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My gifted brother Ludwig

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Memories of a Viennese childhood
Eric Kandel Scientist
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Memory has always fascinated me. Most of us can remember our first days in high school, our first date, our first kiss. [Memory] makes a major impact on our lives, and it’s really the mental process that carries us from one event to another. And although it’s hard to ascribe our later intellectual development to the early events of our life, I can’t help thinking that one of the reasons I worked on memory is because of my early life experience. One of the great aphorisms of post-holocaust Jewry is never forget, to remember all the time to fight against racism and hatred. And certainly my early experiences in Vienna have had a lasting impact on my life.

I was born in Vienna on November 7th, 1929 to Hermann and Charlotte Kandel, two wonderful people who actually were born in Poland. My mother was born in Kolomyia from middle class, quite cultured family. My father came from Olesko from a rather poor family. They both came to Vienna at very early age, before the First World War broke out.

My father, in fact, fought in the First World War, in the Austro-Hungarian army, as soon as he graduated from high school. My mother graduated from high school, actually had one year of college. My father, as soon as he graduated from high school, started to go into business by himself. My parents met [and married] in 1923. My brother, Lewis, was born [in 1924] and I was born five years later in 1929.

My father owned a small toy store that my mother [also] worked in on a Kutschkermarkt. This was a market that sold foods of various kinds, but in the back of it was stores, and my father had a small store that still exists there. And he made a reasonable living, even though we were never wealthy. And we had a very small but nice apartment in Severingasse. And since both my parents worked in the store, we always had a housekeeper, maid, sort of taking care of us.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: family, parents, toy store, Kutschkermarkt

Duration: 2 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016