Military Review

Prisoner in a golden cage

Prisoner in a golden cageNikolaus Riehl (Nikolaus Riehl), aka Nikolai Vasilievich Riel, an outstanding Soviet and German radiochemist physicist, winner of the Stalin Prize, holder of the Order of Lenin and Hero of Socialist Labor. In the published biographies of this remarkable man, it is necessary to note that he is the only foreigner who has been awarded such Soviet awards ....

But what kind of foreigner is he? The ancestors of Riel, among many other Germans, came to Russia in the 18th century, attracted by the opportunities that service opened for them in Russia. Nikolai Vasilievich was born in St. Petersburg 24 (11) on May 1902. His father was Russian German Wilhelm Ril, chief engineer of the representative office of Siemens and Halske, who installed telegraph and telephone sets in St. Petersburg. Mother, nee Kagan, left the family of Jews who converted to Orthodoxy. As it was written then, “both were Orthodox and the first-marina.” According to the data from the Epiphany book, the born boy was “baptized on June 3 in the Prince-Vladimir Cathedral” and received the name Nikolai at this ceremony.

Since childhood, Rill was fluent in Russian and German. And an excellent education opened up the boy with the typical opportunities for the Russified Germans of the time - to become a scientist or a government official, a military man or an entrepreneur. All this would have happened if it were not for the tragic events of the century-wolfhound, in the words of O. Mandelstam, in which this man had a chance to live.

Before 1917, Kohl Ril studied at one of the best secondary schools in St. Petersburg - the school at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was the famous Petrishule, founded during the reign of Peter the Great in 1712. The school could rightly be proud of its graduates who have become famous throughout Europe. Suffice it to recall the names of architects Karl Rossi and Nikolay Benois, composer Modest Mussorgsky, physician Peter Lesgaft, general Mikhail Fonvizin, admiral Pavel Chichagov. Obviously, Kolya’s parents did not choose this school by chance.

In 1914, young Rill first saw the evil grin of the century in which he happened to live. The First World War began, after which Russia lifted up the October coup of 1917. Petrishule suddenly became known as the United Labor School, which he graduated from in Ril in 1919. At the same time, he became a student of the promising electromechanical department (then the faculty word was not used) of the second Petrograd Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1918, and liquidated by the decision of the SNK of the RSFSR on August 8, 1924. Very characteristic are the entries in the personal file of the first-year student Nikolai Ril: “A decisive refusal to attend practical classes; without having received special permission, however, he independently used the book collection of the Public Library. ” All this clearly testifies to the young man’s self-conscious and precocious character.

Soon, Nicholas transferred to the chemical department, but because of the devastation that prevailed in the country, the chaos and widespread famine, it was impossible to study normally. At this point, Riel makes a firm decision to leave Russia. Later, he admitted that this would never have happened if there had been no violent storms that shook the Russian Empire to its foundations. He, like the absolute majority of Russian Germans, considered himself a loyal subject of the disappeared state, and since there is no state to which he swore, all his civic obligations ceased to exist.

In 1921, quite legally, collecting a lot of pieces of paper that the new revolutionary authorities demanded, Nikolaus Riel received permission to leave, thus returning to his historical homeland. And although the losing Germany was also shaken by revolts and revolutions, nevertheless these storms did not have the same intensity as in his former homeland. Nikolaus entered the University of Berlin. Humboldt, who graduated in 1927, successfully defending a dissertation on the topic “Using Mueller-Geiger counters for beta radiation spectroscopy”. Its supervisors were leading scientists of that time, future scientific luminaries: physicist Lisa Meitner and radiochemist Otto Gan.

The successful defense of the thesis allowed the scientist to find a good job at one of the factories of the company “Auergezelshaft”. He was immediately entrusted with the leadership of the laboratory of optical technology, and after twelve years, in 1939, he already headed and coordinated the scientific work of the entire enterprise. During this time, Riel made several major discoveries that he patented, in particular, the method of technical gamma radiography. In collaboration with Osram specialists, he developed the first industrial designs of today's widely used fluorescent lamps and tubes. He outlined his inventions and technical developments in this area in the book Physics and Technique of Luminescence, published in the 1941 year and translated into many languages ​​of the world, including Russian (in 1947). At about the same time, he became acquainted with the famous biologist and geneticist Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky, who was nicknamed “Bison” among his colleagues.

