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Paul Walden: Not Just A Scientist

by Robin M. Giroux
September 9, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 36

Latvia is now almost devoid of its pre-World War II Jewish population because of the many people murdered by Latvian Nazi collaborators and the military. But it is perhaps fitting that the nation honors one of its outstanding scientists, Paul Walden, despite his obvious pro-Nazi statements and actions (C&EN, July 22, page 28).

When there is evidence to the contrary, I am always less than amused when the standard arguments about someone not being anti-Semitic are employed. These range from “everyone else was doing it” to “it would offend authorities if I did not.” And then there are those people who claim that they were not anti-Semitic because they had a Jewish friend.

This was the case with many famous professors in Germany during the Nazi regime who nonetheless welcomed the expulsion of their fellow Jewish academicians. Unfortunately, Walden fell into both categories with his silence as Jewish colleagues were fired and with his claim to have tried to protect a former student who was Jewish.

The record is clear that despite his contributions to organic chemistry, Walden had major drawbacks when it came to his intolerant actions.

Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.

The article on the Latvian celebration of Walden and his work was interesting. I am not qualified to comment on Walden’s political attitudes, which must, in any case, be considered in the context of the day as well as his personal history.

However, to claim that his being a “Förderndes Mitglied der SS” meant that he was a supporter of the German military is false. He was a financial supporter of the SS. The “Schutzstaffel der NSDAP” was not the military—“Reichswehr/Wehrmacht”—and indeed, was a rival of the conventional military for power in Nazi Germany.

There were nationalistic organizations in Germany at the time that were pro-military without being fanatically Nazi, such as the “Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten” or “Kyffhäuserbund,” although these were oriented toward German war veterans, which Walden was not.

Joshua Telser



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