Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Zloczow, Poland. Having survived the war, he came to the U. S. in 1949, and studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard Universities (Ph.D. 1962).
Geosi Gyasi: Can we start the interview this way: You were born Roald Safran. How did you come to be known as Hoffmann?
Roald Hoffmann: First, my mother remarried right after the war, to my stepfather, who lost his wife in the war. So I became Roald Margulies. A year later, on the way out of Poland, we thought we would get into the US easier if we were German and not Polish. The Poles were making life uncomfortable for the ethnic Germans left in Silesia, and a German village priest found a way to support his flock which did not hurt anyone – selling birth certificates of Germans killed in the war. So overnight Naftali Margulies, my stepfather, became Paul Hoffmann. My uncle forged a wedding certificate with my mother, my birth certificate was lost. And so I became Roald Hoffmann. Americans have trouble with these stories, as you can imagine.
The rest of the interview will be available in my forthcoming book (2016) by Lamar University Press Books.