Chapter 9: Communists killing communists again

9.1 The goal and its negation (1959)

My French is getting better, as far as understanding is concerned. But it is still very limited, especially when I have to write something. Fortunately, I have some important books, including Blatt and Weisskopf, in Russian. […] My general impression is that other program participants are not much better prepared than I am, except that French is their own language. […] What would I do without Tunia and Henri? Perhaps the scholarship will be given to me for the second year. I will try to arrange this in Warsaw, during the summer. […]

W is a Canadian friend of Henri’s; they served in the same French Army unit in 1939/1940. He is rich, clever and very cynical. His advice is that I should take advantage of the situation and escape to the US. They need people with your background, he said, you will have no difficulties finding a job paying at least 400 dollars per month. Poland is not for you; they will never have confidence in you, because of your connections in the west. Sooner or later they will put you in a situation in which you will have only two choices, to become a villain or be killed. Chose freedom and forget about them.

I told him that bad things can happen to me no matter where I am. Poland gave me everything and I will not betray it. I will also not betray Pawlowski without whose help I would be nowhere, or my Polish friends. Poland sent me here because it needs me. I will return; I will work for my country. […]

Is this position right? It is indeed possible that one day someone will write on my door “you are a dirty Jew; we do not want you.” It is also possible that my son will come home crying because he was beaten as a Jew, as I often was in Russia. My promising career might end suddenly, for example, in a Kolyma gold mine. Even then I will probably not regret my decision to be a communist. Let historians and poets reflect on the path to a goal leading to its own negation. Hegel will probably be quoted. I believe that what was started at the 20th Congress will lead to better communism than when Stalin was alive. […]

[How naive I was, writing the above. How different I am today.] What will I do with this diary? I am going to leave it with Tunia. And I will bring all my old diaries here. […] Ludwik, why are you talking with this diary so much? Because this is my way of praying […]

9.2 Who will replace Joliot? (1958)

I am eager to start working on a project suggested by Radvanyi--construction of an ionization chamber for high-energy neutrons. It will be based on fission of bismuth and will be the first detector of that kind in France, and probably in Europe. […]

What a shocking announcement--Imre Nagy, the leader of Hungarian uprising, was executed today. This is another example of communists killing communists.
[Later I learned that the total number of killed and wounded, during the uprising, was close to 20,000.] Henri said that they do this to scare reformers who took the 20th Congress seriously. Secret trials, like the one that condemned Nagy, will continue. What a shame. My desire to remain faithful to communist ideas must be reconsidered. But I have no time to write about this now. […]

Three people were hanged
[in Hungary], one died in prison. “Dog died the doggy death,” wrote a Bulgarian newspaper. [The French communist newspaper] L’Humanite did not publish the entire accusation, only fragments of it, with comments. The entire text was published in Le Monde [another French newspaper]. Was it also published in our Polish newspapers? I don’t know. Exams will begin in five days; how can I concentrate on learning in this deplorable situation? […]

Both written and oral exams are over. We were 18 last fall but only 8 passed the exams. Others either failed or dropped the program. There are no formal grades at this level, only relative ranking on the posted list. I was number four out of eight. That is much better than I expected; I was lucky. […]

I started coming to the lab each day again. Joliot said that he would try to arrange a French scholarship for me, during the summer. That is good; nothing came of the expected Polish scholarship. Tunia and Henri are treating me like a third child, but I would very much prefer to be independent. Their apartment, also used as a medical office, is definitely too small for five people. […]

Last month I went to the International Fair in Belgium by car with three friends. Now I am on vacation, hitchhiking and sleeping in Youth Hostels, which are practically free (170 francs a night). Each guest is expected to work, usually less than one hour on an assigned task. I am now on the way to Paris from Chamonix. Waiting for a car to stop is often very long.
But that is the name of the game. […] Today I learned about the death of Joliot-Curie. What a shock. France lost one of its best scientists. And I lost the chance of learning from him personally. […] Who will replace Joliot? […]


News of the death of the eminent nuclear physicist, resistance hero, and distinguished public servant Frederic Joliot-Curie has been received by this newspaper. His death occurred on August 14 in Paris following surgery for internal hemorrhaging. Joliot's health had been delicate since his infection with viral hepatitis two years previously. His death is a great loss to the Republic of France. Joliot was above-average in height with dark hair and dark eyes. He was very athletic and an avid skier, sailor, tennis player, hunter, and fisherman. With Joliot's skill in conversation and abundant charm, he will be greatly missed in scientific circles as well as in Parisian society.

Joliot was born in Paris, France, sixth child of Henri Joliot and Emilie Roederer. At the age of ten he entered the Lycee Lakanal, a boarding school in the south of Paris. After the death of his father, he transferred to the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle of the City of Paris. Though studying at an engineering school, he pursued basic science and Joliot was influenced by Paul Langevin to become a lifelong pacificist and socialist. He became an expert experimenter and graduated first in his class.