Two Nicholas met through the wife of Timofeyev-Resovsky, Elena, a geneticist and radiobiologist, who, incidentally, also came from a Russian German family. Elena Alexandrovna, an employee of the genetic department of the Berlin Institute of Brain, professor of neuroanatomy Vogt at that time was engaged in research in the field of radioisotopes, which were partly supported by the genetic department of the firm Auer. And the genetic department of the Institute of Brain was headed by none other than Timofeev-Resovsky. Naturally, the two prominent leaders could not meet. Along with “Auer”, the Brain Institute was funded by the Foundation for the Support of German Science, owned by the Krupow family, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, and the Prussian Government. E. A. Timofeeva-Resovskaya together with M. Born conducted experiments on genetic changes occurring as a result of x-ray irradiation. She was the first to publish the results of these major experiments, which became the basis for the emergence of a new scientific field - biophysics. For completeness, it is necessary to add that the genetic department, headed by N.V. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, Timofeev-Resovskiy grew into an independent institute of biophysics and genetics, which today has become the largest, most authoritative center of molecular biology. Max Delbrück, former employee N.V. Timofeev-Resovskogo. And another interesting detail, showing the nature of the relationship between Germany and the RSFSR in the thirties of the last century, Professor Oscar Vogt, at the invitation of the Soviet government, became the founder and first director of the National Brain Institute, which was opened on November 12 of 1927. At that time, the Institute was located in Zamoskvorechye, on Bolshaya Yakimanka Street.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the German Biophysical Society was established and actively operated, with the members, besides Riel, M. Delbrück, P. Jordan, K. Zimmer, and many others. One of the initiators of the creation of this society was Nikolai Vladimirovich. It was the communication within this group that contributed to the fact that the simple acquaintance of two extraordinary people grew into their strong friendship.

In fact, Rila and Timofeev-Resovsky brought together a lot. Age, life experience, common acquaintances in Russia, enthusiasm for science, language and apolitism peculiar to both. In society, they spoke German, but, remaining alone, they switched to Russian. The Bison called Rilia Mykola, and he friendly called him Kolya.

And the situation in Germany was heating up. In 1933, the Nazis came to power. By the 1939 year, “Auer” on the basis of a chemical concern Degussa (whose specialists later developed the infamous gas Cyclone B for pest control, used by the Nazis to kill people), and began producing uranium metal. Riel has always helped Bison, supplying his genetic department with radioactive substances necessary for radiological research. And when World War II began in 1939, Nicholas was summoned to the War Office. There he was told that the production of uranium must be put on an industrial basis. Later it became clear that they were talking about filling for the atomic bomb.

In the following years, Nikolaus Riehl showed himself not only as a talented scientist, he demonstrated remarkable organizational talent, business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. Already by 1942, uranium-producing plants (three in total were built in Germany) produced more than seven and a half tons of chemically pure uranium, and Rill scrupulously collected thorium from all occupied European countries. At the same time, he worked in one of two groups involved in the creation of an atomic reactor in Germany. Regarding the final result, some experts are of the opinion that it was not the failures or miscalculations of the German specialists, but the fact that the leading scientists of the “uranium project” (in particular, Heisenberg, Dibner and Weizsacker) deliberately and sabotagedly sabotaged the work.

When the spring of 1945 came, due to the proximity of the inevitable defeat, all scientific and industrial-technological work at the German nuclear reactor stopped. Behind the German scientists - nuclear physicists, rocket engineers, chemists - a real hunt began. Figuratively speaking, beaters were coming from all sides. Americans, Englishmen, Russians - everyone wanted to get their hands on the latest German developments, technologies, equipment and, most importantly, talented people, real specialists in their fields.

In March 1945 of the year, Nikolaus Riel was in Oranienbaum, at one of three uranium production plants. The city was part of the Soviet occupation zone, but so far only on paper, since the Red Army was still making its way to Berlin. General Groves, the head of the American atomic project, realizing that the Americans would not succeed in capturing Rill's group and taking out the equipment of the plant, insisted that the enterprise be bombarded. 15 March 1945 year six hundred "flying fortresses" B-17 and B-24 turned the plant, and along with the city into a bunch of ruins.

It was only thanks to the incredible luck that Riel was safe and sound, he got out of the bombed-out city and got to Buch, a suburb of Berlin, where the Timofeev-Resovsky Institute was located. There, he and the Bison waited anxiously for the arrival of the Soviet troops. Friends were torn by doubts. What to do? How will Russians react to them? Run to the West? Or stay? In addition, the terrible news of the shooting of Academician Vavilov, his long-time friend, came to Timofeev-Resovskiy. Still, the comrades decided to stay.

After the arrival of the Soviet troops, Riel and Timofeev-Resovsky, together with other German specialists, were immediately taken under the control of the NKVD. In the middle of May, 1945 of the year, with a slight delay compared to the Americans, the Soviet atomic “trophy” team arrived in Berlin headed by Deputy People's Commissar of the NKVD Zavenyagin. Together with the officers of the NKVD in the group were Soviet physicists who know German very well: L.А. Artsimovich, I.K. Kikoin, Yu.B. Khariton, G.N. Flerov and some other, less famous. All of them were dressed in the uniform of colonels of the Soviet Army.
Riel took the Soviet nuclear scientists to the bombed-out Oranienbaum plant, told them where the warehouse with hundred tons of uranium oxide was located and showed storage facilities with twelve tons of pure uranium. The surviving equipment and uranium were transported to the Soviet Union, and soon followed by Nikolaus Riel and his family. Together with him, specialists from his group also went to the USSR.

