Sunday, October 15, 2017






John Kolstad and Herman Becker on Karl Johan street, Oslo July 1941.
Photo: Courtesy Frode Sæland








HERMAN HIRSCH BECKER

PART II

by Frode Sæland



Part of Mosquito crew

A Rhodesian with the name Keith d’Alroy Taute, born in 1916 in Fort Victoria, and a veteran pilot in the Royal Air Force, chose Herman as his new navigator. Taute held the rank of Squadron Leader in No. 21 Squadron RAF. He had lost his navigator and needed a new one for The Big Show. Perhaps he saw a young navigator with some experience ready for new challenges. In the RAF, new navigators were usually crewed with experienced pilots.

No. 21 Squadron was one of three squadrons in No. 140 Wing; set up with de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito FB Mk VI. The unit was part of No. 2 Group of Second Tactical Air Force – a force established for tactical air support of the Allied Expeditionary Force under General Eisenhower, preparing for the campaign in North-west Europe. Taute insisted on Herman having officer’s rank and he got his promotion to Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Force from June 1, 1944. As he was without AFU and no experience with fast moving aircraft, he was sent to training course at the Group’s Ground Support Unit, a Mosquito Conversion Course as well as temporary flying duties at RAF Station Gravesend, Kent.

The aircrews’ tension increased as preparations for the invasion intensified. On the actual D-day, Keith and Herman trained for firing and bombing runs to be carried out after the landings. On June 7, they got a transfer note for another unit in the wing, No. 464 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force, where Taute would head the “A” flight. The operation order for the wing was to cause maximum delays of all movements by road and railway by enemy forces during night in specific areas beyond the beach heads. On June 9, the Australian squadron received three complete crews, including Taute and Becker, reaching full war establishment. Their first operational sortie on June 10, patrolling roads in Normandy, was unsuccessful, because the four 500 lbs. bombs stuck.

The period from June to October 1944 was a busy one. Depending on the weather conditions, Keith and Herman was on the wings at night, attacking roads, crossing points, railway junctions and marshalling areas with cannon fire, bombs or a combination of both, over places eventually known from the campaign: Cherbourg, Chartres, Mezidon, the Vire-area, the Falaise pocket, the Chagny Rail Yards and Rouen. In October, they carried out their first attacks in Germany, at Saarbrucken. At the end of October, 24 aircraft from the wing carried out a daylight raid against the Gestapo headquarters at Aarhus, Denmark. At the time, Herman enjoyed his long-term leave.

Herman finished a tour of 35 sorties on Mosquito (and over 300 flying hours). The intensity of operative sorties since D-day affected the crews in the form of psychic pressure, mental overload and accumulated unease. The loss of comrades was devastating. Taute left the squadron and Herman was without pilot. Enjoying a well-deserved rest period, his mind was not at peace. During leave in London, an air force colleague told him about recent developments in his hometown. He was informed that his family had been deported to Hitler-Germany. Years of doubt, concern and anxiety turned into certainty. He realised that the Nazis had murdered his family. He must have felt despair and desperation, as well as commitment and will power to go on. Meeting an acquaintance from Stavanger, offering him a rest period in Canada, he declined with the words: “I am going to get those bastards.”

Herman knew it was difficult to shun an obligatory rest period. Norwegian authorities declined his first request. However, he knew whom he had to speak to in order to get a new operational tour. Probably, he talked with the personnel officer of No. 140 Wing, who conferred with Wing Commander Bill Langdon of 464 Squadron. He met with Langdon, who granted him a second tour without any formality. A couple of days later Squadron Commander Langdon wrote a recommendation for the award Distinguished Flying Cross: “This Officer possesses a very high standard of Navigational ability which he employs to the utmost in his duties. His efforts have been a fine example of skill and devotion to duty. He has elected to return to this squadron for his second Operational tour and he will undoubtedly play an outstanding part in future operations carried out.”

King George V sanctioned the DFC for Sub-Lieutenant Herman Hirsch Becker in January 1945, and he could fix his first ribbon, alternating violet and white diagonal stripes, above the left breast pocket of his battle dress. The same month, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence followed suit by recommending him for The War Medal, number four of military awards for service during Second World War. He could add a ribbon with stripes of gold on red, the colours of the national banner.









Herman Becker, in the middle, during the Wings Parade in "Little Norway"

Photo: Courtesy Frode Sæland


As Herman started his second tour in November 1944, No.140 Wing was attacking communication targets in the Netherlands. He eventually crewed with an Australian, Flying Officer John Herbert Palmer. In December, their area of operations moved southwards to Luxembourg - Koblenz, due to the Ardennes Offensive. On Christmas Eve, their mission was to bomb German munitions transports in the Ardennes salient, in support of Patton’s III Corps, struggling to break through to Bastogne from the south against heavy resistance. After the turning point of the Battle of the Bulge, as the headquarters of Hodges’s First Army and Simpson’s Ninth Army celebrated New Year’s Eve with turkey and champagne, 18 fighter-bombers from Herman’s squadron attacked village and railway targets at the northern front, under atrocious weather conditions.

In February, the wing relocated to a provisional airfield at Rosières-en-Santerre south of Amiens. The squadrons were immediately involved in the launch of Operation Veritable, preparing for the crossing of the Rhine. The first sortie for Herman and John was bombing and strafing the usual targets in direct support of the Canadian First Army at the northern end of the front. At the end of the month, they participated in a massive large-scale daylight attack on communications network targets in the area Bremen – Hannover, as part of Operation Clarion.

Herman was the only Norwegian in an Australian squadron, consisting of mostly Australians, Britons, Canadians and New Zealanders – a typical Commonwealth unit. He distinguished himself by carrying his navy blue uniform with pride. How did he fit in? Some say he fitted in very well; he was well regarded and highly respected for his skills. Some say he was a quiet, self-contained person, who did not get close to anyone – a lone wolf. Some say he was “an absolutely delightful person”, first class, with a warm personality. All relevant aspects of what I would call an ordinary person, not extraordinarily ordinary, but a usual chap and a good bloke – admittedly of the quiet, sensitive and introvert kind. I suppose none of his brothers in arms had any idea of the anguish, pain and black sorrow he carried within him. However, he would be welcome in a unit where skill, competence and sense of duty were central criteria, where an egalitarian Aussie attitude ruled and where racial prejudice played no part. 

In March, as the Battle for the Rhine raged on the ground, they flew Intruder operations as usual ahead of the front. As frequency dropped, the crews had time to practice on pinpoint raids, specialised low-level daylight attacks on selected targets, for which No. 140 Wing became renowned. At the end of the month, the secret mission to attack the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen was authorised. The next morning, seven Mosquitos of 464 Squadron took off for an airfield at Fersfield, East Anglia, to conduct the raid.  




