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Paul Rosbaud

Paul Rosbaud

Paul Rosbaud was born in Graz on 18th November 1896. His brother, Hans Rosbaud, was a talented musician. Paul attended trade school in the city but in March 1915, he enlisted as a private in the Austrian Army. In October 1917 he took part in the battle of Caporetto. (1)

Rosebud served in the army until the end of the First World War where he was captured by the British Army. His biographer, Owen Boycott, has claimed "Rosbaud's experience of being captured by British forces, and his appreciation of their civility, created an enduring impression". (2)

Rosbaud later recalled: "My first two days as a prisoner under British guard were the origins of my long-time anglophilia. For the British soldiers, war was over and forgotten. They did not treat us as enemies but as unfortunate losers of the war." (3)

Rosbaudstudied chemistry at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin where he did pioneering work on x-ray cinematography. This was followed by a doctorate at the Technische Hochschule. During this period he was friends with Walter Brecht, the brother of Bertolt Brecht. Walter said that life as a student was very difficult: "He never had any money... He was slender... with a pale, vivacious, intelligent face... In a good mood he could be witty and he was assuredly talented." (4)

Rosbaud became a scientific adviser to Springer Verlag, one of Germany's largest publishing houses. This brought him into contact with leading German scientists. (5) It also involved travelling to other European countries and became friends with scientists such as John Desmond Bernal, Geoffrey Pyke and Eric Rideal. (6)

Paul Rosbaud married Hildegard Frank, the daughter of a prosperous Jewish timber merchant. A daughter, Agelika Anna Rosbaud, was born in August, 1927. She was their only child and her father adored her. (7) He was described at this time as being a "fairly small man with sharp features, the fingers of a concert pianist and a soft, forceful voice, who was rarely seen without his pipe." (8)

In the General Election of November 1932, the Nazi Party won 196 seats. This did not give them an overall majority as the opposition also did well: Social Democratic Party (121), German Communist Party (100), Catholic Centre Party (90) and German National People's Party (52). Hitler was appointed Chancellor, in January 1933, but the Nazis only had a third of the seats in Parliament. (9)

Paul Rosbaud's friend, Hermann Mark, pointed out: "Paul became more and more hostile to the regime in Germany; at several occasions when we met in Germany, England, or Austria he was full of criticism and justified antagonism toward the Nazis. He was one of the few who foresaw developments very clearly - we had long discussions what one could and should do about them. Several English friends - John Desmond Bernal, Geoffrey Pyke, Eric Rideal - participated at certain occasions." (10)

Rosbaud became even more concerned after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race in 1935. The first Reich Law of Citizenship divided people in Germany into two categories. The citizen of "pure German blood" and the rest of the population. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour forbade inter-marrying between the two groups. Some 250 decrees followed these laws. These excluded Jews from official positions and professions. They were also forced to wear the "Star of David". (11)

Paul Rosbaud was worried about the safety of his wife and was introduced to Frank Foley, the Director of the Passport Control Office at the British Embassy in Berlin. He was also a member of Military Intelligence (MI6) and was running a spy network inside Nazi Germany. (12)

Foley told MI6 headquarters about the growing anti-semitism in the country. "It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Party has not departed from its original intentions and that its ultimate aim remains the disappearance of the Jews from Germany or, failing that, their relegation to a position of powerlessness and inferiority. Indications of this recrudescence of anti-semitism are apparent in recent legislative measures, in regulations governing admission to the liberal professions, in the boycotting of Jewish concerns and in the increasing virulence of speeches of leading members of the Party." (13)

Adolf Hitler encouraged Jews to emigrate to Palestine by allowing "Jews who left for Palestine to transfer a significant portion of their assets there... while those who left for other countries had to leave much of what they owned behind". Richard Evans has argued: "The reasons for the Nazis' favoured treatment of emigrants to Palestine were complex. On the one hand, they regarded the Zionist movement as a significant part of the world Jewish conspiracy they had dedicated their lives to destroying. On the other, helping Jewish emigration to Palestine might mitigate international criticism of anti-semitic measures at home." (14)

The policy of the British government was to keep Jewish migration to Palestine to a minimum. Benno Cohen pointed out that Foley was unwilling to carry out his instructions. "Captain Foley had to carry out official policy. A happy chance had however brought to the post in Berlin a man who not only fully understood the orders issued to him but also had a heart for the people who often stood in long, anxious queues before him. He took advantage of his powers in so broadminded a way that many who under a stricter interpretation of orders would probably have been refused, were issued with the coveted visas to Palestine. To many who had to deal with him, he appeared almost as a saint." (15)

