Walter Kohn, Holocaust Refugee and Noble Laureate, Dies at 93

World famous chemist, physicist maintained close ties with Israeli academic institutes and was a vocal critic of nuclear research.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Walter Kohn at the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on July 3, 2012
Walter Kohn at the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on July 3, 2012Credit: Markus Pössel

Nobel Prize winner Walter Kohn, who fled Nazi-ruled Austria one month before the start of World War II, has died.

Kohn died on April 19 at his home in Santa Barbara. He was 93.

Kohn received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with British-born scientist John Pople. His research, which spanned the fields of physics and chemistry, applied quantum mechanics and advanced mathematics to explain complex chemical reactions.

His studies also formed the basis for the creation of innovative materials custom designed for medicines and for advances in electronics.

In the fall of 1939, Kohn left his native Vienna on one of the last transports of children to England, where he was interned as an “enemy alien.” The following year he was shipped to Canada, where he subsequently joined the Canadian army as an infantryman.

His parents, Salomon and Gittel Kohn, died in Auschwitz.

Throughout his academic career, Kohn was also deeply involved in Jewish life. While teaching at the University of California, San Diego, he was instrumental in founding the school’s Jewish studies department.

In 1979, he was appointed as the first director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, where he served on the campus’ Hillel advisory board and regularly participated in faculty Torah study sessions.

He maintained close ties with Israeli colleagues and was a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University

Kohn was an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons research, particularly at UC’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

Although he famously declared “Physics isn’t what I do; it is what I am,” he was also deeply interested in classical music, history and literature – and in rollerblading, well into his seventies.

Kohn is survived by his wife Mara Kohn, the daughter of famed photographer Roman Vishniac; three daughters from his first marriage; and three grandchildren.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott