Monday, June 15, 2009

Farm Hall

After the surrender of Germany in World War II, the allied forces swept through Germany and rounded up ten prominent physicists who were believed to be linked in some way to the Nazi nuclear weapons program. In mid-1945, these scientists were moved to a small farm house in England. The farm house, called Farm Hall, was set up beforehand with an extensive array of listening devices. The goal of this internment was to find out first hand how close the Germans had been to constructing an atomic weapon by eavesdropping on their conversations. Transcripts of the conversations were sent to the allied military commanders on a regular basis. In February 1992, these reports were declassified and published.

The transcripts from the six month period that the Germans were held prisoner make for fascinating reading. It is widely believed that these great men of science did not know that they were being listened to for the majority of their stay. What really holds my attention is the conversations amoung the group after they are told about the U.S. bombings at Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Some believed it was an elaborate ruse of the Americans, after all, the German mind was so superior to those inferior westerners, it must be a trick of some kind. Others felt responsible, in part, for the great suffering inflicted on mankind and worried about the long-term survival of the human race. Some seemed genuinely relieved that the Nazis did not develop this weapon first. Still others went about calculations and ponderings on the details of the bomb to figure out the process that had eluded them.

The personal side of the transcripts may be even more telling. The clear dichotomy and divide between the private self and the public image. Acting and speaking one way when they believed they were alone, and a completely different way when they finally began to suspect that their conversations were being monitored. Amazing how quickly we disavow or run from our
loyalties, our opinions and feelings, our behaviors of the past, under threat of persecution or prosecution. Sounds like a man named Peter from 2000 years ago, "I know not this man". But, the key that should not be missed, is that this painful episode did not ultimately define Peter. There was opportunity for growing and learning, which, of course, he did in abundance.