First Pilot 5247 Herman H. Becker
Photo: Courtesy Frode Sæland




Operation Carthage

The Danish Resistance had requested an attack on the Gestapo HQ via Special Operations Executive (SOE) in London in order to gain some respite, to stop the break-up of resistance cells and free central cadres incarcerated at the top floor of the Shell building, in order to prepare for the Liberation. The briefing of the crews reflected the meticulous planning of the raid. They were shown photos, specially designed slides, film footage, and charts with flak positions marked, a system of fix points, specially designed models and several types of maps. All in order to carry out a surprise attack, to bomb only the lower floors of the office building situated in a densely populated area, and to avoid added flak capacity of a newly harboured German cruiser. The briefing was repeated thrice. After the briefing, Herman met the Danish SOE representative Major Truelsen in the officers’ mess, giving him photographs of his family in Norway, asking him to keep them safe for him. I see this as an expression of a fatalism typical of experienced warriors and Herman’s wish to leave a personal sign to his neighbours.

In the morning, March 21, 1945 18 Mosquito fighter-bombers from No. 140 Wing took off in three waves of six aircraft in clear but windy weather. 31 North American P-51 Mustang fighters from Fighter Command escorted the attack force. A two hours bumpy crossing of the North Sea at very low-level covered the windscreens with salt spray, reducing visibility. The first wave reached a gloomy Copenhagen on time, increasing speed to 300 mph. In the final run-in, the fourth aircraft hit a light tower, got out of course and crashed at some garages along a city boulevard, catching fire almost immediately as the ammunition exploded. The three first aircraft bombed the target building, the fifth hit as well, while the last missed due to an evasive manoeuvre.  

The second wave arrived over a minute later and black smoke from the fire made navigation difficult. The two first crews could not see the target and decided to do another turn; the first bombed the Shell house, while the other decided to bring their bombs back. The third aircraft got out of course, lost a bomb and sent the remaining bomb against the fire, hitting the Jeanne d’Arc convent school nearby. The crew in the fourth aircraft observed the confusion, made a turn and came behind the fifth (Palmer & Becker) and the sixth aircraft. They were both on course but a tiny distraction made them bomb a nearby building complex. The last aircraft hit a pillbox on the corner of the Shell house.



Herman in full uniform onboard Catalina aircraft that was involved
in almost every major operation in World War II
Photo: Courtesy Frode Sæland



The third wave arrived somewhat late due to navigational problems. On a northerly course, they were led directly to the roaring inferno of the crash. Smoke obscured final fix points and most of the crews mistook the smoke for the target. Five of the six aircraft released their bombs in the Frederiksberg area, as well as the last Film Production Unit Mosquito with incendiary bombs. The sixth aircraft realised the mistake and brought the bombs back.

The attack took about five minutes and the raiders set course for home, flying at low-level in small groups across Sealand. Five aircraft of the first wave made it to East Anglia after a five and a half hours trip. The two last aircraft of the second wave came too far north and were his by flak as they left the coastline. Palmer and Becker saw the sixth aircraft turn north and crash in the sea. Palmer tried to keep his aircraft steady with one engine, turning off the other engine to reduce the fire. After a distance, the aircraft crashed in the sea in flames. Herman opened the emergency hatch and got out on the fuselage, which was pulled down by the rough sea. The tailfin must have hit him on the head as the aircraft sank into the sea. Knocked unconscious, he drowned in the Samsoe belt. Alone. Thus Herman fell. 




Herman Becker August 1944
Photo: Courtesy Frode Sæland






Epilogue

At the base at Rosières-en-Senterre, France, the keeper of 464 Squadron’s Operation Record Book had difficulties in accepting the loss of veteran crews in the day’s raid, after receiving news from Fersfield in the evening. “Unfortunately, the day’s work has cost us four well tried veterans – F/O “Spike” Palmer and his Norwegian Navigator – S/Lt. Herman Becker, also F/O “Shorty” Dawson and his Navigator F/O “Fergie” Murray. All these chaps had been long with the Squadron and their loss is not only a shock to us all but a severe blow to the Squadron. There is a slight hope that they have “ditched” and got away – such is our hope.” Officially, the crews were missing in action. The keeper of the Operations Record Book of No. 2 Group, however, had no illusions, regardless of reports of Herman waving farewell as the aircraft ditched and a crewmember observed at the fuselage. A later entry stated shortly that Herman was “killed”.  Presumably, he got a wet grave just like his pilot.

Four days later a corpse was washed ashore on the island of Samsoe, east of Jutland. Local fishermen found nothing to identify the dead, but from the Navy battle dress, they assumed he was a British airman. They handed the corpse over to German authorities, who buried the corpse in secrecy at Tranebjerg cemetery, in order to avoid manifestations by the local population.

After exhumation in 1947, British authorities decided that the remains belonged to a British officer from Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. Identification showed the rank of Sub-Lieutenant, an unknown pilot wing with the letter ‘S’ on a red circle, two ribbons, one of an unknown award, the other of DFC, and a small kangaroo emblem inscribed “Australia”. A simple headstone read “Unknown British Flyer”.

In the 1990s, Colonel Helge William Gram of the Danish Army pioneered an identification project of the 1.100 aviators from the Commonwealth countries and the USA that lie buried in Denmark. After eight years of work, 90 were still unidentified. Trying to identify an Allied pilot, Mr. Gram received a copy of the 1947 exhumation report at Samsoe that puzzled him. In 1994, a request originating from Mr. Gram started my quest for a family history. A reinterpretation identified the unknown pilot at Samsoe as Herman Hirsch Becker. Gold wing with an ‘S’ in centre was definitely a Norwegian navigator wing (S for speider). In consultation with Norwegian authorities, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission accepted the identification in the year 2000. The same year, a new head stone with his name was erected. In 2010, the Star of David was engraved on the stone. Finally, his grave got a name and a broader audience has to know of his war efforts.    




Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum







Bilderesultat for hermans krig frode sæland











HERMAN HIRSCH BECKER

PART I

by Frode Sæland


This is a micro history within a general history. A tale of a Norwegian naval aviator and his efforts in the Second World War. A story of a named warrior, who rendered faithful service in the war. Nevertheless, he was cut off from the fruits of victory. This is the story of Herman Hirsch Becker.


Family background

Herman was born in a village south of Stavanger on the south-west coast of Norway. His parents were Russian Jews, fleeing from Russia at the start of the First Word War. His father, Hille, crossed the Baltic Sea at the age of 29, travelling via Sweden to Oslo in August 1914. In Russia, his 26 years old fiancé Judith Davidova Zemechmann had to wait for five months in order to join him. She had visited several European cities as a piano teacher, accompanying well off families from St. Petersburg on their educational journeys. She arrived at Oslo directly from St. Petersburg in January 1915.They married and rented a small flat down town. Hille worked in a watchmaker shop, while Judith stayed at home, as most women in immigrant families did. In May, Judith gave birth to her first-born son Israel Josef. The family did not settle in Oslo, as conditions were bleak. In August 1916, the family moved to the industrial town of Stavanger, hoping for better opportunities in a town where the canning industry was booming due to wartime conditions.

