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Chapter 5: Last Years at Polytechnic


5.1 Secretary on the admission committee (1954)

In what follows I refer to my relatives living abroad. My father had three sisters who left Poland before WWII. Contacts with them were lost after my parents emigrated to the USSR. But in 1945 America was an ally of the USSR and I decided to send a postcard to Bronka, who had settled in the US. Happy to find us, she responded immediately and we corresponded after returning to Poland. She helped us establish contact with the two other sisters, Franka in Italy and Tunia in France. Their husbands had been deported but survived.

Tunia visited us in Warsaw in 1946, coming as a doctor accompanying a large transport of repatriated Polish citizens. Later I learned that Bronka started a procedure for bringing us to the US. But nothing came of this. Corresponding with relatives was considered a sign of disloyalty after the Stalinist system was established in Poland, post-WWII. A person applying for a job or admission to a school had to fill out a long form containing questions about relatives abroad.


My cousin, Jakov Guterman, 1946. He and his mother hid in a monestary while his father was in the Polish Resistance. Yakov was the first Polish cousin I met. All others perished during the Holocaust.


I always mentioned foreign relatives in these documents, including those who emigrated to Israel, around 1948. These were Franka with her family and Eva (my mother’s sister-in-law) with her family. Eva’s husband, Symcha, who was in AK (Polish Home Resistance Army), had been killed during the Warsaw uprising, in 1944. The notes he wrote, during German occupation, have been published in several languages, but not yet in English. I know this from his son, Jakov, a pearl of my correspondents. So much for the general background. In what follows I mention C, my father’s friend. His work involved traveling abroad. Here are my entries:

This morning I went to see C. He told me that Tunia’s family is well in Paris. They have a comfortable apartment and a well-equipped medical cabinet. They also have a private automobile. Henri [Tunia’s husband] is a very busy doctor. Tunia is a communist sympathizer, he is a liberal. They are happy. Tunia is studying again, to become a medical radiologist.

What should my attitude be? They are my relatives. They sent me three gifts: a watch, three slide-rules, and now the pen with which I am writing. I don’t think they are bourgeois; they are working. This is good. They are progressive intellectuals fighting for free France. Henri is also working for the Red Cross. I want to write to them. But what if my party friends find out that I am corresponding with French bourgeoisie? Bronka has two sons; Franka has a son and a daughter.

I know what to do. I will be writing to them and telling them about our progress in building socialism, etc., etc. [...]
Tunia and Henri did become members of the French Communist Party, but that was certainly not due to our correspondence. Henri’s unpublished memoir, which Linda and I translated into English, has to do mostly with his WWII experience. The idea of telling my own story was probably triggered by his example.

Advanced mathematics continues to be my weakest point. That prevents me from mastering electrodynamics. [...] At the meeting of our section we were talking about scientific research. It was interesting. Even more interesting was a private discussion among five people, after the meeting. D was very critical of Pawlowski’s chair. You have so many rooms, he said, and your three lab assistants do nothing scientifically important. [...]

I have a new party assignment for this summer. For three months I will be a secretary of the admission committee at our College of Telecommunication. F will also serve on that commission. It means I will not be able to go on vacation. But it’s an important assignment and I will do my best. Fortunately, the assignment starts after the end of examinations. This will be much more than clerical work; only about 25% of applicants will be admitted. The commission task is to be sure that only the best are selected. The term “best” means not only academically best, but also “not class enemies, or children of class enemies.” [...]

5.2 Attitude toward religion (1954)

Suppose that a man has a wife. He is away from home and meets an attractive girl. Should he resist or should he take advantage of a favorable situation, hoping that his wife will not find out? According to universal morality (ours and theirs), one should resist in order to protect good family relations. But what if both spouses have nothing against occasional side relations? Would this also be immoral? I don’t know. What would a rational explanation of such immorality be? I know how a religiously moral person would answer the question. But how should a communist answer it? [...]

I went to a concert last night and enjoyed the philharmonic orchestra performance. Perhaps I should go to concerts more often. What is the essence of pleasure from listening to music? [...] Relations with K
[another girl] will probably end now. She went to her hometown and decided to stay for another day, to attend a gathering with friends. As she was ready to leave a young nun approach her and asked about her relations with God. They had a long conversation and K realized how far she had drifted away. She made her confession and now, she told me, “I am a totally different person.” There is nothing I can do about this. [...] There was an interesting case yesterday at the meeting of our executive committee. F was recommended as a party candidate. But he was married in a church and his child was baptized. After a long conversation, with him and separately, we supported the recommendation. He is very honest, and a very effective ZMP activist. What can be better than this? He is not a believer but his wife is; she insisted on the church ceremony. He said he will try to change her attitude toward religion.

And here is another example of a similar situation. We recommended that C should become a party candidate. He is also a devoted activist, highly reliable and a good thinker. He told me that he broke with religion several months ago. But he does go to church with his family at home. He depends materially on his parents, and knows how his mother feels about these things. I want to continue being a good son, he said. I repeated these words at our meeting. Subsequently I learned that two other devoted ZMP members, R and K, are in a similar situation. People usually do not like to talk about such personal problems publicly. [...] This morning I had a pleasant surprise. M said “Guess what? Your agitation was effective; I decided to work as a volunteer at the collective farm this summer. I persuaded five other people to sign up, too.” All of them are from electro-medicine, one year ahead of me. [...]

It seems to me, looking back, that “historical necessity” made Stalinism seem scientific, while  “Stalin knows best,”  and its emphasis on infallibility, made Stalinism a kind of religion. That was only one of many contradictions within the Soviet system.




Gathering of Polytechnic ZMP students and assitants at the May First parade, 1951. Ludwik's shirts is unbuttoned.

Today I spent some time with S, a philosophy assistant at Warsaw University. I am surprisingly honest with him. No one else knows about my reflections on sexual relations, and problems with Anya, Ika, and K. He said that not saying everything is not the same thing as lying. S is very honest with me as well. He showed me letters from his girlfriend; then he read from letters that were never sent to other girls. “Such items are my souvenirs,” he added. I think his letters are like diaries. They are not organized into notebooks, as my diaries are. But they serve the same purpose--diaries are instruments for clear thinking. [...] I wanted to tell him about the “Future Engineers” [a never-finished novel I started writing]. But I am glad I didn’t. He will probably be the first to see my draft, after it is ready. [...]

Once again, I insulted my mother today; I am very sorry for what I said. I have no right to bark at her, and to call her names. This would probably not have happened if I had my own space. But our “apartment” is nothing but one small room in the orphanage--her bed, my bed, and one table for everything. My mother is not talking to me. I know she will forgive me but she is hurt. She has enough trouble with orphanage people; why should I be a cause of additional aggravation? [...]

I am about 2/3 ready for exams. The plan is being followed faithfully. [...] I got an A in crystallography. That is a good beginning. [...] I learned today that the first nuclear electric power plant (5 MW) started to operate in Moscow. This is our reply to the hydrogen bomb. The entire world will see that we are for peace, not war. [...]


5.3 Thinking about post graduate studies in the USSR (1954)

The Polytechnic archivist told me about existence of files on prewar students. My father studied here before the war, I said, can you show me his file? We went to the basement and she found the dust-covered folder for the Civil Engineering department. The only thing I took was his photo; he was about my age at the time. But I read various documents. One of them specified that his religion was ‘Mojzheshowa’—[that of Moses]. And his first name was Meyer, not Marek. He could not have imagined that his own son would be studying here. I was very curious about his grades. Most were As and Bs but I also saw several Cs. [...]

I am certainly good enough for post-graduate studies in the USSR. That is what I said today, at the party executive committee. Now it is no longer merely a consideration. On Thursday I will go to the Soviet Consulate, to find out how to proceed. [...] Professor Pawlowski asked for an outline of my research project. He suggested that I make some changes, emphasizing that it is better not to be very specific, at this early stage. [...]

In the Radium Institute, where I am now, I am very impressed by Gwiazdowski’s vacuum-gas apparatus; he is an expert on making Geiger counters. He will be my supervisor [...] Michal is also working on his dissertation project here, but in the department of Nuclear Chemistry. He is not happy there. I am lucky to find a place I like. [...] It is so comfortable to be at home alone; mother went to a sanatorium. Today I visited Suja
[her sister] to see my 8-year old cousin Krysia’s Christmas tree. Then I went to the park with Krysia. I wish I had more relatives around. [...] I am glad that C invited me to go with him to the New Year’s party at AWF [sport academy] . Hopefully we will find girls to dance with there. I will take Krysia to a children’s party tomorrow afternoon.


This is Chapter 05.
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Chapter 01 Brief Summary click
Chapter 02 Extracts From My First Notebook click
Chapter 03 Anya, Ika and Other Problems click
Chapter 04 Death of Our Leader click

Chapter 05 Last Years at Polytechnic click
Chapter 06 Beria was the Villain click
Chapter 07 Aftermaths of the 20th Congress click

Chapter 08 Warm Welcome in France click
Chapter 09 Communists Killing Communists Again click

Chapter 10 Fourth Year in Paris click
Chapter 11 Climbing Toward the Doctorate click
Chapter 12 The End of the Tunnel is Not Far click
Chapter 13 Back to Poland With the Doctorate click

Chapter 14 Missing Diaries click
Chapter 15 Year of Blessings click
Chapter 16 Appendix for questions and Comments click