The Papers of Georg and Max Bredig
Scope and Content
The collection consists of two discreet series of records. Series I consists of items created or collected by Georg Bredig, while Series II contains items created or collected by Georg’s son, Max. The collection is arranged into the following series:
- Georg Bredig Papers, 1891-1944
- Max Bredig Papers, 1911-1958
- Photographic Materials, 1894-1930
- Works of Art, 1913, 1928
- Majority of material found within Bulk 1894-1944
- Bredig, Georg, 1868-1944 (Person)
In most cases, copyright to the manuscript material in the collection is held by the Science History Institute. This includes all manuscript material created by Georg and Max Bredig, but not necessarily the incoming correspondence retained by these individuals. Copyright for any specific item should be determined on an individual basis as the collection contains an assortment of material still under copyright, as well as orphaned works and items in the public domain. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.
Georg Bredig was born in Glogau, (modern day Poland) in 1868, to a German Jewish family. He began his University education in 1886, first in Freiburg and soon after in Berlin where he studied chemistry and physics. In Berlin, Bredig was first introduced to the Journal of Physical Chemistry, which had been founded that very year by the eminent chemists Wilhelm Ostwald and Jacobus van’t Hoff.
Bredig was so enthusiastic about this new border science, that he transferred to the University of Leipzig to study physical chemistry directly under Ostwald, whose Institute had become the world’s leading center in the field. Bredig excelled in his studies and earned the coveted spot as Ostwald’s student assistant.
Bredig earned his doctorate “summa cum laude” in 1894, and spent the next 18 months studying physical chemistry with some of the leaders in the field: first in Amsterdam with van’t Hoff and afterwards, in Stockholm with Svante Arrhenius, with whom Bredig developed a life-long friendship.
After a year and a half of studying abroad, Bredig returned to Leipzig to work as the Assistant to Ostwald. In this role, Bredig produced a series of pioneering works on colloidal metals and their catalytic properties and most notably developed a method for the preparation of colloidal solutions by use of an electric arc. He expanded on this work by studying and comparing the activity of metal colloids and that of inorganic ferments, which he summarized as his habilitation thesis in 1901.
These successes led to his appointment as the first professor of physical chemistry at the University of Heidelberg. Here, he continued to develop his research from Leipzig and most notably achieved the first catalytic synthesis of asymmetric carbon compounds.
In his personal life, Georg married Rosa Frankel in 1901. Together they had two children; a son named Max Albert, born in 1902, and a daughter Marianne, born a year later.
In 1910 Bredig moved his family to Switzerland where he had accepted a professorship in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory at the ETH Zurich, but left soon after when given the opportunity to succeed Fritz Haber as Director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Technical University of Karlsruhe.
Bredig’s appointment at Karlsruhe was initially accompanied by great public recognition. In 1914 he received the honorary prize of the Solvay Institute, and in the same year received the Knight’s Cross from the Grand Duke of Baden, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Rostock.
Among Bredig’s students at Karlsruhe was Elizabeth Rona, who would go on to become a renowned nuclear chemist. In her autobiography, she described Bredig as “very much the authoritative German professor” who was known as, “Bredig the Terrible" by his students. But she added that, “under his surface sternness and aloofness, Bredig was a warm and sensitive person devoted to his students’ welfare.”
World War I brought research in Bredig’s lab to a halt. Bredig, a self-proclaimed pacifist spent the war as a University Administrator and volunteer for the Red Cross. His voluminous correspondence with Arrhenius reveal many of his other political attitudes which included support for the creation of a European Union to avoid future calamities like the Great War. These beliefs, however drew the unwanted attention of Nationalists and anti-Semites, who even in the 1920s would make Bredig the target of personal attacks.
When the National Socialists seized power in 1933, anti-Semitic attacks against Bredig intensified. One of Bredig’s employees wrote to the Ministry of Education and demanded Bredig’s immediate resignation so as to, “put an end to the internationalization and socialization at German Universities.” Then, the Nazi government passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which, with some short-lived exceptions, banned all Jews from teaching at German Universities. Without fanfare, Bredig was retired on October 1, 1933. A short time later Bredig received another terrible blow, the death of his wife.
Friends encouraged Bredig to leave Germany and continue his career, but he refused, as he found it hard to accept that he had actually become a victim or that the current situation was anything but temporary. Writing to a friend in 1933, he stated, “I still hang on my step-father country and consider emigration to be a serious misfortune.”
