The Forgotten Women Scientists Who Fled the Holocaust for the United States

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tags: Holocaust, WWII, womens history, Women Scientists



Nedda Friberti was an Italian mathematician and physicist reduced to refugee status in World War II. Fanny Shapiro came from Latvia, where she studied bacteriology until the war disrupted her research. French microbiologist Marguerite Lwoff worked with her husband, André Lwoff, though she didn’t receive the Nobel Prize along with him. Elizabeth Rona was born in Hungary and became a famed nuclear chemist, but was forced to flee the country in 1940.

All four women earned Ph.Ds in their respective fields, at a time when being a female scholar was incredibly challenging. They also faced the additional hurdle of being targeted by anti-Semitic laws that came about across Europe in the 1930s and 40s. And all four women applied for—and were denied—assistance from the American Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars.

These are but four stories illuminated by the Rediscovering the Refugee Scholars project. Created by researchers at Northeastern University in the fields of journalism, Jewish studies, history and computer science, the project seeks to illuminate the fraught journeys of scholars who fled persecution in Europe and hoped to come to the United States with assistance from the Emergency Committee. The committee, initially headed by journalist Edward R. Murrow, acted as an intermediary between American universities and European scholars looking for work outside their countries of origin. It was funded by the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, and received applications from nearly 6,000 scholars. Of those, only 330 received aid. As for the 80 women scientists and mathematicians identified by the Northeastern team—only four were supported by the committee (though many more made their way to the U.S. and other safe havens).




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