OTTO WARBURG - A biographical note

Following the war preparations started for the founding of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in which Warburg was involved from day one. He was asked to recruit Jewish professors both for the Technion in Haifa and for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and discovered to his dismay how many of those in European universities had converted to Christianity. Thus he spread his search for recruits to the USA where he visited in 1922-23. It was then that he was approached to lead the founding of an Agricultural Experimental Station, together with agronomist, Yitzchak Vilkansky, (later Dr.Volcani). Warburg had been involved in earlier endeavors in Palestinian agriculture together with Aharon Aaronson and Selig Soskin who had founded an “Agricultural Experimental Station” in Atlit at the turn of the century. However, in 1922 he was called upon by the Hebrew University to found the Agricultural Experimental Station in Tel-Aviv, which was to be directed by him and by Vilkansky. In 1925 he was asked by the Hebrew University to be the Founding Chairman of its Department of Botany, which to begin with was located together with the Agricultural Station in Tel Aviv. However, following the founding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Department of Botany and the Institute for the Research of Palestine’s Fauna and Flora, were transferred to Jerusalem whilst the Agricultural Research Station was relocated to Rehovot, where it has remained ever since and is nowadays the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (the Faculty was recently renamed the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences).
Warburg’s active involvement at the Hebrew University enabled him to renew his scientific work in his sphere of specialization and to pursue his active participation in practical Zionism, at one and the same time. Had his wife Anna’s health been better, he would probably have come to live in Palestine on a permanent basis, as he stated on more than one occasion. But since this proved impossible, he visited it annually, often for several months. In 1936 he made his last trip to the country and re-visited Rehovot, Jerusalem and Degania, whilst spending some of his time with his son’s family in Haifa. Siegmund Warburg and his family had made Aliya after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. Upon his arrival he became an active member of the “Nahariya Settlement Company”, which had been founded by his father. Otto Warburg’s two other sons, Dr. (Med.) Edgar Warburg settled in Palestine with his wife, Dr. Fanya Warburg, in 1938, and both became medical doctors in Kiryat Anavim and the surrounding region. The youngest son, Dr. Gustav Warburg, migrated with his family to London in 1933 where he directed the Wiener Library for several years. His son Michael and his daughter Renate continue to live in England with their families. Three of Otto Warburg’s grandchildren settled in Palestine: Professor (Emeritus) Michael Warburg, devoted his scientific career to natural sciences, not unlike his grandfather, and was for many years active in the field of biological studies at the Technion in Haifa; his brother, Professor (Emeritus) Gabriel (Gaby) Warburg, was for several years a member of Kibbutz Yehi’am and later became an expert in oriental studies at the University of Haifa. He was also director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo and founding president of Tel-Hai Academic College. Their late sister, Hana (Ruth), settled in Kibbutz Sdot Yam where she became a teacher of English studies at the comprehensive school. Most of Warburg’s great-grandchildren are settled in Israel, two of whom have completed their studies for a Ph.D. at the Hebrew University’s Department of Biology, and Dr. Alon Warburg is now a Senior Lecturer at the School of Medicine’s Kuvin Centre for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
Otto Warburg died in Berlin in 1938 and was buried with his wife Anna and his daughter Gertrud near the Jordan in Kvuzat Degania, the first communal settlement in Palestine, which he had helped found in 1908.
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1. Details in the Warburg family tree, published for private circulation by the Warburg family, Hamburg 1937.
2. Details in Otto Warburg’s letter to Dr. Israel Reichert, published, following his death in Davar, 9 Feb. 1938.
3. Frank Leimkugel Botanischer Zionismus, Otto Warburg (1859-1938) und die Anfange institutionalisierter Naturwissenschaften in Eretz Israel, (Englera 26, 2005, publication of the Botanical Garten and Museum in Berlin-Dahlem, Pp. 351)
4. Otto Warburg, Die Kautschuckpflanzen und ihre Kultur (Berlin, 1899)
5. Otto Warburg, Die Muscatnuss, (Leipzig 1897)
6. Gustav Gabriel Cohen, Das Ideal des eigenen Staates Zwei Schriften aus den Anfangen des Zionismus, mit einem beitrag von Dr. Johanne Lenz, Herusgegeben und eingeleitet von Prof. Daniel Hoffmann, (IBA- International Media & Book Agency, Berlin 2003)
7. Otto Warburg himself was portrayed in a British Intelligence Report on Egypt & the Sinai Peninsula (located in the PRO in London) as a “German spy.”
8. Further details in Haim Goren, “Real Catholics and Good Germans”: German Catholics and Eretz Israel, ([Hebrew] The Kevner Center of Garman History, Jerusalem: Magnes 2005), pp.286-9
9. For details on his life and achievements see: Yaakov Thon, Otto Warburg: the Third President of the Zionist Movement, [Hebrew], (Herzlia: Massada Print, 1938

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