Konrad Bloch was one of the leaders of the small group of exceptional biochemists who unravelled the pathways of intermediary metabolism. He was born in 1912 in Niesse, Germany, into a highly cultured, prosperous Jewish family, and began his schooling at the local gymnasium. For his 13th birthday, a rich uncle offered Konrad his choice of a cello or a canoe. Before he had a chance to make the obvious choice of any red-blooded 13-year-old boy, his mother intervened: ‘Of course Konrad would prefer the cello’. And a cello it was.
In due course, Konrad graduated from the gymnasium at Niesse and embarked on a career in organic chemistry in Hans Fischer's laboratory in Munich. He earned from Fischer the greatest four-word recommendation ever: ‘Herr Bloch ist ausgezeichnet’. (Some critics claim that the recommendation read, ‘Herr Bloch ist sehr gut’.) But spectacular recommendation or no, there was no place for Konrad in Hitler's Germany. He applied to Fritz Kögl in Utrecht but fortunately was rejected; had he been accepted he would have been trapped when the Nazis overran Holland. He managed to slip into Switzerland, where he tried to obtain a PhD This future Nobel laureate failed his doctoral examination; he had neglected to cite a publication of one of his examiners.
During his stay in Switzerland, Bloch had occasion to try to repeat some work on the fatty acids of tubercle bacilli, work that Rudolf Anderson at Yale had published. He found that Anderson's work had been faulty. With an audacity that he would never have dared towards a German Geheimrat, Bloch wrote to Professor Anderson to correct his experimental results. Anderson reacted as the ideal scientist is supposed to react but as not all scientists do. He checked his work again, and then wrote promptly, confirming Bloch's experiments, and thanking him for the correction.
Later, when Bloch was forced to leave Switzerland, he appealed in desperation to Anderson for help in entering the USA. Anderson again reacted as one would hope that a scientist would: he promptly sent two letters in reply, one from the Dean that Bloch could show to the US consul, promising Bloch an assistantship at Yale, and a second, private letter, admitting that there was no money to support the assistantship. Bloch gratefully used the first letter to gain entry to the USA, and started his search for a PhD advisor.