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Robert Herzenberg
(1885-1955)

Robert Herzenberg was born in Libau, Kurland, in what is now Latvia, on September 19, 1885, the son of Russian Jews Fanny Gerson and Leonhard Herzenberg. He became interested in minerals in the fifth grade, when he discovered that his school possessed a neglected mineral collection which he then organized.

He attended various universities and polytechnic institutes in Germany and Latvia, eventually obtaining a PhD in mineralogy from the University of Hamburg in 1911. Following this he became a lecturer, and curator of mineralogy at the university, which required German citizenship. He applied for it, but could not receive it until Russia released him. With the outbreak of WWI, the release requirement disappeared and he became subject to the draft in 1914. He volunteered for service in the German army to avoid the draft, and spent three years as a Russian translator.

After the war life in Germany was difficult, especially when the hyperinflation arrived, which wiped out Robert's savings. He survived thanks to having his own mineralogical laboratory, which he called the Institut für Praktische Mineralogie und Geologie, selling mineral specimens and providing analyses.

In 1925 Robert was recruited to establish an assay laboratory in La Paz, Bolivia. When he arrived, he found that the company that had recruited him was bankrupt. But he met a chemist who needed help, and Robert worked with him until 1926, when he was hired by Mauricio Hochschild as chief chemist for the S.A.M.I. laboratory in Oruro.

Robert married his first cousin, Gerda Gerson, in Antofagasta, Chile, in 1932 together they had one son, Leonardo, born in 1934.

In the 1930s, life for Jews back in Germany was becoming increasingly difficult every day, and Robert did what he could to take in family members who fled the Nazis, many of whom lived with him in a new house he had built in Oruro. Around the start of WWII he founded a school for the children of German and other expatriates, so they would not have to attend the German (Nazi) school where kindergarteners were taught to say "Heil Hitler!"

Robert continued running the Hochschld lab, and during his stay in Oruro discovered eight new mineral species: kolbeckine (1932; later proven to be herzenbergite, named after Herzenberg in 1934 by Paul Ramdohr), gumucionite (1933; later shown to be sphalerite plus realgar), blockite (1935, later proven to be penroseite), ahlfeldite (1935), brunckite (1938; later proven to be sphalerite), siouxite (later redescribed as varlamoffite), rooseveltite (1946), and montesite (1949, later shown to be lead-rich herzenbergite).

When the Chilean mines were nationalized he chose to stay with the laboratory even though Hochschild offered him retirement. His dedication to his family and the lab continued until his death at the age of 70 in Santiago, Chile, on October 24, 1955.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg City Directory advertisement, 1920s.
The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg 55 x 95 mm;
1919-1925
The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg 43 x 73 mm;
1919-1925
The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg 39 x 40 mm
1919-1925
The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg 39 x 50 mm
1925/1926
The Mineralogical Record - Robert Herzenberg 50 x 49 mm;
personal collection label, Oruro; 1925-1955
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