Swiss biochemist of Polish origin, from 1934 a professor at the University of Basel. In 1933, independently of Walter Harworth, he synthesized vitamin C. As a result of work on the adrenal cortex hormones, he isolated 26 hormones, including cortisone. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine (with Edward Kendall and Philips Hench) for his work on the structure and biological action of adrenocortical hormones.

He was born in Włocławek, in an assimilated Jewish family cultivating Polish traditions. His father was a chemical engineer. He received his name in honour of Tadeusz Kościuszko, just as his brother became Adam to commemorate Adam Mickiewicz. From the age of eight until his death, he lived in Switzerland, where his parents, who later acquired Polish citizenship, fled Russia due to pogroms against Jews.

Best birthday gift? Two or three extra years to complete my research

In the interwar period, he visited his native country and his family living there several times. All his Polish relatives died in extermination camps during World War II. Until the end of his life, he understood Polish well, and spoke worse. He supported the development of Poles studying and working at Swiss universities by funding them scholarships. He was also the scientific supervisor of many Polish doctors and scientists.

He maintained contacts with Polish universities. In 1978 he received an honorary doctorate from the Polish University in London, and in 1995 from the Medical Academy in Gdańsk. From 1988 he was an honorary member of the Włocławek Scientific Society. He received the Medal of Merit for Włocławek, and in 1994, honorary citizenship of that city. In 1994, he became a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

On the 110th anniversary of the birth of prof. Reichstein, as in Meritum 4/2007, a letter from the Pomeranian-Kujawska Izba Lekarska, Stanisław Sterkowicz, a doctor and journalist, mentioned him:

“He was characterized by outstanding empathy. He fulfilled the educational ideals of ancient Greece: beautiful and good. He was characterized by a complete harmony of the virtues of soul and body, modesty and nobility. His charity and kindness were especially striking. He did not refuse his help to anyone who needed it. From his own funds, he offered scholarships to poor students, supported orphanages, and helped poor artists. He did everything selflessly. Not for applause or gratitude. In our modern times so full of alienation, his personality was extraordinary and captivating with his selfless goodness”.

I feel like a Swiss of Polish-Jewish origin

Prof. Tadeusz Reichstein, when asked who he considered himself, replied: “I feel a Swiss of Polish-Jewish origin.” He died in Basel, shortly after turning 100.

Oprócz potrzeby rozwiązania problemu wspólnego języka, Zamenhofa martwił podział ludzi z powodów religijnych. W 1901 r. wydał pod pseudonimem „Homo sum” (łac. człowiekiem jestem) książkę pt. „Hilelizm jako rozwiązanie kwestii żydowskiej”. Hilelizm (nazwa utworzona od imienia Hillela) zakładał zbliżenie Żydów do wyznawców innych religii. Poza byciem wyznawcami judaizmu powinni oni służyć państwu, w którym mieszkają, a religia i język powinny być sprawami prywatnymi. Hilelizm nie został dobrze przyjęty przez Żydów, ale także esperantystów, traktujących tę ideę jako prywatną sprawę autora. W 1906 r. Zamenhof zmodyfikował nieco pogląd na kwestię religii i stworzył ideę homaranizmu. Zakładała ona pełne zjednoczenie wszystkich narodów, jeden wspólny język i jedną religią.  Została zaadresowana głównie do esperantystów, ale również zyskała bardzo niewielkie poparcie na świecie.

Ludwik Zamenhof zmarł 14 kwietnia 1917 r. w Warszawie. Podczas pogrzebu w pożegnalnej mowie rabin i kaznodzieja  Samuel Poznański powiedział m.in.: „Przyjdzie chwila, że cała polska ziemia zrozumie, jaką promienną sławę dał ten wielki syn swojej ojczyźnie…”. Esperantyści szacują, że dziś na świecie jest ponad tysiąc miejsc noszących imię Zamenhofa lub nazwę esperanto. Dokładnie nie wiadomo, ilu jest samych esperantystów; najczęściej podawana jest liczba kilkuset tysięcy osób znających ten język.