            The Becker family was part of a major emigration from the Pale of Settlement in the years between 1880 and 1920. Nearly 3 million Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe due to restriction of opportunities, increasing poverty, systematic discrimination and brutal harassment. The Becker’s escaped as Russia launched punitive measures against the Jewish population in the western parts of the empire after the attack by Imperial Germany. Tsarist Russia considered Jews in these areas to be pro-German. However, unlike the majority emigrating to North America, Europe and Palestine, a small minority settled in the peaceful corner of Scandinavia, a region with a historically low part of Jews in the population. By 1920, approximately 1.200 Jewish immigrants had come to Norway, primarily from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Russia. They mainly settled in the two towns with Jewish communities, Oslo and Trondheim, but gradually some moved to other towns and rural regions as well.   





Herman Becker as a student at
Storhaug school Stavanger.
Photo: courtesy Frode Sæland







Childhood and youth

The family of three moved to the village of Bryne on the regional railway line in 1918. In four years, the family counted five. Herman Hirsch Becker was born on July 30, 1920. Their only daughter Ada Abigael Becker was born in Stavanger on January 20, 1922. At Bryne, Herman enjoyed a good and safe upbringing. Hille ran a small watchmaker shop on the main street, struggling to make ends meet. Judith sold candy in the shop in order to add to the income. She took on pupils learning to play the piano. She also played the piano at the local cinema screening silent movies of the day and provided live music at gatherings and celebrations at the regional college.  

            The Becker’s may have had limited social intercourse and a modest income, nevertheless, they were accepted and respected in the small community. Herman was a lively, talkative boy, making a lot of fun. He was allowed the keep his full, dark hair rather uncut, in a bohemian way, until he entered primary school in 1929. Considered an ordinary and proper schoolboy, he did not distinguish himself in any way. His musical talent, however, flourished as his father taught him to play the violin.

            In 1928, the family moved back to Stavanger. Hille established a watchmaker shop near the harbour, eventually renting a flat in a respectable part of town. Herman finished primary school in 1934 with top marks. His socialization into Norwegian customs and habits happened in a normal, self-evident way. The family ethos was to become good Norwegians. Like his brother and sister, Herman spent years in the Christian based Scout Movement. He was like any other boy in the street - active in play, outdoor activities and competitions. Of course, he learned to ski, becoming a competent skier. He liked to play football and was a prominent member of the local junior team. Herman, however, had temperament. He did not tolerate derogatory remarks on Jews or Jewishness. Whenever someone made a stupid remark or a joke at his expense, he sat the limit with his bare fists. 

           In his teens, football and sports gave way for more artistic and intellectual interests. He took regular lessons on the violin and played chess. Although Herman occasionally played the violin for his friends on outdoor gatherings, he was alone in his musical education. Friends regarded him as a quiet and pensive person. New interests, however, were not traded in good achievements at secondary school, where he performed mediocre. I suppose the age of puberty was difficult also with regard to identity. Classical music became his main field of interest, but not exclusively. He was stand-in for the town orchestra, played regularly in the orchestra of the local theatre and listened passionately to American big-band jazz music. His formidable performance on solo violin at a school-ending event in 1937, made a deep impression on many present.

            Herman finished his education with a two-year course at the commercial gymnasium of Stavanger, graduating in 1939 with good results. He obviously enjoyed the combination theoretical and practical subjects, preparing him for a job in trade and commerce. He was well liked and friendly, a cheerful and jovial fellow, with a friendly smile and a quick reply, usually in the centre of any group of youngsters, without being a leader type. He was not pious or interested in religion, although he received a basic religious education at home. Whether it was related to his elder brother Israel marrying Ida Goldman, sister’s daughter of the well-known factory owner and tradesman Moritz Rabinowitz, whether it was related to an improved financial situation for the Becker’s, making a relatively expensive membership affordable, or whether it was related to the international situation and increasing anti-Semitic pressure in Norway, we shall never know. Nevertheless, in September 1939 Mr. Becker applied for membership in The Mosaic Religious Community, Oslo for the rest of the family.

Herman starting working in his father’s shop, keeping the books and attending the shop, as his father grew ill of asthma. He started to earn his own money and perhaps he planned a career. In November, he reported relocation to Oslo, but he did not move. He stayed in his hometown, loyal to his family, working as a shop attendant. With a war on in Europe, times were marred with uncertainty and worry. Many of the immigrant families of the second wave had relatives in Central and Eastern Europe. The situation for the 500 Jewish refugees arriving in Norway until 1940 was more precarious, as they had no permanent resident permits.

            Herman was representative for the second generation of Jewish immigrants in Norway. He spoke the native language, as the families were eager to become Norwegians as quickly as possible. Most families adopted a particular strategy of adjustment, a form of self-adjustment, while resisting a strong pressure for assimilation. Families were largely integrated in society, adopting a Norwegian identity as well as maintaining their Jewish identity, within a position as a religious minority. Children of the families received what their parents did not get: social security, education and a good upbringing, forming a basis for social mobility. An entrenched, bureaucratic anti-Semitism was probably more of a problem for the immigrant families than bursts of a latent anti-Semitism in society as a whole. The authorities demanded 20 years of residence before granting citizenship, especially to Jews from Eastern Europe. The Becker family received their Norwegian citizenship in 1936. Many poor Jewish immigrants, however, did not. Both generations seem to have appreciated the protection given by a hard-earned citizenship, becoming most loyal citizens.
                 

Grown-up under Nazi occupation    
  
The Nazi attack on Norway on April 9, 1940 came as a shock, to both officials and the people at large. German air-landing troops quickly occupied the airport, harbour and town of Stavanger, while Norwegian Army units established defence lines further inland. Neither Herman nor Ada were part of the panic evacuation by ships to hamlets at the inner fjords the next day. In town, ordinary life carried on under the parole “calm and order”. The town was of strategic importance and the Royal Air Force was on the wings several times. During a bombing raid, two aircrafts were hit by flak. One burning bomber crashed in the centre of town, causing a fire at the school attended by Israel, Herman and Ada. Due to requisitions by Wehrmacht, the Becker’s had to move to a new flat. The anti-Jewish policy of the occupation authorities became manifest as local police was ordered to confiscate radios owned by Jews.

            In the early summer of 1940, Herman met a young girl named Aslaug, five years his junior. They enjoyed each other’s company and soon fell in love. Herman’s mother did not approve of his choice. As culturally conservative, she insisted on finding a Jewish girl, to no avail. There were no suitable candidates for miles – Herman had found his girl. He insisted on deciding the issue himself – staying out by a rock, the whole night to mark his will adamantly. Reluctantly, Judith accepted Aslaug, involving her in cooking. Herman and Aslaug became a couple, meeting twice a week, staying with friends during week-ends and holidays, doing what young people used to do; go dancing, to the cinema, hiking, go bathing, visits at family cottage, skiing in the mountains, and arranging private dancing as public dancing was banned by the occupation authorities.