Paul Rosbaud first met Foley in 1933. "As the relationship between the two men grew more trusting, Paul began to pass along to Foley scraps of information, sometimes significant, sometimes not." (16) The two men had much in common. They both despised Hitler and wanted to do everything they could to help the Jews. They also had a shared experience of the First World War and "had no wish to see a new conflagration". (17) Rosbaud's code-name was "The Griffin" (18)

One April morning in April 1938, Rosbaud met with Frank Foley and asked him if he could arrange for his wife and daughter to live in London. Foley immediately provided the necessary paperwork and a few days later they boarded a Deutsche Lufthansa plane at Tempelhof Airfield and landed at Croydon four and a half hours later. Robert Salmon Hutton, a close friend of Paul's, helped Hildegard Rosbaud with the formalities of completing immigration procedures and obtaining a work permit. (19)

Rosbaud remained in Nazi Germany and continued to help Foley with his spying activities. He put him in touch with Lise Meitner, who had been working with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman on investigations into the products of neutron bombardment of uranium. Rosbaud was told by Hahn, that along with Strassman, that they had split the atom, paving the way for the creation of an atomic bomb. Rosbaud passed this information to Foley and throughout the war he was able to keep SIS informed on the progress being made by the German atomic weapons programme. (20)

Meitner was Jewish and after she was banned from working in Nazi Germany, Rosbaud helped her escape from the country. On 12th July, 1938, "Rosbaud... took Meitner to Hahn's house to stay overnight. Hahn had no automobile at that time, so Paul picked up Lise the next day in his Opel and drove her to the station. Meitner was tense, fearful, and Rosbaud had to use all his persuasive talents to get her abroad the train." Once out of the country she went to live in Stockholm. (21)

Otto Hahn continued to provide Rosbaud with information about German developments in nuclear physics. "The idea how to make use of this energy either under the assumption of the mechanism of a chain reaction for an enormous bomb or for a big source of energy... was first put forward by a man with the name of Hahn". Rosbaud reported that Bernard Rust, instructed his scientists to explore the idea of developing a "bomb which should be able to destroy a town, a province, even the whole of an island". (22)

It has been claimed that that "probably earlier than any of the scientists, he realized the vast destructive potential of what Hahn, Strassmann, and Meitner had discovered, and he was acutely conscious that the fundamental research had been done in Germany. He wanted the rest of the world to know of the significance of the work at least as soon as Nazi planners did." (23)

In 1939 Rosbaud made regular visits to London where he had meetings with Robert Salmon Hutton, a Professor of Metallurgy at Cambridge University. "He (Paul Rosbaud) asked me to meet him in London, as he asked me to convey the valuable information to those most concerned with it. Apparently Hitler had considered the possibility of an atomic bomb as his secret weapon number 1, but this had to be put aside, because the only German physicists who could have given effective help refused to cooperate. In this and many other ways Rosbaud was of great service to the Allies." (24)

Rosbaud refused to live in London with his wife and child because he thought he could be much more help in bringing down the Nazi government if he continued to stay in Germany. According to Arnold Kramish, Rosbaud was the author of the Oslo Report that was sent to Frederick Winterbotham on 1st November, 1939. However, he believes that he has never being given full credit for his work and rejects the idea that Hans Ferdinand Mayer was the author. (25)

Winterbotham passed the report onto R. V. Jones, who was responsible for co-ordinating scientific intelligence during the Second World War: "The report was obviously written by someone with a good scientific and technical background, and quite different from anything that I had so far seen in Intelligence". (26) Jones later claimed that Rosbaud's "contributions were considerable and, in nuclear energy at least, approached the crucial." (27)

Throughout the war, he delivered a report almost monthly, each report containing numbers of pieces of information. (28) "Much of his information was smuggled out through Norwegian and French resistance networks. Coded messages were sent using numerical references to pages, lines and words in commonly available textbooks." (29)