Prior to the outbreak of war, every day seemed to bring new regulations that restricted some aspect of Jewish life. Commenting on these restrictions Bredig wrote, “I am not allowed to step into the library anymore, nor my beloved public gardens.” Later he writes “these days we must surrender all of our gold, silver and jewelry. For me only the sentimental value is painful… life nowadays is just so hard.”
Although, Georg still did not want to leave Germany, he frequently encouraged his son Max to do so. Max had been raised in Karlsruhe and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a chemist. He obtained the equivalent of a master’s degree from Karlsruhe in 1925, and then went to Berlin where he earned his doctorate under Fritz Haber.
Upon graduation, Haber wrote a letter of recommendation on Max’s behalf, stating, “Max rates among the most intelligent and best trained young colleagues I have met. Not easily will anyone be found who surpasses him in industry and thoroughness, good will and professional interest.”
When the Berlin firm where Max was working was Aryanized in 1937, Max heeded the warnings around him and left Germany, first going to Sweden, and then England, before finally joining his father’s brightest pupil, Casimir Fajans, at the University of Michigan.
Later Max moved to New York where he worked for the Vanadium Corporation of America. But more importantly, as the only emigrated member of his family, he worked tirelessly to rescue his father, as well as his sister Marianne, and her husband Viktor Homburger from the fate awaiting them in Nazi Germany.
The atrocities of Kristallnacht hit particularly hard in the city of Karlsruhe. Georg, his son-in-law Viktor and about 500 other Jews in the city were arrested, beaten and publicly humiliated. Viktor’s family bank was ransacked, and later confiscated by the state. Georg was forced to spend a day standing in a stable with his head against a wall.
Although Georg was released the next day, Viktor was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. He was imprisoned for six weeks and only released after proving his intention to immigrate. After Kristallnacht, it was no longer a question of whether to leave Germany, or when to leave, but only how to leave, and this was not at all clear. Viktor had obtained quota numbers for American Visas, but the numbers were high. It could be years before it was his family’s turn to emigrate.
Certain that events in Germany would only get worse, Marianne insisted that her three step-sons be sent out of Germany as quickly as possible. To do so, Peter, Wolfgang and Walter who were 10, 12 and 14 years old respectively, were sent to live in England as a part of the famed Kindertransport in which 10,000 Jewish children were taken in by families across the United Kingdom.
The events of Kristallnacht also convinced Georg that living out the rest of his years in Germany was not going to be possible. Georg managed to emigrate to the Netherlands in 1939 and from there joined Max in America, which became possible only when Princeton University offered Georg the position of Research Associate. Georg, thrilled to receive the appointment, sent his reply to the president of Princeton in a wonderfully short and succinct telegram, which read, “highly honored. Accept. Coming as soon as possible.” He arrived in the United States just months later.
In October of 1940 Marianne and her husband Viktor were still waiting for their chance to emigrate, when they, along with 11,000 other Jews from the Baden region of Germany, were forcibly deported to Vichy France. They were brought by train to Lyon, and then sent to the Gurs camp in Southwest France, which had been built years earlier for refugees from the Spanish Civil War.
The camp commandants at Gurs were all French, and although they were at times described as friendly, they had no means to help the 11,000 people in desperate need of food, water and clothing.
At first, the camp was only loosely a prison as individuals were permitted to leave so they could try to obtain food or secure their release by obtaining the proper travel permits. Marianne used this time to visit Viktor who was kept in a separate camp for men, and also, to send numerous letters to her father and brother.
The collection holds many letters written by Marianne while she was interned at Gurs. They provide a unique description of daily life inside the camp, as well as insight into her own personal strength. Early on she wrote to Max, “As long as the sun shines, it is bearable here. If it rains and gets cold, it is quite terrible. What people here are suffering cannot be expressed. The poverty is unbelievably huge."
She continues, “We could relieve a lot of the suffering of the people of Gurs if we could organize a sponsorship for people who receive no outside assistance. This kind of help is not just a question of money but more of taking on the responsibility. It is a question of empathy, of participating in the suffering of your fellow humans in the battle against apathy of the heart. We know of what many do for their relatives that are left behind. In addition, thousands should help unknown thousands.”
Max was in fact able to arrange many shipments of food and clothing to the camp. He accomplished this by wiring cash payments to a contact in Portugal, who would in turn send shipments of non-rationed dry goods to the camp in France. When Max was also able to arrange his sister and brother-in-law’s release by securing their visas and arranging their transport to the United States, Viktor sent word to Max:
“I cannot find words to express my gratitude for all you have done for us these last 7 months. Without your generous help dear Max, we would have never been able to escape the big misery in which we found ourselves. Our situation has often been very desperate, and the indescribably generous and huge help that you have given us has helped us to survive this most difficult time in our lives.”
