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Write About The Soviets

November 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 46

Reading “Chemistry in Nazi Germany” (C&EN, Sept. 16, page 30), I am reminded of my time in the 1980s stationed in Mannheim, West Germany, as a young U.S. Army lieutenant. Right across the river was BASF world headquarters. It was difficult to find out what anyone—chemist or not—from the World War II generation had done during the war. After several years, one local friend admitted to me that his father had been a captain in the Waffen SS.

I would be interested in reading how chemists and other scientists interacted with the government of the former Soviet Union. While in the Army, I was told at times that U.S. troops were in Europe and that NATO had been formed to finish what our parents’ generation had not—meaning defeat the Soviets. Few people in the U.S. seem to know that the Soviet Union set up a prison work-camp system almost as brutal as the Nazi camps. The Soviet prison camps had no gas chambers but rather had limitless Arctic tundra in which to bury prisoners and political dissenters, who were often worked to death. The mortality rate among Soviet prisoners was alleged to be 60%.

As your story notes, it has taken 50 years for the truth about chemists in Nazi Germany to come out. I hope it does not take another 50 years to see how our Soviet adversaries enlisted the help of chemists and other scientists in their cause and for their aggressive military ends. Books such as “The Gulag Archipelago,” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and “Dear America!” by Thomas Sgovio, tell the story of this murderous, decades-long Soviet system, but from the point of view of survivors.

No one has yet examined how the scientific, intellectual leaders within the U.S.S.R. collaborated with the political rulers. I would be glad to see this truth told in the pages of C&EN, however disturbing it may be.

Mark A. Benvenuto



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