Then I drove to Bavaria and helped my wife with packing and sorting; the children were brought to Westphalia for the duration of the move. Eventually we loaded up five trucks in Urfeld with our possessions. Then followed the time of settling in and now, finally, we are happily installed in our new home. To keep our spirits from soaring too high, six of our children caught whooping cough, but that also is getting better.
Were my mother still alive she would take part in all these changes and would mentally prepare herself for Christmas, when she was always with us. I fondly remember our last Christmas together, two years ago, because even during the times when silvery swarms filled the blue sky our little house in the mountains was a haven of peace. Now we embark on an uncertain future here, but we hope and believe that overall it will be a peaceful one. With best wishes for you and your loved ones, also from my wife, your much devoted...”
By the early 1930s, Heisenberg was recognized as the leading spokesman for physics in Germany. However, like many other scientists, he found himself in an increasingly awkward position as Nazi attacks in the academic professions forced the remaining German institutions and their members into an implicit alliance with the dictatorship. Heisenberg decided not to emigrate and assumed, like others in his position, that the Nazis would not be in power for long.
With the outbreak of war, Heisenberg was dispatched to the Army Weapons Bureau in Berlin to investigate the application of nuclear fission to large-scale energy production. In just two months Heisenberg had completed an analysis of chain reactions and stated their possible use in the construction of an atomic bomb. This report propelled him to the forefront of specialists in nuclear energy in Germany. Earning the enmity of those colleagues and friends who were opposed to the Nazi regime, Heisenberg continued his efforts until captured by the Allies in late spring 1945.
After Otto Hahn’s discovery of nuclear fission in the late 1930s, it was widely believed that Germany would quickly try to develop an atom bomb for use during World War II. At the order of American General Leslie R. Groves, head of the American atom bomb program, Project ALSOS (Greek for “grove”) was tasked with “investigating significant physics laboratories, seizing and assessing documents and apparatus, capturing and interrogating scientists – especially physicists and chemists thought likely to be working on problems of nuclear physics and nuclear engineering,” (DSB). As the Allies rolled eastward across Europe in 1944, members of the ALSOS team followed in their tank tracks. Arriving in Strasbourg in November 1944, they soon discovered files indicating that German work on an atom bomb had barely begun and that Heisenberg had relocated to southern Germany. On May 3, 1945, Heisenberg was arrested at his home in Urfeld, Bavaria, mentioned in our letter. Within six months, Project ALSOS had seized all of Germany’s leading atomic scientists and their primitive laboratories. The degree to which these scientists, and particularly Heisenberg, knew how to build a bomb, and why one was never constructed, is hotly debated to this day. Lack of funding, man-power, ability, and desire are all elements in considering one of the most profound scientific and moral dilemmas of our age.
Germany surrendered less than a week after Heisenberg’s arrest, and after his six month internment in Britain with other captured scientists, Heisenberg returned to Germany. In January 1946, he settled in Göttingen where he reestablished and resumed the directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in July, to be renamed shortly thereafter, the Max Planck Institute. Despite his equivocal position on Nazism, in the years following World War II Heisenberg actively promoted the peaceful use of nuclear power, and in 1957 led other German scientists in opposing the movement to equip the West German army with nuclear weapons.
Heisenberg’s mother, Anna (née Wecklein) Heisenberg (1871-1945), died in June 1945, just a few weeks after Heisenberg’s arrest. Heisenberg married Elisabeth Schumacher in 1937 and the couple had seven children (two of whom became prominent scientists), the “large family” discussed in our letter.
Normal folding, in very good condition, and uncommon from this period..