It took almost two years before the 1918 nobel prize in chemistry received the prize in Stockholm. World war ii played perhaps a role, but there was probably a more decisive explanation for the delay: the nobel Laureate, who laid out a full beard to hide his identity, the suspect on good grounds that he was listed on the allies ‘ list of war criminals.

”Disgrace!” screamed the French and belgian headlines when it in 1919, it was announced that Fritz Haber received the previous year’s price. Several laureates refused to come to Stockholm. And the New York Times wondered sarcastically why not at the same time, a prize for literature ”for idealistic and imaginative literature is awarded to the person who wrote the general Ludendorffs daily bulletins to the German people”.

Fritz Haber teaches in the 1920s. Photo: SZ-Photo/IBL

in 1868, in Breslau, in the future the empire of Germany. A kingdom which could have formed as a result of the 1848 years of the liberal revolution, but instead arose through three wars. Which had the effect that the united Germany was a paradox: a scientific and technological giant during The first three decades contributed a third of the science laureates – and at the same time, a ärkekonservativt society, where the pillars consisted of the military, the nobility and the monarchy. Almost every intellectual young German man from the middle class dreamed of becoming a reserve officer.

the Paradox came to influence also the jewish minority, which Fritz Haber belonged to. The German jews were very rarely politically conservative. Yet distinguished man, among the jewish populations, in their strong patriotism.

the jewish emancipationens cradle. Operating portalfigur, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, had sought to replace religious faith with the formation, and saw this as the road to jewish emancipation and self-realization. The hope of integration was sometimes almost collapsed, to just move in persecution and even pogroms. Yet abandoned the few German jews of his deep longing to be fully German.

It was thus in this environment, the Fritz Haber grew up. Father Siegfried wanted that the son would go in his firm, an agency for textile dyes. Fritz Haber himself refused, he wanted to become a great scientist. The relationship was complicated. While the father’s most distinctive feature was a caution, was his son’s boldness, sense of adventure and curiosity. While the father assumed that a jew would never be allowed to make a career in the academy, said the son to the obstacles to be overcome.

Fritz had in his vicinity a like-minded person. A young woman by the name of Clara Immerwahr, who, like him, was driven by the desire to study chemistry, despite the fact that the girls are not even allowed to go to high school. The two meet in their teens, at a dance school in Breslau.

Clara Immerwahr Haber was the first woman who became a doctor in chemistry at the Breslaus university. She was also Fritz Habers wife. Photo: H. S. Photos/Alamy

Fritz Habers and Clara Immerwahrs life is dramatic. It is a love story that will take the unexpected and abrupt twists and turns. It is also a story of grand ambitions, the difficulties impeding the ability and ultimate success. At a very high price.

Fritz Haber, the closest of a chance, end up in a field of research that almost all of the big chemists plumbed, and abandoned. It began with britten William Crookes, in 1898, issued a warning: success is not the science in the near future to bind nitrogen from air so threatened the world of the hunger!

Crookes alarm struck. Every farmer knew that the fields, in order to produce, needs to be nourished. However, the recycling of manure was ineffective. They had, therefore, since the 1800-century ship alternative fertilizers over the world’s oceans. The sources, however, was finite, and Crookes challenged now the world’s chemists to try to synthesize the fertilizer artificially. It could seem to be a simple task. The critical substance, nitrogen, which constitutes eighty percent of our air, we draw it down into our lungs with each breath. The problem: nitrogen likes to fly, not to land. The challenge was therefore to try to force the nitrogen in the air to be fixed.

Fritz Haber was not particularly interested. Many eminent chemists had already tried and failed. Haber himself had made a half-hearted experiments, published the results, and then forgot about it.

Image 1 of 2 American prisoners of war, victims of German gas attacks. Photo: DPA/IBL Slide 2 of 2 A German gas attack in the first world war. Photo: Roger-Viollet / IBL Bildbyrå Slide show

one of the greatest chemists, Walther Nernst, at a conference, mocks him, and says that his published results were totally wrong becomes Haber so offended that he immediately returns to the lab to prove that he had the right. It leads to him in 1909, manages to bind the nitrogen to the hydrogen, and form ammonia. Famous are his words as he triumphantly retrieves the principal of the institute: ”The drops, herr Geheimrat! It drops!”

It was a great breakthrough, which came to eliminate the threat of world hunger, and made Haber a vetenskapsvärldens minion. Two years later the appointment of the German emperor, Wilhelm II, Haber to Geheimer Regierungsrat and director of one of the new Kaiser Wilhelm institutes, ”the emperor’s academic gardesregemente”. A formidable journey for a German jew, who during the course of the time – of karriärskäl, but certainly also of the love of country – have chosen to convert to christianity.

Three years later, breaks the great war. According to the emperor, would be completed in two weeks. Nobody had anticipated that the new weapons – the machine gun and fältkanonen – would completely throw of the rules, to force down the armies in the trenches and lead to a large-scale training that never seemed to end.

”Haber was a liberal and a democrat”, said my colleague James Franck later, but added: ”He was a patriot, even more extreme than I am.” It was a stance not shared by his wife, Clara.

the whole of his research in the war services. His discovery how to bind nitrogen soon came to be used to synthesize ammunition and explosives. However, it was not this that would make Haber so controversial. There was another reason: Fritz Haber, as a jew only become sergeant, claimed to have found a way to break the deadlock at the front. It should, he said to the generals, search access fiendesoldaterna in their trenches by forcing them up, or smother them, with the poison gas. It would, he said, do humanity a favor: ”Countless human lives can be saved if the war in this way can be finished faster.”

it did not. When on 22 april 1915 hundrasextioåtta tonnes of chlorine gas was released out of the trenches near the belgian town of Ypres met certainly several thousand allied soldiers an extremely painful death, and a seven-mile wide gap was created in their line. But by then, it had a large part of the German troops moved to the eastern front. And the sudden upper hand could not be used.

Fritz Haber would have to pay a high price for their contradictory aspirations, both in his personal life and in his posthumous reputation.

A German soldier with gas mask, October 1917. Photo: IBL

the man who created bread out of the air. And that gaskrigets father. In Nobelprisens history, it would in the day of a hundred-year-old chemistry prize come to be counted as one of the most controversial. And when Hitler came to power, neither would the Habers patriotism, or his scientific efforts ineffective.

As a dear friend Albert Einstein later said about Haber: ”It was the German jew’s tragedy: the unrequited love tragedy.”


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