Old age and need


  Portrait: Max Planck with a grandchild in the 1940s.
  The last years of Max Planck's life were darkened by the complicated conditions of wartime and its aftermath as well as by personal blows of fortune. In February 1944 his home in the Berlin suburb of Grunewald was totally gutted in a fire after an air raid and he lost almost all his possessions, including his irreplaceable scientific notebooks and diaries. He was hit even harder by the arrest of his son Erwin, who had been involved in the attempt on Hitler's life of July 20. Erwin had become his father's ` "closest and best friend" and most trusted advisor, particularly during the period of the Nazi dictatorship. Planck himself was living on the country estate of an industrialist friend, in Rogätz near Magdeburg. That is where the 87-year old witnessed the war's end under dramatic circumstances.

In May 1945 some American colleagues escorted the world-famous scholar to Göttingen, where he spent his final years among his relatives in modest circumstances. These were years of sickness and frailty. But despite his advanced age, Planck readily served as a Nestor in the reconstruction of German science. In the spring of 1946, for example, he endured the rigors of travel to England to take part in the Newton celebrations of the Royal Society and to apply his personal influence toward promoting an "improved" Germany. Planck also came to the rescue of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and assumed the presidency again during a vulnerable transitional period.

At almost ninety years of age, Max Planck died in Göttingen on 4 October 1947. The funeral services that took place three days later and, particularly, the memorials on the occasion of his 90th birthday in April 1948 in Göttingen were impressive manifestations of the general esteem for Max Planck.

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  "But I can assure you of one thing: without the help of our friends abroad, my husband would very certainly not have survived the winter.''
Marga Planck to L. Meitner, 15 June 1947

Following the funeral ceremony on 7 October 1947, six physics students from Göttingen are carrying the coffin out of St. Alban's Church.