Friday, November 1, 2013

Heisenberg’s Mommy

I recently had lunch with Allen Byerton who is one of my two favorite professors at Ohio State.  His specialty is German History.  When I read his book “Scientists under Hitler” I learned a true story that proves that truth is much stranger than fiction.  Werner (I checked) Heisenberg was Germany’s foremost authority on quantum physics in the 1930s and in the early days of Nazi rule, he managed to get himself in serious trouble with the SS.  Heisenberg got in serious trouble with the SS in early Nazi rule for making favorable mention of Albert Einstein who, as a Jewish exile from Germany was totally persona non grata, in his papers.  Some SS publications went so far as to refer to Heisenberg as a “white Jew.”  That sort of language could mean very serious trouble in Germany in the 1930s.  It could get a man imprisoned or worse. 

The way Heisenberg managed to get out of trouble is one for Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  By an extraordinary coincidence, Heisenberg’s mother was acquainted with Heinrich Himmler’s (head of the Gestapo) mother. The two ladies of a certain age had lunch and Frau Heisenberg prevailed upon Frau Himmler to ask her son to ease up on Professor Heisenberg. 

A few days after the ladies had lunch, Heisenberg got a letter from Himmler informing him that he was officially exonerated from being a “white Jew” that he was back in the good graces of the German government and admonishing him not to make any more favorable references to Albert Einstein in his papers. While I think it’s a good thing that Prof Heisenberg managed to get out of trouble. It boggles the mind to think of how many other helpful suggestions Fraulein Himmler might have had for her son. 

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