Hitler is reported to have been told by Carl Bosch in 1933 that if Jewish scientists were forced to leave Germany, physics and chemistry would be set back 100 years.

He's reported (in the comments section) to have replied "Then we'll work a hundred years without physics and chemistry":

Soon no one, men or women, at the CSIRO or in university departments will have jobs anyway following the government's threat to cut research funding unless their destructive budget measures are adopted by the senate. There is no great difference between the threats of this government and the notorious statement of the German leader from the 1930s: "Then we'll work a hundred years without physics and chemistry" - his response shouted back to Carl Bosch (then still head of IG Farben, the pre-war chemical conglomerate), who had tried to advise him that if Jewish scientists were forced to leave the country both physics and chemistry would be set back 100 years.

Did he say this?

  • 1
    Your hyperlink to smh.com.au/act-news/… doesn't seem to contain that quote.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 30 '14 at 8:01
  • @ChrisW I never thought I'd tell someone this, but read the comments. Aug 30 '14 at 8:28

There is such a quote floating around.

But it is of some dubious quality, only written down long after the fact, by people not involved in the actual conversation.

The saying is dated to 1933, said by Hitler to Bosch in a private meeting. Bosch then told his version to colleagues. And those start to write down this anecdote years after the war, starting around 1942, with the world only seeing it in print after 1949.

The actual quote to look for is as such indirectly reported — some would say it's hearsay – and reads:

"Dann arbeiten wie eben einmal hundert Jahre ohne Physik und Chemie!"
("Then we'll work simply without physics and chemistry for a hundred years!")

This angry retort is said to have been uttered in May 1933 in a meeting between Carl Bosch and Hitler. Carl Bosch died in 1940. Bosch did not write this down anywhere. Instead, he allegedly told this story to numerous colleagues, like Krauch, Gattineau and Willstätter. And these people then retold it, and even published it in their own memoirs.

The most often cited 'source' for this anecdote is then found in

— Karl Holdermann: "Im Banne der Chemie: Carl Bosch, Leben und Werk", Econ: Düsseldorf, 1953, p271–273. (worldcat)

Cited as such for example in:

— Ulrike Kohl: "Die Präsidenten der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Max Planck, Carl Bosch und Albert Vögler zwischen Wissenschaft und Macht", Franz Steiner: Stuttgart, 2002. (p118, gBooks)

Note the historical-critical discussion in footnote 424 in Kohl's book: re-emphasizing the 'quality' of this anecdote by referring to a similar rumour about Max Planck noting the same issue to Hitler, and questioning the dates given for both meetings, Bosch's and Planck's.

— Joseph Borkin: "The crime and punishment of I.G. Farben", Free Press: New York, 1978. (archive.org, p57)
— Peter Hayes: "Industry and ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi era", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 1987. (archive.org, p92.)

But Holdermann isn't really a historian or biographer, but a colleague of Bosch as well. As such a chemist himself, he mainly writes a hagiography of Bosch (full of "worhsip"). Holdermann repeats this story in his obituary for Bosch, published in the chemistry journal "Chemische Berichte" (now named 'European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry'), found only in paper form (not digitized by the publisher) under the 'correct' citation ("Bösch", sic):

Bösch, Carl, 1874-1940. K. Holdermann, 1957, 90, XIX.

Various publications reference this as — "Karl Holdermann: Carl Bosch: 1874–1940; in memoriam. In: Chemische Berichte. Band 90 (1957), Heft 11, S. 272–273." copied down the river incorrectly, presumably from Wikipedia.

Compare Bosch's German WP-page, currently footnotes 9 and 61:

9: — Karl Holdermann: Carl Bosch: 1874–1940; in memoriam. In: Chemische Berichte. Band 90 (1957), Heft 11, S. 19–39.
61: — Karl Holdermann: Carl Bosch: 1874–1940; in memoriam. In: Chemische Berichte. Band 90 (1957), Heft 11, S. 272–273.
[LLC: 'real' articles get consecutive Arabic pagination, miscellenia like obituaries Roman page numbers, and those are incompletely digitized.]

Curiously, in 1949 Holdermann does not know anything about this anecdote – which he later thought important enough to write in such obituaries – in yet an earlier hagiographic piece about Bosch:

— K. Holdermann: "Carl Bosch und die Naturwissenschaft",Naturwissenschaften volume 36, p161–165, 1949. (doi)

The earliest mention of this anecdote seems to be Willstätter.

And Holdermann relies on Willstätter for this quote in 1953. As then does Gattineau in his memoirs, published as late as 1983 (gBooks, p114).

Willstätter in his own memoirs recalls what Bosch allegedly told him, and he does that in 1942 already (his own memoirs only published posthumously in 1949):

[…] eine Audienz beim Führer, um vor der weitgehenden Entlassung nichtarischer Forscher zu warnen. Aber der Führer bestand auf der schärfsten Durchführung der eingeleiteten Maßnahmen. Darauf wies Bosch auf die schwere Beeinträchtigung hin, die der Pflege von Physik und Chemie in Deutschland drohe.

