Arthur Eichengrün (1867-1949) was born in Aachen, Germany, the son of a clothing merchant. After studying chemistry, he joined the pharmaceutical giant Bayer in 1896, and the following year developed Protargol, an effective medication for gonorrhea that was the standard for over 50 years. At around the same time, Eichengrün devised a new process to purify acetylsalicylic acid, while also finding a way to make it safe and tolerable for the human stomach. Thus was born Aspirin. Today, it is among the most widely used drugs in the world, with over 50,000 tonnes of it consumed annually. Unfortunately, when the Nazis came to power, the idea of a Jewish inventor for Aspirin could not be tolerated, and Bayer eliminated Eichengrün’s name (by then, Bayer was incorporated into IG Farben, the company notorious for manufacturing Zyklon B – the chemical used in the gas chambers of the Holocaust). Soon, Eichengrün’s own company was “Aryanized”, and by 1943 he was arrested and sent first to prison, and then a concentration camp. For many decades, Eichengrün’s name was hardly known, as historians simply accepted the Bayer lie that Felix Hoffman developed Aspirin. In 1999, however, scholars re-examined the case and concluded that indeed it is Eichengrün that should be credited. In fact, recent evidence suggests that Eichengrün even came up with the “Aspirin” name. Aside from Aspirin, Eichengrün held 47 patents, among them the invention of a hard, non-flammable plastic called Cellon, anti-rust and anti-freeze agents, as well as several inventions critical to the film and photography industries. He has been hailed as a pioneer in both pharmaceutical and industrial chemistry.
Words of the Week
All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is to have no fear at all. – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was born near Prague to Yiddish-speaking parents, the grandson of a shochet (kosher meat slaughterer). His Jewish education culminated with his bar mitzvah, after which he went to the prestigious Altstädter Deutsches Gymnasium. He enrolled to study chemistry in university, but quickly switched to law. After graduating, he worked for various insurance companies – a job that he despised, but which allowed him to make a living. The little time that he had off work he would spend writing. Kafka composed dozens of stories, novels (most of them unfinished), essays, letters and diaries. Ninety percent of these he burned. In his will, he instructed his friend Max Brod to destroy the remainder of his writings. Brod ignored the request, and published them instead. Thus, Kafka was virtually unknown in his own lifetime, but became hugely famous after his death. It is believed that there are still thousands of unpublished Kafka works. He is considered by many to be the greatest writer of the 20th century, and some of his writings have been ranked among the most influential of that century. He has inspired the adjective “kafkaesque”, and has an asteroid named after him. Besides writing, Kafka was an avid swimmer, hiker, and rower, studied alternative medicine, and was a vegetarian. After once seeing a Yiddish play, he immersed himself in Jewish study. In addition to Yiddish, Kafka spoke German, Czech, French, and studied both Hebrew and classical Greek. Towards the end of his life he intended to immigrate to Israel. This wish did not come to be, as Kafka succumbed to tuberculosis at a young age. His three sisters perished in the Holocaust. For what would be his 130th birthday today, he is honoured with a Google Doodle.
Words of the Week
Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. – Franz Kafka