Science in the lecture hall

Adolf Butenandt

1903 Lehe (Germany) – 1995 Munich (Germany)
Biochemist, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1939
Country: Germany
Adolf Butenandt Zoom Image
Adolf Butenandt

In 1939, news reaches Butenandt in Dahlem that he is to receive the Nobel Prize for his work on steroid hormones. However, the honour is tarnished, as he is forced to turn it down. Hitler forbids all German citizens from accepting the much-coveted prize. This is his response to the Norwegian Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the publicist and author Carl von Ossietzky, who is imprisoned in a German concentration camp, in a blatant act of criticism of Hitler’s regime. Butenandt is a member of the National Socialist Party and a key figure in German research. He follows political orders.

After the fall of the dictatorship, Butenandt accepts the Nobel Prize. He is now Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry. In 1960, the Max Planck Society elects him as its President. Out of affinity with Dahlem’s great scientific tradition, he attempts to regain Harnack House as a guest house. Butenandt’s meteoric career during the Third Reich raises many questions. It is now evident that while he was certainly not an insignificant, powerless "follower", he was not involved in Nazi human experimentation, nor did he obtain specimens from the concentration camps.

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