George Klein (biologist)

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For other people named George Klein, see George Klein (disambiguation).
Georg Klein

George Klein, Georg Klein or Klein György (July 28, 1925 – December 10, 2016) was a Hungarian-Swedish biologist who specialized in cancer research. Klein also authored a dozen non-scientific books on a wide range of topics, of which several are 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]

Apart from his scientific work, he wrote popular books of which three 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).

When Klein settled in Sweden in 1947, he started spelling his first name Georg in Swedish and George in English.


George and Eva Klein in 1979[2]

Klein was born as Klein György to an assimilated 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]

Klein wrote in Pietà and elsewhere about his experiences during the Holocaust as a teenager in Budapest, during the German invasion of Hungary. Between May and July 1944, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp to be "resettled," according to the Germans, but 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 saw an eyewitness report about what was happening in Auschwitz. The report had been compiled by Rudolf Vrba (1924–2006) and Alfréd Wetzler (1918–1988), who had escaped from the camp in April that year. It warned that most of those arriving at the camp were being killed.[4]

Klein tried to warn relatives and friends, but many, particularly the older generation, did not believe what the report said. Klein wrote about his feelings as a Cassandra figure, telling the truth but not being believed. When his own time came to board one of the trains, he decided instead to run, which almost certainly saved his life.[4] Decades later, he looked for 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,[5] and described the beginnings of his career and meeting his wife in an article written jointly with his wife.[6] He married Eva Klein, another leading 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] Klein died on December 10, 2016 at the age of 91.[8]


  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."
    • Also see Liska, Vivian and Nolden, Thomas. Contemporary Jewish Writing in Europe: A Guide. Indiana University Press, 2008, p. 67.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Stenberg, Peter. Contemporary Jewish Writing In Sweden: An Anthology. University of Nebraska Press, 2004, p. 137.
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "About the Cover.". Cancer immunology research. 3 (2). February 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  8. ^ KI nyheter. "Georg Klein har avlidit". Karolinska Institutet. Retrieved 11 December 2016. 

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