Aslaug and Herman, summer 1941. Photo courtesy Frode Sæland



            It is impossible to say how occupation affected the prospects of live for young people. On the outside, seemingly not. However, indications suggest that a major choice was under way. Herman was a man of integrity, displaying a strong sense of justice, valuing social equality and believing in national sovereignty. Parading German troops in his beloved hometown must have been a provoking and disheartening experience. It can be humiliating for a young man liable to military service to live in an occupied country. I can imagine his response to the bombastic music of a military band playing in the town square: although music seldom was completely free, freedom was an integral part of a nation.







Herman Becker in "Little Norway". Photo courtesy Frode Sæland

        




    In October 1940, the eldest son of the neighbour family Gilje suddenly left for Oslo. In fact, he crossed the border to Sweden and later joined the Royal Norwegian Air Force in Britain. He and Herman were of the same age, attending a session for compulsory military service half a year earlier. Appeals to report for duty by the government in exile may have reached the young men. The youngest of the Gilje brothers collected petrol for a crossing of the North Sea.

            One summer evening in 1940, while saying goodnight to Aslaug, Herman got agitated after an air battle over Stavanger. He declared his intention to participate in similar action as well. To the protests of Aslaug, not wanting him to leave her for war service, he muttered equivocally “Never …”. A year later Herman went on a business trip to Oslo, sending Aslaug a post card preparing her for business trips as an excuse for his absence.

            Herman may have understood the impact of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Advancing with terrifying speed, German troops conquered vast areas capturing prisoners of war by hundreds of thousands. Smolensk, the hometown of his father, fell on July 16. The strategic situation changed. Great Britain was no longer alone against the Nazi aggressor. The new phase of the war may have confirmed his earlier decision and helped him solve the dilemma on how to protect his family. As Herman celebrated his 21st birthday and the coming of age, his choice was to take responsibility for himself, to be a man of action, committed to the values of free nations and dedicated to the struggle against Nazi tyranny.

            One night in August, he left by boat to an island further north, where eight young men from Stavanger had arranged for a first mate to take them across the North Sea in an old fishing vessel. Last preparations were carried out in the open and in the evening people gathered on the quay to bid farewell to the westbound group. After 58 hours, at sea the group reached Kirkwall on the Orkneys on August 17. They had to sail the last part as the engine broke down. They were well received by security officers, representatives of Church of Scotland and the Norwegian Consulate, offering them clothing, a hot meal, cigarettes and whiskey. After interrogation by the security officers in Aberdeen, they went by train to London and the Royal Victoria Patriotic School for final clearance. Norwegian military authorities took over and within a week, the young men had their wishes for service granted. Herman joined the air force on September 1, on the day two years after war in Europe broke out. He was among 10 young Norwegians selected for an air training camp at Toronto, leaving Liverpool on a troopship across the Atlantic.

Back home, his father realised the gravity of the situation. Escaping occupation was an act of resistance. If arrested for preparing or trying to escape, the German Security Police would pass a death sentence. Hille went to the local police reporting his son missing, thus avoiding harassment by the security police and suspicion of complicity in leaving the country “illegally”.  

            Herman’s escape was part of the so-called England-traffic, young people using every kind of vessel to cross the North Sea in order to report for service in the armed forces or the Merchant Navy. This traffic lasted from the summer 1940 to spring 1942, when major losses put an end to it. A top was reached in August 1941 with 40 vessels crossing the sea. In September, over thousand individuals reached the British Isles. Altogether, 3.300 persons in nearly 300 civilian vessels made it. Escape was dangerous; one in ten lost their lives.  

            In general, considering the small size of the Jewish minority in Norway (about 2.100 in 1940), the part playing an active role during the Second World War was significant, nearly for percent.
           

Flying training

The new recruits arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a three days voyage. They went by train to Toronto, Ontario, where the Royal Norwegian Air Force Training Centre, also called “Little Norway”, had been established in the harbour area near Maple Leaf baseball stadium. Most of the aspirants entering the camp wanted to be pilots. The chiefs replied sobering. “For every man in the air we need ten men on the ground.” After finishing his recruit’s course, Herman had to wait for a flying course. Through a friend, he sent a letter to Aslaug in Norway via Chicago, thus avoiding Nazi censorship, informing her in code that he was all right. His highest wish was to return to her and Stavanger. He had bought himself a violin and asked her to take care of his parents. This was the only written message he managed to get through. A Sunday in December, news of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour broke. Once again, the war took a new turn. It became global. As a fresh air cadet, Herman would hardly grasp the strategic implications of the attack. Although a stunning tactical success, it meant a strategic disaster for Japan. The greatest industrial power in the world had been challenged. United States of America was able to mobilise unprecedented resources in the battle against the Axis.

            Herman got into the fourth flying course among 31 hopeful. Training involved ground course with practical and theoretical subjects and elementary flying training school. His first flying lessons with instructor started April 9, 1942 at Island Airport. At No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School at Muskoga Airport, where the cadets learned to fly solo, his problems with landing an aircraft were evident. His tactile skills applied successfully on the violin did not serve him well at the yoke. He was excluded – or “washed out” – from the course, to bitter disappointment. His dream of becoming a pilot was smashed. He got over it, though. It was no shame being “washed out” – one-half of the aspirants were rejected as unfit. His talents in navigation however were obvious. He was transferred to a course for navigators, the first step of the education of flight navigators. Here he performed with excellence and a course of education, in accordance with the great Commonwealth Air Training Plan, was laid.  

Six Norwegian aspirants went to a course at No. 6 Air Observer School at Prince Albert. Next, they attended No. 1 Central Navigation School at Rivers, Manitoba, with over thousand participants. After a course at No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School at Paulson, he earned his navigator/bomb aimer wing and the rank of sergeant. In his leave, Herman went with friends to New York. The impression of the metropole must have been overwhelming. He made a concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall his priority. Back at Toronto, the navigators joined their bomber pilot comrades for a finishing course at No. 1 General Reconnaissance School RCAF at Summerside, Prince Edward Island, training in coast patrol duties. Back at “Little Norway”, he served in the camp’s training section.  






Herman plays chess with a Britisk offiser, most likely with Vagar on Shetland.
Photo:Courtesy Frode Sæland



            Herman had finished the first part of his training during 16 months in Canada. He was ready for duty, though not fully qualified. In March 1943, the same month as his sister Ada Abigail arrived at Auschwitz, the Royal Norwegian Air Force detailed Herman for overseas duties. Of a group of 28, he was the only navigator. The group was part of a troop transport by RMS Queen Elisabeth from Halifax to Liverpool. The high speeds of the world’s largest ocean liner made escort unnecessary.


