Your RDA of Irony

Nobel Lousiest

December 9, 1868:  Birth Announcements in Breslau, Prussia

Frau Haber died in childbirth, sparing herself a very unpleasant acquaintance.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, the infant would not take hint.  Fritz (1868-1934) would grow up to achieve the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  His synthesis of ammonia was ostensibly for use in fertilizer–as the Nobel Committee gullibly commended him; however, its chief application was for high explosives.  There is a reason why terrorists like to buy large amounts of ammonia-rich fertilizer.  Herr Haber does have his admirers.  Indeed, without Haber’s ammonia synthesis, Imperial Germany would have run out of artillery shells before the end of 1914.  World War I might have been known as the “90 Day War.”

Of course, you could say that Haber’s work was misused by the military.  However, ammonia synthesis was not the limit of Haber’s genius.  He was also the pioneer of poison gas, creating chlorine gas in 1915.  There is little likelihood of its pacifist intent.  Indeed, Haber supervised its “introduction”  on French troops at Ypres.  The Kaiser was so impressed that he made Haber a captain in the imperial army.  Haber’s wife was not as enthusiastic.  Horrified by Haber’s work, she killed herself.  Haber didn’t bother attending her funeral.  He was off to the Eastern Front to introduce chlorine gas to the Russians.

Despite Haber’s genius, Germany did not win the war.  So he returned to the pursuit of pure, disinterested, amoral science.  In 1926 Haber invented a fumigant gas known as Zyklon B.   Its chief use was from 1942 to 1945 in a number of German resorts.  Haber’s relatives would have been guests there and possibly had the therapeutic  benefits of the gas.  (It arrests the aging process.)

Unfortunately for Haber, the Fuhrer was not as grateful as the Kaiser.  Since none of Haber’s works included a method to regenerate a foreskin or mutate Aryan genes, the scientist was distinctly unwelcome in Nazi Germany.  Haber would have gladly organized “Jews for Hitler” but the Nazis did have a few standards. Fritz Haber had to leave the Third Reich.  The Nobel Laureate received offers of sanctuary and employment from laboratories and universities around the world.  Ignoring its killed alumni, Cambridge University enticed him to come; but Haber was miserable.  If anything could break his heart, it was Germany’s rejection of him.  Haber left for Switzerland, just a few mountains away from his beloved militarism and jackboots, and there he died in 1934.

Let us hope that he is now in a Reich where the Bunsen Burners never run out of fuel.

And for a more likable person:


  1. Peg Pruitt says:

    I am comforted by the hope that Haber (and those like him) are spending eternity in a very warm place – and I am not referring to Aruba.

  2. Cindy Starks says:

    Eugene — If I get your drift, Haber was Jewish so even though he invented all these things that helped Germany in evil ways he was persona non grata because he was Jewish? You have to spell these things out for your less bright readers, such as I. 🙂 Anyway, I agree with Peg Pruitt’s comments. 🙁

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Cindy,

      The Kaiser did not require a foreskin on his cannon fodder. However, for all of Haber’s contributions to the war effort, he would not have a received a “von” unless he converted. Of course, that is what Haber wanted, so he did convert. However, Wilhelm lost his title before Haber got one. And Haber’s baptism certificate did not impress the Nazis.

      The Second Reich and the First World War would have ended quickly but for the efforts of two non-Vons. You already know Haber’s contributions; Walter Rathenau organized the German economy for the war effort. Rathenau went on to become the foreign minister of the Weimar Republic but was assassinated by an Anti-Semite in 1922. The killer received a prison term of one year. The German sense of justice seems rather political.


  3. Leslie Jo says:

    I am taking my time reading through all of your e mails from the bottom up, which is why I am just now replying to this post in February, 2013, even though it was written in December of 1868. I am ashamed to admit that I lol-ed at the euphemism “German resorts” in the same way I loathe myself for lol-ing at Family Guy… when I watch it.

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