Anti-NAZI Warriors: Physicists

Figure 1.--

The unfortunate image of World War II Jews is thAt they were passive victims of the NAZIs who made no ffort to resist. This is untrue, but as a small minority in a world awash with with anti-Semtism, opportinities to resist a totalitarian police state were limited. There was, however, one major exception--Jewish niclear pysicists. Many were German or until Hitler part of the wider German academic community. As Max Plank warned, Hitler, he was disarming Germany in physics. Planck's prediction was correct. Hitler caused an exodus of some 2,600 Jewish scientists from Germany to Britain and America. Britain acquired some 27 Nobel scientists Ameruica even more--some 47 Nobel Lauralates. Germany had dominated science--until 1935. After that date, thanks to Hitler, America became the world leader in science. Actually Hitler was doing more thanm just driving brilliant minds out of Germany. He was turning these individuals from pacifists like Einstein or largely wordly humanitarians into anti-NAZI warriors who decided to use their capabilities to build the atomoc bomb. This was a huge transition. Most conceived of nuclear physics as offering tremendous emense peaceful uses to aid human progress. Only Hitler's evil which each experienced and observed comvinced them to turn their 'beautiful' science to mlitary use. Lise Meitner was an exception. While narrowly missing the Holocaut, she refused to work on the bomb project. Even Einstein, a life-long pacifist, decided that America should build the bomb because not only of Hitler's evil, but because the Germans were ahead of the Allies and had the capabilities of building a bomb. Hungarian Jewish physicist Leo Szilard convinced Einstein to write to Presisent Roosevelt, in effect launching the Manhattan Project (1939). Szilard also worked with Italian phsicist Enrico Fermi (who had a Jewish wife) to build the first nuclear ractor (pile) and achieved the first chain reaction (1942). Paul Wigner was another Hungarian Jewish scienist close to Szilard. Other Jewish emigre scientusts included Felix Bloch (Swiss), Niels Bohr (Danish), Klaus Fuchs (who passed information to the KGB), James Franck, Otto Frisch, Rudolph Peierls, and Edward Teller (Hunarian). We should mention that many of these men were not religious Jews, some like Bohr were raised Christians. Bur the NAZI Nuremberg Race Laws defined Jews as having two Jewish grandparents, regardless of the individuals professed religion. Not all the Jewish pysicists working to build the bomb were emigre scienists. This included the scientific leader of the Manhattan Project--Robert Opeheimer. Other American Jews working on the project included David Bohm. As with non-Jewish scientists, Opeheimer and others would have resisted building an atomic bomb had it not been for Hitler's evil and liklihood that the Germans were building a bomb.

Felix Bloch (Switzerland/Germany, 1905-83)

Felix Bloch Bloch was born in Zürich, Switzerland (1905). His Jewish parents were Gustav and Agnes Bloch. He grew up in Switzerland was educated there and was educated at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich. He began studying engineering, but quickly changed to physics. He was influenced by lectures and seminars given by Peter Debye and Hermann Weyl at ETH Zürich and Erwin Schrödinger at the neighboring University of Zürich. He befriended another student, John von Neumann. Hegraduated (1927). He continued his physics studies in Germany at the University of Leipzig working with with Werner Heisenberg. He earned his doctorate (1928). His doctoral thesis established the quantum theory of solids, using Bloch waves to describe the electrons. He became active in European academia, studying with Wolfgang Pauli in Zürich, Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Enrico Fermi in Rome before returning to the Uiversity of Leipzig. He was awarded a position as privatdozent (lecturer). After Hitler seized power, \he lft Germany (1933). And because positions were limited in Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States. He was awarded a position at Stanford University (1934). He began working with the University of California at Berkeley which had a 37" cyclotron (1938). He was trying to to determine the magnetic moment of the neutron. Bloch went on to become the first professor for theoretical physics at Stanford. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States (1939). After the United States decided to build an atomic bomb, he was recruited for the Manhattan Project. He was part of the Los Alamos team. He then transferred to the radar project at Harvard University.