In a maritime squadron

Back in Britain, meeting a people still showing resolve, resilience, restraint and national unity in the war effort gave inspiration for the new warriors. Herman was detailed to a new, small unit, No. 1477 Flight Royal Norwegian Naval Air Service, Woodhaven, at Dundee, Scotland, under Coastal Command, operating three Consolidated Catalina flying boats, doing anti-submarine search, artic patrols and convoy escort in the Battle of the Atlantic, as well as special duties along the Norwegian coast. He would have the required flying hours as well as the finishing courses in order to be an able navigator. He joined an Operational Training Unit course near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in May. By July, he was flight navigator, participating in his first operational sortie as part of Crew 5.

            The rest of 1943, Herman flew anti-submarine search in the patrol area between the Faroes and Iceland. This was the route used by German U-boats into the Atlantic. Systematic patrolling by Coastal Command was the most important preventive measure in securing the Allied convoys across the Atlantic. A sortie would last from nine to nineteen hours. Usually, the entry in the Operation Record Book would read; “Nothing observed.” Members of the crews experienced sorties as futile, as a senseless waste of tiresome flying over desolate oceans, as boring, strenuous and exhausting routine. During his 18 sorties, Herman did not see any action at all.

            A career peak would be the special duty tour at Christmas 1943. No. 333 Squadron sent two Catalinas to the Norwegian coast to boost morale at home. Each aircraft dropped 50 bags full of scarce commodities like coffee, cigarettes, tobacco, sugar, candy, fish oil and season greetings from His Majesty King Haakon and the government in exile. As they flew low-level over islets and sounds on the coast of Nordland, the crew could see women and children on the ground picking up the bags. After returning to Woodhaven, a Christmas party was given for the personnel. Admiral attending opened his speech with the words: “Thoughts go straight across the North Sea tonight, in both directions.” Herman may have been silent and thoughtful by these words. He may have thought about his family at home at the opposite coast. He had not heard from his parents since he left. An official news bulletin on the persecution of Jews having reached Norway, referring to the arrest and deportation of Jewish women and children in Oslo, may have reached him, but no news about families in other parts of the country. I suppose he was worrying sick about his parents.

            In January 1944, Herman asked for a transfer. He was fed up with routine duties and wanted to see some action. The request was accepted at once. Although he was without an advanced flying unit course, he was available immediately in the pool of RAF personnel.







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Jøden i Slagelse

av Stig Hegn



Jøden kunne kun være en bestemt person i Slagelse. I hvert fald i min barndom. Det var ikke Jerusalems skomager, men Josef Litichevskij. Jeg kendte ikke hans navn dengang, Jøden var en slags efternavn. Min barndom faldt i slutningen og efter 2. Verdenskrig, men det der med holocaust kom jo først senere, i hvert fald til de kredse hvor jeg færdedes. Der var nu også andre jøder, f.eks. gik jeg i klasse med Louis, der også var jøde, men det havde jeg nu ikke fundet ud af, hvis han ikke selv havde sagt det til mig - og slæbt mig med i synagogen i Krystalgade og til hans farmor der boede inde bagved. Der var ikke skyggen af antisemitisme i at Jøden blev kaldt for jøden. Jeg kendte godt udtrykket at jøde, men det var jo bare et ord blandt så mange, som i øvrigt var ved at gå at brug.




David, 3. underklasse 1929


Men Jøden boede på Bredgade, nr. 11, hvor jeg fra min senere barndom husker at tapetfabrikken Zemi placeret. Men gå derned og nyd atmosfæren her ved teater og bymuseum, man kan mærke lidt at det gamle Slagelse her!

Litichevskij var produkthandler, det var her man kunne tjene en skilling ved at aflevere gamle aviser og gammelt jern – det sidste var der nu ikke meget af, da jeg var barn, det var lige efter krigen, hvor alt var brugt. 





David, 4. underklasse 1930


Kirsten Ring (f. 1939), der boede på Sct. Knudsgade, har fortalt at hun som barn solgte brugte klude og gammelt strikketøj her hos Jøden.

Men det var jo lidt af en tilfældighed, at Litichevskij havnede i Slagelse.




Josef Litischevski ved sin trykpresse, hvor han trykte der vokhen blat. Formatet var så lille, at han kun kunne trykke en halv side ad gangen 8riget 19.7.11)




Vi skal lige have lidt jødehistorie: Der var sådan set to strømme af jødiske flygtninge til Danmark. Den første var omkring 1840-50, hvor de kom fra Østeuropa. Denne første bølge var nogenlunde velstillede og det var dem der startede Jødisk Samfund, som stod for dåb, ægteskab, men også social forsorg for jøder i Danmark, det var en slags stat i staten

Blandt disse første jøder er de mere kendte: brødrene Georg og Edvard Brandes, den første litteraturkritiker, sikkert Danmarks kendteste, Edvard var indenrigsminister. Der var vist også samfundsspidser som bankmanden Emil Glückstadt. De var blevet ansete folk i datidens borgerskab. Men så kom omkring 1890 en strøm til, dels som følge af jødeforfølgelser, dels som følge af landbrugets afvikling i Rusland. Det var en helt anden type: det var skræddere og småhåndværkere. De fleste af dem fik Jødisk Samfund skyndsomst sendt videre til Amerika - det ville de fleste nok også gerne. De fine danske jøder så ikke med milde øjne på deres proletariske landsmænd




Dos vokhen blat



Litichevskij var typograf oprindeligt og åbnede i 1911 – han var da 19 år – et bogtrykkeri i Nansensgade 21 i København. Det bemærkelsesværdige var at trykkeriet kunne trykke på jiddisch – det var faktisk første gang der blev trykt på jiddisch i Kongeriget Danmark. Så det er noget af en litterær sensation vi her står overfor. Jiddisch var det sprog som de østeuropæiske jøder talte, det findes vist ikke mere, højst blandt klezmer-sangere. Der boede faktisk ca. et par hundrede jøder i København (Adelgade, Borgergade og deromkring). 

Josef Litichevskij var kommet til København med sine forældre i 1910 fra Jekatarinoslav, en by i Ukraine ved Dnepr der producerede stensalt og –kul, med 220.000 indbyggere. Han udgav så bladet Dos vokhen blat, som nok betyder ugebladet. Det udkom i ti år til 1921. Han trykte også en masse løbesedler og udgav et par bøger på jiddisch. Men deromkring, i 1920, flyttede han nok til Slagelse, der har nok ikke været så meget brød i at udgive et blad på jiddisch.

I Slagelse havde han så produktforretning, og havde mindst et par knægte, hvoraf den ene, David, gik i skole i privatskolen Dyhrs skole i på Frederiksgade, sammen med min mor, Ingrid Rasmussen (f. 1918). Davids ældre bror gik også på skolen. Men mors erindring tilsiger, at David var den kønneste af de to brødre! Man må så gå ud fra at produktforretningen har kastet en del af sig, i hvert fald så meget at knægtene kunne gå i privatskole. En del danske jøder flygtede jo til Sverige under besættelsen, men altså ikke Litichevskij – så vidt jeg ved – min onkel Poul (f. 1927) mener at huske at hans lager af brugte bildæk brændte under krigen og spredte en gruelig stank over hele byen. Resten af historien Litichevskij kender jeg desværre ikke.

