Excerpt from the Declassified Transcripts of Secretly Recorded Conversations at Farm Hall

The ten captured scientists interned at Farm Hall, England, included: Werner Heisenberg, Max von Laue, Otto Hahn, Walther Gerlach, Paul Harteck, Kurt Diebner, C.F. von Weizsäcker, Karl Wirtz, Erich Bagge, Horst Korsching.

The scientists have just listened to a BBC report on the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

KORSCHING: That shows at any rate that the Americans are capable of real cooperation on a tremendous scale. That would have been impossible in Germany. Each one said that the other was unimportant.

GERLACH: You can't say that as far as the uranium group is concerned.

KORSCHING: Not officially of course.

GERLACH (shouting): Not unofficially either! Don't contradict me! There are far too many other people here who know.

HAHN: Of course we were unable to work on that scale.

HEISENBERG: One can say that the first time large funds were made available in Germany was in the spring of 1942, after our meeting with Rust [the education minister] when we convinced him that we had absolutely definite proof that it could be done.

BAGGE: It wasn't much earlier here either.


HEISENBERG: On the other hand the whole heavy-water business, which I did everything I could to further, cannot produce an explosive.

HARTECK: Not until the engine [reactor] is running.

HAHN: They seem to have an explosive before making the engine and now they say, "In the future we will build engines."

HARTECK: If it is a fact that an explosive can be produced either by means of the mass spectrograph--we would never have done it as we could never have employed 56,000 workmen. ...

C.F. VON WEIZSAECKER: How many people were working on the V-1 and V-2 rockets?

DIEBNER: Thousands worked on that.

HEISENBERG: We wouldn't have had the moral courage to recommend to the government in the spring of 1942 that they should employ 120,000 men just for building the thing up.

WEIZSAECKER: I believe the reason we didn't do it was because all the physicists didn't want to do it, on principle. If we had wanted Germany to win the war we would have succeeded!

HAHN: I don't believe that, but I am thankful we didn't succeed.


HEISENBERG: The point is that the whole structure of the relationship between the scientist and the state in Germany was such that although we were not 100% anxious to do it, on the other hand we were so little trusted by the state that even if we had wanted to do it, it would not have been easy to get it through.

DIEBNER: Because the officials were only interested in immediate results. They didn't want to work on a long-term policy as America did.

WEIZSAECKER: Even if we had gotten everything that we wanted, it is by no means certain whether we would have gotten as far as the Americans and English have now. There is no question that we were very nearly as far as they were, but it is a fact that we were all convinced that the thing could not have been completed during the war.

HEISENBERG: Well, that's not quite right. I would say that I was absolutely convinced of the possibility of our making a uranium engine, but I never thought we would make a bomb, and at the bottom of my heart I was really glad that it was to be an engine and not a bomb. I must admit that.


WEIZSAECKER: I don't think we ought to make excuses now because we did not succeed, but we must admit that we did not want to succeed. ...

WIRTZ: I think it characteristic that the Germans made the discovery and didn't use it, whereas the Americans have used it. I must say I didn't think the Americans would dare to use it.

Where to Find the Complete Transcripts

The American copy of the transcripts, originally sent to Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, are now located in National Archives II, College Park, Maryland, in Record Group 77, Manhattan Engineer District.

Published versions include:

Operation Epsilon : The Farm Hall Transcripts, with an introduction by Sir Charles Frank (Bristol and Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993). The raw, unedited transcripts.

Bernstein, Jeremy, ed., Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (Woodbury, NY: AIP Press, 1996). Edited with a rather contentious commentary by Bernstein.