Chapter 8: Warm welcome in France

8.1 Joliot-Curie (1957)

1) It is my third day in Paris [April 19, 1957]. I am overwhelmed by new experiences. But nothing is organized so far; I am like a reed bowing in the wind. Most remarkable is the reception I received from Tunia and Henri. They are full of very sincere desire to help me as much as they can. For my own good we decided to stop speaking Polish as soon as possible. I am living in a really comfortable home. […] It is time to start being organized. The areas of concern should be (a) science, (b) visiting Paris, (c) language, and (d) other things. […]

2) A letter Pawlowski wrote is likely to be very useful; it is addressed to F. Perrin, the director of French Nuclear Commissariat. Tunia will take me there. Emile and Susanne
[close friends of Tunia and Henri] were invited for dinner. He is a railroad engineer, she is a dentist. After dinner we discussed the problem of nationality (in Polish). Are Jews a nation? Is Ludwik a Jew? They were surprised when I said that I am Polish, not Jewish. Henri said that a person who needs to explain why he is not a Jew is a Jew. Susanne and Emile said that any descendant of that ancient nation is a Jew, even if he does not know it. […] Tunia and Henri went to Holland, leaving me alone. Their two little daughters, Nicole and Marie-Claude, are in a children’s camp.

3) Emile visited me today. He said in my place he would not return to Poland. He left it three decades ago, always suffering from anti- Semitism in a Polish high school. It was in France, he said, that “I felt the same as everyone else. No one asked me about nationality or religion here.” In 1939 he served in the French army and survived as a French prisoner of war. Most of Tunia’s friends are Polish Jews; all of them speak French at home. […]

4) Pages and pages of my new notebook are filled with reflections similar to those I composed in Poland. I frequently compared standards of living in France and in Poland. What a difference. Freedom to travel and see the world, for most young people, was limited only by money. Naturally, some had much more than others. They did not need passports and visas to travel in western Europe. It was clear to me that people in France were much closer to what communism promised, in terms of standard of living and personal freedom, than we were in Poland. During the first month I met many different people; my diary describes what they said, and what I thought. Tunia enrolled me at Alliance Francaise, a school for foreigners learning French.

5) On May 31 we had an appointment with Francis Perrin, the French High Commissioner for atomic energy. Pawlowski’s letter was addressed to Perrin. He read it and said that the university environment would be better for me. “Frederic Joliot-Curie,” he added, “will probably have a place for you. If not then come back and we might find something for you in the Saclay research center.” That is great! What is next? We will call Joliot’s secretary tomorrow morning and ask for an appointment. Everything will be decided very soon. […]

6) Joliot did not hide his disappointment that the letter of recommendation was addressed to Perrin and not to him. He told us that he and Pawlowski were friends, when Marie Curie directed the institute. [Tunia translated this to me later because I did not understand more than 5%.] Up to several years ago Joliot occupied the post of the High Commissioner for atomic energy; he was removed because he is a communist. This probably has something to do with his disappointment. But then he said--”it is not Ludwik’s fault”--and we turned to the purpose of my visit. He suggested a new three-year program (called “third cycle”) that might lead to a doctoral dissertation project. […]

7) Then he and Tunia talked about current political events, for more than an hour. Joliot chain-smoked the whole time. They talked about the Hungarian uprising, events in Poland, and capitalism. Tunia told him about my father. He said he was aware, even before the 20th Congress, that most victims of Stalin’s purges were honest communists. […]

Professor Cezary Pawlowski (center) with Frederic Joliot-Curie (left) and Irene Joliot-Curie (right), at a Warsaw Radium Institute laboratory, 1936.

8)The course suggested by Joliot does not start till October. It is clear that I must review calculus and its applications, in order not to fail the first year. But should I study in France or should I return to Warsaw and study at home? What are the arguments for going home? (a) My books are in Poland and summertime is perfect for studying. (b) I will be earning money. (c) No one will think that I have “chosen freedom.” (d) My mother will be happier; I will help her set up the apartment she now has. (e) I will not be a financial burden for Tunia and Henri. (f) I might be able to arrange for some kind of scholarship for studying in France.