Der var en anden jøde i byen, han hed Zielinski, han gjorde vist også i brugte sager, og boede muligvis ud af Kalundborgvej til - der hvor min barndom udspillede sig. Jeg kan se, at der var en brugtsvognshandler i byen i 1970erne der også hed Zielinski.

Men jøden er altså Litichevskij, i Bredegade.




Litteratur: Morten Thing: De russiske jøder i København 1882-1943. 2008. Side 120-22.


[1] Den er i dag hjemsted for byens teater, kaldet Krabasken, der har boet her siden 1984. De skriver på deres hjemmeside http://www.krabasken.dk/foreningen/krabaskens-historie, at det er det tidligere Landmandshotel. Det hed tidligere Hotel Stadt Hamburg, og her blev det lokale socialdemokrati stiftet i 1885. Men Landmandshotellet lå ud til Bredgade og er for længst revet ned.


[2] Fint beskrevet i Pinches Welner: Fra polsk jøde til dansk (1966). Han er godt nok polak fra Łódź, men det er samme problemstilling.



Gjengitt med tillatelse

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum

Tuesday, June 13, 2017








Lise Meitner, sculpture. University in Berlin




LISE MEITNER




Meitner’s nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, said 
that Meitner’s university teacher, Ludwig 
Boltzmann, “gave her the vision of physics as
 a battle for the ultimate truth, a vision 
she never lost.”


Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. Otto Hahn and Meitner led the small group of scientists who first discovered nuclear fission of uranium when it absorbed an extra neutron; the results were published in early 1939. Meitner and Otto Frisch understood that the fission process, which splits the atomic nucleus of uranium into two smaller nuclei, must be accompanied by an enormous release of energy.



Meitner with actress Katharine Cornell and physicist Arthur Compton
 on 6 June 1946, when Meitner and Cornell were receiving awards
 from the National Conference of  Christians and Jews







This process is the basis of the nuclear weapons that were developed in the U.S. during World War II and used against Japan in 1945. Nuclear fission is also the process exploited by nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Meitner spent most of her scientific career in Berlin, Germany, where she was a physics professor and a department head at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute; she was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. She lost these positions in the 1930s because of the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany, and in 1938 she fled to Sweden, where she lived for many years, ultimately becoming a Swedish citizen. 

Meitner received many awards and honors late in her life, but she did not share in the 1944 Noble Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission that was awarded exclusively to her long-time collaborator Otto Hahn. In the 1990s, the records of the committee that decided on that prize were opened. Based on this information, several scientists and journalists have called her exclusion "unjust", and Meitner has received a flurry of posthumous honors, including the naming of chemical element 109 as meitnerium in 1997.






Lise Meittner (1878 - 1968) with Science Talent Search
finalists 1946, Catholic University of America


She was born Elise Meitner on 7 November 1878 into a Jewish upper-middle-class family in Vienna, 2nd district (Leopoldstadt), the third of eight children. Her father Philipp Meitner was one of the first Jewish lawyers in Austria. She shortened her name from Elise to Lise.



The birth register of Vienna's Jewish community lists Meitner as being born on 17 November 1878, but all other documents list her date of birth as 7 November, which is what she used. As an adult, she converted to Christianity, following Lutheranism, and was baptized in 1908. 


Meitner's earliest research began at age 8, when she kept a notebook of her records underneath her pillow. She was particularly drawn to math and science, and first studied colors of an oil slick, thin films, and reflected light. Women were not allowed to attend public institutions of higher education in Vienna around 1900, but Meitner was able to achieve a private education in physics in part because of her supportive parents, and she completed in 1901 with an "externe Matura" examination at the Akademisches Gymnasium. 

Meitner studied physics and went on to become the second woman to obtain a doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna in 1905 (her dissertation was on "heat conduction in an inhomogeneous body"). While at the University, she took her studies very seriously. Because she was unsure if she wanted to study mathematics or physics, she attended multiple lectures in both areas of study, "taking more notes than the registered students". 

While studying a beam of alpha particles, she found that scattering increased with the atomic mass of the metal atoms, in her experiments with Collimators and metal foil, which led Ernest Rutherford later on to the nuclear atom, and which had been her forte, submitting her report of same to the Physikalische Zeitschrift on 29 June 1907.

After she received her doctorate, Meitner rejected an offer to work in a gas lamp factory. Encouraged by her father and backed by his financial support, she went to the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin where famous physicist Max Planck allowed her to attend his lectures, an unusual gesture by Planck, who until then had rejected any woman wanting to attend his lectures.








Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck,(1858 – 1947)
was a German theoretical physicist whose
discovery of energy quanta won him the
Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.



After one year of attending Planck's lectures, Meitner became Planck's assistant. During the first years she worked together with chemist Otto Hahn and together with him discovered several new isotopes. In 1909 she presented two papers on beta-radiation. She also, together with Otto Hahn, discovered and developed a physical separation method known as radioactive recoil, in which a daughter nucleus is forcefully ejected from its matrix as it recoils at the moment of decay.





Otto Hahn (1879 – 1968) was a German chemist and pioneer
in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He was exclusively
awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944 for the discovery
 and the radiochemical proof of nuclear fission. He is referred to
as the father of nuclear chemistry.





In 1912 the research group Hahn–Meitner moved to the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute (KWI) in Berlin-Dahlem, south west in Berlin. She worked without salary as a "guest" in Hahn's department of Radiochemistry. It was not until 1913, at 35 years old and following an offer to go to Prague as associate professor, that she got a permanent position at KWI. 


In the first part of World War I, she served as a nurse handling X-ray equipment. She returned to Berlin and her research in 1916, but not without inner struggle. She felt in a way ashamed of wanting to continue her research efforts when thinking about the pain and suffering of the victims of war and their medical and emotional needs. 

In 1917, she and Hahn discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. 

In 1922, she discovered the cause of the emission from surfaces of electrons with 'signature' energies, known as the Auger effect. The effect is named for Pierre Victor Auger, a French scientist who independently discovered the effect in 1923. 

In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. In 1935, as head of the physics department of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem (today the Hahn-Meitner Building of the Free University) she and Otto Hahn, the director of the KWI, undertook the so-called "transuranium research" program. This program eventually led to the unexpected discovery of nuclear fission of heavy nuclei in December 1938, half a year after she had left Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie". 

While at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Meitner corresponded with James Chadwick at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. As Chadwick and others were attempting to prove the existence of the neutron, Meitner sent Polonium to Chadwick for his experiments. Chadwick eventually required and received more polonium for his experiments from a hospital in Baltimore, but he would remain grateful to Meitner. Later, he said he was "quite convinced that [Meitner] would have discovered the neutron if it had been firmly in her mind, if she had had the advantage of, say, living in the Cavendish for years, as I had done." 