Niels Boer (Denmark)

Danish Nobel lauriate nuclear physicist Neils Bohr was born and lived his life in Copenhagen. He grew up in a sophisticated and loving family. He studies physics at University of Copenhagen and worked under J.J. Thomson, who had discovered the electron, in England. Bohr played a major role in understanding the structure of the atom after it was conceptualized by Ernest Rutherford as a dense miniature, nucleus surrounded by a cloud of virtually weightless electrons.

Max Born

Albert Einstein (Germany)

Albert Einstein is widely regarded as the graetest physicist of modern times. The great theoretical physicist and nobel prize winner was slow to speak and not regarded as a particularly apt pupil as a boy. He graduated as a teacher of mathematics and physics. His therory of relativity as a young physicist revolutionized the science. He was awarded the Nobel Price for Physics in 1921. He was thus a world renowned physcists when the NAZIs seized power in Germany during 1933. He was, as a Jew, among the many authors who books were burned. He escaped the NAZIs and in 1935 was granted residency status in America. His letter tomPresident Roosevelt in 1939 played an important role in the American decission to build an atomic bomb.

Enrico Fermi (Italy, 1901-54)

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi played a key role in the Manhattan Project, both in getting President Roosevlt's support and in the physics involved. One colleague described Fermi as, "one of the leading lights of he nuclear revolution that came bout in physics." Enrico was hooked on science and mchanics as a boy. He njoyedassembling electric motors for fun. It soon becane apparent tht his field would be physics. He first encountered physics while browsing an open air book market. It was there he spied a thick 900-page volume, Elenmentorum physicae mathematicae (1840). It was written in Latin and covered the phsics of acoustuics, astronomy, optics, and mathematics. So while other boys were playing ball and other ganmes in the streers of Rome, Enrico diveted himself by building gyroscopes anbd devising formulas measuring Earth's gravitational acceleration. He was an outstanding student and entered university at age 17 years, enrolling in the Scuola Normale Superiore. This was a university for especially gifted students in Pisa. He concentrated on advanced mathematica and and physuics, demonstrating an astonishing aptitude for both. He published hiss first paper duting his second year. Fermi was the first scholar to explore the practical application of Enstein famous equation--E=mc2. And this meant how to harness nuclear energy. After graduation, Fermi won a prestigious position at he Sapienza University of Rome. He was elected to the Royal Academy of Italy. Politics then entered Fermi's life. Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini under pressure from Hitler, issued anti-Semitic laws (1938). Fermi wasn't Jewish, but his wife Laura was and because of that their children were half Jews, also affected by the laws. To protect her and the children, he took his family to America. In that same year he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on radioactive elements which provided an excuse for leving Italy. He joined the faculty of Columbia University where he worked with uranium. The next year, German scientists cracked the atom and Hitler launched World War II. Fermi and other refugee scientst of course understood the implications. No one in the U.S. Government understood and most Americans were intent on staying out of the War, not on building a Buck Rogers weapon. Fermi even before punlication of the Hann-Strraussman paper corroberated the the German results. Fermi and other refugee scientists knew they did not have the clout to get the Washington neauracravy to take notice. Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd was given the job of getting pacifist scirntist Albert Einstein to lend his name to the effort. Szilárd write a letter to President Rooevelt and Einstein signed it. Einstein was the one scientist that could impress President Roosevelt. And the President was the ne man that could order the military to work on a secret weapon in which hey were not inerested. And Adolf Hitler was persionally respnsible for driving Einstein, Fermi, Szilárd, and others to America where they would influence the President andhelp build a bomb. Fermi would be involved in the earliest stage of the Manhattan Project. Fermi and Szilárd built the world's first nuclear reactor in a squash court at the University of Chicago. They generated the first self-sustaining nuclear chan reaction (December 2, 1942). Thinking that the Germans were ahead in the race for the bomb, the United States then launched the massive effort to build an atomic bomb.

