Otto Exner was a colleague of my father Marvin Charton. I didn’t have the privilege of meeting Otto until October of 1999. I spent my childhood listening to the stories about him.
I remember one letter my Dad‘s friend John Shorter sent from England. John’s part of the letter was typed and serious about Chemistry. Otto hand wrote in the margin, “Marvin, we talked about your children, and your cats.” To quote a line from the movie, Nuns on the Run, isn’t that a little like saying “Do not read this note?”
Otto was from Prague, Czech Republic (Praha in Czech). Prague is one of the most enjoyable cities I have ever visited. Otto had a rough time under Communism. At one point, as a punishment from the Communist Party, he had to work in a factory.
I was warned before I arrived there; he can’t see, he hates seeing churches and museums and he is grumpy.
We were staying in a hotel in Prague called the Hotel Harmony and we were meeting him in the lobby. It was like something out of a bad spy novel. He had a bag so I would recognize him, I had a book my father gave me to give to him.
This Seventy something year old man had more energy than we did, for goodness sake. He couldn’t wait to show us HIS city.
My favorite part? He took us to the Opera House. There are statutes of various composers on the roof. During W0rld War II, an SS Officer demanded all the statues of Jewish composers be removed. The enlisted men asked, “Which ones are the Jewish ones?” The SS Officer was disgusted and barked “Grab the one with the largest nose!” The statue was brought down, someone looked and said, “Fools, that is Richard Wagner!”
No statue came down again.
And so I met one of the great men of my Dad’s part of Chemistry and had a very personal tour of Prague. Thank you Dr. Otto Exner!