Plaque unveiled to honour work of Sir Hans Krebs

The contribution made by Sir Hans Krebs to Biochemistry in Oxford has been commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque on the New Biochemistry building.

(L-R) Professor Raymond Dwek, Frank Harding and Lord John Krebs

This is the first in what is hoped to be a programme of plaques unveiled across the country from the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) recognising the significant contribution that refugees who fled Nazi Germany made to the UK.

The occasion was attended by Sir Hans Krebs’ two sons and daughter, and by members of the department, the AJR and the Oxford Jewish Community and students.

Sir Hans Krebs came to England in 1933 as a refugee from Germany where he had trained as a doctor. Shortly before he emigrated, he identified the urea cycle, a cycle of biochemical reactions occurring in humans and other animals that converts harmful ammonia to urea.

Although he had offers to move to Switzerland and the USA, Krebs decided to settle in England having been warmly welcomed there whilst on a trip a few years earlier. He initially worked in the Biochemistry department in Cambridge under Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins and then moved to the University of Sheffield in 1935.

It was during his time in Sheffield that he identified the citric acid cycle, a key sequence of metabolic pathways that produces energy in cells. Now known as the Krebs cycle, the discovery earned Krebs a Nobel Prize in 1953 which he shared with another German Jewish refugee, Fritz Albert Lipmann, who had emigrated to the USA.

Krebs moved to Oxford as Professor of Biochemistry in 1954 and remained working in the department until 1967.

Speaking at the unveiling, Professor Raymond Dwek from the department said that Sir Hans Krebs was responsible for the growth of Biochemistry in Oxford. The Krebs Tower which the department occupied until 2008 was built by the Rockefeller Foundation for Krebs.

He went on to add that in the 1960s, various Jewish refugee organisations launched a ‘Thank you Britain Fund’, raising £90,000 for ‘research and lectures in the field of human studies.’ On presenting the money to the British Academy in 1965, Krebs said:

‘No sum of money can adequately and appropriately express our gratefulness to the British people. Perhaps the only proper way for us to try and repay the debt is to make a continuous effort to be useful citizens…fully identifying ourselves with communal life of the country and offering our services whenever the occasion arises.’

Frank Harding, a Trustee of the AJR, told those present that Krebs and other refugees had made a tremendous impact across a wide range of fields in the UK. He regarded the commemorative plaques as a follow up from the ‘Thank you Britain Fund’.

One of Sir Hans Krebs’ sons, Lord John Krebs, unveiled the plaque and spoke about his father’s gratitude towards those who had helped him settle in England. Lord Krebs, who is a zoologist and Principal of Jesus College Oxford, said that he was honoured to be asked to unveil the plaque recognising his father’s contribution to science.





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