HAHN, OTTO - ALS to his Wife Mentioning Fritz Haber and Hans Geiger
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HAHN, OTTO - ALS to his Wife Mentioning Fritz Haber and Hans Geiger

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HAHN, OTTO. (1879-1968). German chemist and physicist; co-discoverer (with Lise Meitner) of protactinium. Awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944 for his work on nuclear fission. ALS. (“Otto”). 2pp. 4to. N.p. (On the Western Front), January 6, 1918. To his wife Edith (1887-1968). In German with translation.


It seems to me I have to write you another letter, even though there isn’t much going on here, much less than at home in Berlin. I must say your letter about your … got to me. It is really too bad about Julius who is such an intelligent and stimulating man and so competent in his field. Heiner, long ago, was the one who worried about Julius’ drinking.  When he’d start drinking at some party, which he had no problem finding, it usually ended with his being terribly inebriated, a state in which he did not make for a pleasant sight. And you can only guess the sums of money spent for it. All of that would not be so bad if he were quiet and peaceful then. But he gets aggressive and thus calls attention to himself. Grete probably knows by now, which must be why she begged her mother not to let him out of the house anymore. I am curious what you wrote to him, and I am sure it will get his attention. Because he respects you, as was evident on New Year’s Eve; and that is a great compliment for you. I already told you, but the draft of your letter to him was not enclosed with your letter yesterday. So please send it the next time. I do not know if the thing has hurt him in his position here; the gentlemen do not bring it up. Let us hope that he will put a limit to his escapades in the future. How was your visit with Mrs. Franck? She must be happy to have her husband back in Berlin soon. Haber has requested him for certain kinds of jobs in a personal letter to the colonel. Riesner will let him go in about 10 days.


Vörsters sent me the book “Historical Miniatures” by Strindberg. It is a very good book, and I was happy to get it. By the way, yesterday I spoke on the phone with Duisberg in Leverkusen. He says hello to you. They hope to get Hans Hasso back in one piece, since he was sick in Macedonia for a long time.


I had a letter from Geiger who will pass through here on Jan. 11 and visit me. I will be very happy to see him again. He is a fine person and very nice. – I have responded to the request from the German Student Services by sending a 10 mark donation. For Father, I acquired 50 bottles of very good wine at 2.15 per bottle + 30 pfennigs for bottle + basket + case. I just haven’t figured out how to get it to Frankfurt. For Karl 1 bottle of Asbach Extra cognac for 15 marks! Our French one used to cost only 10 marks. These cognacs are getting awfully expensive. I also got ahold of 12 fine cigars at 55 pfennigs for Dahlem, bigger than the big Bülows. – Say, do you like the clasp? I liked it very much and thought it went well with the one I gave you Christmas of 1912. I think it cost 18 marks. Even if the gossips talk about the ribbed one, you should go ahead and buy the taffeta one, or something else if you do not like taffeta. If you prefer silk, then choose silk. But you do need a new dress, even if you are not becoming a godmother.


When is Muttel coming? Isn’t she due again soon? I hope she got the rest she needed in East Prussia. I am enclosing a letter from Dahmer [?]; he too knows about my 3-day dysentery. I am enclosing a few other items for the file ‘friends’ letters.’ In today’s Cologne paper, there is an article by your friend Heinz Walter. I haven’t read it yet. – We’ll talk about your painting, especially your portraits, some other time soon. But you should resume it before too long! I will close for now, my darling. To be frugal I should not start a third sheet. Greetings and a kiss…”


Hahn’s father, wealthy businessman Heinrich Hahn (1845-1922), wanted his son to become an architect. Instead he studied chemistry, and, during his year at Sir William Ramsay’s London laboratory at University College (1904-1905), became interested in radioactivity. In 1912, Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry named him head of the department of radioactivity, and it was there that he met the young Austrian physicist, Lise Meitner, with whom he would conduct his most significant work.


In January 1915, German chemist and future Nobel Prize Winner Fritz Haber (1868-1934) enlisted Hahn and other colleagues into Pioneer Regiment 36, dedicated to developing chemical weapons to give the Germans the advantage in the trenches. “Otto Hahn… first objected that what he was doing was contrary to International law. But his objections were overruled and Haber seems to have determined to win the war singlehanded… Otto Hahn became a participating ‘observer’ and the future Nobel Laureates in Physics, James Franck [1882-1964] and Gustav Hertz also joined him. But it must be recorded that Max Born, another young physicist at Haber’s Institute and a future Nobel Laureate refused to take part,” (The amoral scientist – Notes on the life of Fritz Haber, Ramaseshan). Franck had distinguished himself at the front before he was wounded and joined Haber in 1917. “In 1918 Franck took over as head of the physics department in Haber’s institute. Here he and Gustav Hertz continued the seminal experiments they had begun in 1912-1913 on electron impact spectroscopy,” (James Frank 1882-1964, Rice and Jortner). Like Franck, German physicist and inventor of the Geiger counterHans Geiger (1882-1945) served on the front lines in the German army as an artillery officer. During the war, Hahn and Geiger stayed in touch, having both researched radioactivity with Ernest Rutherford, prior to the war.


The German military first began using chlorine gas alone or mixed with phosphogene in January 1915, and the Allied forces soon followed suit. The use of mustard gas followed, with one quarter of all battlefield deaths caused by such chemical weapons. Haber, winner of the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was of a Jewish origin and was forced to flee Germany in 1933. Many of his relatives were killed in the extermination camps, where poison gas was used against many Jews and other persecuted groups.


Swedish author August Strindberg’s (1849-1912) book of historical essays, Historical Miniatures, was first published in 1913 and covered such subjects as slavery in Egypt, Greek philosopher Socrates, Attila the Hun, and the 12th-century French ascetic Peter the Hermit


German chemistFriedrich Carl Duisberg (1861-1935)was the head of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. During World War I, he and other industry leaders were urged to produce nitrates for use in munitions. Facing labor shortages, Duisberg urged the Kaiser to use forced labor and also supported the use of chemical weapons.  


Hans-Hasso von Veltheim (1885-1956) was a German nobleman, explorer, Indologist, and occultist who was married to Duisberg’s daughter. 


In addition to mentioning a number of eminent chemists, Hahn’s letter discusses his brothers Julius and Heiner, and half-brother Karl.


Neatly written and folded into quarters and in fine condition.


Item #20398  


Detail of Signature

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