Most often in the publications devoted to Nikolaus Ril, it is said about his voluntary departure to the USSR. However, this is not entirely true, or rather only part of the truth. Imagine yourself for a second on the site of a talented scientist. He already knows the fate of the German physicists captured by the Americans, who were arrested and sent to British camps, where they spent more than a year sitting without the right of correspondence. It was also clear to him that in defeated Germany, as an outstanding specialist in his business, he had nothing to do. He found himself in a hopeless situation and left for Moscow, one might say, voluntarily-forcedly. His decision was not so much for the USSR, as against the United States.

Despite reasonable concerns, in the capital of Russia he was greeted with affability. Together with his family, Rilu was allocated a small mansion on Infantry Street, which, of course, was on the balance sheet of the NKVD. In July, 1945, as the head of the research laboratory, Nikolayus led the refurbishment of plant No.12 in Elektrostal (Moscow Region) as part of the Soviet atomic project. Specialists and engineers of his group, and it included A. Baroni, G. Born, A. Katch, V. Kirst, G. Wirth and other German "settlers", had to urgently start production of pure uranium metal from uranium oxide for the first Soviet uranium graphite experimental reactor.

Quite often it is indicated that the laboratory №2 of academician I.V. Kurchatova, engaged in the construction and launch of the first atomic reactor, was under the jurisdiction of the USSR Academy of Sciences. However, this is not entirely true. Since the beginning of the Soviet atomic project, Laboratory No. XXUMX as well as other laboratories, research institutes and experimental factories belonging to the Academy of Sciences and various ministries, were removed from their subordination and transferred to the Special Committee headed by Lavrenti Beria. This was done according to the decree of the State Defense Committee of 2 in August 20 of the year number 1945 ss / op. The letters "ss / op" meant "Top Secret" and "Special Folder." Subsequently, at the industrial and scientific basis of this Special Committee, the Ministry of Atomic Energy and the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, the famous Minsredmash, appeared.

Despite the ongoing difficulties in the process of work, as early as January of 1946, laboratory No.2 received the first batch of cast uranium required for the construction of a uranium-graphite experimental reactor. By the end of the same year, the production of uranium metal increased to three tons per week, and in 1950, plant No. XXUMX under the control of Nikolaus Riel reached the level of production of one ton of uranium per day. When a sample of uranium from Electrostal near Moscow was compared to the American specimen extracted by the scouts, it turned out to be much cleaner. Deputy Beria Zavenyagin, slamming himself on his bald head, said at the same time: "Here are fucking Germans!"

Nikolai Riel was more than conscientious about his duties. And this is despite the fact that he did not tolerate Soviet reality, including the higher education system. For example, in his memoirs he explicitly stated: “Tough choice in the store, constrained standard of living, unhappy Soviet women. It is a pity that the Russians and Germans had such devils as Stalin and Hitler. ”

After successfully testing the first Soviet atomic bomb in August 1949, a golden rain of honors and awards fell on a talented scientist and leader. Nikolaus Ril, the only foreigner in Soviet history, along with other domestic scholars and specialists by the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of October 29, issued under the heading "Not subject to publication", was awarded the title Hero of Socialist Labor with the simultaneous presentation of the Order of Lenin and the gold medal "Sickle and the Hammer. " In addition, he was awarded the Stalin Prize of the 1st degree, accompanied by a large monetary reward of one hundred thousand rubles. And he also received a cottage in Zhukovka and a then rare Pobeda car for his use. He later wrote that Stalin's sympathy and excess of wealth became the heaviest burden for him. His phrase known to Beria is known: "I have never been a capitalist, and it is very strange to expect that I will become one in the country of socialism."
In 1950-1952-s, Rill was the head of the works on radiation chemistry and radiobiology at the NKVD "B" facility at the Sungul sanatorium (today it is the city of Snezhinsk) in the Urals. There, his fate brought him again with an old friend N.V. Timofeev-Resovsky, who, together with Dr. Born, was responsible for research on the use of radioactive substances in agriculture.

In the spring of 1952, the year of Nikolaus Riel is laid in a “chill”. He was sent to Sukhumi to the local Physical and Technical Institute. Although he was only formally listed in the institute and could not work, Riel took up research in a new field of solid state physics for him. And in the 1953 year, after the death of Stalin and the shooting of Beria, the need for German scientists and specialists to stay in our country finally disappeared. German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer addressed the USSR government with a request to release his compatriots to the homeland. However, the government of the USSR responded in its own way.

