BIOGRAFÍA - BIOGRAPHY
(Viena - Austria, Domingo, 14 de Junio de 1868 /
Nueva York - U.S.A., Sábado, 26 de Junio de 1943).
A short clip of Karl Landsteiner after he arrived in Stockholm for the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony held on 10 December 1930. From SF Veckorevy 1930-12-08.
Karl Landsteiner’s parents were Jewish, but in December 1890, he and his widowed mother converted to Catholicism. Karl was baptized with the name Karl Otto. Two months
later, Landsteiner received his degree in medicine.
When Landsteiner began his training at the University of Vienna in 1885, about a third of the students were Jewish. Many of the faculty were also Jews, especially in the medical school. Jews were protected by the Austrian constitution and generally accepted socially. Nonetheless, many felt that conversion to Christianity was a wise move if one wanted to advance Not many years before, in 1876, Theodore Billroth, a leading surgeon and one of Landsteiner’s professors, had made controversial comments about Jews, complaining that too many Jewish medical students were coming in from elsewhere and not assimilating into the Viennese culture. His comments fed into growing anti-Semitism and helped lead to the purging of Jews from most student societies. Indeed, when Landsteiner was later being considered for a research job with Dr. Anton Weichselbaum at the Institute of Pathological Anatomy, one of Weichselbaum’s assistants – Anton Ghon – threatened to resign if Jews were allowed in the laboratory. Landsteiner – who did get the position – had by this time already converted to Christianity and he and Ghon – who did not resign – apparently became friends.
Despite his many achievements, Landsteiner never advanced in the world of Vienna medicine, never became director of his own laboratory. Some have suggested this was due to anti-Semitism, though others believe it was more the fault of Landsteiner’s personality and sometimes-controversial scientific positions.
Just how much Landsteiner identified with his Jewish heritage is debatable. He remained a Catholic throughout his life. But he was an extremely private man and his thoughts on religion are essentially unknown to the public. In 1937, after joining the Rockefeller Institute in New York, Landsteiner sued the publishers of the book “Who’s Who in American Jewry” to prevent his name from being included. Listing him, he said, would cause “irreparable injury to my private life and profession.” “It will be detrimental to me to emphasize publicly the religion of my ancestors.” Landsteiner’s son – then at Harvard – was apparently unaware of the family’s Jewish ancestry and his father was concerned for the effect the news might have.
Landsteiner was roundly pilloried in the press, especially the Jewish newspapers. Even Albert Einstein attacked Landsteiner’s attitude as “deplorable”, writing: “It proves that technical ability is by no means always associated with character and dignity.” Interestingly, before the lawsuit, Landsteiner’s name frequently appeared in the same newspapers, lauding him as a Jewish scientist, and he had been included in other publications listing Jewish scientists. Landsteiner recoiled from the publicity and dropped the lawsuit.
Reporter Daniel L. Schorr interviewed Landsteiner about the case, but found the scientist so overwrought that he withheld publishing the interview until after Landsteiner’s death. Landsteiner explained that he was not trying to disparage Jews, but felt that even creating a list of famous Jews helped served the Nazi purpose “by setting the Jews apart.” He told Schorr that the publicity had ruined the lives of himself and his son. For the publicity-shy Landsteiner, even his 1930 Nobel Prize had been a “catastrophe”. Except for his family, he told Schorr, he might commit suicide. Others described Landsteiner as increasingly depressed as World War II began and fearful the Nazis would win. Nonetheless, Landsteiner corresponded with Jews in Europe and helped several escape to the U.S., finding them jobs. Landsteiner’s depression may have been a contributing factor to his fatal heart attack in 1943.
His last days:
Karl Landsteiner died on June 26, 1943. He had officially retired from the Rockefeller Institute in 1939, but was allowed to keep a small laboratory where he continued to work almost every day. Landsteiner published 28 papers after his “retirement”, including the discovery of “Rh”, with Alexander Wiener. He also revised his book, “The Specificity of Serological Reactions”, with an added chapter by Linus Pauling, with whom he had become friends. But Landsteiner did not live to see the revision published.
On June 24, 1943 ‒ just a few days after his 75th birthday – Landsteiner suffered a heart attack while working in his lab. Even so, he initially refused to go to hospital. When he finally did so, he lapsed into a delirium. According to Tom Rivers, a virologist at the Rockefeller Institute: “Over and over he said, ‘I have to get back to my laboratory. I have experiments going that must be carried on.’ ”
Landsteiner’s wife Helene died six months later, on Dec 26.
El 24 de junio 1943 - tan sólo unos días después de su cumpleaños número 75 - Landsteiner sufrió un ataque al corazón mientras trabajaba en su laboratorio. Aun así, en un principio se negó a ir al hospital. Cuando por fin lo hizo, se sumió en un delirio. De acuerdo con Tom Rivers, un virólogo del Instituto Rockefeller: "Una y otra vez me dijo, 'Tengo que volver a mi laboratorio. Tengo experimentos en marcha que debe llevarse adelante.’ ”
La esposa de Landsteiner Helene murió seis meses después, el 26 de diciembre.