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Inside the Gulag


The moon rise podcast is sponsored by lighthouse from the moon to mars lighthouse is proud to support nasa and the space industry with the right tools technology science and innovation they need for their most critical missions learn more at lighthouse dot com slash space. It caused the enemy to bid for victory came too late with allied penetration deep into nazi territory opposition crumbled rocket bases. She's like we left off with nazi rocket engineer wernher von braun secretly escaping being to america leaving behind germany's powerful labs and factories the dismantled warheads fee to rockets their enormous metal combustion chambers. Everything was abandoned as the nazi regime crumbled but before we follow von braun's escaped to the united states we need to pull back the curtain on another story that was playing playing out in parallel during world war two. This is the hush hush story of a rocket engineer in the soviet union while germany gave von braun everything during the war resources <hes> fame the soviet union gave its version of von braun next to nothing worse than that the country set out to kill this ski rocket engineer and yet the soviet scientists would find a way to rise from the ashes to become von braun's rival in in the speech race to come the million cam the washington post and this device player are thinkers such as constantine sokolowski and then built upon by such great deciders circuit court and this idea yeah came into existence sir in <music> the in the course of my reporting. I went to nasa headquarters in d._c. To meet with their chief historian bill barry we sat down and bills office switches just stacked high with books and retro nasa paraphernalia and we talked for a while and i kept trying to get him to tell me secrets about the space race ace and finally he leaned in and pointed to a frame on his desk because in that did you left her in the frame was a faded black and white photograph of a man there was something faren and distant about it it but his gaze in the photograph was so searing in close it had caught my eye ever since we sat down. That's good corey of. He's the guy whose genius behind the soviet space program. I had never heard of him or maybe i had somewhere. I wasn't quite sure like so many things from the cold war. Sergei korolyov story had long been buried. I was staring at the photograph waiting for bilberry to tell me more about sergei korolyov and about the hidden details of the soviet side of the space race pearlers why this story which is the u._s. Soviet dynamic in this other stuff hasn't come out is because it's it's a hard story explaining without like going into all these weird rabbit holes. The lewd came off when the soviet union came apart because all of stuff was classified <hes> and <hes> i actually went into an archive <hes> russian. I was doing research over there with them and ask them questions about things and the deputy director said. What are you doing here and so i want to talk to you about the n one rocket because there was no such thing and i said there's a pitcher on the senate side you officer. I decided i walked by there was no such thing there was was such a thing in the united states we had the saturn five rocket that werner von braun built to send humans to the moon on apollo in the soviet union. They had the n. one and it was designed by the man in the photograph on bills desk sergei korolyov <music> the soviets were actually very close to beating the americans moon race was actually like down the wire and nobody knows the maestro behind the soviet successes was korolyov but it was also because of a twist in his story that the americans were ultimately able to get to the moon. I and all of that information about korolyov about this soviet side of the space race was kept top secret for a really long time in fact it wasn't until after korolyov's death that the soviet union officially acknowledged that he ever existed existed much of the details are still shrouded in mystery as we can tell from bills story of going to the russian archive <music>. I left bills office that day feeling this urge to go deeper down the cold war rabbit hole but he had opened up for me. I went and got a bunch of dense books on soviet space history and tore through them for any details. I could find about korolyov. I started appeasing his story together. One source that was really useful was the red rockets glare by space historian asif siddiqi sergei korolyov saga in some ways was the inverse of werner von braun's. These were two men with dreams of the moon two men who went to work on their country's missile programs to men who without ever meeting each other would race to space but we're von braun one was lavished with resources and fame in germany and then also in the u._s. Coral yeah of was battered and and invisible. It's like these two men were made of the same cosmic dust but their lives played out so differently early for all the archival tape that we have of werner von braun almost nothing exists of korolyov the other fishes all we could find was this one scratchy little clip of him talking about the first manned spaceflight right on russian television so <music>. I will have to tell his story for you and you will have to picture him. Come with me. <hes> let's spend halfway across the planet from united states to moscow sergei. Korolyov was a boy growing up in the ukraine without a father. He was an adolescent when vladimir lenin and led the russian revolution in nineteen seventeen. He was a teenager interested in science. As communism was taking root in soviet union korea had particularly fallen in love with gliders and the idea of flight and he joined up with a group of aviation enthusiasts who were building rocket engines for fun. They were trying to push the bounds of how fast and how high these gliders lighters and planes could go the group's leader was a man named friedrich zander sander was older than korolyov sort of a father figure and he read lots of science fiction and he dreamed of going to space he and even named his daughters ostra and mercury after after the stars and the planet his mantra with this group was onward to mars and he ended up turning coral you have from someone who was simply interested in fine to someone who was excited by the much wilder ideas of space travel even though sander was sort of this spiritual leader of this group korolyov pretty quickly became a more effective logistical leader he would offer up his home as a meeting spot and the young men would even melt their own silverware to make parts for the rockets in other countries. You got similar sort of activities. This is roger lanka's former chief historian of nasa. The german rocket society gets developed as well during the same timeframe. That's where rainer von braun got his start. The verner von braun's the surrogate court loves they are initially excited by the prospect of exploring space but lake with von braun korolyov had to start working with the military military in order to continue to pursue his passion. Now an interesting thing to note is that the u._s. are was initially ahead of other countries in many ways first of all a russian man named constantine sokolowski had already developed a theory in nineteen. Oh the three that scientists today consider the first documented proof that getting to the moon was scientifically possible so called ski mapped out the plan for how you could use liquid fuel and a series of combustion chambers to power a rocket into space <music>. This was more than twenty years before robert goddard's famous rock experiments in america and before von braun's owns mentor the german scientist turnovers published all of his theories so coffees breakthroughs didn't get attention outside the soviet union but inside the country he became pretty famous and he inspired a lot of young russian men like sander and then by association korolyov to get interested in space so fast forward to the early nineteen thirties joseph ziff stalin's communist government has offered funding to korolyov's amateur circle of aviation enthusiast propulsion technologies could have a number number of military uses that funding transformed their group into a secret state-sponsored rocket research institute. It was the first of its kind kind in the world but that doesn't mean it got tons of funding. They were upgraded to operating out of a freezing colin seller in moscow still still sandrine coralie of must have been ecstatic. Here was a chance to spend their lives working on the dream of flight when the opportunity permitted itself to build a rocket. They're willing mostly to agree to do that partly because they're patriotic but more than that they want a bill the rockets because all these people are sorta jazz by the idea of getting off this planet the military purpose. They recognized in the back of their mind. Yes you can use this for other purposes but that was not their primary focus for much of the nineteen thirties they worked on developing rocket technology for the red army so things like jet engines that could power planes beyond just the use of propellers but it didn't work workout as they had dreamed the conditions had been hard. The accomplishments hadn't been big yet and sander in particular had completely worn himself down down. He was so poor that korea would secretly buy him lunch and he was so sick that corollary of finally took some money out of the groups funding to send sander offer treatment by the sea but while there he died of typhus supposedly the last letter that sanders sent to korolyov they have ended with these words forward comrades and only forward raised the rockets higher and higher closer to the stars ours but they just couldn't while germany was now revving up its investment in rockets the soviet the union suddenly ground its efforts to a halt stalin lynn zinoviev and common you have forced trotsky into exile then stalin overrules is to associates and ends the new economic policy from nineteen thirty thirty six through nineteen thirty about seven hundred and fifty thousand people were executed in the soviet union under stalin colin though the numbers were so big that there's still no decisive count in some provinces as much as four percent of the population vanishes this was called called the great terror at first stolen targeted members of his political opposition but then his paranoia <hes> really exploded and he started ordering mass