Uncertainty over Heisenberg's bomb making ends

Posted by Richard Linney on Feb 08, 2002 at 03:54
apsn04.zeneca.co.uk (

Newly released documents show unequivocally that the renowned German physicist Werner Heisenberg was building an atomic bomb for the Nazis during World War II. The revelations, in letters and notes made public on Wednesday by the Niels Bohr Archive in Denmark lays to rest a controversy that spanned 60 years.

The unsent letters, written to Heisenberg by Bohr after the war, reveal that during a visit to Copenhagen in 1941, Heisenberg confessed to his former mentor that he was working on a bomb. Furthermore, Heisenberg told Bohr he was confident of success.

After the war, Heisenberg said he had done his best to sabotage Germany's bomb project so that Hitler would not gain the deadly weapon. The controversy over Heisenberg's role was the subject of a successful play, Copenhagen by Michael Frayn.

Bohr wrote the letters between 1957 and 1962. The first letter appears to be a direct response Heisenberg's denial of involvement with the bomb that appeared in a 1957 edition of a book, "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" by Robert Jungk.

In the letter, Bohr states that, during the 1941 meeting: "You spoke in a manner that could only give me the firm impression that, under your leadership, everything was being done in Germany to develop atomic weapons."

Bohr continues: "You said there was no need to talk about details since you were completely familiar with them and had spent the past two years working more or less exclusively on such preparations."

Accurate recollections

Bohr never sent the letter, although he crafted several drafts that he gave to his wife, Margarethe, and son, Aage, to type.

Historian Gerald Holton of Harvard University told New Scientist that the release of the letters resolves what many historians suspected: "We now know the truth has come out." Horton has known about the 1957 letter since 1985, when he was approached by a member of the Bohr family and asked how to handle it.

Holton said there was no question that Bohr's recollections were accurate. "Bohr was a superb scientist well known for his caution," he said. "The repeated drafts of the letters illustrate how a superb scientist thinks, mulling over details year after year without contradiction."

The Bohr family initially decided to wait until 2012 to release the letters, but recent interest in the controversy led the Bohr family to order the early release of the letters.

Article from NewScientist.com

Follow Ups:

Post a Followup



[ Forum ] [ New Message ]