Polish-born Nobel Prize winner Prof Roald Hoffmann
did not become a ''better person'' through his experiences in
World War 2, including surviving the Nazi Holocaust by hiding
in an attic, he said in Dunedin yesterday.
Prof Hoffmann (75), a leading theoretical chemist at Cornell
University, New York, gave an open lecture titled ''All the
Ways to Have a Bond'' at the University of Otago yesterday
Earlier, he took part in an hour-long question-and-answer
session with about 60 Otago postgraduate chemistry students,
and discussed suffering and science communication in an
Asked if his wartime experiences had remained influential, he
said that having to hide in an attic for about 15 months had
taught him, as a 5 to 7-year-old, ''to be quiet''. But it had
not made him a ''better person''.
He had ''survived'' but the most important thing was to say
And he longed for a future without the ''terrible events''
that had occurred in many parts of the world during the 20th
He rejected any ''romantic'' suggestion that ''you're a
better person because you suffered''.
''There are problems for those who survived.
''To this day, I'm afraid of people in uniform'' - even when
the uniform was that of hotel staff, such as waiters.
That was because, as a child, he had known that people in
uniforms had been ''after us, to kill us''.
He said the small town in Poland where he lived as a child,
Zolochiv, was now part of the Ukraine and the attic where he
hid with other Jewish family members was still there when he
returned to see it in 2006. He urged Otago postgraduate
chemistry students to ''reach out'' to help members of the
public better understand chemistry.
''Part of a citizen's duty is to learn a little bit of
In democracies, the community had to make science-related
decisions, such as where rubbish plants would be sited, and
knowing some science would help better decisions to be made.
Prof Hoffmann is also a published poet and playwright and
remains alert to unexpected possibilities in language.
He joked that on one occasion, he had fallen asleep during a
lengthy scientific seminar.
After waking, he had immediately noted an interesting phrase
uttered by the speaker, and this had inspired a later poem.
• Prof Hoffmann received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in
1981, sharing it with Kenichi Fukui.