James Franck (Germany, 1882-1964)

James Franck was a destinguished German physicist who played an important role in the Manhattan Project. He completed his doctorate (1906) and his habilitation in at the Frederick William University in Berlin (1911), where he lectured and taught until 1918, having reached the position of professor extraordinarius. He served as a volunteer in the German Army during World War I. He was seriously injured in a gas attack and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class (1917). After World War I, Franck became professor ordinarius of experimental physics and Director of the Second Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Göttingen (1920). He worked on quantum physics with Max Born, who was Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics. His work included the Franck–Hertz experiment, an important confirmation of the Bohr model of the atom. While here he promoted the careers of women in physics, notably Lise Meitner, Hertha Sponer and Hilde Levi. He won won the Nobel Prize for Physics with Gustav Hertz "for their discovery of the laws governing the impact of an electron upon an atom" (1925). Franck was appointed Head of the Physics Division of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft for Physical Chemistry. After Hitler became Chancellor, Jewish civil servants and scintists were dismissed (January 1933). Franck was exempt because he was veteran. Even so, Franck resigned his post in protest against the dismissal of fellow Jewish academics. He emigrated (November 1933). After a year at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, he moved to the United States, where he worked at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then the University of Chicago. Franck participated in the Manhattan Project during World War II as Director of the Chemistry Division of the Metallurgical Laboratory. He was also the chairman of the Committee on Political and Social Problems regarding the atomic bomb> Committee compiled what became known as the Franck Report, which recommended that the atomic bombs not be used on Japan wihout warning.

Otto Frisch (Austria, 1904-79)

Otto Robert Frisch was an Austrian phyicistwas born into a Jewish family in Vienna, then part of Austria-Hungary (1904). His parents were Justinian Frisch, a painter, and Auguste Meitner Frisch, a concert pianist. Otto as a boy showed abilities in boh. But along wih his aunt, Lise Meitner, developed love of cience, especilly phyysics. He studied at the University of Vienna here he graduated (1926). While still at university he began working on the effect of the newly discovered electron on salts. He would work closely with Meitner. He began his career in minor German laboratories. He then obtained a position in Hamburg under the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Otto Stern. Here he produced work on the diffraction of atoms (using crystal surfaces) and also proved that the magnetic moment of the proton was much larger than had been previously supposed. He advanced the first theoretical explanation of nuclear fission (actually inventing the term) and first experimentally detected the fission by-products. When Hitler seized power in Germany he saw the danger to Austrian Jews as well. Meitner remained in Grmany, devoted to her work. Frisch moved to London. He joined the staff at Birkbeck College and worked with the physicist Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett on cloud chamber technology and artificial radioactivity. He then began a five-year collaboration in Copenhagen with Niels Bohr where he increasingly specialised in nuclear physics, particularly in neutron physics. He visited his Meitner, who managed to get out of NAZI Grmany just in tine, in Sweden for Christmas (December 1938). It was there that Meitner learned that Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in Berlin had split he atom. Frisch and Meitner because they were Jewish had to publish separately. Hahn's paper described the experiment and the finding of the barium byproduct. Meitner's and Frisch's paper explained the physics behind the phenomenon. Frisch was in Engkland when World War II broke out. Collaborating with Rudolf Peierls, another emigree scientist, Frisch designed the first theoretical mechanism for the detonation of an atomic bomb (1940). He became part of the British delegain in the Manhattan project.

Klaus Fuchs

(who passed information to the KGB)

Rudolf Peierls (Germany, 1907-95)

