Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Race for the Superbomb Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources

Klaus Fuchs' Statement

January 27, 1950
On January 27, 1950 Klaus Fuchs, a British Scientist who had worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos during the war, confessed to being a Soviet spy. On March 1, 1950 he was tried and found guilty at the Old Bailey in London.

War Office, 27th January, 1950.

STATEMENT of Emil Julius Klaus FUCHS of 17, Hillside, Harwell, Berkshire, who saith :-

I am deputy Chief Scientific Officer (acting rank) at Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell.

I was born in Russelheim on 29th December, 1911. My father was a parson and I had a very happy childhood. I think the one thing that most stands out is that my father always did what he believed to be the right thing to do and he always told us that we had to go our own way even if he disagreed. He himself had many fights because he did what his conscience decreed even if these were at variance with accepted conventions. For example he was the first parson to join the Social Democratic Party.

I didn't take much interest in politics during my school days except insofar as I was forced into it by the fact that of course all the other pupils knew who my father was and I think the only political act at school which I ever made was at the celebration of the Weimar Constitution when there was a celebration at school and all the flags of the Weimar republic had been put up outside whereas inside very large numbers of the pupils appeared with the Imperial badge. At that point I took out the badge showing the colours of the republic and put it on and of course it was immediately torn down.

When I got to the University at Leipzig I joined the S.P.D. and took part in the organization of the students Group of the S.P.D. I found myself soon in opposition to the official policy of the S.P.D. for example on the question of navel rearmament, when the S.P.D. supported the building programme of the Panzercreuzer. I did have some discussions with Communists but I always found that I despised them because it was apparent that they accepted the official policy of their party even if they did not agree with it. The main point at issue was always the Communist policy of proclaiming the United Front and at the same time attacking the leaders of the S.P.D. Later I went to Keil University. It has just occurred to me, though It may not be important, that at Leipzig I was in the Reichsbanner which was a semi-military organization composed of members of the S.P.D. and the Democratic Party. That is a point at which I broke away from my father's philosophy because he is a pacifist. In Kiel I was at first still a member of the S.P.D., but the break came when the S.P.D. decided to support Hindenburg as Reich President. There argument was that if they put up their own candidate it would split the vote and Hitler would be elected. In particular this would mean that the position of the S.P.D. in Prussia would be lost when they controlled the whole of the Police organization. The election was I think in 1932. My argument was that we could not stop Hitler by cooperating with other bourgeois parties but that only a united working class could stop him. At this point I decided to oppose the official policy openly and I offered myself as a speaker in support of the Communist candidate. Shortly after the election of Hindenburg, Papen was made Reich Chancellor and he dismissed the elected Prussian Government and put in a Reichstadhalter. That evening we all collected spontaneously. I went to the headquarters of the Communist Party because I had in the meantime been expelled from the S.P.D., but I had seen many of my previous friends in the Reichsbanner and I knew that they were gathering together ready to fight for the Prussian Government, but the Prussian Government yielded. All they did was to appeal to the central Reich Court. At this point the morale of the rank and file of the S.P.D. and the Reichsbanner broke completely and it was evident that there was no force left in those organizations to resist Hitler. I accepted that the Communist Party had been right in fighting against the leaders of the S.P.D. and that I had been wrong in blaming them for it. I had already joined the Communist Party because I felt I had to be in some organization.

Some time before this I had also joined a student organization which contained members of the S.P.D. as well as members of the Communist Party. This organization was frowned upon by the S.P.D., but they did not take steps against me until I came out openly against the official policy. I was made the chairman of this organization and we carried on propaganda aimed at those members of the Nazis whom we believed to be sincere. The Nazis had decided to start propaganda against the high fees which students had to pay and we decided to take them by their word convinced that we would show them up. I carried on the negotiations with the leaders of the Nazi group at the University, proposing that we should organize a strike of the students. They hedged and after several weeks I decided the time had come to show that they did not intend to do it. We issued a leaflet explained that the negotiations had been going on but that the leaders of the Nazi were not in earnest. Our policy did have success because some members of our organization succeeded in making personal contacts with some of the sincere Nazis. The Nazi leaders apparently noticed that because some time later they organized a strike against the Rector of the University. That was after Hitler had been made Reich Chancellor. During that strike they called in the support of the S.A. from the town who demonstrated in front of the University. In spite of that I went there every day to show that we were not afraid of them. On one of these occasions they tried to kill me and I escaped. The fact that Hindenberg made Hitler Reich Chancellor of course proved to me again that I had been right in opposing the official policy of the S.P.D. After the burning of the Reichstag I had to go underground. I was lucky because on the morning after the burning of the Reichstag I left my home very early to catch a train to Berlin for the conference of our student organization and that is the only reason why I escaped arrest. I remember clearly when I opened the newspaper in the train I immediately realized the significance and I knew that the underground struggle had started. I took the badge of the hammer and sickle from my lapel which I had carried until that time.

