By Dimitry Zakharov
In September, 1935, physicists Gerhard and Luise Herzberg arrived in Saskatoon, Canada. This move was a leap of faith, as they had only learned of the small prairie city’s existence shortly before their journey, and secured a university position due to a chance friendship with the University of Saskatchewan chemistry professor John Spinks, and a generous grant from the Carnegie Foundation which aimed at helping German scholars. While Saskatchewan was not previously known to the Herzbergs, available faculty positions in universities outside of Germany were already scarce. Many postings in England and North America were already filled by academics and scientists who left as soon as the Nazi party passed a law forbidding Jews and other non-Aryans from working in public sector jobs like universities.
Several months prior to his arrival, Herzberg had received news from the Carnegie Foundation that he qualified for funding of a two-year tenure appointment in a British Dominion or Commonwealth university. His first choice in Canada was the University of Toronto, which already had a spectroscopy laboratory led by British/ Canadian physicist Sir John Cunningham McLennan. However, the University of Toronto already made an offer for its available faculty position to a German mathematician, Bernard Haurwitz from Leipzig. After more communication with chemist John Spinks and University of Saskatchewan President Walter Murray, Herzberg accepted their offer on April 2nd, 1935. On September 1st, the Herzbergs arrived by ship in New York, and left by train for their new home, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
What caused the exodus of German scholars, the Herzbergs among them? What made staying in Germany too dangerous for Luise and Gerhard and for a number of other notable scientists, doctors, and others? Continue reading