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The Hahn Family - Judaism


Oscar Hahn
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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Lighthill came up to Cambridge with me and so we remained friends, but we were not so close in Cambridge as we had been at Winchester. And my best friend at Cambridge was Oscar [Hahn], who is a great man in his own way but, again, totally different. He was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge. We were both students at Trinity, and he was a cripple. He had been a polio victim, I think, at the age of twelve or so, so he was always in a wheelchair, so he needed a lot of help. And I just loved him and used to push him around in the wheelchair quite a bit when he needed pushing and generally enjoyed his company. And he introduced me to the world of Judaism. He was a- he came from a very wealthy German Jewish family. His uncle was Kurt Hahn, who ran the Gordonstoun School in Scotland, and Oscar himself had been at the Gordonstoun School. Kurt Hahn, of course, was a great character, and a sort of revolutionary force in education; and his mother was Warburg, Lola Warburg, who had also been a mistress of Chaim Weizmann in her early days, and had all kinds of high level connections among the Jewish aristocracy. And they had a wonderful place where they lived in Warwickshire where they preserved all the sort of manners and style of the English gentry, long after the English had given it up. So I would go there to dine on a wonderful polished table with silver candlesticks, and that was how they lived in the middle of the war, or rather toward the end of the war.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Cambridge University, Winchester College, Trinity College, Gordonstoun, Scotland, Warwickshire, WWII, James Lighthill, Kurt Hahn, Oscar Hahn, Lola Warburg, Chaim Weizmann

Duration: 2 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008