In the 1955 year, on the basis of an agreement between the KGB and the government of the GDR, a group of German scientists, a total of eighteen people, the entire group of Professor Riel, including himself, was sent to the GDR. Already in Germany, the resolute scientist did not yield to the persuasion of the head of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, and a month later he left for the western part of the country.

The Technical University of Munich gladly enrolled Nikolaus as its research assistant. As a recognized specialist with unique experience, he was directly involved in the construction of the first German Research Nuclear Reactor in the town of Garching, near Munich. At the same time, the scientist continued his research in the field of solid state physics, ice physics and solid state optical spectroscopy. In 1957, he headed the department of technical physics, and in 1961 he became a full professor at the Technical University of Munich. For those who are not familiar with the scientific hierarchy, an ordinary professor is not only the highest full-time teacher in an educational institution, but also the head of one or several related research directions.

At the invitation of Nikolaus, young physicotechnologists from our country visited Germany as Ril's personal guests. He very cordially received guests, showed them his institute and the latest equipment, introduced many famous experts. When they asked him why he would not write a book about life in the Soviet Union, Rill grinned and said: “If I write it, then you will be considered a fascist, and here you will be a communist. Therefore, I’ll better keep silent for the time being. ”

Professor Riel, before retiring, published more than two hundred scientific papers, including fifteen Soviet articles, was one of the organizers of special conferences (congresses) on the problems of luminescence, proton irradiation of semiconductors, and ice physics. Already in old age, in 1988, Rill held a seminar for visiting physics students at Columbia University as a visiting professor. In the same year, his book of memoirs “10 years in a golden cage”, translated into Russian, compiled and published by a former employee of the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Physics (VNIITF) Vladimir Ananiychuk in 2010, was published in Stuttgart. This small edition was financed by the authorities of the city of Snezhinsk from its own budget. The memoirs of this man, amazing even for the twentieth century, were included in the collection under the general title “Nikolaus Riel in the Atomic Project of the USSR”, published in a microscopic quantity of one thousand copies.
Shortly before his death, Rill contributed decisive evidence to the rehabilitation of his comrade Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovskiy, refuting all the accusations made against the Bison by the KGB agents, claiming that the scientist was actively involved in the work of improving Nazi military power. Answering the question whether he was connected with the fascist atomic developments, Riel said: “I will probably answer this question better than anyone ... My answer is this: his work had nothing to do with the uranium project ... He didn’t do anything about which one could later regret, he remained true to himself. " And Riel remained faithful to their friendship to the end.

On August 2, 1990, Professor Nikolai Ril, Munich Technical University, Russian-German scientist, holder of the Order of Lenin, Hero of Socialist Labor, laureate of the Stalin Prize in Science I-st ​​degree left this world forever. Munich became the last resting place of the native Petersburger.

In conclusion. The outstanding Soviet physicist, Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alferov, being interested in the history of domestic physics research and, in particular, in the uranium project, once in a conversation with academician Anatoly Petrovich Alexandrov touched Professor Ril, whom Aleksandrov knew well. When Alferov asked whether Professor Nikolai Rill came under compulsion in the USSR after the war or voluntarily, Anatoly Petrovich replied: “Of course, he was captured,” and, thinking, he quietly added: “But he was free, and we were captives. "

Information sources:
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  1. individual
    individual 6 May 2013 07: 53 New
    "Очень интересная" публикация. Ни чего нового. Жизнь и судьба человека волею судьбы оставившая след в истории и науки.
    1. Mitek
      Mitek 6 May 2013 08: 56 New
      Yes, our scientists of that era who do not take .. Fates are similar.
  2. fzr1000
    fzr1000 6 May 2013 14: 29 New
    He put a plus, because Riel was one of the greatest scientific figures of the 20th century, and because he made a great contribution to the development of atomic energy in the USSR, despite the difference in ideological views (although his ideology is primarily Science).
  3. wax
    wax 6 May 2013 22: 25 New
    The last sentence is too beautiful to be true. Maybe someone will indicate the source.
  4. Volkhov
    Volkhov 7 May 2013 01: 35 New
    Объём остатков на 1 из 3 немецких заводов (12 т урана и 100 т оксида ) и то, что копия немецкого под управлением "немца" выпускала 3т в неделю - не наводит ни на какие мысли?
    1. carbofo
      carbofo 13 May 2013 01: 30 New
      I don’t think that they would risk directly sabotaging production, there were enough technical problems for this.
      Especially with high-speed fuses and the Americans suffered.
      Actually, the resources and time did not allow the Germans to finish the atomic bomb, but I think that the Americans were ahead of everyone only thanks to the resources.
      Regarding production volumes, do not forget that we already had production and enrichment of uranium, so all that was left was to finalize the process, and not to create production from scratch.