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Stranger's Kindness That Led to a Nobel Prize

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Imagine it's the middle of the night and a stranger knocked on your door, asking you to legally declare your financial support for an immigrant family that you had never heard of and would never meet. What would you do?

Nobel Prize medal

Well, that's what happened to Barnet Yudin, a Russian-American Jew living in New Jersey, when one night in 1938 a stranger, who was desperately going door-to-door, appealed to Yudin asking if he could help a Jewish family in Germany flee to North America.

Yudin was a paint salesmen and figured that he wasn't being asked for a donation; just to sign an affidavit of support for an entire family, saying he would financially keep them afloat if required, until they could find their footing in a new country.

It meant he had to reveal banking information, his net worth, monthly income, and more, all in order to help the Penzias family secure immigration visas; almost certainly sparing them from Nazi concentration camps. All this he did, and was given the promise that the family would never contact him, reports National Geographic.

Courtesy of Yudin’s act of kindness, the Penzias family made it to the shores of North America. The older of the two sons, Arno, would go on to become the physicist that discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background - one of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting the Big Bang Theory of the universe, for which he collected the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978.

Arno, now 89, is retired and living in California, and his son David came across some family papers containing an envelope. Inside was a copy of that affidavit from Yudin, and all the personal bank documents he provided to certify it. Amazed at the kindness this stranger had shown to his father and grandfather, David did some sleuthing and eventually came across the name of someone he was fairly certain was Yudin’s relative, a New Jersey resident named Robert.

The call was a strange one, but soon, more of Yudin’s descendants were involved in piecing together the remarkable story of the family patriarch.

At David’s request, the two families got together at Yudin’s grandson’s home. Together they exchanged documents and memories.

“None of these people would exist today without Barnet Yudin,” David said, emphasizing the difference that Yudin’s generous heart had made.


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