executions of anyone who might be an enemy of the state well over half of the top communist leadership and thousands of lesser officials vanish as do most of the army officers. One of his biggest concerns was the red army stolen became convinced that his own military leaders were out to get him so tons of them were executed then since korolyov's rocketry group was getting its funding and support through the army stalin's eventually turned their way it didn't trust what they were doing and where their allegiances lie hurley of wasn't the head of the program at the time but he had a prominent position one by one his colleagues disappeared they would be arrested at night in their homes. Uh-huh then in many cases they would be taken to an execution site and shot by the secret. Police korolyov's tosses disappeared. His friends disappeared his close colleague and peer valentine glasgow disappeared heard at the end of march. Call of glasgow were friends and rivals they had similar dreams of space. Similar childhoods turns growing up in the ukraine they had similar roles in the rocket laboratory but glue sco had thrown korolyov under the bus while he was trying to save himself during an interrogation with the secret police curly of new that and he also knew that once glue louche geico was gone he was going to be next. It was only a matter of time just a couple couple months later on june evening. In nineteen thirty korolyov walked home through the streets of moscow at twilight he had stayed late working on rocket projects despite the fear and emptiness at the institute as he wound his way through the dark streets he might have thought of his daughter natalia who was three years old and was staying with her grandmother that that night he picked up of the get an a newspaper then he joined his wife for dinner in their tiny studio apartment not far from the bend in the moskva river. She told him she had noticed two strangers <music> outside during the time of the great terror in the soviet union that was like seeing the grim reaper. They made dinner dinner. They eat together lingered a summer night. In the dark city listening to scratchy melodies on the phonograph sure enough he turns out the door concern concern to die but not immediately they abducted carl young threw him in prison prison broke his jaw. He knew that prison usually wasn't the ultimate fate of his callings who had been charged with the seem made up crime of sabotaging their country. What could he do. I mean how could you possibly prove your innocence. When the steed was set on exterminating you he scrawled letters to his wife and letters to the secret police the courts anyone in power he could think of breath but his letters didn't matter by now four of his colleagues had filed a false report saying that coral yeah it was part of an anti-stalin effort it seemed they had all gone from these beautiful dreamers to these mice who could only care about self of preservation. He was facing certain death. The plan had been to execute him on september timber twenty seventh nineteen thirty eight along with a lot of other enemies of the state on stalin's list. We know this because that list was finally declassified in nineteen ninety nine but at the last minute the plan changed for some reason that still unclear instead of a single shot in the head like many of the other scientists korolyov was sentenced to a slow death death. He was shipped off to a far desolate northeast sliver sliver of the country to work in one of the most notorious gulags in siberia. The kohima gold mine. Many of the prisoners in this were camp died brutal deaths. They're only after a couple of months. If not killed olds by guards or by starvation or exhaustion then by the absolutely freezing arctic winters one of the coldest this places on planet earth korolyov lost his teeth from scurvy. His plump youthful face was sunk in scarred. His body was not much more than bones so after about six months in official note arrived korolyov could leave the gulag. You had to find his way back to moscow immediately so his case could be reexamined. We examined so there was hope you might get in his wife and his daughter again. Maybe the government hadn't even realized is that he was innocent and that he just wanted to build rockets for his country. The trip back to moscow was not going to be easy. It was winter insurance siberia and he was already on the verge of death but he walked and he hitched rides. Nearly four hundred miles calls to get himself from the prison camp to the nearest port when he got there he found out that the most the recent ship to make the crossing back to the mainland killed more than seven hundred people on board when it sank in the icy waters mm-hmm so what did he do. He got on another ship attempting the crossing anyway he was so sick and starved served and frail and frozen that when the boat finally reached the other side the doctors examining the passengers pronounced korolyov early of dead but somehow he revived himself enough to crawl onto a train for the five thousand mile journey that would take him the rest of the way back to moscow he looked out the window at dense pine forests covered in snow at mountains and then treeless plains than the dark depths of lake by call