|The German Pugwash Group announces with deep regret the death of the physicist and philosopher Prof. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker on April 28th, 2007.
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker was born on June 28, 1912 in Kiel as the son of the German Diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker. He was the elder brother of the former German President Richard von Weizsäcker. He studied Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics in Berlin, Göttingen and Leipzig (1929-1933), supervised by Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr and Friedrich Hund. His early research was on the binding energy of the atomic nuclei (semi-empirical Bethe-Weizsäcker formula, 1935) and the nuclear fusion processes in stars (Bethe-Weizsäcker-Process, 1937). Later on, he intensified his work on the conceptual definition of quantum physics, particularly on the Copenhagen interpretation.
During World War II he recognized the political as well as the technical implications of nuclear weapons and joined the German “Uran-Verein” which was founded to explore the military as well as the civilian use of nuclear fission. He predicted the use of plutonium and worked on a theory to use it for energy production. Historians are divided over the real motivation of the group under Heisenberg and others from 1939 to 1942 to construct a nuclear weapon. Weizsäcker revealed later on that it was “only divine grace” which impeded him to build a German atomic bomb. After World War II the ten German physicists were detained at Farm Hall (UK) in 1945 and the recordings of their conversations were published in 1993.
After his return to Germany, Weizsäcker became director of the department for theoretical physics in the Max Planck Institut in Göttingen. From 1957 to 1969 he was Professor for Philosophy at the University of Hamburg, where he held publicly well attended lectures on natural philosophy, ethics and the social responsibility of scientists. In 1957 he initiated the “Göttingen Declaration” in which eighteen German leading nuclear physicists not only called for the definitive abdication of all kinds of nuclear weapons for Germany, but also renounced explicitly to work on the “production, the testing and use of nuclear weapons”. The declaration caused a public debate and made it nearly impossible that Germany worked on its own military nuclear programme. The scientists also underlined that a small country such as Germany cannot be defended by nuclear weapons.
Weizsäcker attended the second Pugwash Conference in Lac Beauport in 1958 and learned about the international efforts for arms control, which he could later introduce in the political debate in Germany. He held close contacts to Rotblat, Szilard, Weisskopf and others. With the foundation of the “Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler” VDW (Federation of German Scientists) in 1959, the German Pugwash Group was also established by Weizsäcker and colleagues. In Hamburg the VDW Research Center published important studies on “Civil defense” (1962) and “Effects of a Nuclear War and War Prevention” (1970/71). In 1970 he formulated the concept of “Weltinnenpolitik” (Global Governance”). From 1970-1980 he became director of the “Max Planck Institute for the Research of the Living Conditions in the scientific-technical world” in Starnberg near Munich, where scientists worked on many modern societal basic problems such as peace research, arms control, economy and resources, environmental affairs, foreign aid etc. Especially the work of the “strategy and arms control group” directed by Horst Afheldt on European Security, non-offensive defense and the dangers of a nuclear war in Europe were introduced and discussed in the Pugwash community widely. In the 1980ies, this was not only an important contribution to the debate how to achieve stability in Europe, but elements of it were also included in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Weizsäcker attended several Pugwash meetings and was not only demanding the work of scientists for peace and disarmament, but he was one of the leading figures which founded peace and conflict research in Germany.
He received numerous awards (Max Planck Medal, Pour Le Mérite) and was one of the leading intellectuals of his time in Germany.
Weizsäcker held close contact to the churches and published many books which were also translated in many languages f.e. The World View of Physics (1952), The Unity of Nature (1980), the Politics of Peril (1978), the Ambivalence of Progress (1978), the Structure of Physics (2006) etc.
We are expressing our condolences for the passing of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, and pay tribute to his life, dedicating to serving the people, science and security of the world. We convey to the family of Carl Friedrich von Weisäcker our deep sympathy. We will honor the life and work of C.F. von Weizsäcker by more personal contributions and gatherings in the next months and we will keep his friends and colleagues informed about future activities.(see f.e. www.pugwash.de).
On behalf of the German Pugwash Group
Chairman of the German Pugwash Group and member of the Pugwash Council