"Now we struggle"

A Remarkable and Voluminous Archive from the Father of Catalytic Chemistry: Telling the Story of a Prominent Jewish Scientist, From His Notes, Books & Correspondence With Nobel Winning Colleagues at the Dawn of Physical Chemistry to His Family's Hurried Flight from the Nazis

Thousands of pages of never-before-seen correspondence, much of it smuggled out of Germany to safety, the rest sent from occupied Europe from scientists hoping to escape.  This includes:

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Father of Catalytic Chemistry, Smuggled Out of Nazi Germany, Containing Original Photos, Rare Printed Materials, and Unpublished Correspondence, Including from Svante Arrhenius, Jacobus Van’t Hoff, Fritz Haber, Wilhelm Ostwald

1933 through 1942 —The Demise and Flight of the Great German 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 of scientific knowledge, discovery, advancement, scholarship, and, finally, of loss and tragedy.  There is an extensive collection of scientific photographs, voluminous scientific notes and correspondence, many books and first print scientific pamphlets, including by Einstein, etc…  It shows the Germanic world of science at its apex, with Bredig as a central figure.  But it is also the story of the salvation of one of the great remaining unpublished scientific archives.  Bredig recognized that the Nazis would destroy his library which he had spent a lifetime building, a source of great pride.  His daughter managed to secret it out of Nazi occupied Germany to the Van’t Hoff Dutch laboratory,  living in the Netherlands, 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.  Below is a brief summary.  You can also download the two documents above.


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 – comes 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 through 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, Max, who heard the moral call and answered it.  He came into his own saving his family and their colleagues and friends.

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