English book "Rocket
Wife" by Irmgard Gröttrup is now available from Scientists
and Friends. $25.00. Call 831-621-8760. Following
translation by Moni Wagner, "The Rocket Lady."
Sputnik come into existence? Were German scientists involved in the steps to
its development? As wife of Helmut Gröttrup, one of Wernher von Braun’s
closest associates and chief of construction at Peenemünde, Irmgard Gröttrup
experienced the work, life and hardships of the German rocket scientists and
engineers who were carried off to Russia after the war, and who had to endure
this existence for over seven years. Her diaries are a testament documenting
that time and place. Five thousand people (with families it is estimated at
20,000 people) were carried off overnight without notice—among them 200
rocket specialists: researchers, scientists, technicians, and workers, along
with their families. All departed the East Zone of the divided Germany on
October 22, 1946. The last train returning these exiles back to Germany did
not roll back across the Frankfurt-on-the-Oder border crossing until November
On the right is the island of
Gorodomlja in the Seliger See about 60 miles north of Moskau on which the
German Specialists worked. Living conditions were terrible. Homes had wooden
floors and there was a constant shortage of food and water.
The island was encircled with barbed wire.
Gröttrup tells their story in a lively and engaging manner—about the
fortunes of daily life and work of these deportees. She experienced the
development of the so-called bowling-pin rockets, which had been anticipated
by her husband as early as 1950 and had a range of 2,000 miles. She was
witness under the most trying of circumstances and unbelievable shortages of
materiel that accompanied this research and development as well as their daily
lives, and was party to the launch of the first of these Russian-built rockets
on the steeps of Kazakhstan.
Besides the military,
political and technical aspects of this story, we are introduced to much that
is noteworthy about life in Russia—as it pertains to the past as well as to
the present. In the beginning of her enforced exile, there was a certain
freedom available to her, allowing unrestricted contact with the general
population. She therefore gained insight, both openly and in a very Russian
sense surreptitiously, into the general outlook and psyche of around her: the
military officers, party functionaries, officials in economics and industry,
everyday citizens and farmers, and into the family lives of these men and
And we learn about the scientists themselves, their technical and scientific
achievements, their zeal—obsession, perhaps—for their work, without regard
to its political or human consequences, in achieving their end: the rocket.
While Germany was still suffering from the aftermath of World War I, my mother
gave birth to me in Berlin. And almost immediately after I had outgrown my
children’s shoes, there was war yet once again.
Between these two wars, my travel-loving parents gave me the opportunity to
experience many countries and cities: Paris, Copenhagen, Brussels, Vienna,
London and Amsterdam. With the innocence of youth, I became familiar with the
peoples and customs of other nations and learned to love them.
After I finished my general
education, I made up my mind that I wanted to become an artist. I went to the
art academy despite the objections of my parents. The War, however, ended my
dreams of art and beauty. Instead, I came to Peenemünde. Instead, I learned
about the beauty of technology as it evolves from the mathematical clarity of
its construction. I found out that men, highly qualified scientists, also had
dreams—dreams of perfecting the instruments of their imagination. And I
discovered that they could be artists possessed of their ideas—the conquest
I married one of these
obsessed men, Helmut Gröttrup. And I learned the loneliness of the women who
marry such men. My son Peter was born in 1941. In 1944 I was released from the
duty carrying a second child when it was born. That allowed me to go home to
At the end of the war, the
men who had these dreams of conquering space were gathered together by the
Allies, along with their wives and children. One group was taken over the
oceans with contracts duly signed, the other was left in Germany, only to be
forcibly deported to Russia, overnight, as it were, without contracts, without
recourse of any kind.
I have been
writing my diary since I was thirteen. It has been my comforting companion,
even during my years in Russia. My children are my greatest joy, freedom is my
the direction of Helmut Gröttrup the German Specialists worked hard to design
and teach the Russians how to design rockets. On the left is the sequence of
rocket designs, starting with the R-1 which was a copy of the V-2. On the
right is the R-7 which used a pressure stabilized tank structure, swiveling
rocket nozzels, turbo pumps, new rocket engines, new guidance and control
system and a unique conical shape developed by the Germans in Russia.
This rocket design was used
on Vostok 1 and to launch Sputnik in 1957 and was used on all future Russian
boosters. It was well ahead of anything the US had at that time.
left is Soyuz being prepared for launch and on the right is Vostok 1 which was
used to launch Sputnik. In 1945 Russia did not have the technology to
accomplish these great feats but with the help of the hard working German
Specialists they accomplished this in a period of less than 12 years. They
were well ahead in the Space Race and the US had to work hard to catch up.