In 1943 Rosbaud also provided information to Frank Foley on the development of a new weapon being created at an experimental weapons establishment at Peenemünde in north-eastern Germany. He claimed that the project under the direction of Wernher von Braun, had produced a rocket that was the first guided missile to exceed the speed of sound. This 45 feet long, liquid-fuelled rocket carried a one ton warhead, and was capable of supersonic speed and could fly at an altitude of over 50 miles. The V2 Rocket was first used in September, 1944. Over 5,000 were fired on Britain but as a result of major air raids mounted by the RAF the Germans were forced to pull the rocket base back into Poland. (30)

Three weeks after the end of the war Paul Rosbaud was brought back to Britain and in 1948 he helped Robert Maxwell establish the Pergamon Press. (31) He later held various consultancies with European scientific publishers and in 1961 the American Institute of Physics awarded him its first Tate Medal for his services to scientific publishing. (32)

Paul Rosbaud died of leukemia on 28th January, 1963.

He (Paul Rosbaud) asked me to meet him in London, as he asked me to convey the valuable information to those most concerned with it. In this and many other ways Rosbaud was of great service to the Allies.

On the night of December 22, 1938, five months after they had conspired to save Lise Meitner from arrest by the Gestapo, Professor Otto Hahn, of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem, and Dr. Paul Rosbaud, scientific adviser to Springer Verlag, both prominent citizens of Hitler's Reich, joined to transform the course of human events.

That evening, Hahn phoned Paul Rosbaud with the news that he had just finished writing a paper describing the experiments that he and Fritz Strassmann had performed. These experiments verified beyond a doubt that new elements were created when a slow neutron struck a uranium atom.

Paul was electrified. In the world of physics, this was headline news. He went to fetch the paper and immediately called Fritz Süffert, the editor of the Springer publication Naturwissenschaften, and got him to pull one of the articles already being typeset for the next issue in order to make room for the Hahn and Strassmann paper.

The astonishing thing was that Hahn had not realized that he had split the atom. He had explored the long path to the great secret and then failed to see what lay before his eyes. But Lise Meitner saw what Hahn had not seen. In discussing Hahn's paper, Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch suddenly understood that Hahn and Strassmann had split the atom. They made a quick calculation showing that Hahn's experiments had released more energy than any other process in history. The power inherent in the nucleus of an atom had been revealed.

As it happened, Niels Bohr was about to leave for the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and then attend a conference in Washington, D.C., so Frisch hurried back to home base in Copenhagen to share the news with the Danish Nobel laureate. Bohr enthusiastically carried the word abroad. The conference, sponsored by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and George Washington University, was on the physics of low temperatures, at that time a field considered unrelated to nuclear energy. But in attendance were Enrico Fermi, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, and others very much interested in what happened when a neutron encountered a uranium atom. After Bohr announced the discovery of Hahn and Strassmann to the conference, a number of physicists left to try to repeat the experiments in their own laboratories. They did, and a new age began.

Rosbaud, of course, was playing a strategic game in all this. Probably earlier than any of the scientists, he realized the vast destructive potential of what Hahn, Strassmann, and Meitner had discovered, and he was acutely conscious that the fundamental research had been done in Germany. He wanted the rest of the world to know of the significance of the work at least as soon as Nazi planners did. By rushing into print with Hahn's manuscript, he was able to alert the world community of physicists.

At the moment when fission was discovered, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service had no scientific officer and was not the least bit interested in such esoteric subjects as atomic energy. But a number of British scientists were. One of those eminent scientists was John Douglas Cockcroft of Cambridge's Mond Laboratory. Cockcroft's claim to fame was the high-voltage accelerating machine, which he built with Ernest Walton in 1931. It was the first atom-smashing machine in the world. Consequently, Cockcroft had a proprietary interest in the new work on smashing the heaviest element known - uranium. He entered into correspondence with Lise Meitner soon after she and Otto Frisch published the correct interpretation of Otto Hahn's results. In a letter to Cockcroft, dated February 13, 1939, Meitner gave a detailed account of the interpretations to date, but Cockcroft wanted to know more, especially about what was happening in Ger many. And Otto Hahn wanted him to know more. Rosbaud was a willing courier, and quite possibly, Otto Hahn had sensed his deeper purposes.

One November day in 1939, Harold Freese-Pennefather, a member of the British Legation in Oslo, was confronted by an unknown visitor who insisted that he take delivery of a small parcel. After a moment's indecision, Freese-Pennefather took the package, and the stranger disappeared without leaving his name. When the package was opened, it was found to contain a book, something that looked rather like a radio valve, and a scientific report written in German. That report contained a mass of secret information about the German war effort, including information on two new radar systems and the first intimations of the work on rockets that had begun at the research station at Peenemunde.

This report, the so-called Oslo Report, was to be dismissed by the British as a hoax. It was to be more than three years before any action was taken to impede the work at Peenemunde, a delay that was to cost the British dearly.

As to the author of the report, he has remained anonymous, but in "The Griffin," Arnold Kramish presents good circumstantial evidence that the author was the fascinating but shadowy Paul Rosbaud, a scientist and journalist who, throughout World War II, and at great personal risk, kept up a continuous supply of invaluable information on the German war effort flowing into Britain.

There is no doubt that Kramish has found a subject worthy of a biography. Rosbaud, illegitimate, an Austrian (his brother was the famous conductor Hans Rosbaud) was educated as a physicist but rapidly moved to a position of eminence in the world of scientific journalism. He was an Anglophile and also deeply worried by what the Nazis were doing in Germany. As consultant to the German scientific journal Naturwissenschaften, he ensured the publication of the discovery of nuclear "fission," the process that showed that an atomic weapon was possible. As 1939 wore on, Rosbaud did his utmost to keep the channels of communication between scientists in various countries open. However, when war began and open contact became impossible, he went to great lengths to set up chains of agents, particularly in Scandinavia, to pass the information he had gleaned on to the British secret service. Throughout the war, he delivered a report almost monthly, each report containing numbers of pieces of information.

He had sent his Jewish wife and daughter to England early in the war, but he stayed on, narrowly missing arrest on several occasions. According to Kramish, it was largely because of Rosbaud that the British knew of the uncertain progress and eventual failure of the German atomic weapon program as it happened, and this leads Kramish to claim that he can now demolish a major myth of our time. That is that the Germans and the Allies were locked into a race to build a bomb when, in fact, no such race existed.

Certainly he shows that after a promising start, the German program ground to a halt in mid-1942. However, this is well known and has been the subject of several books. He then goes on to indicate that while the British knew of this failure from "The Griffin" - Rosbaud's code name - the Americans did not. He shows that by the summer of 1943, British intelligence was stating that the German bomb program "was ceasing to be a source of grave anxiety." Yet, by this time, the Americans had already turned their attention toward Japan. Whether they knew about the Griffin's reports or not, in the spring of 1943, the American Military Policy Committee had discussed the Japanese fleet at Truk as a possible target for the new weapon. Even at this early stage, they had developed their own motives for the bomb project other than the race against Germany. There was in fact no simple race of the kind whose existence the author wants to disprove.

This is not the only incidence of shadow boxing in the book. The author also seeks to correct another possible misconception about what happened at a meeting in 1941 between Werner Heisenberg, a leading German atomic physicist, and the revered Danish physicist, Neils Bohr. According to Kramish, supporters of Heisenberg have tried to spread the notion that he came to Bohr to ask him to use his good offices to persuade the physicists of the world not to work on the bomb. In fact, Kramish says, Heisenberg went to pick Bohr's brains for information on the American bomb program. Again, I would not quarrel with this conclusion, only with the author's belief that this is not already well known.

The mystery of how one of Britain's longest-serving and best-placed spies smuggled scientific documents about Hitler's nuclear weapons programme out of Nazi Germany are concealed, it is alleged, within the secret service's archives.

Cherie Booth QC, the former prime minister's wife, appeared in court yesterday in an attempt to rescue the reputation of Paul Rosbaud - reputedly the longest-serving and best-placed spy working for Britain during the second world war - from oblivion.

In a test case that could force the service to disclose more of its archives, Ms Booth argued that the heroic role of Rosbaud, who died in 1963, should be widely appreciated, and accused the intelligence service of resisting the culture of open government.

Yesterday's hearing, at the offices of an employment tribunal in central London, was the culmination of years of campaigning by Vincent Frank-Steiner, the nephew of the Austrian-born secret agent who was a trained physicist.

Although hundreds of MI5 and GCHQ files have been released to the National Archives at Kew, none has been intentionally handed over by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) - commonly known as MI6.

Ms Booth was representing the surviving Rosbaud family in their application to the investigatory powers tribunal, a body established in 2000 to inquire into complaints of alleged misconduct by the intelligence services - MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

Three years ago documents were published detailing the extraordinary acts of espionage and bravery carried out by Major Frank Foley, the MI6 station chief in Berlin in the run-up to the war.

Foley used his official position as passport control officer in the embassy to save thousands of Jews from the death camps. He helped Paul Rosbaud send his Jewish wife, Hilde, and their only daughter, Angela, to the safety of the UK. But Rosbaud, who worked as a scientific journalist, insisted on remaining in Germany to fight Hitler's regime from within.

Born in Graz in 1896, he served in the Austrian army during the first world war. Rosbaud's experience of being captured by British forces, and his appreciation of their civility, created an enduring impression.

After completing a doctoral thesis in Germany, his skill and personal charm enabled him to gain access to Germany's leading physicists - including those attempting to build an atomic bomb.

Foley appreciated the privileged position he occupied within the Nazi scientific community and recruited him as a British agent. Codenamed Griffin, he soon began providing London with detailed information on Hitler's weapons programme. One of his first coups, in January 1939, was to publish in his scientific journal, Naturwissenschaften, work on nuclear fission by the physicist Otto Hahn.

Its publication alerted the international physics community and encouraged Albert Einstein to write to President Roosevelt warning that the Germans had begun a nuclear programme.

Rosbaud is also believed to have supplied British intelligence with information about V2 rocket bombs and confirmation that Nazi efforts to construct an atom bomb had been unsuccessful. Much of his information was smuggled out through Norwegian and French resistance networks. Coded messages were sent using numerical references to pages, lines and words in commonly available textbooks.

Three weeks after the end of the war he was brought back to Britain and began a new life: founding Pergamon Press, scientific publishers, with Robert Maxwell.

A biography of Rosbaud was published in 1986 but it raised fresh questions. How, for example, could he have escaped the attentions of the Gestapo for so long? And why did the British apparently not inform the Americans that the Nazis' nuclear programme had failed?

A film about Major Foley's exploits is due to go into production next year. There is one fleeting reference to Rosbaud in an official history of MI6 which mentions a "well-placed writer for a German scientific journal who was in touch with the SIS from spring 1942". The true extent of his espionage, however, remains a mystery.

A letter from MI6 responding to Dr Frank-Steiner's initial request, said: "It is not SIS practice to confirm or deny whether a person who is alleged to have been an agent of SIS was in fact an agent, as such a practice would be damaging to the work of SIS."

Ms Booth described the claim that Britain's foreign relations would be damaged by disclosure as "fanciful". She said: "Parliament intended there should be scrutiny. The way [MI6 is] approaching this case shows that have not adjusted to the new world where they are accountable to third parties for their decisions. SIS has disclosed its 19th-century archives. So there's clearly some flexibility. We do not accept that rules that are applicable to the government are not applicable to [MI6]."

The court heard that a 1992 statement from the lord chancellor appeared to impose a blanket ban on release of the service's files.

Jonathan Crow QC, for MI6, said there "had to be necessity to make the disclosure" of files in the national interest, "otherwise it would turn SIS into an information bureau".

The release of 19th-century archives, he said, had been permitted because they predated the formation of MI6 in 1909.

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(1) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 11

(2) Owen Boycott, The Guardian (22nd September, 2007)

(3) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 68

(4) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 14

(5) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 68

(6) Michael Smith, Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (2010) page 372

(7) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 15

(8) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 68

(9) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) pages 144-145

(10) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 17

(11) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 208

(12) Lynn Barton, Western Morning News (2015)

(13) Frank Foley, cable to MI6 headquarters (January, 1935)

(14) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 556

(15) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(16) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 18

(17) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 68

(18) Peter Goodchild, Los Angeles Times (4th January, 1987)

(19) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 26

(20) Michael Smith, Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (2010) pages 372-373

(21) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 49

(22) Paul Rosbaud, report (5th August, 1945)

(23) Arnold Kramish, The Scientist (15th December, 1987)

(24) Robert Salmon Hutton, Recollections of a Technologist (1964)

(25) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) pages 69-80

(26) R. Jones, Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945 (1978) page 107

(27) Heinz Sarkowski, Springer-Verlag: History of a Scientific Publishing House (1996) page 407

(28) Peter Goodchild, Los Angeles Times (4th January, 1987)

(29) Owen Boycott, The Guardian (22nd September, 2007)

(30) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 212

(31) Owen Boycott, The Guardian (22nd September, 2007)

(32) Arnold Kramish, The Griffin: The Greatest Untold Espionage Story of World War II (22nd September, 2007) page 250


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