Sir Rudolf Ernst Peierls, CBE was born in Berlin (1907). He was the son of assimilated Jewish parents. Peierls studied solid-state physics in Zurich under the guidance of Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli (1929). His early work on quantum physics led to the theory of positive carriers to explain the thermal and electrical conductivity behaviors of semiconductors. He pioneered the concept of 'holes' in semiconductors. He actually established 'zones' before Léon Brillouin. despite Brillouin's name being currently attached to the idea and applied it to phonons. Peierls proceeded to discover what is now called the Boltzmann equations for phonons and the Umklapp process. He also assisted Egon Orowan in understanding the force required to move a dislocation which would be expanded on by Frank Nabarro and called the Peierls–Nabarro force. Peierls was studying on a Rockefeller Scholarship at Cambridge University when Adolf Hitler and the NAZIs seized power in Germany. British authories allowed him to remain in Britain. he worked at Manchester under a special und set up for refugees. He worked with Hans Bethe on photodisintegration and the statistical mechanics of alloys under the aegis of James Chadwick. The results they achieved still serve today as the basis for mean-field theories of structural phase changes in complete alloys. Next he moved back to Cambridge, he worked with P.G.L. Kapur at the Mond Laboratory on superconductivity and liquid helium. The group computed the dispersion formula for nuclear reactions originally given in perturbation theory by Gregory Breit and Eugene Wigner, but now included generalizing conditions. Their work is now recognized as the Kapur–Peierls derivation. He was appointed Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Birmingham (1937). By this time it was clear that Europe was headed for another war. Incredibly, he began working on atomic energy because it was considered a relatively low priority, non-military field. He worked with Otto Robert Frisch and James Chadwick. Ironocally both Peierls and Frisch as German citizes were denied the security clearances needed to work on radar (RDF). A few months after Hitler began the War, Frisch and Peierls published what has become known as the Frisch-Peierls memorandum (March 1940). It was a very short paper, but it laid out for the first time. how an atomic bomb could be constructed from a small amount of fissionable uranium-235. In 2 months the Germans who had published works on fission would be in possession of the largest stocks of uranium, adding Belgian stocks to the Uranium they acquired from Czechoslovakia. Peierls and Frisch calculated that about 1 kg would be needed. Until then it had been believed assumed that a bomb would require several tons of uranium. German researchers continued to believe the pre-War assessmets. (We do not know if the Germans ever learned of their work.) The Peierls and Frisch paper was critical in attracing the interest of British authorities. The British, however, did not have the economic and industrial capacity for such an enormous project. Their findings reached the attention of American authorities who had already been aklerted by Albert Einstein to the dangers of a German atomic bomb. Their findings were part of the Maud Committee. This led directly to the Manhattan Project. Peierls was responsible for the recruituing another German refu\gee, Klaus Fuchs to the British project. After the War, Peierls came under suspicion when Fuchs was exposed as a Soviet spy (1950). After the signing of the Quebec Agreement (August 1943), the American and British atomic programs were merged. Peierls joined the Manhattan Project. Peierls and Fuchs were was part of the British team. Peierls initially worked in New York, but eventually moved to Los Alamos Laboratory. It was Peierls who assembled the Little Boy nuclear bomb by hand. While he played a major role in Britain's World war nuclear program, his role in modern sciences goes far beyound the Manhattan Project.

George Placzek (Czechoslovakia, 1905-55)

Georg Placzek was born in Brno, Moravia, at the time part of the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1905). His parents were Jewish. He studied physics in Prague and Vienna. He worked with Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Rudolf Peierls, Werner Heisenberg, Victor Weisskopf, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Lev Landau, Edoardo Amaldi, Emilio Segrè, Leon van Hove and many other prominent physicists during the inter-War era. His wife, Els Placzek (née Andriesse) was an ex-wife of physicist Hans von Halban. Placzek's areas of concentration was a fundamental theory of Raman scattering, molecular spectroscopy in gases and liquids, neutron physics and mathematical physics. Working with Otto Frisch, he suggested a direct experimental proof of nuclear fission. Working with Niels Bohr and others, he was helped to better understand the potential role of Uranium 235 in the creation of a nuclear chain reaction. Hitler's Rise power closed German univerities to Placzek, even making it difficulr\t to travel through Germany. The Soviet Union attracted him for atime with its staunch anti-NAZI stance. He worked for a time in Landau's circle at Kharkov in the Soviet Union (1937). It is at this time Placzek witnessed the brutality of Stalin's Soviet Union. Leftist propaganda in the West had painted a very different picture. He would later relay his experiences to among others Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller with who he developed a close friendship. Placzek worked at Bohr's Instutute in Copenhagen ahnd oublisghed several important papers. His native Czechoslovakia was deserted by the British and French at Munichb (September 1939). It was cklear what was coming. Bohr decided to move part of his Copenhagen Institute to the safety of the United States. Placzek left Copenhagen for the United States (January 1939). He met Bohr at Princeton (February 1939). Placzek was the only Czech with a major position in the Manhattan project (1943-46). He was a as a member of the British Mission. First he worked in Canada as the leader of a theoretical division at the Montreal Laboratory. He subsequently transferred to Los Alamos (May 1945). There he replaced his friend Hans Bethe as the leader of the theoretical group. After the War Placzek was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey (1948).

