The enduring mystery of Hitler's monkeys

Despite the best efforts of the British intelligence service at the time, and historians today, a mysterious detail of World War II history remains unsolved. What happened to a group of monkeys imported into Germany?

During World War II, intelligence agencies the world over monitored all the doings of the Axis powers, from diplomatic overtures to attempts to acquire supplies. Towards the end of the war, the leaders of the Manhattan Project were very concerned that the German government had acquired all the raw elements necessary to make an atomic bomb. The beginning of the war saw a more puzzling acquisition - one that remains a mystery to this day.

In 1941, the German government snatched up a huge amount of monkeys. They acquired a few barbary apes from northern Africa, and a thousand rhesus monkeys. Rhesus monkeys, which are common across southeast Asia, are often used in labs, as they're easy to care for and are in many ways biologically analogous to humans. The importation of such a large number of animals by a nation at war alarmed the British. They called in an MI5 weapons expert, Lord Victor Rothschild, to assess the threat level. Rothschild was reassuring, writing, "Though I have kept a close eye on people applying for animals those cases so far investigated have proved innocuous. For example, an advertisement in The Times for 500 hedgehogs proved to be in connection with the experiments being done by the foot and mouth disease research section."

Although agencies attempted to keep an eye on the acquisition, and modern historians have looked into the matter, no one entirely knows why a thousand lab monkeys were suddenly brought into Germany in the middle of a war.

Image: Nancy Collins

[Via Operation Mincemeat]