will appear absurd”

One of the issues is that as a theoretical physicist, Heisenberg was one of the best of all time but as an experimental engineer, he was… bad.  Like, really, really bad, and because of his genius in one most people refused to see it, especially Heisenberg himself.  Not because he was trying to purposefully derail the project, but because he was inconsistent and sloppy.  For example, Heisenberg was fully convinced that reactors would just automatically shut off once they got hot enough.  As an author wrote, “it is probably lucky for him that his reactors never went critical.  He might have generated a miniature Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.” “such an apparatus stabilizes itself at a certain temperature”

Heisenberg became invested in the “United States of Europe”

Heisenberg wishes to work on uranium but was more concerned about his wife and children. Bagge wanted to quit and was convinced that his wife was being raped by Moroccan troops but when he found out she was fine was then mad that his wife is expected to cook for French troops stationed in his home.  Also, they were very worried that the German “masses” would consider them traitors but Heisenberg thought they could be OK if they made an arrangement and “appear to accept this control with fury and gnashing of teeth.”    


[1] Goldberg, S “Inventing a Climate of Opinion: Vannevar Bush and the Decision to Build the Bomb” Isis Vo. 83 No. 3  (September 1992) p. 435

[2] Gouldsmit, S “Nazis’ Atomic Secrets” Life Magazine (Oct 20, 1947) p. 131

[3] Gouldsmit, S “Nazis’ Atomic Secrets” Life Magazine (Oct 20, 1947) p. 131

[4] Described in Kleinknecht, K Einstein and Heisenberg (2019) p. 27

[5] As relayed in Lemmerich, J Science and Conscience: The Life of James Franck p. 97

[6] Found in Pais, A Niels Bohr’s Times (1991) p. 278

[7] Found in Pais, A Niels Bohr’s Times (1991) p. 278

[8] Schrodinger, E (1926) found in Miller, A 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession (2010) p. 96

[9] Schrodinger, E (1926) found in Miller, A 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession (2010) p. 96

[10] Schrodinger, E (1926) found in Miller, A 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession (2010) p. 96

[11] Rose, P Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project (1998) p.242

[12] Goudsmit to Irving (August 4, 1966) Found in Rose, P Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project (1998) p. 243

[13] Weizsäcker to Heisenberg conversation (1945) found in p. 231

[14] Max Planck to Von Laue (1933) Cassidy, D Beyond Uncertainty (2010)

[15] Found in Rife, P Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2019) p. 256

[16] Found in Rife, P Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2019) p. 256

[17] Found in Sime, R Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (1996) p. 150

[18] Gouldsmit, S “Nazis’ Atomic Secrets” Life Magazine (Oct 20, 1947) p. 132

[19] Bernstein, J Hitler’s Uranium Club p. 34

[20] Found in Ball, F Serving the Reich (2014) P. 72

[21] Found in Ball, F Serving the Reich (2014) P. 100

[22] According to Hillman, B The Man who Stalked Einstein (2015) P. 175

[23] Found in Walker, M Nazi Science (2013) p. 132

[24] According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia entry for Wasaw

[25] Hankey to Lord Chatfield (Dec 12, 1939) found in Rose, P Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Project (2002) p. 95

[26] Speer, Albert Inside the Third Reich (1997) p. 226

[27] Speer, Albert Inside the Third Reich (1997) p. 226

[28] Found in Brown, B Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War (2015) p.25

[29] Lise Meitner to Martha Krause (Jan 15, 1948) found in Rife, P Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2019)

[30] Lise Meitner to Otto Hahn (1945) found in Rife, P Lise Meitner and the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (2019)

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