German connection

Print edition : March 11, 2005

THE two decades of 1930s and 1940s constituted one of the darkest periods in human history. Nazism was on the ascendancy in Germany, and even Albert Einstein's works were disparaged as `Jewish-Communist' garble. Jews and the coloured people in Germany were persecuted, and the conditions were such that German Jewish scientists were not able to stay on in Germany any longer. Many famous, highly competent and gifted scientists were on the lookout for suitable places to work.

C.V. Raman had by then been appointed the first Indian Director of the Tata Institute (now the Indian Institute of Science) in Bangalore. Being aware of the plight of Germany's Jewish scientists, Raman invited them to settle in Bangalore and pursue their research at the Tata Institute.

It is reported that scientists like Schrodinger, Rudolph E. Peierls and Kuhn were seriously interested in coming to India. Max Born was selected as the emissary of the German scientists to come to India to study the suitability of the prevailing conditions. He arrived as the guest of Raman, and he found the climate of Bangalore and the facilities at the Tata Institute satisfactory.

When Raman proposed to the academic council that Max Born be admitted in the Institute, Aston, a British scholar, objected, arguing that "these scientists were rejected by their own country and that is an indication of their worthlessness". Raman was vexed and was helpless; Max Born and others emigrated to the United States, where they created revolution after revolution in physics. That the U.S. became a world power in science and technology is to a large measure owing to the contributions of these scientists.

The rest is history. But how different this history could have been had Raman's proposal been accepted.

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