Buchenwald’s Liberation and What It Says about the Development of Wind Energy

By Paul Gipe

Today marks the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 by the 6th armored division of the US Third Army. Buchenwald is significant for several reasons. 56,000 people died in the camp, some one-quarter of those imprisoned. It’s also significant for some of those held there, such as Marcel Dassault, the founder of the French aviation company Dassault. Another survivor was Elie Wiesel who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for his writing about Buchenwald and the holocaust. The liberation of Buchenwald was also significant because General Eisenhower himself visited the camp the next day to see the conditions for himself.

However, what is not generally known outside a few historians is that one of the great names in German aviation–and wind energy–operated a test site near Weimar where Buchenwald was located. Ulrich Hütter, an early member of the Nazi Party, not only operated the test site for senior party members, but also taught in Weimar. It would be highly unlikely that he did not know what was happening in the camp. Hütter was never held accountable for what he did or didn’t do about Buchenwald.

In my new book, Wind Energy for the Rest of Us, I make the association between Hütter, Buchenwald, and Hütter’s work for the Nazi Party to illustrate that technology is not morally neutral. It can be used for good or ill. Individuals are responsible for how technology is used. Hütter’s work was intended to help Germany settle the “eastern lands” after it had been swept clean of its inhabitants. Fortunately, modern wind energy grew in a far different manner than that envisioned by Hütter of a top-down, centrally-directed, and corporate led development.

The one contribution that Hütter did make to wind turbine technology was how the blades attach to the rotor’s hub. Ironically, it was Danish grassroots citizen activists—the antithesis of fascist technocrats—that adapted Hütter’s concept to make wind turbines work—for everyone.