The strange connections of Fritz Haber

Patriotism and brilliance left a tragic legacy

In the mid-to late 90’s, cable channel TLC had what is likely one of my favourite shows on called “Connections 2.”

Hosted by James Burke, a British author and historian, the show illustrated the unusual, surprising and even disturbing ways in which technological and scientific advances are connected to each other. Watching this show really made me a better thinker as I tried to look at issues in a deeper way to recognize the connections that exist just below the surface.

No doubt the name of Fritz Haber won’t be overly familiar to readers; Haber, destined to be a Nobel-prize winning chemist and scientist for Germany in World War 1, was born into a Jewish family in Prussia (which is actually now part of Poland).

Haber’s mother died giving birth to him, and after his father remarried and had three daughters with his new wife, it’s thought that Haber felt some distancing from his father. This may have encouraged him to immerse himself to work and to German patriotism.

He was a brilliant chemist by all accounts, receiving his doctorate in 1891. He was involved in laying the groundwork for the glass electrode and studied the effects of current on metals. Perhaps his greatest achievement as a chemist came between 1894 and 1911 when he was working as part of a team at the University of Kalsrhue that invented the Haber-Bosch Process, a technique which would have unbelievably huge impact on global food production. The process was industrial in nature and allowed users to manufacture ammonia from other chemicals, the significance of which meant large-scale production of crop fertilizers was possible. A 2004 paper estimates this process is now responsible for half the world’s total food production. No small feat.

Haber was also fiercely patriotic. He was quoted in a 2011 book saying, “”…During peace time a scientist belongs to the world, but during war time he belongs to his country.”

The chemist certainly did his part for the German Empire in World War 1. He was instrumental in the development of chemical weapons and actively recruited for a German chemical weapons unit, plus was in charge of the development of chlorine gas and witnessed a German chemical attack at the Battle of Ypres in 1915. He was totally unapologetic about developing poison gas and gave the impression he was no more morally responsible for death caused by his inventions than the person who invented gunpowder was for deaths caused by guns

Under Haber’s supervision, his laboratory also developed an insecticide called Zyklon B after the world war.

About 20 years later, a different regime was in power in Germany and as World War 2 turned more and more against the Nazis, Adolf Hitler and his black-garbed underlings turned more and more of their attention to the extermination of the Jewish people.

The head of Hitler’s SS, Heinrich Himmler, was dissatisfied with firing squads; he felt they were inefficient and wasteful. An industrial process for wiping out the Jews must be developed.

The SS struck on death camps fitted with poison gas buildings where thousands of people per day could be herded, their bodies harvested for things like hair and gold fillings and their remains cremated in an effort to hide the crime.

The SS chose a poison gas called Zyklon-A, a basic form of the gas developed by German patriot, scientist and Jew named Fritz Haber.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer newspaper and writes a regular column for the paper.

Just Posted

County council supports speed limit change on #2A

Grain terminal company requesting speed limit lowered for traffic lights

Improvements complete at Wetaskiwin’s Hwy 13 and Hwy 814

Wetaskiwin Mayor credits community involvement for quick response

Twenty-two years and counting for unsolved murder

Pete Sopow ‘s killer is the one who got away with it

County of Wetaskiwin sends funding request to budget deliberations

Pigeon Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce requested $15k in funding for 2020

County of Wetaskiwin nixes ‘ER’ to public park idea

Some residents of Bayview community asked for public park

VIDEO: Federal Liberals’ throne speech welcomes opposition’s ideas

Trudeau will need NDP or Bloc support to pass legislation and survive confidence votes

Wanted man resists arrest, found in possession of machetes

Donovan Rain of Maskwacis facing multiple charges

Final appeal rejected for man convicted in deaths of missing Alberta seniors

Lyle and Marie McCann were in their 70s when they left their home in St. Albert in 2010 and vanished

Infants should be tested for autism if older siblings are diagnosed, Canadian study suggests

Blood test for infants with sibling who’s been diagnosed would get information to families earlier

Rural Alberta gets more police officers, but must pay for them directly

Premier wants areas to pay portion of overall costs on rising scale to bring in extra $200M by 2024

Two vehicle Hwy 11 collision results in 2 dead

Blackfalds RCMP were dispatched to a serious collision on Highway 11

Rebels win second in row 5-2 over Moose Jaw

32 saves from Goalie Byron Fancy leads the way for Red Deer

Nearly 40% of Canadians want creationism taught in schools: poll

23% of Canadians believe God created humans in the past 10,000 years

Blackfalds RCMP lay charges following fatal pedestrian collision

35-year-old male died in the hospital as a result of injuries

Most Read