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Hitler's Physicist Told Mentor of A-Bomb Work

History: In secret documents cited in London newspaper, Heisenberg expresses no moral qualms to Bohr.

January 08, 2002|From Associated Press

LONDON — Werner Heisenberg, the scientist behind Adolf Hitler's secret atomic bomb program, revealed its existence in 1941 to Niels Bohr, the Danish scientist who later became part of the United States' Manhattan Project, according to secret documents cited in a London newspaper.

In a meeting with Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark, Heisenberg expressed no moral reservations about building a bomb for Hitler, the documents indicate. Neither did Heisenberg hint that he might be willing to sabotage the project, the documents show.

The information contradicts several historical accounts of the meeting and an award-winning West End and Broadway play, "Copenhagen," in which British playwright Michael Frayn speculated on the meeting's significance in light of the eventual failure of the Nazi atomic project.

During the meeting, Heisenberg alerted Bohr, his former mentor, to the existence of Hitler's "uranium club," according to the documents.

Two years later, Bohr went to the U.S. to join the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945.

The new documents, including a letter Bohr wrote but never sent, were reported in the Sunday Times, which quoted Dr. Finn Aaserud, director of the Niels Bohr Archive in Copenhagen.

"Essentially, the letter shows that Heisenberg told Bohr it was possible that the war would be won with atomic weapons, indicating that he was involved in such work," Aaserud told Associated Press in Copenhagen on Monday.

Aaserud said that next month, the archives, which are part of the Niels Bohr Institute, will release 11 documents written or dictated by Bohr before his death in 1962, including his unsent letter to Heisenberg, completed in 1958.

Bohr and Heisenberg are considered among the greatest physicists. Bohr was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in physics for nuclear research. Heisenberg won the Nobel in 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics.

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