9) And what are the arguments for not going home? (a) Political situation might change and I might not be allowed to study in France. (b) Learning French in Warsaw will be much less effective than in Paris. (c) I might be drafted, for example, to be with the colonel who invited me to work for the army. (d) Political preoccupations, and party tasks, might interfere with studying mathematics. I also do not know how to proceed with my passport and visa, if I decide to stay longer than allowed. Do I have to ask for permission to extend my leave of absence at Polytechnic? […]

10) It is horrible what happens in Hungary now. Six people were condemned to death, including a priest, a professor, and an orchestra director. Today I met a Hungarian girl who was in the third year of telecommunication when the uprising started. She was fighting invaders till December; in January she crossed the border and came here to study. What motivated her? Probably desire to defend national honor. Would she be among those condemned to death, if she remained in Hungary? Algeria is another spot of horror. And how many people were killed in Madagascar, about ten years ago? Where are fraternity, equality, and mutual respect? Horrors, in the name of “ends justifying means,” are all over.

11) The goal of capitalists is to enrich themselves; our goal is to improve the world. Human relations were predicted to improve after revolutionary elimination of private ownership. That is why we are expected to be better than them. Can I be sure that Khrushchev will not decide to drop a super-bomb on the US? Can I be sure that one day I will not face a sadistic torturer trying to extract a confession of treason? Why? Why? Why? Why can’t people be better? […] Karl Marx, a man of culture, criticized leaders of Paris Commune for not using terror, for trying to be better than their enemies. […] Germans killed with gas in Poland; Russians killed with cold in Siberia. The term “proletarian dictatorship” was invented by Marx. […] Dialectical Materialism is a very flexible ideology; it is a tool to explain anything one wants. […] My progress in French is very slow. […]

Joliot-Curie, as I remember him. The photo was probably taken in 1957.

Tunia and Ludwik in 2004. She was 90 at that time, and still driving in Paris.

12) Another political bomb exploded today in Moscow.
[Well-known Soviet leaders] Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov, and Shepilov were unanimously expelled from the Central Committee. Where is all this heading? Perhaps Molotov and Malenkov will be blamed for what is still going on in Hungary. They may also be blamed for the cult of personality. But Khrushchev, who is in control, was also a very close associate of Stalin. […]

13) Tunia just came home and said that the French Communist Party building is surrounded by police. What does this have to do with events in Moscow? Perhaps they are expecting a demonstration of some kind. Tunia and Henri belonged to the party. But they resigned when Jewish doctors in Moscow were accused of plotting medical assassinations of Soviet leaders.

8.2 Meeting People (1957)

14) Ludwik, you are not working as hard as you should. It is middle of July and the program will start in about three months. All will be in French. Translating from French to Polish is not enough; you should also be translating from Polish to French. You should be able to say what you think or want. […] Two days ago Tunia and I went to Orsay [a town near Paris], where the university nuclear research laboratory is being constructed. Joliot was not there; we were received by his assistant, Monsieur Teillac. He showed me the outline of the program and described courses. I was pleased to learn that familiarity with quantum mechanics is not a prerequisite; they will start it from the beginning, at the second year. […]

15) My passport was extended for three months. This is probably enough to formalize everything, both here and in Poland. Most of my time is now spent studying French. The Alliance Francaise teacher asked us to orally describe our countries. I was emotionally touched by what an Israeli student, a young painter, said: “Long ago we were like other people, we cultivated our own land. Then we were dispersed. The only trade available to us was usury, a dirty trade forbidden to others. But we also produced great thinkers, such as Spinoza, Einstein and Trotsky. Why do communist anti-Semites identify us with capitalists and why do capitalist anti-Semites say that we are communists? Israel is the end of the abnormality created thousands of years ago.” […]

16) My first day in Orsay is over. First I went to a lecture by V. Weisskopf, the author of a well-known American nuclear physics textbook. He spoke in French. Unfortunately, I was able to understand no more than about 20%. He made a very good impression on me; the talk was rather informal and well received. Then Pierre Radvanyi, who is a close associate of Joliot’s, showed me the laboratories. Some of them are still unfinished. We had a lunch in a canteen, situated in a wooded area, about 500 meters away from the labs. […]

17) It took me nearly one hour to reach Orsay by subway and then by train. It would be desirable to live much closer. It is about time to find something for myself. […] Two days ago I was happy to start the lab; my task was to measure the energy of gamma rays from cesium, by using a scintillation spectrometer based on a single channel analyzer. After writing the report [it probably consisted of numbers and plots rather than French text] I will be working with a mass spectrometer. They suggested that I start the lab one month before other program participants. […]

18) Another strike prevented me from going to Orsay today. It is the third strike in the last one and a half months. I like the laboratory very much. People are very friendly; even senior scientists are approachable and helpful. Joliot himself is a good example. He eats in the same canteen as the rest of us. Yesterday I met a very nice woman, who speaks Russian, learned from her parents, very well. She gave me her doctoral dissertation, defended last year. It is dedicated to her father; he was killed in Paris, a French resistor fighting Germans.

19) I suspect that she, and many other researchers here, are communists. But I do not ask. Listening to what they say I conclude that many of them are at the same level of belief at which I was before Stalin’s death. Yes, I am generalizing from one case. The man who talked to me does not trust capitalist newspapers; the one he reads is sufficient to him. Is he aware that being a communist becomes more difficult when one is exposed to many points of view? Probably not. […]

20) I am now working under direct supervision of Radvanyi and Joliot. The project is to replicate a historically important experiment of Joliot’s, to be shown at an exhibit somewhere. My role is minimal; I am making a paraffin moderator. But Joliot did come to see me at work, and he talked with me on several occasions. I wish I could understand him better. Radvanyi said that Joliot is satisfied with my work, especially with my setup for melting paraffin without burning it. […]

21) A Japanese lady, from College de France, asked me to help her in a project with the cloud chamber. I will do this with pleasure. That is the best way to learn. I am also helping Philips engineers, constructing a synchrocyclotron. They are from Holland. I am really lucky to have so many opportunities to learn directly from experts. […]

22) I have been in Orsay for more than two months without knowing about our Cockroft-Walton accelerator. Today, during a lecture, I learned that it is nearly ready for research. They will use it to produce mono-energetic neutrons. I came to the right place at the right time. […]

8.3 Under direct supervision of Radvanyi and Joliot (1957)

23) A personal letter, dated 8/11/1957, was attached to the diary. It was from J, a close high school friend. She was a Polish agronomist on a large state farm. Unfortunately, I do not remember what I wrote in the letter to which she was responding. Here are some fragments from her letter.

“[…] 24) So much about my personal life. What is happening here now would be less painful if I were not a party member. But I am a secretary and a person responsible for ideological work. Everything is disintegrating now but I have no energy to do anything. The shock was too strong and my faith was too naive. I am not the only one to be deceived and disappointed. We talked about this; I am not expecting any arguments. I am ready to resign. I must do it; otherwise I will be showing a sign of weakness. You are abroad; how does all this look from your perspective? Do you have time to think about this? I am so impressed that Joliot-Curie took you. I hope that this will not spoil you. […] Write about everything. Send me your mother’s address. Best regards; I hope you are not going to choose freedom.” […]

25) And here is a letter I wrote on 5/8/1957 to E; I do not remember why it was not sent. I wrote: “[...] First was Vienna, where I stopped for one day. So many cars, so many stores full of everything. I had no time for visiting famous places. Then Paris, also cars, stores, and the Eiffel Tower. Here my aunt received me as if were her son, not just a poor relative.

26) So far I’ve been to the Louvre and to Folies Bergere
[a theater with nearly naked dancers]. I also went to a communist meeting dedicated to the anniversary of Lenin’s birthday. I met some interesting people, for example, a taxi driver who was a White Army officer; he escaped from Crimea after Wrangel’s army was defeated. How much he hates communists; how much he loves Russia. No progress was made as far as my doctoral plans are concerned. […]

27) A Paris bookstore specializing in Soviet books might be very useful to me. I already bought several science books. French books are much more expensive. Standards of living in France are about two to four times higher than in Poland. Unemployment is minimal. But I saw people sleeping on streets, and under bridges. I was told that they prefer to beg rather than work. […] Please write to me about what is going on in Poland, and at Polytechnic.” […]

28) It is the first day of 1958. One week in Chamonix (organized vacations for students) was great; I will return to Paris tomorrow. Skiing was good and, once again, my body got what it wanted. [...] I am full of energy for another semester of constructive studies.

This is Chapter 08.
Go to the PREVIOUS CHAPTER . . . or . . . Go to the NEXT CHAPTER

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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