OTTO WARBURG - A biographical note

Simultaneously he started to become involved both in teaching at the Oriental Seminar of Berlin University and in founding the “Institute for Kolonialwitschaft”, which brought him into direct contact with Germany’s colonial ambitions primarily in Africa. It was at that time that Otto Warburg realized that as a Jew, who though assimilated, refused to convert to Christianity, he had no chance of being appointed to a full professorship as he deserved, and thus he started to become involved in German Colonial Agriculture and move part of his efforts to applied botany. It was at that time that Warburg founded several companies for producing Cocoa, Coffee, and Kautschuck and published four monographs dealing with these plantations4. As noted he also published numerous articles in scientific journals including Englera and The Tropenpflanzer. It was in 1897 that he published his first monograph on the Muscat Nut (Nutmeg), which was part of his increasing interest in tropical, mainly industrial plantations5. However, the extensive findings of his four-year trip in the Far East were published in Leipzig and Vienna in three volumes in the years 1913-1922 titled “Die Pflanzenwelt” which have retained their leading scientific position in this field.
By then Warburg was already deeply involved in Zionism and especially in its practical implementation ranging from education, through agriculture, irrigation and Jewish settlements. It all started when his father in law, Gustav Gabriel Cohen met and befriended Theodor Herzl during the first Zionist Congress in Basel. As early as 1881 Cohen had written a book titled: Die Judenfrage und die Zukunft, (The Jewish Problem and the Future), which was published for private circulation in Hamburg and has recently been republished in Berlin6. Cohen, a merchant from Hamburg who had spent many years first in South Africa and then in England, had reached the conclusion that anti-Semitism was there to stay and that its only solution would be through the establishment of a Jewish state in Ottoman Palestine. He directed his book especially at Jews in Russia, Poland and Romania, since he probably felt that the assimilated Jews of Germany and other western countries would not take his ideas seriously. Otto Warburg was one of the few German Jews who received a copy of the book which he discussed with Cohen, his father-in-law, and which later opened the way for his first meeting with Theodor Herzl in 1898.

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