George Klein (biologist)

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Georg Klein

George Klein (Georg Klein, or Klein György, 28 July 1925 – 10 December 2016) was a Hungarian-Swedish biologist who specialized in cancer research. In addition to his scientific research, he authored a dozen books on a wide range of topics, several of them collections of essays.

Klein started a tumor biology center at Karolinska Institute, and made a connection there between the Epstein-Barr virus and lymphomas and other cancers.[1] He was awarded the $100,000 prize by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation for pioneering work on cancer and the human immunity system.[2]

Three of his books have been translated into English: The Atheist and the Holy City (1990) (Swedish: Ateisten och den heliga staden); Pietà (1992), a collection of essays on whether life is worth living; and Live Now (1997).

Early life[edit]

George and Eva Klein in 1979[2]

Klein was born as Klein György to a Jewish family in the Carpathian Mountains of the Hungarian-speaking part of what is now Eastern Slovakia, and at the age of five moved to Budapest, Hungary. He attended the Berzsenyi Gymnasium.[3][4]

Holocaust in Hungary[edit]

Klein wrote in Pietà and elsewhere about his experiences during the Holocaust as a teenager in Budapest, after the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between May and July 1944, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp - to be "resettled", according to the Germans. Most were, in fact, sent to the gas chambers.

In May or June 1944, Klein was working as an assistant for the Jewish Council in Budapest, and was given a copy of the Vrba-Wetzler report, an eyewitness account of what was happening in Auschwitz. The authors, Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, had escaped from the camp in April that year. They warned that most of those arriving at the camp were being killed.[5]

Klein tried to warn family and friends, but many, particularly the older generation, would not listen. Klein wrote about his feelings as a Cassandra figure, telling the truth, but not being believed. When the time came for him to board one of the trains, he decided to run instead, which almost certainly saved his life.[5] Decades later, he looked for Rudolf Vrba, then a professor of pharmacology in Canada, to thank him, and subsequently wrote about him and his report in two essays: "The Ultimate Fear of the Traveler Returning from Hell" in Pietà (first published in Sweden in 1989), and "Confronting the Holocaust: An Eyewitness Account" (2011) in The Auschwitz Reports and the Holocaust in Hungary, edited by Randolph L. Braham and William vanden Heuvel.

Personal life[edit]

Klein moved to Sweden in 1947,[6] He married Eva Klein, another biologist, and had three children with her: a son who is a mathematician, and two daughters, one of whom is a medical doctor and the other a playwright.[7] He described the beginning of his career and meeting his wife in an article written jointly with his wife.[8] Klein died on 20 December 2016 at the age of 91.[9]


  1. ^ Rohlén-Wohlgemuth, Hilde. Svensk-judisk litteratur 1775-1994: en litteraturhistorisk översikt, 1995, p. 33: "Georg Klein (1925-) från Budapest är en världsberömd cancerforskare och professor vid Karolinska Institutet i Stockholm."
  2. ^ a b "Klein, George", National Cancer Institute.
  3. ^ Marx, George. The Voice of the Martians: Hungarian Scientists Who Shaped the 20th Century in the West. Akadémiai Kiadó, 2001, p. 71: "Georg Klein, recipient of the Letterstedt Prize in Stockholm, was born in the Carpatian Mountains in 1925, but moved to Budapest at the age of 5. He attended the Berzsenyi Gymnasium."
  4. ^ Also see Liska, Vivian and Nolden, Thomas. Contemporary Jewish Writing in Europe: A Guide. Indiana University Press, 2008, p. 67.
  5. ^ a b Klein, George (2011). "Confronting the Holocaust: An Eyewitness Account", in Randolph L. Braham and William vanden Heuvel. The Auschwitz Reports and the Holocaust in Hungary. Columbia University Press.
  6. ^ Stenberg, Peter. Contemporary Jewish Writing In Sweden: An Anthology. University of Nebraska Press, 2004, p. 137.
  7. ^ "About the Cover". Cancer immunology research. 3 (2). February 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Klein, G; Klein, E (1989). "How one thing has led to another". Annual Review of Immunology. 7: 1–33. doi:10.1146/annurev.iy.07.040189.000245. PMID 2653367. 
  9. ^ KI nyheter. "Georg Klein har avlidit". Karolinska Institutet. Retrieved 11 December 2016. 

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