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Prof. Dr. Gerhard Simonsohn deceased

Prof. aD Dr. Gerhard Simonsohn

Prof. aD Dr. Gerhard Simonsohn
Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher

The Department of Physics at Freie Universität Berlin mourns the passing of Professor Dr. Gerhard Simonsohn, who died on May 29, 2022, at the age of 97.

News from May 30, 2022

Gerhard Simonsohn changed to Freie Universität Berlin from the former University Unter den Linden in 1948 as a student of physics and mathematics. He belongs to the first generation of alumni of our university.

Gerhard Simonsohn grew up in Spandau. A stumbling stone in front of his house commemorates his father Gustav Simonsohn, who was deported to Buchenwald in 1941 and murdered there. His son Gerhard - expelled from high school - completed an apprenticeship as an electrician during that time. Afterwards he worked at the Telefunken company. Only after the war he was allowed to catch up on his higher education entrance qualification. He later documented all this in his book: "Life in the shadow of growing disaster".

In the course of his professional career, as a scholarship holder of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German National Academic Foundation), he completed his physics diploma in 1955, his doctorate in 1960, his habilitation in 1970, and in the same year he was appointed C3 professor. He developed into an expert in optics and spectroscopy. His equipment is partially still in use today.

His passion, however, was teaching. His lectures were popular and highly appreciated by the students. In addition, Mr. Simonsohn played a major role in the reorganization of the lab courses: He selected the topics and experiments to be covered and adapted them to the requirements of the practical course. The experimental setups realized at that time proved to be successful and are partly still in operation today.

A major focus of his scientific work was also the historical reappraisal of the National Socialist era. For this purpose, he collected documents that clarified the disastrous developments and exposed the perpetrators. Several times he was invited to give lectures and seminars - in Germany and abroad - to tell mostly young audience about his experience as an affected contemporary witness. What remains in memory is his constantly repeated admonition: "First, it is hardly noticeable, and everything seems (almost) normal. So be vigilant!" Mr. Simonsohn has given his documentation to Yad Vashem.

Mr. Simonsohn also witnessed, shaped, and documented the development of the Freie Universität Berlin up to the eventful '68. After his retirement, he continued to work on historical issues, such as the role of the churches during National Socialism. He was a very clear, highly competent and extremely valued interlocutor on all these topics until the end. He was always an exceptionally gracious and modest colleague. We will never forget Gerhard Simonsohn!

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