"Dann arbeiten wie eben einmal hundert Jahre ohne Physik und Chemie!"

war nach Boschs Erzählung die Antwort des Führers.

([Bosch had] an audience with the Führer to warn against the extensive dismissal of non-Aryan researchers. But the Fuehrer insisted on the strictest implementation of the measures that had been introduced. Bosch then pointed out the serious damage that threatened the cultivation of physics and chemistry in Germany. "Then we will work without physics and chemistry for one hundred years!", was the Führer's reply, according to Bosch's account.)

— Richard Willstätter: "Aus meinem Leben: von Arbeit, Musse und Freunden", Verlag Chemie: Weinheim, 1949. (worldcat, gBooks p274)

In the English translation of these memoirs from 1965 this reads as:

"Then we'll get along without physics and chemistry for a hundred years!"

— Richard Willstätter: "From my life", W.A. Benjamin: New York, 1965. (worldcat, gBooks p 290)


The most often found reference for this quote is written down in 1953 by a colleague of Bosch, Holdermann. Holdermann a long time companion working with Bosch seems to be oblivious to this quote, allegedly being uttered by Hitler in anger in 1933 until after the memoirs of the emigrant Willstätter comes out in print in 1949. It seems that Bosch never told Holdermann that story. Willstätter in turn recounts sometime before his death in 1942 for his own memoirs that Bosch once told him this anecdote. Willstätter gives no direct date for that and circumstantial hints seem to indicate that this anecdote in overly similar form being retold for Max Planck as well might rest on a mere shaky rumor after all.
What remains certain: We know that Willstätter claims that Bosch told him that Hitler said it. In the end, that even might be true, but has to be taken with an adequate dose of salt, if anyone wishes to draw any conclusions from that quote alone.


The reported German quote is said to be "Dann wird das Reich eben einmal die nächsten hundert Jahre ohne Physik und Chemie auskommem".

"The German Chemical Industry in the Twentieth Century" describes it as an anecdote, and cites "Karl Holdermann, Im Banne der Chemie: Carl Bosch, Leben und Werk" (Düsseldorf, 1953), 271-273.

I don't know how reliable the cited book is. Someone more knowledgeable about chemistry, German history, or who is fluent in German may be able to dig deeper. Hopefully Germans in the 1950s weren't in the habit of making up bogus quotes to support their own beliefs.

  • 13
    "Throughout history, people everywhere have been in the habit of making up bogus quotes to support their own beliefs." -Konrad Adenauer, 1952 Aug 30 '14 at 13:31
  • 7
    @NateEldredge - "90% of the quotes found on the internet are mostly accurate" - Stephen Hawking, 2012.
    – user5341
    Aug 30 '14 at 22:05
  • 1
    I could not find the original source online; however, it is quoted, among others, in "Presidents of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute under National Socialism", by Ulrike Kohl, 2002. In a footnote, Kohl writes that Holdermann referred to the memoirs of R. Willstätter (a German scientist who fled the country in 1939) and H. Gattineau (a German economist and defendant at the Nuremberg trials). P. Hayes noted (in his "Industry and Ideology") the similarity between the Bosch story and a rumour about Planck visiting Hitler which went around the German physics community in in 1937.
    – P_S
    Sep 1 '14 at 12:00
  • Another ref for this and perhaps easier to link to might be (Karl Holdermann: Carl Bosch: 1874–1940; in memoriam. In: Chemische Berichte. Band 90 (1957), Heft 11, S. 272–273.) But the online archive leads me to conclude that this often copied ref is somehow faulty…? // The author of that bio is a chemistry man & writes an old-fashioned hagiography about Bosch, who told this 'story' to Willstätter & Krauch after said meeting. -> Anecdote treated as canon/hadith, but really a lot of 2nd hand hearsay as well. Apr 5 at 14:22
  • The publisher lists this as Bösch, Carl, 1874-1940. K. Holdermann, 1957, 90, XIX. Apr 5 at 14:25

I wonder if the story is a distorted version of an earlier story about Antoinne Lavoisier, one of history's greatest scientists, who lost his head in the Reign of Terror.

Lavoisier was also a “fermier général”, a tax collector: this is why he was arrested and judged to be guilty by the Revolutionary Tribunal. However, it is probable that the envy of a certain Jean Paul Marat, a revolutionary, a man of power known as the Friend of the People, was behind the death of the scientist. Marat was an ambitious and mediocre scientist, who believed in phlogiston and was very much criticised by the scientific community. The bright fame of the great Lavoisier pushed Marat into a corner, where he harboured envy, hard feelings and a desire for revenge. As soon as he had the opportunity, Marat willingly facilitated Lavoisier’s death sentence. It is said that, in response to pleas to save him, the Chairman of the Tribunal replied: “the Republic has no need of scientists.”

When the eminent Italian mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Lavoisier’s friend, heard of the death of the French chemist, he said: “It took only a moment to cause this head to fall and a hundred years will not suffice to produce its like.”

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