Arnold Sommerfeld (Germany)

Arnold Sommerfeld was the most nominated person for a Nobel Prize with 84 nominations in the years before Wirld War II. He was nominated 84 times.

Otto Stern (Germany, 1888-1969)

Otto Stern was a German physicist and Nobel laureate in physics. He was the second most nominated person for a Nobel Prize with 82 nominations, only exceeded by Arnold Sommerfeld. Stern fiunally won during World War II while woring with the Manhattan Project (1943). Stern was born into a Jewish family in Sohrau in Upper Silesia, now Żory in Poland. His father was Oskar Stern and mother Eugenia née Rosenthal). Otto studied in Freiburg im Breisgau, Munich, and Breslau, now Wrocław in POlanbd. He completed his studies at the University of Breslau with a doctoral dissertation in physical chemistry (1912). He then followed Albert Einstein to Charles University in Prague and to ETH Zurich (1913). Stern served in the Germnan Army during World War I. He did meteorological work on the Eastern Front while still continuing his studies. He was awarded his Habilitation at the University of Frankfurt (1915). He was was awarded a profesiorshio at the University of Rostock after the War (1921). He became director of the newly founded Institut für Physikalische Chemie at the University of Hamburg (1923). Stern contributed to the discovery of spin quantization in the Stern–Gerlach experiment with Walther Gerlach. Stern was forced out of his position after the NAZIs seized power (1933). He had an international reputation and was quickly hired in America. He became a professor of physics at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (1933). He was awarded the 1943 Nobel Prize in Physics (1943). It was the first to be awarded since 1939. The Nobel award did not mention the Stern–Gerlach experiment, as Gerlach had remained an active scientist in NAZI Germny. The award rfognized hus 'contribution to the development of the molecular ray method and his discovery of the magnetic moment of the proton', advancing quatum theory. He retired (1945). He moved to California and served as Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

Leo Szilard (Hungary)

Leo Szilard was the son of an engineer and part of an affluent Hungarian Jewish family. He was a precocious child and took he took an interest in physics at the young age of 13 years. He came to see it as a beautiful science. He attended public school in Budapest. He decided to pursue his dream of a career by studying in Berlin. He began studying engineering at the Institute of Technology (Technische Hochschule). His real interest from the beginning was physics. He was attracted to the work of great physicists of the day like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Max Von Laue, Erwin Schroedinger, Walter Nernst, and Fritz Haber. Most of these luminaries were teaching in Berlin. Szilard was the one physicist who saw the poptebntil for atomic energy the clearest. He at first saw the potential peaceful potential. He also clearly saw the political future and left Hunf\gay when the NAZIs seized power. Leo Szilard was the scientist who reacted most effectively to the news that German scientists had achieved nuclear fission with uranium. Szilard realized that that a group of little known foreign scientists with 'funny' accents trying to convince America to spend billions of dollars on a project seemingly out of Buck Rogers would have little chance of receiving a serious hearing. He contacted Alexander Sachs, a New Deal economist and FDR speech writer that emigrated from Russia, who had an understanding of Washington politics. They both understood that Szilard by himself could make little impression. Einstein was a different matter. He had a huge international reputation and had even been invited by President Roosevelt to stay in the White House (January 1934). Sachs offered to deliver a letter to President Roosevelt if it was signed by Einstein. So Szilard who didn't know how to drive a car had Teller drive him to see Albert Einstein (August 2). It is one of the great ironies of history that Hitler virtually single handeldly drove the two men to America that would launch the American atomic bomb program. Szilard had the scientific vission and Einstein the influence to make it a reality.

