Felix Haurowitz

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Felix Haurowitz is widely recognized as a major 20th century contributor to biochemistry and immunology. Haurowitz lost the right to teach at the University of Prague soon after the [[Nazi]s took over Czechoslovakia in 1939. Like many of his colleagues, he was caught at a crossroads and targeted in the cross fires of history. Events in his native land presented him with a Hobson’s choice—leave if you can or die! However, anti-Jewish bias in the West, in America and its European allies, was silently effective in preventing safe passage across the Atlantic during the 1930s.

Born in Prague in 1896, Felix Haurowitz obtained his medical degree in 1922 and a doctorate of science in 1923. In 1925, he was appointed Assistant Professor at the German University in Prague. While working with several important biochemists over the next few years, he researched hemoglobin and its derivatives. In the late 1920’s he began work on his popular Progress in Biochemistry series and starting in 1930 made immunochemistry his principal area of research.

In 1939 when the Nazis were clearly in control, Haurowitz was forced to leave Prague. He took the position of Head of Biological and Medical Chemistry in the Medical School at the University of Istanbul and devoted himself to teaching, research, and producing a Turkish textbook of biochemistry. In 1949 he re-emigrated once again, this time to the United States and spent the rest of his very productive career in Bloomington, Indiana. The vast bulk of Haurowitz’s trilingual (German, Turkish, and English) correspondence with colleagues starting in the mid-1920s and continuing through the 1960s is archived at the Lilly Library of Indiana University. Quite a bit of correspondence can also be found in the (twice Nobel Laureate) Linus Pauling archives in Pauling’s native Colorado. This correspondence documents more than Haurowitz’s scientific contributions. A human being always concerned with the fate of others is illuminated in Haurowitz’s letters delineating his lifelong relationships with former students, the nurturing of junior colleagues, and the helping hand provided to those in need during the darkest years of the 20th century. He persevered despite his own personal trauma of dismissal from the institution to which he contributed so much for no reason other than he was born Jewish, the failure of his attempts to come to America with his family, and his nine years in Turkey.

The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers archives at Oregon State University include correspondence between twice Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and Felix Haurowitz as well as between Pauling and others regarding Haurowitz’s search for employment in the States. The totality of this correspondence represents the years: 1935-1936, 1943, 1945, 1947, 1951, 1957-1958, 1966, and 1974. On September 3, 1936 when Haurowitz was still in Prague, Pauling thanked him for his letter regarding work with hemoglobin and enclosed a paper by a Dr. Mirsky and himself on the structure of proteins. While in Turkey, Haurowitz applied for a position at Harvard giving Pauling’s name as a reference. On September 25, 1941, George Chase, the Dean of the University, wrote to Pauling in behalf of Harvard’s President Conant, “it would be helpful if you would send us your estimate of Professor Haurowitz’s standing and whether you have any suggestions about possibilities in this country.” To which on October 12, 1941, Pauling replied “I have been greatly interested in his work for a number of years. In my opinion he is one of the leading men in the world in the field of the chemistry of proteins. His researches are characterized by imagination and good execution. His work on hemoglobin and on problems of immunology has been especially successful. I do not know at present of any opening for Professor Haurowitz in this country.” Harvard did not make an offer. Though he had his son baptized at birth, Haurowitz himself never converted from Judaism. Harvard, unfortunately, was not hiring any Jews onto its faculty during the 1930s and it observes an eighty-year restriction on access to personnel records. Later, in 1949, Pauling was very instrumental in placing Haurowitz at the University of Indiana.

It is worth noting that while he was looking for a position in the US, he was attentive to his responsibilities in Turkey. The Journal of Biological Chemistry published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, received a submission of a paper by Felix Haurowitz, Paula Schwerin, and M. Mutahhar Yenson, all showing as their institutional affiliation the Institute of Biological and Medical Chemistry, Istanbul University on April 23 1941. The paper, "Destruction of Hemin and Hemoglobin by the Action of Unsaturated Fatty Acids and Oxygen" appeared in the J. Biol. Chem. 1941, 140: 353-359.


Haurowitz correspondence is Courtesy Manuscripts Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

By letter of November 3, 2005, Lawrence H. Summers, President of Harvard University, stated: “I appreciate your interest in Harvard’s history and I am sorry that we cannot be of assistance to you. My colleague in the archives department stated our policy accurately with regard to releasing information.”



This article is based on Reisman, A. (2007) “Exiled in Turkey from Nazi Rule, Eminent Biochemist Became Indiana’s Adopted Son.” AmeriQuest: The Journal of the Center for the Americas. Volume 4, Number 1. p1-26 Vanderbilt University http://ejournals.library.vanderbilt.edu/ameriquests/viewarticle.php?id=103&layout=abstract

For additional reading on Felix Haurowitz’s Turkish exile see Arnold Reisman TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision 2006. http://www.newacademia.com/turkeys_modernization/

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