the fighting of nazi germany the rockets that were being built by golden childs werner von braun that was far off in the distance all he saw and knew was this creed expanse of the soviet union aw finally korolyov made it to moscow he was broken hollowed out but he had survived he walked into his retrial. Hope twinkling and those st paul is the verdict actually showy. He had to spend the next eight years in prison at different gulag in the arctic. Forget get his wife and daughter forget rockets and space flight forget the moon and the stars everything had fallen apart. He was to die a prisoner alone in the cold clutch of planet earth. The moon riders podcast is sponsored by lighthouse. Deep space is calling and lighthouses helping the space industry's innovators answer. The call for modernizing nassar's is enterprise i._t. To processing over thirty five thousand pounds of mission critical supplies each year to keep the international space station fully operational lighthouse delivers does the i._t. Engineering and science to advance today's most important space capabilities learn how at light oh dot com slash space the <music> the first time after niche in enemy who stand up to his longish the russian army train them prepared the people united to make sacrifices world war two was now in full swing in europe and stalin's mass mass murderers continued on soviet soil surrogate korolyov streams of soviet glory rockets and space all of his as early achievements and promise everything just seemed to have gone horribly wrong but before korolyov was shipped off to die at that second can frozen gulag. A letter changed his fate not a letter he wrote himself. Get this some other aviation designers who had also been sentenced to death had joined together to make a last ditch effort to save their lives lives but they did is they wrote up this very smart proposal to the secret police that said if they were kept alive they can in use their rocketry skills to create weapons for world war. Two wouldn't be useful better than killing them. Their argument worked the soviet union decided that instead of shooting these engineers or sending them off to the gulags they would create special prisons sheriff's casse where these scientists would work to develop new technologies they wrote up a list of which scientists could go there and the government added korolyov's name to that list the secret prison laboratory he was sent to was about five hundred hundred miles east of moscow in the city of kazan and you're not going to believe this his boss fair ended up being the valentine glasgow that owns colleague and rival of korolyov's who had disappeared right before him from the rocket institute. The one who out of desperation had turned the agents on to pursuing korolyov glues co was somehow also still alive five. They were told just to focus on making quick small improvements to what was already in the soviet union ends war arsenal. There was very little room for the big innovative projects that coral you have had originally hoped to do the country was in the thick of world war two two and it couldn't waste time on scientists dreams. They just needed weapons. The the soviets didn't have the time or the resources to develop a ballistic missile. Nobody had i developed a ballistic missile. This is mike newfound of the smithsonian's national errand space museum what the soviets were working on. All of this were small rockets with a few hundred pounds of thrust. You know at most korolyov worked in that secret prison for the remaining years of world war two and toward the end of the war he finally started to realize what had been going on in germany with rocketry that whole time while korolyov and the soviets oh v._8.'s we're working on these tiny battle rockets wernher von braun and the germans were building the v two ballistic missile. Let me put another way. Korolyov was stuck working on basically firecrackers with a few hundred pounds of thrust von braun's v two's had about fifty five thousand pounds of thrust <hes> i mean when it came to rocketry by the end of the war germany had just left all the other countries far behind at the time the u._s. and the soviet union though they didn't understand all the technology behind it but they recognized that what had been developed in germany was something that they sort of needed for their own programs at the end of the war. German technology became desirable. I mean neither side really understood what the germans were up to until nineteen forty three <hes> and that's when they first sort of cruel liable intelligence came out about the fact that the germans are developing being a big rock which is a very exotic technology for war to them just extremely future restaurant down from the skies over over england citizen of southern england and it's a matter of life and death your life and your death your a roof spothero any kind of spotter and there's nothing you can do except watch out for them and pray course the germans also developed the world's first cruise missile the be one of the what's called buzzbomb so the germans had developed a cruise missile ballistic missile they developed jet fighters of the we also had jet fighters and so the end of the war was kind of a preview you of the