The Good German (2001) Channel 4

The Good German (2/5)

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Documentary Description

The story of brilliant German scientist Werner Heisenberg, who headed the Nazis' ill-fated atomic bomb project during World War Two. It is commonly believed that he secretly sabotaged his own research and sacrificed personal glory in a bid to stop Hitler getting his hands on the ultimate weapon : but new evidence paints a very different picture of events. Werner Heisenberg was one of Germany's leading physicists. When Nazi ideology took over science, he was among those researchers who fled to other countries. For those who stayed, enormous pressure was put on them to conform - and to develop the Atom Bomb. Follow the rise and fall of Heisenberg and other émigré scientists who lent their talents to the U.S. and Britain and witness the post-war moral dilemma faced by those who complied with the Third Reich.

Why did the Germans, the most advanced scientific nation, fail to build a nuclear bomb during the War? In late 1938 a Berlin scientist, Otto Hahn, discovered nuclear fission. Werner Heisenberg, the chief scientist of Germany's wartime nuclear project, pioneered quantum mechanics and won the Nobel Prize. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Heisenberg friends begged him to leave Germany, knowing he would be asked to work on nuclear research for Hitler but he refused. The focus of the story is a famous meeting in Copenhagen in 1941 between Niels Bohr and Heisenberg where Heisenberg appealed to world physicists, via Bohr, to desist from or slow down nuclear research. But Hans Bethe, a contemporary of Heisenberg has another version of events.

Werner Heisenberg has two sides to his story. One is a dedicated Nazi and Scientists trying to discover the Ultimate weapon. While the other side states he blocked the attempts and slowed down the process. Its quite clear now that he did indeed try to make the bomb but had the practical theory wrong. The amount of U-235 needed for the bomb was vastly smaller than the germans realized.

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