1880s through 1933: The Physical Chemistry Library and Archive of Dr. Georg Bredig, Father of Catalytic Chemistry, Smuggled Out of Nazi Germany, Containing Original Photos, Rare Printed Materials, and Unpublished Correspondence

1933 through 1942: The Demise and Flight of the Great Jewish Scientific Community at the Hands of the Nazis, Through the Eyes of One of the Founders of Modern Chemistry, Georg Bredig

This is a story knowledge, advancement, scholarship, and, finally, of loss and tragedy.  But it is also the story of the salvation of his archive.  Bredig recognized that the Nazi’s would destroy his library that he had built during his lifetime, a pride of his.  His daughter shipped it to the laboratory of van’t Hoff, where it was saved from the Germans throughout the Holocaust, and only after the war made its way to the United States, where the Bredigs now lived.

This is that archive.

Background: In the late 1880s, a monumental change came to the world of chemistry. Physical chemistry – the study of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur – dates from this period. This branch of chemistry dates from 1887, with Wilhelm Ostwald’s publication of Zeitschrift fur Physicalische Chemie, a journal devoted to that subject.  The leaders of the European school were Swede Svante Arrhenius, German Wilhelm Ostwald, and Dutchman Jacobus van’t Hoff.  All three of these men would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  Van’t Hoff and Arrhenius were 1st and 3rd, and the latter would be the first and long-time director of the Nobel Institute.  They are giants in the scientific community, contemporaries of Albert Einstein and Max Planck.  And in the midst of it all was Georg Bredig, one of the world’s first physical chemists, a German who worked with van’t Hoff in Amsterdam, Arrhenius in Stockholm, Einstein in Zurich, and Ostwald in Karlsruhe and Leipzig.  Bredig’s work took place during a great flowering of math and science in Europe and Germany was, for a time, the hub.

But Bredig was also a Jew in Germany in the 1930s.  In 1933, his whole world collapsed: his wife died and the German government forced him into retirement because he was Jewish. In 1937 his son fled the country.  In 1938, he and his son-in-law were arrested during the notorious Kristalnacht, the latter spending weeks in Dachau before his release.  Bredig’s money was seized and his gold and silver were taken; he was allowed to keep only his and his deceased wife’s wedding ring. He was banned from visiting public parks and going to the library, which was his second home.  In 1939, Bredig fled Germany. His daughter and son-in-law did not make it out in time.  They spent more than a year in detention camps.  Bredig’s son, Max, got him out of the Netherlands, and secured him a position at Princeton, where Einstein worked.

Meanwhile, Max began work to bring over other Jewish scientists and individuals who had known his father in Europe.  He was mostly successful.  One couple, who stayed because they felt it was their moral obligation, were shot and killed, forced to dig their own graves.

The story of Georg and Max Bredig is one of scholarship, science, advancement, and collegiality.  But it also one of survival, tragedy, death, and heroism.  The scope of Bredig’s life took him from the seat of scientific advancement and achievement, where he was accepted as an equal, to a desperate flight, his family detained, and saw him die far from home, deprived of his citizenship, sad and defeated.  It is also a story of Georg’s son, who grew into his own saving his family and their colleagues and friends.

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