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The Rudolph Case Revisited


Hugh McInnish


Hugh I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN THAT CONTROVERSIAL topics attract more readers' interest than discussions of the nitty-gritty of everyday living, but not until now have I known the magnitude of the difference.

When I write this column my inclination is almost always to things simple and not controversial. I would rather write about apple pie than politics-- and as I see it not only is apple pie more savory and more interesting than politics but it is more of a challenge to write about. Apple pie, however, is seldom controversial and few readers will sit down and write either congratulatory or irate letters after reading about it.

Recently, though, I deviated from my norm. I became intrigued by the case of Arthur Rudolph, the German-American cientist who was forced to leave the country after being investigated for war crimes by the Office of Special Investigation, and I wrote a five-part series about him. I was not unopinionated. I said that Rudolph was innocent and that what was done to him by the OSI was wrong.

Then I discovered a new ratio. I found that for every passionate devotee of apple pie there are 126 people who come to life at the mention of things related to war crimes, justice and injustice, abuse of governmental power, man's inhumanity to man, and unsettled debts from a war long ago lost and won. These renascent souls, who evidently were dozing during my earlier happy little columns, waked up ready to talk, and I heard from many of them, in person, on the phone, and through the mail.

Most agreed with what I had said. Some had known or worked with Rudolph and they testified to his good character, some told of their shock on hearing what had happened, others thought that 40 years was too far back to reach for a reason to punish an old man. But the most prevalent theme that I heard was fairness. Almost everyone felt that Rudolph's treatment flagrantly violated our commonsense idea of simple fairness.

A few people disagreed with me and that is a healthy thing. Voltaire's ringing phrase fits this issue perfectly but it's too well known to need quoting. One dissenter, however, made an error of fact that I must correct. In a letter to the editor a reader alleged that Rudolph had been a member of the SS. The SS was the Schutzstaffel, which has various translations such as "elite corps" or "defense echelons." They were also known as the Blackshirts because of the color of their uniforms. The SS began as Hitler's bodyguard but was expanded to include the guards at the concentration camps and special divisions of combat troops. The men of the SS were specially selected and rigorously trained. The SS supplied and supervised the prisoners used on Arthur Rudolph's V-2 production line at the underground Mittlewerk.

Rudolph, however, was a civilian. He was not supposed to even talk to the workers on the production line, but to pass instructions to them through the SS. He himself was certainly not a member of the SS.

This factual misunderstanding about Rudolph is typical of others, but I feel that the truth about him is beginning to seep through and that time is running in his favor. Senator Jeremiah Denton, who had been convinced by the OSI that Rudolph was guilty, has decided that he needs to have a second look. Denton may be the key to Rudolph's exoneration, since he is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and could probably arrange for Rudolph to have a hearing before the committee if he decided that were the thing to do.

Some weeks ago the senator asked the OSI to be specific about the evidence they have against Rudolph-- and he is still waiting for their answer. It's a curious thing that Eli Rosenbaum, the OSI attorney in charge of the Rudolph investigation, has boasted in the public prints that he could prove Rudolph guilty in "90 seconds," yet the OSI can't answer Senator Denton's simple question even within a few weeks. My conviction is that they haven't produced any specific evidence because they don't have any.

The two basic facts in the Rudolph case are: one, he isn't guilty-- and, two, everything that the OSI has recently so dramatically "discovered" has been known since the end of the war.

Senator Denton will eventually see this and he, an honest man who defends the old values, will probably come to Rudolph's defense. If that happens Denton will be a natural and popular defender. It will be a case of the strong idealist defending an ailing old man against the power of an ungrateful government which befriended him and wrested from him all the help it could when it needed him, then when his work was done turned on him for no good cause and sent him from his adopted country.

Next week I'm going back to apple pie.


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