If war scientists had not been Jewish . . .

November 03, 2000

THE authenticity of the scientists’ memo is beyond doubt. The accuracy with which its authors assess their findings is chilling.

And the consequences are clearly stated: millions of people will die.

This document was written in March 1940 by two physicists — one Viennese and one a Berliner.

In a highly secret communication, they informed their government’s chief scientific adviser: ‘‘A ‘super-bomb’ which utilises the energy stored in atomic nuclei will, for an instant, produce a temperature comparable to that in the interior of the sun. The blast from such an explosion would destroy life in a wide area.’’ The scientists’ report, sent with the memo, contained the first mathematical proof that atomic bombs could be manufactured from portable quantities of uranium. But the memo never reached Hitler. It was not seen by Goering, Hess, Bormann or Goebbels. Because the scientists, Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch, were Jewish, they had fled from Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Their memo was addressed to Sir Henry Tizard in London, and within a few days Britain had launched its atomic bomb project. Peierls and Frisch went on to head divisions of the Los Alamos team which beat the Axis powers by developing nuclear weapons in the summer of 1945.

Had these two men not been Jewish, world history would have been utterly different. But as researchers Jean Medawar and David Pyke prove in a book called Hitler’s Gift (Metro, £20), it was not simply a lucky chance for civilisation that Jewish scientists made the breakthrough.

In the first 32 years of the 20th century, 100 science prizes were awarded by the Nobel committee; 33 of them went to Germans or scientists working in Germany. Of these Laureates, about a quarter were Jewish — though the proportion of Jews in the general population was far lower, a mere one-hundredth.

Jews outperformed the national average at the highest stratum of science by about 25 to 1. But when Hitler seized power in 1933 and turned his murderous wrath upon the Jews, the high-profile scientists were among the first to be victimised.

‘‘If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science,’’ promised Hitler, ‘‘then we shall do without science for a few years.’’

Within months, about 20 per cent of all the country’s mathematicians and physicists had fled.

The great mathematician David Hilbert was asked by a Nazi minister: ‘‘And how is mathematics in Gottingen now that it is free of Jews?’’

Hilbert answered: ‘‘Mathematics in Gottingen? There is really none any more.’’

The best known of all the refugees — and the man whose counsel helped persuade Roosevelt to back the atom project — was Albert Einstein.

His treatment at the hands of the Nazi press almost broke his spirit —Einstein was an unworldly man who took both the praise and the contempt of the media too seriously.

When he spoke out in New York in 1933 about the danger of letting Hitler rise unresisted, one Berlin newspaper retorted with the headline: ‘Good news from Einstein — he is not coming back!’ Weeks later, the man who formulated the Theory of Relativity arrived at Christ Church, Oxford. One undergraduate described him as ‘‘a poor, forlorn figure . . . he was greeted by a thunderous outburst of applause from us all.

‘‘Never in my life will I forget the wonderful change which took place in Einstein’s face at that moment. The light came back into his eyes, and his whole face seemed transfigured with joy and delight when it came home to him in this way that, no matter how badly he had been treated by the Nazis, both he himself and his undoubted genius were at any rate greatly appreciated in Oxford.’’

Medawar and Pyke ask how the Allies could have won without Hitler’s Gift, the cream of Germany’s scientists. But a deeper question remains unanswered — how was it that so many of Europe’s greatest intellects came from such a small community?

The answer is in Israel today. One small and beleaguered nation leads the world in a branch of modern mathematics which will have as devastating an effect on global culture as atomic physics — Israel leads the world in computer science.

The Jewish predominance in the Thirties was not by chance. Neither is Jewish trailblazing today.

Though I have argued in these pages that the essence of Jewish physiology will, one day soon, be identified as the consequence of a unique series of genetic properties —that is, that a Jew is a Jew from the DNA up — I don’t believe that our genes make us better scientists.

A great scientist possesses a mind like any other human mind, but one which has been trained to perform extraordinary feats. Anyone can tap into the infinite potential of the mind; it is easier to do this with support from loving parents and siblings, and with training from patient, dedicated teachers.

Jewish culture has always emphasised the importance of close family and talented teachers. These are the factors that have made so many good scientists.

And these are the factors which saved the world.

Uri Geller’s ParaScience Pack is published by Van Der Meer at £30. To hear an inspirational message from Uri, call 0906 601 0171. Call costs 60p per minute.
Visit him at www.uri-geller.com and e-mail him at urigeller@compuserve.com

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