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Obituary: Dr Frederick Kurzer

Modest German Jewish refugee who became a university scientist

    My friend Dr Frederick Kurzer, who has died aged 95, was Reader in Chemistry at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry for over 70 years. A German Jewish refugee from Nazism, his education had been curtailed by the Nazis, and then again interrupted in England, when he was interned by the British government as an enemy alien in 1940.

    The son of Jacques Kurzer, a dealer in oriental rugs, and his wife Rosa (née Löwy), Friedrich Kurzer was born in the spa town of Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary) in the German-speaking area of the former Czechoslovakia. With his parents and sister Dorothy, he lived in Carlsbad and attended the local gymnasium (grammar school) until 1939, when the family fled to London to escape the Nazis.

    In England, he attended the independent Clark’s College, Cricklewood, and from there went to Regent Street Polytechnic (now part of the University of Westminster), where he studied for a chemistry degree. His degree was interrupted by internment on the Isle of Man in 1940 by the British Government — the fate of many male German Jewish refugees. By this stage, he had Anglicised his name to Frederick.

    He resumed his degree at Chelsea College in 1941 and graduated in 1944. Gaining a doctorate in 1947, he became assistant lecturer at King’s College Hospital School of Medicine (1946-49) and was then appointed lecturer, senior lecturer and, finally Reader in Chemistry at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London until his retirement in 1987.

    He was awarded a DSc in 1957. As well as lecturing to medical students in chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacy, Dr Kurzer was responsible for a research laboratory specialising in heterocyclic chemistry (a branch of organic chemistry) that attracted many British and overseas doctoral students. He was my supervisor and we published several research papers together.

    Fred, as he was universally known, was modest with a wry sense of humour, known for his tolerance with his research students. Highly respected as a chemist, he had interests outside the laboratory, particularly in the history of science. In retirement, he published significant papers on the chemical work of Samuel Parkes, Charles Tomlinson, William Hasledine Pepys, Arthur Church (the Palace of Westminster frescoes) and the lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, as well as on the scientific activities of the “lost” Surrey and London Institutions. Well versed in the arts and humanities, Dr Kurzer had a great love of classical music, books and ornithology. He enjoyed long walks by the Thames and in the Lea Valley. He was a kind and generous man who hid his many talents.

    As a result of hospitalisation three years ago, Dr Kurzer reluctantly moved from his London flat to a residential home. Accompanied by his familiar writing desk and chair, he continued to work at his desk, retaining his mental acuity until the end. I feel privileged to have been his friend. He is survived by a nephew, William, and cousin, Heinz. His sister pre-deceased him.

    Stanley Langer

    Dr Frederick Kurzer: born May 29, 1922. Died October 11, 2017