Fritz Haber’s chemical warfare with poisonous gases and suicide of his wife

Fritz Haber(9 December 1868 – 29 January 1934) was a German chemist, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his development for synthesizing ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives. He has also been described as the "father of chemical warfare" for his work developing and deploying chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I.

Haber played a major role in the development of chemical warfare in World War I. Part of this work included the development of gas masks with absorbent filters. In addition to leading the teams developing chlorine gas and other deadly gases for use in trench warfare, Haber was on hand personally to aid in its release.

His wife, Clara Immerwahr, a fellow chemist, opposed his work on poison gas and committed suicide with his service weapon in their garden, possibly in response to his having personally overseen the first successful use of chlorine at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915.[1] She shot herself in the heart on 15 May, and died in the morning. That same morning, Haber left for the Eastern Front to oversee gas release against the Russians.

Haber was a patriotic German who was proud of his service during World War I, for which he was decorated. He was even given the rank of captain by the Kaiser, rare for a scientist too old to enlist in military service.

In his studies of the effects of poison gas, Haber noted that exposure to a low concentration of a poisonous gas for a long time often had the same effect (death) as exposure to a high concentration for a short time. He formulated a simple mathematical relationship between the gas concentration and the necessary exposure time. This relationship became known as Haber's rule.

Haber defended gas warfare against accusations that it was inhumane, saying that death was death, by whatever means it was inflicted. During the 1920s, scientists working at his institute developed the cyanide gas formulation Zyklon B, which was used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant in grain stores, and also later, after he left the program, in the Nazi extermination camps.

Haber was forced to leave Germany in 1933 because of Nazi persecution of persons of Jewish ethnicity. His Nobel Prize winning work in chemistry, and subsequent contributions to Germany's war efforts in the form of chemical fertilizers, explosives and poison munitions, were not enough to prevent vilification of his heritage by the Nazi regime. In January 1934, at the age of 65, Fritz Haber died of heart failure in a Basel hotel, on his way to a Swiss convalescent retreat.

Haber's immediate family also left Germany. His second wife, Charlotte, with their two children, settled in England. Haber's son, Hermann, from his first marriage emigrated to the United States during World War II. He committed suicide in 1946. Members of Haber's extended family died in concentration camps.

Clara Immerwahr, the wife of Fritz Haber
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