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Credit: Angel Fan

Roald Hoffmann has many titles: Nobel laureate, prominent figure in the philosophy of chemistry, poet and playwright.

On Monday evening, he shared his experience as a Holocaust survivor.

“I have told you stories… I am standing here to tell the stories," he said. “But, in the end we have to remember that, who should speak for the others, those didn’t survive.” 

Hoffmann spoke in Penn Hillel about his experience as a Holocaust survivor in a presentation titled, “Returning, Remembering, Forgiving.”  As a prominent chemist also accomplished in philosophy and art, he additionally discussed how he came to have such a multifaceted career.

Hoffmann walked the audience through the memories of his childhood as a victim during the Holocaust, when a Ukrainian family hid him and his family in the attic of a schoolhouse for over 15 months. Before that, his family was imprisoned in a labor camp for more than a year. It was at this camp that his father was eventually tortured to death. 

"Almost everyone who survived, almost everyone has a good story to tell, and in it featured good human beings… Saviors," he said. "Because it was impossible to survive without help from somebody, and there are good people in any times, and those good people save the world.”

College senior Wade Miller, a chemistry major who brought Hoffmann to campus, first came into contact with Hoffmann while working on chemistry research with a Penn professor. He pitched Hoffman as the guest speaker for Hillel’s Education Cohort not only because he is a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry but also due to his authority in disciplines ranging from poetry to philosophy of science.  

"To Roald Hoffmann, scientists don’t fix into boxes," Miller said. "Scientists are, first and foremost, humans.” 

College sophomore Debbie Rabonovich also commented commented on Hoffmann's interdisciplinary accomplishments.

“It’s moving and interesting to hear about how his interest in science evolved into a passion of art and humanity,” Rabonovich said. “It was my first time hearing from a Holocaust survivor, and I think it’s something that people in our age should make an effort to hear.”