I was ready to accept the philosophy that the Party is right and that in the coming struggle you could not permit yourself any doubts after the party had made a decision. At this point I omitted to resolve in my mind a very small difficulty about my conduct of the policy against the Nazis. I received of course a great deal of praise at the conference in Berlin which was held illegally, but there rankled in my mind the fact that I had sprung our leaflet on the leaders of the Nazis without warning, without giving them an ultimatum that I would call to the student body unless they made a decision by a certain date. If it had been necessary to do that I would not have worried about it but there was no need for it. I had violated some standard of decent behavior but I did not resolve this difficulty and very often this incident did come back to my mind, but I came to accept that in such a struggle things of this kind are prejudice which are weakness and which you must fight against.

All that followed helped to confirm the ideas I had formed. Not a single party voted against the extraordinary powers which were given to Hitler by the new Reichstag and in the universities there was hardly anybody who stood up for those who were dismissed either on political or racial grounds and again you found that people whom you normally would have respected because of their decency had no force in themselves to stand up for their own ideals or moral standards.

I was in the underground until I left Germany. I was sent out by the Party because they said that I must finish my studies, because after the revolution in Germany people would be required with technical knowledge to take part in the building up of the Communist Germany. I went first to France and then to England where I studied and at the same time I tried to make a serious study of the basic Marxist philosophy. The idea which gripped me most was the belief that in the past man has been unable to understand his own history and the forces which lead to the further development of human society; that now for the first time man understands the historical forces and he is able to control them and that therefore for the first time he will be really free. I carried this idea over into the personal sphere and believed that I could understand myself and that I could make myself into what I believed I should be.

I accepted for a long time that what you heard about Russia internally could be deliberate lies. I had my doubts for the first time on acts of foreign policy of Russia; the Russo-German pack was difficult to understand but in the end I did accept that Russia had done it, to gain time, that during that time she was expanding her own influence in the Balkans against the influence of Germany. Finally Germany's attack on Russia seemed to confirm that Russia was not shirking and was prepared to carry out a foreign policy with the risk of war with Germany. Russia's attack on Finland was more difficult to understand but the fact that England and France prepared for an intervention in Finland at the time when they did not appear to be fighting seriously against Germany made it possible to accept the explanation that Russia had to prepare its defenses against all possible Imperialist powers. In the end I accepted again that my doubts had been wrong and the party had been right.

When Germany started the real attack on France I was interned and for a long time we were not allowed any newspapers. We did not know what was going on outside and I did not see how the British people fought at that time. I felt no bitterness by the interment because I could understand that is was necessary and that at that time England could not spare good people to look after the internees, but it did deprive me of the chance of learning more about the real character of the British people.

Shortly after my release, I was asked to help Professor Peierls in Birmingham, on some war work. I accepted it and I started work without knowing at first what the work was. I doubt whether it would have any difference to my subsequent actions if I had known the nature of the work beforehand. When I learned about the purpose of the work I decided to inform Russia and I established contact through another member of the Communist Party. Since that time I have had continuous contact with persons who were completely unknown to me, except that I knew that they would hand whatever information I gave them to the Russian authorities. At this time I had complete confidence in Russian policy and I believed that the Western Allies deliberately allowed Russia and Germany to fight each other to the death. I had therefore no hesitation in giving all the information I had, even though occasionally I tried to concentrate mainly on giving information about the results of my own work.

In the course of this work, I began naturally to form bonds of personal friendship and I had to conceal from them my inner thoughts. I used my Marxist philosophy to establish in my mind two separate compartments. One compartment in which I allowed myself to make friendships, to have personal relations, to help people and to be in all personal ways the kind of man I wanted to be and the kind of man which, in a personal way, I had been before with my friends in or near the Communist Party. I could be free and easy and happy with other people without fear of disclosing myself because I knew the other compartment would step in if I approached the danger point. I could forget the other compartment and still rely on it. It appeared to me at the time that I had become a "free man" because I had succeeded in the other compartments to establish myself completely independent of the surrounding forces of society. Looking back at it now the best way of expressing it seems to be to call it a controlled schizophrenia.

