After Gerlach left the room, he immediately went to his bedroom, where he was heard sobbing.
Laue and Harteck went upstairs to check on him and tried to comfort him.
He seemed to see himself in the position of a defeated general whose only choice was to shoot himself.
Luckily he didn't have a gun.”
Ulf von Rauchhaupt
Editor in the “Science” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.
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This happened on August 6, 1945 at Farm Hall in Cambridgeshire, where Walther Gerlach was interned with nine other German physicists.
With the exception of one, Max von Laue, they had all been involved in efforts to make nuclear fission, discovered by Otto Hahn and his colleagues in 1938, usable for the Third Reich.
The above scene is described by the British officer, who not only supervised the researchers, but also monitored their conversations – without their knowledge, of course.
Collapse at Farm Hall
On August 6th, American forces dropped their first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Among the reactions of the internees to the news, the Gerlachs particularly stands out, and it becomes somewhat more understandable through an exchange of words with Otto Hahn, who went to Gerlach after he had sent Max von Laue and Paul Harteck away: "Are you upset because we didn't build the uranium bomb?” Hahn asked.
"I thank God on my knees that we didn't build a uranium bomb.
Or are you depressed because the Americans were better?” To which Gerlach only replied: “Yes”.
Now Walther Gerlach (1889 to 1979) was not a Nazi.
When the German Physical Society (DPG) held a historical symposium on Gerlach in January to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Stern-Gerlach experiment, the speakers were unanimous on this point.
He had never been a member of the party, "not even a member of the party," according to the Berlin physics historian Dieter Hoffmann, who in 1993 published the wiretapping protocols from Farm Hall in German.
On the contrary.
Gerlach was in sharp dispute with the representatives of “German physics”, who, for example, attacked Einstein’s theory of relativity as “Talmudic”.
Since 1929 professor in Munich,
he protested against book burnings or activities of the National Socialist organized student body and saw himself exposed to hostilities up to a ban on lectures and examinations in the winter semester 1933/34.
Gerlach made “not a syllable” of anti-Semitic statements, according to the Freiburg historian Ulrich Herbert.
Instead, he protected his Jewish student Gertrude Scharff, for example, and in 1935 he got her doctorate.
High commitment to the uranium program
And yet it was this man who, from 1940 onwards, put all his energy, expertise and enormous organizational talent at the interface between science and industry at the service of the Hitler regime and its war.
First, he helped the Reichsmarine solve the "torpedo crisis" - the horrendous rate of misses that occurred during the German invasion of Norway.
This qualified Gerlach for the position of what was probably the most influential scientist in the Nazi state, the “Reich Marshal for Nuclear Physics”, as Samuel Goudsmit Gerlach once dubbed it, the head of the Allied secret mission that also included the internment in Farm Hall.
In October 1943, Gerlach became head of the physics department of the Reich Research Council.
Göring also appointed him "Reich Marshal's Plenipotentiary for Nuclear Physics" and thus head of the German uranium program.
Gerlach himself was not a nuclear physicist at all.
But he was very interested in application questions and was also well connected to the industry.Keywords: