That claim has been often disputed because in 1940, the Waffen-SS had shown no interest in Peenem?nde yet. Also, the assertion that persons in von Braun's position were pressured to join the Nazi party, let alone the SS, has been disputed. Braun claimed to have worn the SS uniform only once . He began as an Untersturmf?hrer (Second Lieutenant) and was promoted three times by Himmler, the last time in June 1943 to SS-Sturmbannf?hrer (Wehrmacht Major).
A4 production in the Mittelwerk 1945. This photo from Soviet made movie after war.
On December 22, 1942, Adolf Hitler signed the order approving the production of the A-4 as a "vengeance weapon" and the group developed it to target London. Following von Braun's July 7, 1943 presentation of a color movie showing an A-4 taking off, Hitler was so enthusiastic that he personally made him a professor shortly thereafter. (In Germany and at this time, this was an absolutely unusual promotion for an engineer who was only 31 years old.) The first combat A-4, renamed the V-2 ("Vergeltungswaffe 2", "Retaliation/Vengeance Weapon 2") for propaganda purposes, was launched toward England on September 7, 1944, only 21 months after the project had been officially commissioned. Von Braun's interest in rockets was specifically for the application of space travel, which led him to say on hearing the news from London: 'The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet'. He described it as his 'darkest day'.
SS General Hans Kammler, who as an engineer had constructed several concentration camps including Auschwitz, had a reputation for brutality and had originated the idea of using concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers in the rocket program. Arthur Rudolph, chief engineer of the V-2 rocket factory at Peenem?nde, endorsed this idea in April 1943 when a labor shortage developed. More people died building the V-2 rockets than were killed by it as a weapon. Von Braun admitted visiting the plant at Mittelwerk on many occasions, and called conditions at the plant "repulsive", but claimed never to have witnessed firsthand any deaths or beatings, although it became clear to him that deaths had occurred by 1944 . He denied ever visiting the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp itself.
Adam Cabala reported:
[...] the German scientists led by Prof. Wernher von Braun also saw everything that went on every day. When they walked along the corridors, they saw the prisoners' drudgery, their exhausting work and their ordeal. During his frequent attendance in Dora, Prof. Wernher von Braun never once protested against this cruelty and brutality.
On a little area beside the clinic shack you could see piles of prisoners every day who had not survived the workload and had been tortured to death by the vindictive guards. [...] But Prof. Wernher von Braun just walked past them, so close that he almost touched the bodies. (Ref 6)
On August 15, 1944, von Braun wrote a letter (Ref 7) to Albin Sawatzki, manager of the V-2 production, admitting that he personally picked labor slaves from the Buchenwald concentration camp, who, he admitted 25 years later in an interview, had been in a "pitiful shape".
In Wernher von Braun: Crusader for Space numerous quotes from von Braun show he was aware of the conditions, but felt completely unable to change them. From a visit to Mittelwerk, von Braun is quoted by a friend:
It is hellish. My spontaneous reaction was to talk to one of the SS guards, only to be told with unmistakable harshness that I should mind my own business, or find myself in the same striped fatigues!... I realized that any attempt of reasoning on humane grounds would be utterly futile. (Page 44)
Arrest by the Nazi regime
According to Andr? Sellier, a French historian and survivor of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, Himmler had von Braun come to his Hochwald HQ in East Prussia sometime in February 1944. To increase his power-base within the Nazi r?gime, Heinrich Himmler was conspiring to use Kammler to wrest control of all German armament programs, including the V-2 program at Peenem?nde. He therefore recommended that von Braun work more closely with Kammler to solve the problems of the V-2, but von Braun claimed to have replied that the problems were merely technical and he was confident that they would be solved with Dornberger's assistance.
Apparently von Braun had been under SD surveillance since October 1943 and a report stated that he and his colleagues Riedel and Gr?ttrup were said to have expressed regret at an engineer's house one evening that they were not working on a spaceship and that they felt the war was not going well (a "defeatist" attitude). A young female dentist later denounced them for their comments and, combined with Himmler's false charges that von Braun was a Communist sympathizer and had attempted to sabotage the V-2 program, this led to his arrest. Kammler, highly dedicated to Himmler, was also instrumental in von Braun's arrest by the Gestapo.
The unsuspecting von Braun was arrested on March 14 (or March 15) 1944 and was taken to a Gestapo cell in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland), where he was imprisoned for two weeks without even knowing the charges against him. It was only through the Abwehr in Berlin that Dornberger was able to obtain von Braun's conditional release and Albert Speer, Reichsminister for Munitions and War Production, convinced Hitler to reinstate von Braun so that the V-2 program could continue. Citing from the "F?hrerprotokoll" (the minutes of Hitler's meetings) dated May 13, 1944 in his memoirs, Speer later relayed what Hitler had finally conceded: "In the matter concerning B. I will guarantee you that he will be exempt from persecution as long as he is indispensible for you, in spite of the difficult general consequences this will have." Nevertheless, from this point onward fear ruled in Peenem?nde.
Surrender to the Americans
Von Braun (with armcast) immediately after his surrender
The Soviet Army was about 160 km from Peenem?nde in the spring of 1945 when von Braun assembled his planning staff and askedthem to decide how and to whom they should surrender. Afraid of Soviet cruelty to prisoners of war,