cold war many of the core technologies the jet aircraft the cruise missile the ballistic missile and atomic bomb all appeared in the last year of world war two so and and they were all sort of precursors of the of future wars and naturally all the powers wanted to see what the germans had told so as the war came to a close and the nazi regime crumbled other countries swooped into germany to see what they could steal theon from the wreckage. You know they had developed these particular exotic things that we were interested in getting a hold of an understanding standing and with that of course you got interested in taking the people you know and capturing fund brown and some of the others and bringing them over here and the french did did the same and the british and the and the soviets all began rounding up experts at the end of the war partly just interrogate them partly they concluded that they need to take some of them back to their home countries and and and work with them and try to get to understand in late late spring of nineteen forty five at the war's end americans swept through the middle virk the underground tunnels where von braun's v two rockets were being produced they saw the gas chambers and the emaciated prisoners and the carted off tons cantons hundreds of tons of v. two rocket parts and equipment and they shipped it to the united states to examine and duplicate right after they left the area. The soviet union's investigators arrived to pick through the debris as well. The red red army also seized the island where von braun had originally started production on the v. two rocket. It was in northern germany along the baltic sea. Eh they searched the bombed-out labs for secret blueprints. Knock it parts and more scientists they could capture or recruit to their side and one of those soviets sifting through the rubble was sergei korolyov. After six years of forced labour korolyov was freed from his prison as in lab at the end of the war so he could help recover the rocket technology in germany. It was supposed to be a short stint but korolyov oh yeah of would end up staying there much longer taking over facilities and reviving them under soviet command when corleones visited von braun's original production site on that german island he passed the old gas plant that powered the missiles then he climbed armed the remains of v. two rocket pulling himself up to stand on top of its big metal combustion chambers mm-hmm pieces of the world's most incredible rocket or underneath him and there was the from bowl of a tree again. It was a september day and the baltic sea air brushed against against his double-breasted trenchcoat. He pushed one hand into a pocket and curled the other into his sleeve. His deep set eyes peered out out from beneath a wool visor cap at the ruins around him. His jaw was permanently damaged from his abduction. His body ravaged by time in the gulag but the softest lift of smile cross his face. Someone snapped a photograph. The americans americans may have snuck away with valuable loot and with plans to coddle wonder kin von braun but the soviet union had possession of the missile labs and the factories themselves east germany was there's now it was the end of world war two and the beginning of the cold war a race to control the most powerful technology on the planet brown was gone but the puzzle pieces in his rocketry brew rate there for coral. You have to put together. It was time to get to work. <music> <music> <music> on the next episode of moore is mysterious objects excursion in the desert atomic horror stories are flying off the shelves and von braun is secretly working on rockets in america that will get us to the moon <music>. Moon rise is in washington post audio podcast. It's the result of the incredible work of amazing producer bishops san dan editor dennis funk project coordinator alyson michaels our designer courtney khan and director of audio just stall our podcast house. Launch event was hosted by the adler planetarium in chicago. Subscribe to moon rise on apple podcasts google podcasts deter spotify. He you can also find it on the washington post site at washingtonpost dot com slash moon rise many thanks to the great experts who appeared on this episode though barry chief historian of nasa roger lonnie's a former chief historian of nasa and mike new fouled a senior curator reader at the national errand space museum. Also i want to particularly acknowledge the work of asif siddiqi. He's an expert on the soviet viet- space program and his book the red rockets glare was an incredible source of detail about sergei korolyov's life and provided the basis for much of this episode rhode archival recordings came from v. g. t. r. k. vesti news from critical passed from nasa and from the russian russian history audio archive of the wilson centers kenan institute. I'm lillian cunningham the creator and host of moon rise. Thanks thanks for listening and we'll be back next week with chapter. Five devastation you see ear was caused by the explosion of the bomb above zero point. Only the strongest buildings are left standing and they are <music>. Yeah you heard county record the way views of mankind <music> <music> uh.

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