The designer of the Saturn V moon rocket has renounced his U.S. citizenship and permanently left the country rather than contest Justice Department allegations that he "worked thousands of slave laborers to death" while supervising production of V2 missiles for the Nazis during World War II.

Arthur L.H. Rudolph, 77, was a close friend and, since 1934, a co-worker of Wernher von Braun, who headed rocket research for the German government until the Nazi collapse in 1945.

Von Braun and Rudolph were among 118 German rocket experts secretly brought to the United States by the U.S. Army after World War II.

Both men worked initially for the Army and later for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At NASA, Rudolph ultimately became chief coordinator for the Saturn V rocket program, supervising the planning, design, production and testing of the giant booster that sent America's astronauts to the moon.

Neal M. Sher, head of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations, refused to comment on whether von Braun, who died in 1977, or any other German scientist who accompanied him to the United States has ever been under investigation by the Justice Department for their wartime activities.

Sher said Rudolph agreed to leave the country and renounce his citizenship after the department showed him some of the evidence that had been gathered against him. He said the agreement was reached last November, giving Rudolph four months to leave.

Rudolph left for West Germany in March and renounced his U.S. citizenship on May 25 at the U.S. Consulate in Hamburg, Sher said. Rudolph's wife, who left with him, did not renounce her U.S. citizenship. Sher said he does not know Rudolph's current whereabouts.

The agreement was not announced earlier, Sher said, because the State Department did not finish the paper work on Rudolph's renunciation of citizenship until a week or 10 days ago.

Sher said the department was prepared to charge that "while serving from September 1943 to April 1945, as chief operations director for V2 missile production at the Mittelwerk (Central Works) underground rocket factory in central Germany, Rudolph participated in the persecution of forced laborers," including inmates from the Dora-Nordhausen concentration camp.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 workers died, Sher said, while others who were too sick to work were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Sher said interviews with witnesses, information from U.S., German and other archives and books about the Dora-Nordhausen camp provided evidence that Rudolph was responsible for the laborers' working conditions.

"The conditions were utterly outrageous, gruesome, grotesque," Sher said. "He lit