Heisenberg, Werner

Typed letter signed on Max Planck-Institute stationery

  • A typed letter signed from physicist Werner Heisenberg to astronomer Arthur Beer, replying to Beer’s request for the contact details of physicist Georg Robert Döpel, who had disappeared following the upheavals of the Second World War.

    Heisenberg writes, “Dear Doctor Beer, Professor Robert Döpel did indeed, as you propose in your letter, go to Russia in the summer of 1945. I have been informed that he can be reached at the address: Oberstltn. Elan, Berlin-Grünau, Wassersportallee 46. However, I myself have not been able to get any answers to letters that I have written to him, but that may be due to the censorship of such letters. Maybe you could also contact him by contacting Dr. Kapitza, Scientific Academy of the Soviet Union, Moscow. With great respect, Heisenberg.”

    [Sehr geehrter herr Dr. Herr Professor Robert Döpel ist in der Tat, wie sie in Ihrem Brief vermuten, im Somer 1945 nach Ruland gegangen. Durch Bekannte ist mir mitgeteilt worden, da er durch die Anschrift: Oberstltn. Elan, Berlin-Grünau, Wassersportallee 46, zu erreichen sei. Ich selbst habe allerdings auf Briefe, die ich ihm geschrieben habe, bisher keine Antwort erhalten können, doch mag das an der Zensur solcher Briefe liegen. Vielleicht könnten Sie auch mit ihm in Verbindung treten, indem Sie sich unmittelbar an prof. Dr. Kapitza, wissenschaftliche Akademie der Sowjetunion, Moskau, wenden. Mit vorzüglicher Hochachtung, Heisenberg.]

    The scientist in question, Georg Robert Döpel (1895-1982), was an experimental nuclear physicist who was a member of both the first and second Uranverein, or “Uranium Societies”, the German nuclear weapons programmes. During the second Uranverein he worked under Heisenberg at the University of Leipzig, where in 1942 they achieved fission using hollow spheres of uranium surrounded by heavy water. As Beer surmised, at the end of the war Döpel was deported to Russia to participate in the Soviet bomb project, only returning to Germany in 1957.

    This letter is from the archive of Beer (1900-1980), who was born in Richenberg, Bohemia (later Czechoslovakia), and educated in Austria and Germany. He worked as an astronomer at Breslau University, where he studied binary stars, and the German Maritime Observatory. Beer was also a prominent science populariser who wrote newspaper columns and lectured for the public. He was responsible for creating one of the first scientific radio programmes, Aus Natur und Technik, and was commissioned by the Warburg Cultural Library director Fritz Saxl to create a permanent exhibition on modern astronomy for the Hamburg Planetarium. Beer escaped Germany in 1934, assisted by Einstein, who wrote him a public letter of recommendation. Beer spent the rest of his life in the UK, undertaking astronomical work at Cambridge and the Kew Observatory and becoming a member of the Royal Astronomical Society. His most significant contribution was as the founding editor of Vistas in Astronomy, a “voluminous and thorough survey of present-day astronomy” in two volumes, which was so impressive that it was continued first as an annual book, and then a quarterly journal.

  • Göttingen, Germany, May 29, 1947. Typed letter signed on a single half sheet of Max Planck Institute stationery (140 x 208 mm). Numbers in red and grey pencil by Beer. Minor vertical crease from folding, small tear from the removal of a staple on one edge not affecting text, a couple of light spots to corners. Very good condition.

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