The figure caption “Dismantling the Last German Atomic Pile” (Physics Today, July 2000, page 35), contains two incorrect statements.
The dismantling of the pile occurred not after the war, but in April 1945, a few weeks before the war ended in Europe.
The cave was not blown up by the American soldiers. The laboratory was dismantled and the utilities disconnected, but the cave as such was not destroyed. According to the recollections of older residents in Haigerloch, the destruction was avoided by a local priest, who persuaded the Americans to refrain from the destruction because an explosion would have also destroyed a medieval church and castle on the cliff above the cave. Incidentally, Heisenberg occasionally played Bach on the organ of that church.
Today, there is a small museum in the cave, with original and reconstructed artifacts. Visitors are most impressed by how unbelievably small and primitive the historic laboratory was, compared to the gigantic and elaborate technology of the Manhattan Project. It looks more like a Tinkertoy™ arrangement than something on the forefront of technology at the time; however, if completed, the Haigerloch laboratory would have led to huge sources of energy and the power for enormous devastation!
[Editor’s note: We contacted Michael Thorwart of the Atomkeller Museum at Haigerloch. He and Egidius Fechter, director of the museum, provided the following detailed information on the dismantling of the German nuclear lab and the fate of the cave that housed it.]