OTTO WARBURG - A biographical note
Otto Warburg was born in Hamburg on 20th July 1859 and passed away in Berlin on 10th January 1938. His ancestor, Simon von Cassel, arrived in Germany in 1566, probably from Bologna in Italy, and settled temporarily in Cassel from where they moved to the small town Warburg which borders on Westphalia. In 1636 his grandson Jacob Simon adopted Warburg as the new surname of the family and his son moved to Altona near Hamburg. From there the family started spreading out first in Germany itself and later in other European countries as well as in the United States and later in Palestine (since 1948 Israel). It was by and large a rather prosperous and assimilated Jewish family and it excelled both in the financial field and in the sciences.1
Otto Warburg’s life can be divided into two parts: the first half was devoted primarily to his studies and research in Botany and lasted until he became involved in the Zionist movement towards the end of the nineteenth century. Since then he devoted most of his time and energy to his Zionist activities, though his scientific endeavors continued at a somewhat slower pace. In 1879 Warburg completed his studies at the prestigious “Johanneum” Gymnasium in Hamburg and started his higher education at Bonn University. His education at the Gymnasium was humanistic and did not include any Jewish studies. Following his graduation he chose Botany as his major and Zoology and Chemistry as his two minors. After one semester at Bonn he moved to the University of Berlin, then to Strasbourg, where he received his Ph.D. in 1883. In the following two years he studied Chemistry in Munich and then Physiology with Professor Pfeffer in Tubingen.2 It was there that Warburg started publishing his numerous publications (see attached list). In 1885 he visited both Berlin (Dahlem) and London (Kew Gardens) where he made preparations for a four-year botanical expedition in the East which started in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), in the autumn of 1885, and ended in Australia in the summer of 1889. It also included Formosa (Taiwan), the Philippines, Korea, Japan, German New Guinea and an extensive tour of Indonesia (mainly Java).
Upon his return he settled in Berlin where he started preparing the results of his research-travels for publication, whilst simultaneously preparing his Habilitation on medical plants, (this has recently been re-published in Berlin by the Botanical Garten in Dahlem3). It was in 1897 that he founded (with Prof. Waltman), a Journal specializing in tropical agriculture: Der Tropen Pflanzer, which he continued to edit single-handedly during the next 24 Years, and in which he published extensively.