Chemical Warfare

Chemical warfare refers to using chemicals as a weapon of mass destruction, killing many people at once. Fritz Haber, the inventor of the ammonia extraction process, is also the father of modern chemical warfare.

On Jan. 31, 1915, Germany used a type of tear gas on allied troops. Due to the temperature, the chemicals failed to vaporize.

On Apr. 22, 1915, Germans launched 168 tons of chlorine towards allied positions, killing about 6,000 people and blinding more. Fritz Haber, the scientist personally supervised the release of the chlorine.

Haber’s first wife committed suicide after realizing his role in the countless deaths in WWI.

Haber, who was Jewish but tried converting to Christianity, also invented Zyklon A. That is the poison that would evolve into Zyklon B, used during the Holocaust to murder Haber’s extended family.

Towards the end of his life, the Nazis turned on Haber due to his Jewish origin. After locking him out of his lab, Haber fled Germany and died, soon after, in 1934.

Related image
Haber (pointing) instructing the use of chemical weapons

Synthetic Ammonia

Fritz Haber arguably saved and killed more people than any other single person in history.

Synthetic ammonia vastly lowered the cost of making fertilizer, explosives, and other chemicals.

The process to create synthetic ammonia was a concurrent invention. That is, two scientists came up with it at the same time independently of one another.

Because it allows for inexpensive fertilizer, the Haber-Bosch is responsible for approximately half the food grown in the world today. Fritz Haber, who both invented and also commercialized the process, saved billions of lives.

However, there is a darker history. Haber was a German Jew, a key German chemist developing chemical weapons for Germany in WWI. He oversaw their first use at the Second Battle of Ypres, where approximately 67,000 allied troops were killed in one gassing. His first wife committed suicide after learning how many people he helped kill.

Later, the institute he founded invented Zyklon A. Nazis used a successor chemical, Zyklon B, to murder millions in death camps including many members of Haber’s family. This caused his second wife to leave him, with the marriage ending in divorce.

Both, like Haber, converted from Judaism to Christianity though the Nazis did not care and banned Haber from his lab. He escaped Nazi Germany but died soon after the Nazi’s ascent to power in Basel, Switzerland.

Haber won the 1919 Nobel Prize in Chemistry but died a miserable man.