October 16, 2017

1950. Klaus Fuchs Arrested in Britain

Dr. Fuchs Accused of Espionage
Dr. Klaus Fuchs with his nephew Klaus Kittowski at an airport in East Berlin soon after Fuchs' release from prison, June 24, 1959 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 6, 1950

Further background has come to light today on Dr. Klaus Fuchs, the German-born atomic scientist now under arrest in Britain for violation of security regulations.

German sources, trying to trace the family of the German physicist, have turned up a tragic story of Nazi persecution. And it might perhaps provide a clue as to the motives which caused Dr. Fuchs to violate his trust—if it is proven that he did.

Klaus Fuchs is the son of Professor Emil Fuchs, who until Hitler's rise in 1933 held the chair of theology in the Academy of Kiel. There were three children, a daughter and two sons, one of whom was Klaus. The brothers joined the socialist movement early, a widespread reaction in Germany following the defeat of the Kaiser's armies.

In Kiel the brothers became known as the "red foxes," a comment not only on their politics but also the color of their hair.

But when Hitler came, the Fuchs family was doomed. The Nazis jailed the old professor for insulting the state. Klaus succeeded in getting a scientific scholarship in Britain. But his brother also was jailed for many years. His sister married, her husband likewise went to a concentration camp. The sister finally committed suicide.

This is the tragedy of the family of the brilliant atomic scientist now under arrest in London.

The story is not yet finished. The elderly professor Fuchs, now more than seventy years old, during the war intensified his work with the Quakers. He spent some time in Switzerland and in 1945 returned to Germany, where he was offered the chair of theology at the University of Leipzig in the Russian zone of Germany.

The final chapter of the saga of "The Foxes of Kiel" will be written in London.

Here in Berlin, the city is more quiet than it has been in a month. Traffic is rolling normally, and everyone is happy to get even a temporary respite from the crisis atmosphere that has plagued us lately.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS London

February 10, 1950

Attorneys for the Crown this morning submitted a full confession by Dr. Klaus Fuchs alleging that he gave and sold America's and Britain's atomic secrets to Soviet Russia.

The 39-year-old German-born scientist appeared in Bow Street court for arraignment on charges that he violated Britain's Official Secrets Act—once in this country and earlier in 1944 in the United States when the first atomic bomb was being constructed.

The confession, parts of which were read in the jammed courtroom, is a moving document of moral struggle in the rarefied atmosphere of atomic physics.

But the confession confirms that the Soviet Union was well-informed of America's billion dollar atomic experiment at a time when most Americans didn't know what was going on.

How much information and how important it is will not be revealed. The court announced that no technical details would be discussed in public.

Fuchs looks like an atomic scientist is supposed to look—spare, intense, youthful. He sat in the dock without any display of emotion as his confession was read.

The confession says Klaus Fuchs joined the Communist Party as an anti-Nazi when Hitler came to power. He came to Britain in 1933 and was granted British citizenship, meanwhile becoming what the prosecuting attorney today termed "one of the finest theoretical physicists living."

During the war Fuchs was interned here, then released and asked to work on Britain's atomic project. "At this time," the confession says, "I decided I would give the information to Russia." Fuchs said he believed Russia was building a new world and he wanted to be part of it.

Then he described himself as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said he was able to divide his mind into two compartments, one that was happy and friendly, "the kind of man I wanted to be." But the other was the man devoted to the cause of communism, or as he was charged, "a political fanatic on the payroll of a foreign power."

Fuchs called his strange psychological process "controlled schizophrenia." He admitted voluntarily contacting British communists and giving information to them. At one time he visited the Russian Embassy in London.

He admitted to taking one hundred pounds in payment, "but only as a symbolic payment signifying his subservience to the cause."

The real payoff came after the war. "In the postwar period I had doubts about Russian policy. Finally I came to the point where I knew I disapproved of many actions of Russian policy. I had to decide whether I could continue to hand over information without being sure I was doing right. I decided I could not do so."

Fuchs said that this new world could not be built "when at the same time it would destroy the fundamental decencies in human behavior."

Dr. Klaus Fuchs today revealed himself as a man betrayed by these fundamental decencies. He said he did not want to implicate his fellow scientists at the Harwell laboratories nor to destroy his work and "the people I love."

He was committed to Old Bailey, in custody, for trial.

This is Bill Downs in London. Now back to CBS in New York.