Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Albrecht Unsöld discusses his recollections of the end of World War II.

Oral history audio excerpt

Albrecht Unsöld discusses his recollections of the end of World War II.

Unsöld:

No, work with students could begin only after the war. My official position during most of the war-time was that of a meteorologist in the Air Force mostly in the Kiel airport, for some-time also in the neighboring airport of Travemünde. And then, before the war was to end but at a time when it was clear, at least to intelligent people, what the end might be, I had managed to join a group which was headed by Kiepenheuer, and which should have made important discoveries in high frequency techniques and such things. Following very nebulous ideas of some military people such work should enable Hitler to win the war, when in reality it was completely lost! You see, Hitler, when the French campaign was at ·an end, completely forbade to do any research work on high frequency, on centimeter waves, because — he said now the war was practically over and we needed no new discoveries. Soon the submarine war was practically lost due to the British radar detection.

Then, Hitler ordered furiously that all available people should work on high frequency techniques, and overtake the British. It was perfectly clear, that Hitler understood about physics and electronics as much as a fly.

But I used this in a somewhat better way, to get out of the air force, and into a position where I could work for myself, and I did "very secret things," "very important things for winning the war," but in reality I worked on the solar spectrum and Tau Scorpii and such things. Anyhow no one would have understood what that was!

Now, towards the end of the war Kiel, where I had lived so far, was destroyed to about 85 percent. My house had burned down. The Institute had burned down. The observatory was evacuated. It was a very complicated kind of life.