I am reading The Nuclear Express by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman and on page 8, it describes the forced immigration of Jewish scientists involved in "Jewish Physics" to the United States and it explains that this led to the United States developing the Atomic Bomb, therefore equating Hitler's actions to the development of the Atomic Bomb in the United States. How accurate is this account given that neither of the authors are historians?


The discovery of uranium fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann (German chemists) in the Jan 1939 issue of Die Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature) sparked great interest among physicists all around the world. Jewish Hungarian born physicist Leó Szilárd was among them.

Szilárd living in the US at the time, realized the importance of neutron-driven fission which could yield large amount of energy. Szilárd began working on nuclear reactors with Enrico Fermi. Szilárd was concerned that German scientists might also attempt this experiment.

Szilárd decided to draft a letter to Roosevelt warning him of implications of the a-bomb and also get him to fund nuclear research at home. Instead of drafting the letter alone, he sought aid of Einstein as he thought a letter from Einstein would be more "prestigious".

The letter warned that:

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilárd in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air

It also specifically warned about Germany

I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated

After receiving the letter, Roosevelt decided that the letter required action, and authorized the creation of the Advisory Committee on Uranium. This committee initially funded small scale Szilárd and Fermi's nuclear experiments but later on became an all-out bomb development program called the Manhattan Project.

Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner both of them who drafted the letter studied in Berlin for a brief period of time but fled as soon as Hitler rose to power. In other words, the Nazis gained control of an academic system poised for unlocking the secrets of the atom, poised for developing the atomic bomb. But hatred of Jews prevented Hitler from allowing this situation to follow its natural trajectory

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    Thank you for this answer, while I like both, this one is more focused on what is mentioned in the book and therefore my question. – Benjamin Jun 30 '16 at 6:06
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    See also "MAUD Committee" which (after its report was buried for months) forcefully refocussed attention on "bomb" rather than "reactor". – Brian Drummond Jun 30 '16 at 15:29
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    Note that Szilard conceived of the chain reaction in 1933, when he was in England. The fission properties of uranium were discovered in 1938 (and don't forget to add Lise Meitner to the authors). – Jon Custer Jun 30 '16 at 17:34
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    Exactly. I heartily recommend Rhode's book "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," which covers the scientific, military, and personal aspects of the Manhattan Project. – Carl Witthoft Jun 30 '16 at 19:13
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    I find this answer very US-centric. Szilard assigned his original patent to the British Admiralty, and Britain preceded the US in research. It was only in 1942, after Pearl Harbour and when it was obvious the UK 's wartorn economy was unable to pursue it that British research was transferred to the US as part of the Manhattan Project. – TheHonRose Jun 30 '16 at 22:05

This question seems to be attracting poor quality answers. Some tangential discovery by some scientist is held up as being critical to the bomb. This shows a total lack of understanding.

Here is some actual background:


The atomic bomb was an extrapolation of critical pile experiments conducted at various locations in the 1930s. These had little to do with Jews, Szilard, or anything of the sort. The actual development of the bomb again had little to do with Jews. Atomic bombs are quite simple devices, especially the ones used over Japan. They are little more than a ring of explosives or gun that compresses uranium into a small space to attain criticality. It's absurd to claim that any one group of people was essential in figuring them out.

There was no way that Germany could ever come anywhere close to developing the bomb because it requires vast amounts of energy to process the uranium. The US created the city of Oak Ridge to get this done, and mined uranium from Canada. Germany had nowhere near that kind of hydro and uranium resource, and the Allies easily destroyed their attempts to build heavy water plants in Norway.

In short the accepted answer is completely ahistorical and has no relation to physical reality. No, Jews had no particular essential role in creating the bomb.

  • A number of prominent physicists of the era were German, Hungarian, etc and happened to be Jewish. They could have worked on a bomb for Germany, but they fled the rise of Nazism. So... they worked on it in the UK and the USA. – RonJohn May 25 at 21:12

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