Tadeus Reichstein. 20 July 1897 — 1 August 1996

Miriam Rothschild

Elected For.Mem.R.S. 1952

Abstract

Tadeus Reichstein was born on 20 July 1897 in Wloclawek (in Russian Poland), the eldest of five sons of Jewish parents, Isidor Reichstein and Gustava Brochman (7)*.

In Russia, in those days, only a small number of Jews were allowed to study at the technical high school in St Petersburg, and Tadeus's father, Isidor, considered himself extremely fortunate to have been selected. He received virtually no financial support, and in order to survive embarked on an austere self-disciplined routine, limiting his daily meal to one herring, black bread and water. After a while, he managed to earn a meagre pittance giving lessons in physics and mathematics to children of wealthy citizens. Despite hard times, he won a medal for his brilliant examination papers. After leaving school, Isidor moved to Kiev in the Ukraine, where he succeeded in founding his own business as a sugar-processing engineer and was able to marry.

In 1904 the youngest brother, Paul, was born and the flat in Kiev proved too small to accommodate five boys, so Tadeus, as the eldest, was sent to live temporarily with his aunt, who was married to a Lublin pharmacist. Although only eight years old, Tadeus took a lively interest in the chemist shop, and his uncle encouraged him to assist in making pills, by rolling them by hand. On rejoining his family he turned his sleeping quarters into a ‘laboratory’ and he and a young friend spent all their spare time attempting to create silver from iron filings. It was his first attempt at alchemy.

In 1905, violent pogroms occurred in Russia and the little boy heard the screams of the victims outside in the street and saw the wounded and dying, streaming with blood, dragged into their shop, while the mounted cossacks galloped past heedlessly. Tadeus recalled the atmosphere of terror, but he had never seen blood before and he remembered he found that very interesting.

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