In 1930, Meitner taught a seminar on nuclear physics and chemistry with Leó Szilárd. After the discovery of the neutron in the early 1930s, the scientific community speculated that it might be possible to create elements heavier than uranium (atomic number 92) in the laboratory. A scientific race began between the teams of Ernest Rutherford in Britain, Irène Joliot-Curie in France, Enrico Fermi in Italy, and Meitner and Hahn in Berlin. At the time, all concerned believed that this was abstract research for the probable honour of a Nobel prize. None suspected that this research would culminate in nuclear weapons.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Meitner was still acting as head of the physics department of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. Although she was protected by her Austrian citizenship, all other Jewish scientists, including Szilárd, Fritz Haber, her nephew Otto Frisch, and many other eminent figures, were dismissed or forced to resign from their posts. Most of them emigrated from Germany. Her response was to say nothing and bury herself in her work.

After the Anschluss in March 1938, her situation became difficult. On July 13, 1938, Meitner, with the support of Otto Hahn and the help from the Dutch physicists Dirk Coster and Adrian Fokker, departed for the Netherlands. She was forced to travel under cover to the Dutch border, where Coster persuaded German immigration officers that she had permission to travel to the Netherlands. She reached safety, though without her possessions. Meitner later said that she left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse. Before she left, Otto Hahn had given her a diamond ring he had inherited from his mother: this was to be used to bribe the frontier guards if required. It was not required, and Meitner's nephew's wife later wore it.

An appointment at the University of Groningen did not come through, and with the help of Eva von Bahr and Carl Wilhelm Oseen she went instead to Stockholm, where she took up a post at Manne Siegbahn's laboratory, despite the difficulty caused by Siegbahn's prejudice against women in science. Here she established a working relationship with Niels Bohr, who travelled regularly between Copenhagen and Stockholm. She continued to correspond with Hahn and other German scientists.







Eva von Bahr (1874 – 1962) was a Swedish physicist and teacher at a 
folk high school. She was the first woman in Sweden to become a 
docent in physics. She is known for her friendship and support of the
physicist Lise Meitner






On occasion of a lecture by Hahn in Niels Bohr's Institute he, Bohr, Meitner and Frisch met in Copenhagen on November 10, 1938. Later they continued to exchange a series of letters. In December Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann performed the difficult experiments which isolated the evidence for nuclear fission at their laboratory in Berlin-Dahlem. The surviving correspondence shows that Hahn recognized that 'fission' was the only explanation for the proof of barium (at first he named the process a 'bursting' of the uranium), but, baffled by this remarkable conclusion, he wrote to Meitner.


The possibility that uranium nuclei might break up under neutron bombardment had been suggested years before, notably by Ida Noddack in 1934. However, by employing the existing "liquid-drop" model of the nucleus, Meitner and Frisch, exclusively informed by Hahn in advance, were therefore the first to articulate a theory of how the nucleus of an atom could be split into smaller parts: uranium nuclei had split to form barium and krypton, accompanied by the ejection of several neutrons and a large amount of energy (the latter two products accounting for the loss in mass). She and Frisch had discovered the reason that no stable elements beyond uranium (in atomic number) existed naturally; the electrical repulsion of so many protons overcame the strong nuclear force. They also first realized that Einstein's famous equation, E = mc2, explained the source of the tremendous releases of energy in nuclear fission, by the conversion of rest mass into kinetic energy, popularly described as the conversion of mass into energy. Ironically, Meitner was motivated to begin these calculations in order to show that Irene Joliot-Curie's interpretation of some experiments violated the liquid drop model.

A letter from Bohr had sparked the above inspiration in December 1938: he commented on the fact that the amount of energy released when he bombarded uranium atoms was far larger than had been predicted by calculations based on a non-fissile core. But Meitner and Frisch later confirmed that chemistry had been solely responsible for the discovery, although Hahn, as a chemist, was reluctant to explain the fission process in correct physical terms.

In a later appreciation Lise Meitner wrote: The discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann opened up a new era in human history. It seems to me that what makes the science behind this discovery so remarkable is that it was achieved by purely chemical means. 

And in an interview with the West German television (ARD, March 8, 1959) Meitner said: Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann were able to do this by exceptionally good chemistry, fantastically good chemistry, which was way ahead of what any one else was capable of at that time. The Americans learned to do it later. But at that time, Hahn and Strassmann were really the only ones who could do it. And that was because they were such good chemists. Somehow they really succeeded in using chemistry to demonstrate and prove a physical process. 

Fritz Strassmann responded in the same interview with this clarification: Professor Meitner stated that the success could be attributed to chemistry. I have to make a slight correction. Chemistry merely isolated the individual substances, it did not precisely identify them. It took Professor Hahn's method to do this. This is where his achievement lies. 

Hahn and Strassmann had sent the manuscript of their first paper to Naturwissenschaften in December 1938, reporting they had detected and identified the element barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons; simultaneously, Hahn had communicated their results exclusively to Meitner in several letters, and did not inform the physicists in his own institute. 

In their second publication on the evidence of barium (Die Naturwissenschaften), 10 February 1939) Hahn and Strassmann used for the first time the name Uranspaltung (uranium fission) and predicted the existence and liberation of additional neutrons during the fission process (which was proved later to be a chain reaction by Frederic Joliot and his team). Meitner and Frisch were the first who correctly interpreted Hahn's and Strassmann's results as being nuclear fission, a term coined by Frisch, and published their paper in Nature. Frisch confirmed this experimentally on 13 January 1939. 

These three reports, the first Hahn-Strassmann publication of January 6, 1939, the second Hahn-Strassmann publication of February 10, 1939, and the Frisch-Meitner publication of February 11, 1939, had electrifying effects on the scientific community. Because there was a possibility that fission could be used as a weapon, and since the knowledge was in German hands, Szilárd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner jumped into action, persuading Albert Einstein, a celebrity, to write President Franklin D. Roosevelt a letter of caution. 

In 1940 Frisch and Rudolf Peierls produced the Frisch-Peierls memorandum, which first set out how an atomic explosion could be generated, and this ultimately led to the establishment in 1942 of the Manhattan Project. Meitner refused an offer to work on the project at Los Alamos, declaring "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!" Meitner said that Hiroshima had come as a surprise to her, and that she was "sorry that the bomb had to be invented."

In Sweden, Meitner was first active at Siegbahn's Nobel Institute for Physics, and at the Swedish National Defence Research Institute (FOA) and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, where she had a laboratory and participated in research on R1, Sweden's first nuclear reactor. In 1947, a personal position was created for her at the University College of Stockholm with the salary of a professor and funding from the Council for Atomic Research.

The many honors that Meitner received in her lifetime have long been overshadowed by the fact that she did not share the Nobel Prize for nuclear fission awarded to Otto Hahn. On 15 November 1945, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that Hahn had been awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "his discovery of the fission of heavy atomic nuclei."