Viktor and Marianne were the lucky ones. Of the 11,000 Jews evacuated from Baden and sent to Gurs, only about 1,000 were released. Approximately 1,000 others would die in the first winter in the camp, and many of the remaining were sent to death camps in Poland where they were not heard from again.
In New York, the Bredig family finally reunited in 1941. Marianne found work as a seamstress and Viktor took a job as an accountant for the nonprofit group Self Help of Emigres from Central Europe. They were reunited with their three boys in 1945.
Georg never quite regained his strength after immigrating and would never take up his passion for physical chemistry again. He died in New York on April 24, 1944 and was buried in Westchester County.
Max spent the rest of the war working to help Jewish friends stranded in Europe and had a great many successes and some very tragic losses. He married Lydia Levy in 1944. After the war Max went to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he served as Associate Director of the Chemistry Division. He died in November of 1977.
21.0 Linear Feet (30 Boxes and 213 Books)
Language of Materials
This collection of mixed media contains manuscripts, photographs, publications, artifacts and works of art collected and owned by Georg and Max Bredig. The collection documents Georg Bredig’s scientific training and rise to prominence as a gifted physical chemist in pre-World War II Germany.
In contrast, the scope of the collection takes a dramatic shift after the Nazi rise to power in 1933. As a result of Bredig’s Jewish descent, his scientific career and very way of life was brought to an abrupt halt. These documents describe the Bredig family’s struggle to survive the horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe, to secure visas and offers of employment for themselves and their colleagues, and to ultimately emigrate to the United States.
The collection, which remained in the Bredig family until 2018, was inherited by George Bredig after the death of his parents. Upon discovering a trove of historic material, George arranged for the collection to be sold through a Pennsylvania based autograph dealer, The Raab Collection. The Institute purchased the collection in April 2019, with proceeds generously donated by the Walder Foundation. The Walder Foundation is a private family foundation based in the Chicago area dedicated to addressing critical issues related to Science Innovation, Jewish Life, Immigrant Advocacy, sustainability, and the performing arts.
This collection has been digitized in its entirety and is available online in our Digital Collections: https://digital.sciencehistory.org/collections/qfih5hl
The collection was processed by Patrick H. Shea between 2019-2020, and was made possible through the generous support of Laurie Landeau. Prior to its sale to the Institute, the collection was reorganized and sorted by subject matter, and the original order of the collection was lost. Evidence suggests that the original order of the collection was not grouped by subject, but rather by who had created/collected the item, (i.e. Georg or Max Bredig). The current arrangement scheme was created and imposed by the processing archivist and seeks to mimic the original order by grouping material according to its creator/collector.
- Archival materials
- Arrhenius, Svante, 1859-1927
- Art (broad object genre)
- Berl, Ernst, 1877-1946
- Bodenstein, Max, 1871-1942
- Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962
- Chemistry, Physical and theoretical
- Cohen, Ernst, 1869-1944
- Ehrlich, Paul, 1854-1915
- Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
- Gurs (Concentration camp)
- Haber, Fritz, 1868-1934
- Hoff, J. H. van 't (Jacobus Henricus), 1852-1911
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- Homburger, Marianne, 1903-1987
- Homburger, Viktor Veit, 1888-1968
- Jewish Science
- Jews -- Migrations
- Jews -- Persecutions
- Kuhn, Richard, 1900-1967
- Mark, H. F. (Herman Francis), 1895-1992
- Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften. Fritz-Haber-Institut
- Nernst, Walther, 1864-1941
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory
- Ostwald, Wilhelm, 1853-1932
- Physical inorganic chemistry
- Planck, Max, 1858-1947
- Princeton University
- Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937
- Schnell, Alfred, 1900-1944
- Schnell, Eva, 1913-1944
- Solvay, Ernest, 1838-1922
- Svedberg, Theodor, 1884-1971
- Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe
- University of Michigan
- Universität Heidelberg
- Universität Leipzig (1409-1953)
- Urey, Harold Clayton, 1893-1981
- Vanadium Corporation of America
- Waals, J. D. van der (Johannes Diderik), 1837-1923
- The Papers of Georg and Max Bredig
- Finding Aid Prepared by Patrick H. Shea and Encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Purchase of this collection was made possible by the generous support of the Walder Foundation. Processing of this collection was made possible by the generous support of Laurie Landeau.
- 8/28/2023: Digitized Materials note added.