Tag Archives: Weizmann Institute

Jew of the Week: George Weidenfeld

The Lord Weidenfeld, Baron of Chelsea

George Weidenfeld (Credit: Getty Images)

George Weidenfeld (Credit: Getty Images)

Arthur George Weidenfeld (1919-2016) was born in Vienna. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Weidenfeld fled to London with the help of a Christian family. He started working for the BBC, and several years later became a political commentator and writer. In 1948, he co-founded a publishing company with Nigel Nicolson. Their most famous publication was Nabokov’s Lolita. By 1985, their company was large enough to acquire the American publisher Grove Press. In turn, they were bought out in 1991 by Orion Publishing. Weidenfeld continued to write throughout the years, in both English and German (all in all, he knew 7 languages). Meanwhile, he¬†played a key role in both the Jewish community and in the world of philanthropy at large. Wishing to repay his debt to the Christian family that helped him escape the Nazis, Weidenfeld started a campaign to rescue 20,000 Christians victimized by the Syrian Civil War. The first flight of 150 Christian refugees landed in Poland last summer through the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, which also provided them with over a year’s worth of financial support. On the side, Weidenfeld served as a political adviser to many leaders, including former British prime minister Tony Blair, and was a frequent guest of Pope John Paul II. Back in 1949, he was Chief of Cabinet for Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann. In Israel, he chaired both Ben Gurion University and the Weizmann Institute. Weidenfeld was knighted in 1969, and later made Baron Weidenfeld of Chelsea, earning a seat on the House of Lords, where he often participated in debate. Sadly, Weidenfeld passed away last week, and was laid to rest in Jerusalem.

Words of the Week

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician gives because we need them; and the proportions, the frequency, and weight of them, to what the case requires. Let us trust His skill and thank Him for the prescription.
– Isaac Newton

Jew of the Week: Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber (1868-1934) was born to a traditional Jewish-German family in what is today Poland. He studied chemistry in Berlin, receiving his doctorate in 1891 and then going to apply his expertise in his father’s successful dyes and pharmaceuticals business. The two didn’t work well together, though, and Haber returned to academia. (In order to obtain a higher position at a time when Jews were barred from such posts, Haber nominally converted to Christianity.) His research in organic chemistry, electrochemistry, dye technology, gasses, and textiles brought him a great deal of recognition. In 1898 he was made an associate professor, and by 1906 a full professor at Karlsruhe University, among the most prestigious schools in Germany. It was there that Haber made his biggest breakthrough. Together with Carl Bosch, he invented a process that would quickly and cheaply produce ammonia (the key component of fertilizer) from abundant atmospheric nitrogen. Until then, ammonia had to be mined from very limited reserves. Today, over 100 million tons of ammonia is made annually using the “Haber Process”, helping to feed half of the world’s population. Haber won the 1918 Nobel Prize for this work. Unfortunately, Haber also applied his know-how to less honourable endeavours. Aside from the fact that ammonia is a central ingredient of explosives, too, and the Haber Process helped to arm the German military, Haber headed the Ministry of War’s Chemistry Section during World War I, developing gasses for chemical warfare (as well as the gas masks to protect from them). To be fair, many of the world’s top chemists during this time period worked on chemical warfare to assist in their nation’s war effort. As Haber himself said, “During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.” His wife did not agree, and committed suicide after failing to convince him to abandon his project. After the war, Haber started a company that produced pesticides. Incredibly, their most famous product was Zyklon B, later used in the gas chambers of the Holocaust. Haber fled Germany when the Nazis came to power. He accepted a position in what would later be the Weizmann Institute in Israel, but passed away on the journey there. Few people have at once been able to cause both so much harm and so much good. While half of the world’s food production today depends on the Haber process, so do much of its explosives, and Haber is often called “the father of chemical warfare”. Haber’s work simultaneously brought death to millions of people, and life to millions more.

Words of the Week

When God desired to create man, Truth said: “He should not be created, for he is full of lies.” Kindness said: “He should be created, for he is full of kindness.”
– Midrash Rabbah, Bereshit 8:5