At the time Meitner herself wrote in a letter, "Surely Hahn fully deserved the Nobel Prize for chemistry. There is really no doubt about it. But I believe that Otto Robert Frisch and I contributed something not insignificant to the clarification of the process of uranium fission—how it originates and that it produces so much energy and that was something very remote to Hahn." In a similar vein, Carl Friedrich von Weizsackerzsäcker, Lise Meitner's former assistant, later added that Hahn "certainly did deserve this Nobel Prize. He would have deserved it even if he had not made this discovery. But everyone recognized that the splitting of the atomic nucleus merited a Nobel Prize." Frisch wrote similarly in a 1955 letter.

Hahn's receipt of a Nobel Prize was long expected. Both he and Meitner had been nominated for both the chemistry and the physics prizes several times even before the discovery of nuclear fission. In 1945 the Committee in Sweden that selected the Nobel Prize in Chemistry decided to award that prize solely to Hahn. In the 1990s, the long-sealed records of the Nobel Committee's proceedings became public, and the comprehensive biography of Meitner published in 1996 by Ruth Lewin Sime took advantage of this unsealing to reconsider Meitner's exclusion. In a 1997 article in the American Physical Society journal Physics Today, Sime and her colleagues Elisabeth Crawford and Mark Walker wrote: "It appears that Lise Meitner did not share the 1944 prize because the structure of the Nobel committees was ill-suited to assess interdisciplinary work; because the members of the chemistry committee were unable or unwilling to judge her contribution fairly; and because during the war the Swedish scientists relied on their own limited expertise. Meitner's exclusion from the chemistry award may well be summarized as a mixture of disciplinary bias, political obtuseness, ignorance, and haste."

Max Perutz, the 1962 Nobel prizewinner in chemistry, reached a similar conclusion: "Having been locked up in the Nobel Committee's files these fifty years, the documents leading to this unjust award now reveal that the protracted deliberations by the Nobel jury were hampered by lack of appreciation both of the joint work that had preceded the discovery and of Meitner's written and verbal contributions after her flight from Berlin."

Later years

After the war, Meitner, while acknowledging her own moral failing in staying in Germany from 1933 to 1938, was bitterly critical of Hahn, Max von Laue and other German scientists who, she thought, would have collaborated with the Nazis and done nothing to protest against the crimes of Hitler's regime. Referring to the leading German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg, she said: "Heisenberg and many millions with him should be forced to see these camps and the martyred people."

In a June 1945 draft letter addressed to Hahn, but never received by him, she wrote: You all worked for Nazi Germany. And you tried to offer only a passive resistance. Certainly, to buy off your conscience you helped here and there a persecuted person, but millions of innocent human beings were allowed to be murdered without any kind of protest being uttered ... [it is said that] first you betrayed your friends, then your children in that you let them stake their lives on a criminal war – and finally that you betrayed Germany itself, because when the war was already quite hopeless, you did not once arm yourselves against the senseless destruction of Germany.

After the war in the 1950s and 1960s, Meitner again enjoyed visiting Germany and staying with Hahn and his family for several days on different occasions, particularly on March 8, 1959, to celebrate Hahn's 80th birthday in Göttingen, where she addressed recollections in his honour. Also Hahn wrote in his memoirs, which were published shortly after his death in 1968, that he and Meitner had remained lifelong close friends. Even though their friendship was full of trials, arguably more so experienced by Meitner, she "never voiced anything but deep affection for Hahn."

In 1947, Meitner retired from the Siegbahn Institute and started research in a new laboratory that was created specifically for her by the Swedish Atomic Energy Commission at the Royal Institute of Technology. She became a Swedish citizen in 1949. She retired in 1960 and moved to the UK where most of her relatives were, although she continued working part-time and giving lectures.

A strenuous trip to the United States in 1964 led to Meitner having a heart attack, from which she spent several months recovering. Her physical and mental condition weakened by atherosclerosis, she was unable to travel to the US to receive the Enrico Fermi prize and relatives had to present it to her. After breaking her hip in a fall and suffering several small strokes in 1967, Meitner made a partial recovery, but eventually was weakened to the point where she moved into a Cambridge nursing home.

She died in her sleep on 27 October 1968 at the age of 89. Meitner was not informed of the deaths of Otto Hahn (d. July 1968) or his wife Edith, as her family believed it would be too much for someone so frail. As was her wish, she was buried in the village of Bramley in Hampshire, at St. James parish church, close to her younger brother Walter, who had died in 1964. Her nephew Frisch composed the inscription on her headstone. It reads: 

Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity. 

On a visit to the USA in 1946, Meitner received the honour of "Woman of the Year" by the National Press Club and had dinner with President Harry Truman and others at the Women's National Press Club. She lectured at Princeton, Harvard and other US universities, and was awarded a number of honorary doctorates. She received jointly with Hahn the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society in 1949, and in 1955 she was awarded the first Otto Hahn Prize of the German Chemical Society. In 1957 the German President Theodor Heuss awarded her the highest German order for scientists, the peace class of the Pour le Merite. She was nominated by Otto Hahn for both honours. Meitner's name was submitted, also by Hahn, to the Nobel Prize committee more than ten times, but she was not accepted. 

Meitner was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1945, and had her status changed to that of a Swedish member in 1951. Four years later she was elected a Foreing Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS( in 1955. She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960.

Meitner received 21 scientific honours and awards for her work (including 5 honorary doctorates and membership of 12 academies). In 1947 she received the Award of the City of Vienna for science. She was the first female member of the scientific class of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. In 1960, Meitner was awarded the Wilhelm Exner Medal and in 1967, the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art. 

Since Meitner's 1968 death, she has received many naming honours. In 1997, element 109 was named meitnerium in her honour. She is the first and so far only non-mythological woman thus honoured. (Curium was named after both Marie and Pierre Curie.) Additional naming honours are the Hahn-Meitner-Institut in Berlin, craters on the Moon and on Venus, and the main-belt asteroid 6999 Meitner. 

In 2000, the European Physical Society established the biannual "Lise Meitner Prize" for excellent research in nuclear science. In 2006 the "Gothenburg Lise Meitner Award" was established by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden; it is awarded annually to a scientist who has made a breakthrough in physics.In 2008, the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense school of the Austrian Armed Forces (NBC) established the Lise Meitner Award. 

In October 2010, a building at the Free University of Berlin was named the Hahn-Meitner Building; this was a renaming of a building previously known as the Otto Hahn Building. In July 2014 a statue of Lise Meitner was unveiled in the garden of the Humboldt University of Berlin next to similar statues of Hermann von Helmholtz and Max Planck. 

A short residential street in Bramley, her resting place, is named Meitner Close. Schools and streets were named after her in many cities in Austria and Germany. 

Since 2015 AlbaNova university centre in Stockholm has annual Lise Meitner Distuished Lecture. 


Source: Wikipedia

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum