Monday, August 13, 2007

Alexander and Adolf

I recently bought the opera Prince Igor.Composed by the #2 of the Top 5 musician chemists : Alexander Borodin (1833-1887).

As Jordan commented on the top 5-post, Borodin was both famous as a composer and as a chemist.
Borodin was a member of The Five (or 'The Mighty Handful') a musical partnership of Russian composers who met in St Petersburg between 1856-1870. The aim was to create a new style of Russian music.

Here is Borodin on a photograph with 'The Mighty Five', not the most insignificant composers.

Six people on the mighty five picture? Well, Stasov was not a real member of the group. Stasov acted as a kind of advisor.
Here is Borodin on a photograph with another chemist, not the most insignificant chemist.
Borodin, Dmitri Mendeev (1860 during a holiday in Italy.)

So there I was, listening to Prince Igor, discovering that Borodin had quite some friends who were (or became) quite famous. A few days after I bought Prince Igor I saw Borodin's name in a newspaper report.

Lew Besymenski, a Soviet intelligence officer who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals, found a record collection in Hitler's chancellery in May 1945 when he was ordered to make a search shortly after Berlin fell to the Red army. Mr Besymenski did not mention the collection in his lifetime, because he was worried he might be accused of looting.

After Besymenski's death this summer the collection came in broad daylight. Besides the obvious contents, works of Wagner Beethoven and Bruckner, the collection contained record of Jewish and Russian composers/musicians, including records of Alexander Borodin.

Hitler may have had a taste for good music (Hmm, can't imagine that Hitler had a good taste for anything.), but I don't think he knew something about chemistry.


milkshake said...

Adolf knew something about the chemical warfare, being painfully blinded by mustard gass in WWI. It was sufficiently abhorrent even to him and he felt strongly that it wasn't worth using in the battlefield even though Nazi had an advantage - they discovered organophosphate nerve agents. (Also, at the beginning they were winning the war so they thought they could go without poison gases - and later when Allies owned the sky over German cities introducing chemical warfare did not seem like a terribly good idea)

Ashutosh said...

Adolfy may not have used nerve gases during WW2 but he used another agent plentifully- Zyklon B.

milkshake said...

The perticular methods used for mass-murdering in concentration camps were chosen by SS bureaucrats, not by Adolf (he did not like to get his hands dirty with this kind of disagreable detail) and the SS officers responsible were actually chemistry diletantes. The HCN pellets (ZyklonB)were commercially available to them - they were used in concentration and prison camps for several years as a potent insecticide, mostly for de-lousing of material - before SS recognized its usefulness for killing people. This "discovery' of Zyklon B usefulness took place in 1941, after lots of trial-and-error. It was popularized by Rudolf Höss (SS was examining all kinds of methods of killing people en masse but with so many of them, and everything else turned out too messy and low-throughput.) If you read the testimonies, you notice they were relieved that finally they had something that was quick and reliable, rather than using the engine fume gasing or mass shooting.

Ashutosh said...

The SS used engine fumes and mass shooting plentifully in Ukraine, a precursor to the Holocaust.
Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust- Richard Rhodes

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