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Otto Hahn, WWI Commander of the Gas Troops, Writes His Wife

Item: 14642
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HAHN, OTTO. (1879-1968). German chemist and physicist; co-discoverer (with Lise Meitner) of protactinium; awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1944 for his work on nuclear fission. ALS. (“Otto”). 1p. Small 8vo. N.p. (Military Post; Sender: Lieutenant Hahn, Commander of Gas Troops), January 9, 1918. To his wife Edith (1887-1968). In German with translation.

“There is not enough for a letter really, nor will there be tomorrow or the day after. But I do have to let you know that I received your draft and Julius’ answer, mailed on the 4th, after having received the later letter from the 6th already yesterday. That is why I thought you had forgotten the enclosure, as was the case at first.

I congratulate you on your success and am certain that Julius will think things over very carefully. It will not hurt him. – I am not getting around to writing because since Easter, Capt. Spelker [?] has been back with whom I must do a lot of negotiation about equipment and, secondly, most of all because we have a lot of … here. Since yesterday H. v. Klitzing has been here; he is staying until tomorrow night, and we do have to engage a little with him. Tomorrow morning Heiser [?] comes from Frankfurt, and the day after it is Geiger. The day after that, the colonel will be back, etc. ‘There is no rest day and night.’ I actually do not have that much work to do. Today I went for a walk with Klitzing. Affectionately, your Otto”

Otto Hahn portrait

Otto Hahn

In January 1915, German chemist and future Nobel Prize Winner Fritz Haber enlisted Hahn and other colleagues into Pioneer Regiment 36 to develop chemical weapons and give the Germans a military advantage. “Otto Hahn… first objected that what he was doing was contrary to International law. But his objections were overruled, and Haber seems to have been determined to win the war singlehanded… Otto Hahn became a participating ‘observer’ and the future Nobel Laureates in Physics, James Franck and Gustav Hertz also joined him. But it must be recorded that Max Born, another young physicist at Haber’s Institute and a future Nobel Laureate refused to take part,” (The amoral scientist – Notes on the life of Fritz Haber, Ramaseshan). The German military first used chlorine gas separately or mixed with phosgene in January 1915, and the Allied forces soon followed suit. Mustard gas followed, which lead to one quarter of all battlefield deaths caused by chemical weapons.

Like Hahn and Franck, German physicist and inventor of the Geiger counter Hans Geiger (1882-1945) served on the front lines as an artillery officer. During the war, Hahn and Geiger were in touch, having both researched radioactivity earlier with Ernest Rutherford. Julius is possibly his brother Julius Hahn (1877-1948).

Written in Hahn’s neat hand on a self-enclosed mailer. With irregular edges and bearing the cancellation stamp of the Head Quarters of the Commander of Gas Troops. Folded and in fine condition. Uncommon from this period of Hahn’s life.

Otto Hahn, WWI Commander of the Gas Troops, Writes His Wife

$750 • item #14642

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