By way of background, George Birnbaum was born in Krakow, Poland, and survived the Holocaust in Poland and in Hungary. After WW II, George lived in Vienna, Austria, and finished high school there. In 1952 he immigrated to New York and enrolled at Columbia University as a chemistry major, ultimately receiving his doctorate in organic chemistry from Columbia.
However, George discovered that he did not like doing lab work and so, while working at Columbia University Medical Center, he switched his research to the field of crystallography. Over the course of a long career, much of which was spent at the National Research Council in Canada (NRC), George used his expertise to study the structure of a wide range of molecules in order to help understand how they function. This work resulted in George publishing over 70 scientific papers that describe the three-dimensional molecular structures of steroids, several inhibitors of the HIV (AIDS) virus, like 3’-azido-3’-deoxythymidine (AZT), and of acyclovir, an antiherpes agent. This structural information is helpful in elucidating the biological activity of these molecules.
After retiring from NRC in 1991, George and his wife Celia moved to Maryland and then to Leisure World. About 20 years ago he took a course in biography at the JCC in Rockville and after several years the instructor retired and asked George to take over. This resulted in George doing an intense study of the lives of interesting people, many of whom had lives filled with controversy. He has shared his studies with the LW community over the years in a set of courses called “Biographies of Controversial People.” The Center for Lifelong Leaning (CLL – www.cllmd.org) is proud to present the next in this series for four weeks starting Monday April 27 and continue through May 18 (10 am, fee $15). (See the course section of Leisure World News for details about the course.)
For this course, George will focus on Moses Annenberg, Walter Annenberg, Robert Oppenheimer, and Henry Kissinger. George selected these four people not only because they are well known, but also because there is some controversy about their contributions or the way they lived.
Moses Annenberg built a publishing empire that included, among other things, The Philadelphia Inquirer. The problem arose that Annenberg was found to be co-mingling corporate and personal funds, and as a Republican during the FDR administration, he was prosecuted on tax evasion charges and jailed. He died during his two-year jail time.
Walter Annenberg followed his father as publisher, and increased the empire to include TV Guide. He was a major philanthropist who gave away billions of dollars during his lifetime. As a friend and contributor to Richard Nixon, he was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James where he started out by using very stilted language when he first met the Queen, thus becoming a laughingstock in the UK However, over the course of his ambassadorship, Annenberg made very significant contributions and became popular and admired.
Robert Oppenheimer was a nuclear physicist who led the Manhattan Project and produced the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. He was, however, accused of being a spy for Russia and a member of the Communist Party. As a result of testimony by Edward Teller, another physicist, Oppenheimer lost his security clearances and his involvement in the U.S. nuclear program.
Finally, Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. As an activist secretary, he was very much involved in opening up U.S. China relationships. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he is considered by some people to be a war criminal because of his decision to bomb Cambodia.
George Birnbaum will present various aspects of the lives of these fascinating people, with a focus on helping us understand their contributions to America and the world, and the reasons they are considered to be controversial.