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January 21, 2022 2:19 pm

Auction Set for Nobel Prize Given to Late Jewish Physicist Who Was Saved From Nazis by Kindertransport

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Walter Kohn with his family in Vienna in circa mid-1930’s. Photo: Nate D. Sanders Auctions.

A Nobel Prize medal in chemistry won in 1998 by late Jewish physicist Walter Kohn, who was among the roughly 10,000 children saved from Nazi-occupied territories during World War II by the Kindertransport, will be auctioned next week.

The Nobel Prize medal is made of 18kt gold and plated in 24kt gold, and bears a plaque engraved with Kohn’s name and 1998 in Roman numerals. Also written is an abbreviation for The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which is responsible for selecting the laureates in economic sciences.

The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions said bidding on the Nobel Prize begins at $275,000. The auction will take place on Jan. 27, which is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Born in 1923 in Vienna, Austria, Kohn and his older sister were taken to the United Kingdom in 1938 through the Kindertransport. The children were placed in homes throughout Britain, and Kohn was ultimately put in a home in Canada. He and his sister survived, but their parents died in the Holocaust.

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Kohn later studied applied mathematics at the University of Toronto and eventually earned a PhD from Harvard in physics. He became a a research professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara and was the founding director of the campus’s Institute for Theoretical Physics. He also taught at the University of California San Diego from 1960-1979. He died in 2016 at the age of 93.

The auction house is also selling three science books that Kohn purchased at a temporary internment camp in Canada, all of which are still in their homemade dust jackets.

“The books are a foreshadowing to the incredible achievements that Kohn made to the world through his Nobel Prize winning work,” the auction house said. “As the architect of density functional theory (DFT), Kohn devised the computational quantum mechanical modeling system that has allowed scientists to understand the nuclear structure of microscopic matter. Though the underlying structure of [a] NFT is complex, the actual equations are now commonplace among scientists, with countless practical results from discovering trace impurities in chemicals, to modeling planetary systems.”

Auction owner Nate Sanders said, “To think what would have been lost to the world had Walter Kohn not made it to the UK during WWII is incomprehensible.”

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