In the post war period I began again to have my doubts about Russian policy. It is impossible to give definite incidents because now the control mechanism acted against me also in keeping away from me facts which I could not look in the face but they did penetrate and eventually I came to a point where I knew that I disapproved of many actions of the Russian Government and of the Communist Party, but I still believed that they would build a new world and that one day I would take part in it and that on that day I would also have to stand up and say to them that there are things which they are doing wrongly. During this time I was not sure that I could give all the information that I had. However it became more and more evident that the time when Russia would expand her influence over Europe was far away and that therefore I had to decide for myself whether I could go on for many years to continue handing over information without being sure in my own mind whether I was doing right. I decided I could not do so. I did not go to one rendezvous because I was ill at the time. I decided not to got to the following one.

Shortly afterwards my father told me that he might be going into the Eastern Zone of Germany. At that time my own mind was closer to his than it had ever been before, because he also believed that they are at least trying to build a new world. He disapproved of many things and he had always done so, but he knew that when he went there he would say so and he thought that in doing so he might help to make them realize that you cannot build a new world if you destroy some fundamental decencies in personal behavior. I could not bring myself to stop my father from going there. However, it made me face at least some of the facts about myself. I felt that my father's going to the Eastern Zone, that his letters, would touch me somewhere and that I was not sure whether I would not go back. I suppose I did not have the courage to fight it out for myself, and therefore I invoked an outside influence by informing security that my father was going to the Eastern Zone. A few months passed and I became more and more convinced that I had to leave Harwell. I was then confronted with the fact that there was evidence that I had given away information in New York. I was given the chance of admitting it and staying at Harwell or of clearing out. I was not sure enough of myself to stay at Harwell and therefore I denied the allegation and decided that I would have to leave Harwell.

However it then began to become clear to me that in leaving Harwell in those circumstances I would do two things. I would deal a grave blow to Harwell, to all the work which I had loved and furthermore that I would leave suspicions against people whom I loved who were my friends and who believed that I was their friend. I had to face the fact that it had been possible for me in one half of my mind to be friends with people, be close friends and at the same time to deceive them and to endanger them. I had to realize that the control mechanism had warned me of danger to myself but that it had also prevented me from realizing that I was doing to people who were close to me. I then realized that the combination of the three ideas which had made me what I was, was wrong, in fact that every single one of them was wrong, that there are certain standards of moral behavior which are in you and that you cannot disregard. That in your actions you must clear in your own mind whether they are right or wrong. That you must be able before accepting somebody else's authority to state your doubts and to try and resolve them; and I found that at least I myself was made by circumstances.

I know that I cannot go back on that and I know that all I can do now is to try and repair the damage I have done. The first thing is to make sure that Harwell will suffer as little as possible and that I have to save for my friends as much as possible of that part that was good in my relationship with them. This thought is at present uppermost in my mind and I find it difficult to concentrate on any other points. However I realize that I will have to state the extent of the information that I have given and that I shall have to help as far as my conscience allows me in stopping other people who are still doing what I have done. There is nobody I know by name who is concerned with collecting information for the Russian authorities. There are people who I know by sight whom I trusted with my life and who trusted me with theirs, and I do not know that I shall be able to do anything that might in the end give them away. They are not inside the project, but they are the intermediaries between myself and the Russian Government.

At first I thought that all I would do would be to inform the Russian authorities that work upon the atomic bomb was going on. They wished to have more details and I agreed to supply them. I concentrated at first mainly on the product of my own work, but in particular at Los Alamo I did what I consider to be the worst I have done, namely to give information about the principle of the design of the plutonium bomb. Later on at Harwell, I began to be concerned about the information I was giving, and I began to sift it, but it is difficult to say exactly when and how I did it because it was a process which went up and down with my inner struggles. The last time when I handed over information was in February or March 1949.

Before I joined the project most of the English people with whom I had made personal contacts were left wing and affected to some degree or other by the same kind of philosophy. Since coming to Harwell I have met English people of all kinds, and I have come to see in many of them a deep rooted firmness which enables them to lead a decent way of life. I do not know where this springs from and I don't think they do, but it is there.

I have read this statement and to the best of my knowledge it is true.

(Signed) Klaus Fuchs.

Statement taken down in writing by me at the dictation of Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs at War Office on 27th January, 1950. He read it through, made such alterations as he wished, and initialled each and every page.

(Signed) W.J. Skardon.

(back to Primary Sources)

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference