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Being drafted at fifteen


My parents did not agree with my teachers' view of the Nazis
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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I went to high school, which is called Gymnasium. Gymnasium at that time meant that you start with old languages like Latin...

[Q] Greek...

Greek, yes, and very... not much mathematics and natural sciences, which I liked too. At the same time with ten years they draft you to the youth organisation of the Nazis, and... Jungvolk, but I was lucky, I came into an orchestra, so... which I later even got to organise myself, and we played there classical music all the time and so we had a very good time. The school was no problem. We sometime had a very good mathematics teacher, and I was brilliant in mathematics, then we got a bad teacher and I was lazy...

[Q] Uninterested...

Yes. I mean I was not interested in trivial type of problems. Natural sciences was not very good, although I liked myself chemistry. I had a laboratory at home, and...

[Q] A little box...

No, it was a real laboratory already, which sometimes my mother didn't like it at all when something exploded in the kitchen. That was the time, I remember both my parents told me terrible things about the Nazis. They say they are driving to war, and that was different from what I learnt at school, where they, of course, hailed them, and I had to become fifteen, sixteen years old to find out that my parents were right, but this was already then towards the end of the war.

[Q] So there was a sort of internal or even open opposition from you personally towards your parents, or were you respectful enough not to show?

Yes. Well, I told them what I heard in school, and they told me that's... they told me also your teachers have to say this, otherwise they will be in prison...

[Q] Out of job...

Or they will be out of job or so, yes. As a small boy you want to make your experience yourself and, the war started when I was twelve in '39.

[Q] Yes, just a question. Was this discussion every day, or just that you had once a week such a discussion? Did you... did one avoid to talk about it, or do you remember this now a posteriori? Because how you say it, it seems so as if it was every day a problem.

We always had lunch together, when I came out of school I had to hurry to get home because my father wanted that the family is united at lunch. And of course they often came home, my father, and say they heard something terrible going on and so there was a discussion at the table and we brought stories home from school, yes, but my youth was very much directed towards learning in school, and I liked it also, and towards music.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: Jungvolk, Nazi, gymnasium, mathematics, Ernst Eigen, Hedwig Eigen

Duration: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008