Nobel prize won by physicist saved by UK from Nazis sells for £340,000

Nobel prize won by physicist Walter Kohn who was saved by Britain from the Nazis when he was 15 is sold by his family for £340,000

  • Walter Kohn was given safe passage to the UK from his native Austria in 1938
  • He won prize after achieving a major breakthrough in density functional theory
  • 18 carat gold medal has Nobel’s portrait on the front, and Kohn’s name engraved
  • Sale also included three science books bought in a temporary internment camp 
  • The Nobel Prize awarded to a physicist who was saved by Britain from the Nazis when he was just a teenager has been sold by his family for £340,000.

    Walter Kohn, who came from a Jewish family, was 15 years old when his native Austria was annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938.

    He and his sister Minna escaped the country through the Kindertransport programme, which provided almost 10,000 children with safe passage to the UK, but their parents were killed during the Holocaust.

    Kohn was subsequently transported to Canada where he studied before enrolling at Harvard University and embarking on an academic career. He became US citizen and taught at the University of California

    He then achieved a major breakthrough in ‘density functional theory’ which saw him awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998.

    It is a quantum-mechanical method used in chemistry and physics to calculate the electronic structure of atoms, molecules and solids.

    Walter Kohn (pictured at his home in California in 1998) was saved by Britain from the Nazis when he was just a teenager

    Walter Kohn (pictured at his home in California in 1998) was saved by Britain from the Nazis when he was just a teenager

    The 18 carat gold medal has Alfred Nobel's portrait on the front, with the goddess Isis on the reverse. Kohn's name and the year 1998 in Roman numerals are engraved on a plaque below

    The 18 carat gold medal has Alfred Nobel’s portrait on the front, with the goddess Isis on the reverse. Kohn’s name and the year 1998 in Roman numerals are engraved on a plaque below

    Walter (left) and his sister Minna (pictured in Vienna with their parents) escaped Austria through the Kindertransport programme - which provided almost 10,000 children with safe passage to the UK - but their parents were killed during the Holocaust

    Walter (left) and his sister Minna (pictured in Vienna with their parents) escaped Austria through the Kindertransport programme – which provided almost 10,000 children with safe passage to the UK – but their parents were killed during the Holocaust 

    Kohn is seen above hugging his wife Mara at his home in Santa Barbara after he had been told he had won the Nobel Prize

    Kohn is seen above hugging his wife Mara at his home in Santa Barbara after he had been told he had won the Nobel Prize

    The 18 carat gold medal has Alfred Nobel’s portrait on the front, with the goddess Isis on the reverse.

    Kohn’s name and the year 1998 in Roman numerals are engraved on a plaque below.

    Kohn died aged 93 in 2016 and his Nobel Prize went under the hammer with US-based auctioneers Nate D Sanders, of California.

    The sale also included three science books he bought in a temporary internment camp in Canada which fuelled his interest in the subject.

    The archive sparked a bidding war, selling for almost double its £200,000 estimate.

    A Nate D Sanders spokesperson said: ‘This Nobel Prize in Chemistry won by Walter Kohn in 1998 is unique not only for the scientific impact of Kohn’s work, but also for his life experience as one of the children rescued from Nazi-occupied territories in World War Two through the Kindertransport program.

    ‘Kindertransport was established by the United Kingdom in 1938 immediately after the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ pogrom in Germany, authorising the safe passage of almost 10,000 children into the UK.

    ‘The children were placed in homes throughout the British empire, with Kohn ultimately finding a home in Canada after both his parents were killed in the Holocaust.’

    Walter Kohn (pictured above in Vienna aged 14), came from a Jewish family and was just a teenager when his native Austria was annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938

    Walter Kohn (pictured above in Vienna aged 14), came from a Jewish family and was just a teenager when his native Austria was annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938

    Kohn in the Canadian Army in 1944. Kohn died aged 93 in 2016 and his Nobel Prize is now going under the hammer with US-based auctioneers Nate D Sanders, of California

    Kohn in the Canadian Army in 1944. Kohn died aged 93 in 2016 and his Nobel Prize is now going under the hammer with US-based auctioneers Nate D Sanders, of California

    Kohn as a child with his family at their summer house on the Baltic in Herringsdorf, Germany

    Kohn as a child with his family at their summer house on the Baltic in Herringsdorf, Germany

    The sale also included three science books he bought in a temporary internment camp in Canada which fuelled his interest in the subject

    The sale also included three science books he bought in a temporary internment camp in Canada which fuelled his interest in the subject

    Auctioneer Nate Sanders added: ‘To think what would have been lost to the world had Walter Kohn not made it to the UK during World War Two is incomprehensible.

    ‘This Nobel Prize is not only a testament to the knowledge that mankind is capable of, but also to its humanity.’

    A delegation of British, Jewish and Quaker leaders visited Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on November 15, 1938, to urge him to allow the temporary admission of unaccompanied Jewish children without their parents.

    The bill was passed in Parliament and Jewish children were taken in by British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.

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