Edward Teller (Hungary/Germany, 1908-2003)

Edward Teller was born in Budapest, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1908). His parents were non-religious Jews, Ilona (born Deutsch, a pianist, and Miksa (Max) Teller an attorney. He is often described as Hungarian, but he family was more involved in German culture as part of the Empire. Ironically he left Hungary because of anti-Semtuic regulatiions and pursued his higher education in Germany (1926). Teller graduated with a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe and received his Ph.D. in physics under Werner Heisenbergt at the University of Leipzig (1930). Heisenbergwho would go on to head the NAZI atomic bomb project. Teller's doctoral dissertation dealt with one of the first accurate quantum mechanical treatments of the hydrogen molecular ion. Teller became aquainted with young Russian physicists George Gamow and Lev Landau, who then visited Western Europe. Teller spent 2 years at the University of Göttingen, but after Hitler seized power he wanted out. While he had no interest in Judaism, Hitler campaign against Jews was race based not religion based. Likemany assimilaed Jew, Teller was condemned for a a k=ligion he had no interestin or knew next nothing about. Unlike other refugee scintists, however, he was still a rather young man who had not yet made a name in the scientific community. He managed to get out og Germany with the aid of the Jewish Rescue Committee (1934). He went first to Britain and then worked briefly with Niels Bohr in Copenhagem. Teller was offered a professorship at the George Washington Universitiy in Washington (1935). He worked with George Gamow who had defected from the Soviet Union (1933). (Gamow became a naturalized American in 1940., but did not work in the Manhattan Projct.) Teller worked as a theoretical physicist, working in the fields of quantum, molecular and nuclear physics. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen by which time his interest had turned to nuclear energy, both fission and fusion (1941). He was recruited for the Manhattan Project and then went on to play a major role after the War on the hydrogen bomb.

Victor Weisskopf (Austria, 1908-2002)

Victor Frederick Weisskopf (September 19, 1908 – April 22, 2002) was an Austrian-born Jew. Hisnicknamne was 'Viki'. He was born in Vienna and grew up there. His nicknamne was 'Viki'. He earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Göttingen in Germany (1931). He did postdoctoral work under Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, and Niels Bohr.His academic brilliance led to collaboration with the great physicists just beginning to explore the atom. This included Niels Bohr, who mentored Weisskopf at his institute in Copenhagen and he emerged as an important theoretical physicist. After the NAZI take over (1933), Weiss kopf attempted to remain in Germany and continue his work. He began to work on quantum theory. His specialty became Quantum Electrodynamics. He finally saw that as a Jew that there was no future for him in Germany and was dangerous even to remain in Germany. Like other recognized scientists, it was possible to find refuge. Bohr helped him find an academic position in the United States. He was a Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester (1937-43).After the American decision to build an atomic bomb, he was recruited for the Manhattan Project and worked at Los Alamos (1943-45). After the War, Weisskopf After World War II, Weisskopf joined the physics faculty at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT). This is one of the premier institutions in America working with physics. He became head of the department. He became a strong voice against nuclear proliferation.

Deutsche Physik

Most of the German scientists who left Germany were Jews or men with Jewih wives. Most German scientitis including pysicists were willing if not happy to work with the Germans. One of the questions about German science anf the NAZIs is the conduct of Werner Heisenberg, the brilliant theoretical physicist and a pioneer in quantum mechanics. He was appointed to head rge NAZI atomic bomb ptoject. He claimed after the War that slowed the oprioject to ensure the NAZIs would not get the bomb. Many doubt him. There were unabashed NAIs in the Germn physics community. Philip Lenard who won the Nobel Prize for physics (1905) was a fervent and lifelong anti-Semite. He was appointed Chief of Aryan Physics by Hitler. He dismissed Einstein's theories as 'Jewish physics'. Johannes Stark won the Nbel prize in physics (1919). He was also a leading voice in the anti-Semitic Deutsche Physik movement.


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Created: 8:26 PM 5/13/2014
Last updated: 6:13 PM 1/14/2019