In the spring of 1925, Joliot began his work at the Institut du Radium under the direction of the distinguished physicist Mme. Curie. He received his doctorate in 1930. At the Institut he conducted his initial research on the chemical properties of polonium. At this time he also met Irene Curie, daughter of Mme. Curie, who was an assistant at the Institut. They were married the following year, at which time they adopted the joint name Joliot-Curie in honor of Madame and Pierre Curie. The Joliot-Curies did not begin to collaborate closely on their research work until 1931.

Upon receiving a scholarship, he entered the Caisse Nationale des Sciences which permitted him to continue his research in radioactive phenomena. His engineering training enabled him to construct a greatly improved Wilson cloud chamber which helped him visualize the trajectories of atomic particles. In collaboration with his wife Irene, he discovered artificially induced radioactivity early in 1934 for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1935. The Joliot-Curies provided chemical evidence for transmutation ( the change of one element to another) with the change of aluminum into a previously unknown isotope (variety) of silicon. This led to the development of a new discipline - the production and study of radioisotopes (radioactive forms of elements).

In 1939, Joliot-Curie confirmed the German physicist Otto Hahn's discovery of nuclear fission (splitting of the uranium atom). He immediately recognized the importance of this experiment and saw the likelihood of producing a chain reaction, a direct forerunner of the development of the atomic bomb. Joliot-Curie ordered six tons of uranium oxide from the Belgian Congo, and nearly all of the available "heavy water" from Norway, and sent them to England in advance of the invading German army. He decided to remain in Paris, but discontinued any work which would have been of benefit to the occupying German army. During World War II he worked in resistance activities joining the Communist Party in 1942.

Following the liberation of France and the explosion of the first atomic bomb, Joliot-Curie persuaded President de Gaulle to create an Atomic Energy Commission in October 1945. De Gaulle appointed Joliot-Curie as the first High Commissioner. The Atomic Energy Commission developed France's first atomic pile, in December 1948. In addition, Joliot-Curie persuaded the government to build a major nuclear research center at Saclay.

As a result of positions taken in support of the Communist Party, Joliot-Curie was removed from his position at the Commission by Georges Didault in April 1950. Accepting a position at the College de France, he refocused on laboratory research and teaching. He also dedicated himself to the advancement of the cause of world peace through his efforts as president of the World Organization of the Partisans of Peace. After the death of his wife Irene in March 1956, he succeeded her as head of the Radium Institute.

Joliot-Curie is survived by a son Pierre Joliot and a daughter Helene Joliot. Funeral and burial arrangements are not complete at this time. However, the government of General de Gaulle has announced the distinguished physicist and hero will be honored by a full state funeral in Paris.

9.3 I am proud of the Soviet satellite (1959)

Pawlowski did not answer my letter. Why is it so? I see no reason why he would oppose my staying in France for two more years (in order to finish the Orsay program). He does not need me for anything important. Perhaps he does not want to take the chance of formally supporting me, thinking about the possibility that I might decide to “choose freedom.” I talked about my situation with Radvanyi today. He said that the laboratory would be glad to have me, provided Poland asks for this. That was the opinion of Teillac [laboratory director after Joliot’s death]. A letter from the Polytechnic, confirming the extension of my leave of absence, would help me to solve the dilemma.

But nothing will be done without Pawlowski’s initiative. Perhaps Orsay will give me a letter stating that I succeeded in the exams, and that I am qualified to start the research part of the project. I will be in Warsaw in about ten days; such a letter, typed on laboratory stationery, would certainly be very helpful. […] I will try my best during the upcoming trip to Poland. […] I hope that bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education will not tell me “your situation changed because Joliot died recently.” Yes, I am taking a chance. […]

I am happy to be back from Warsaw, ready to begin experimental work. My old diaries are in Paris now. They contain information about my life, my thinking and my growth. Will I have a chance to read them critically as an old man, and to reflect on the content? […] The one-year French scholarship, 36,000 francs a month, arranged by Teillac and Radvanyi, will allow me to concentrate on productive research. The second year of the program is about to begin. […]

I met M at the skating rink, last week. We had a long conversation today. She is 21. Three years ago she failed the baccalaureate exam and has been working in an office, living in a tiny apartment, actually a “chambre de bonne.” She does not like this job; her dream is to be a biologist. She would not mind taking another baccalaureate exam but she works nine hours a day. And she does not have money to support herself while going to the university. I don’t have a political preference, she said, but I hate communists; they are demagogues and servants of Russia.[…]

The three-year program I am in is new in France; it is not a doctoral program. The two traditional programs, the “university doctorate” and the most prestigious “state doctorate,” take much longer than three years. Perhaps I will be able to switch to one of these programs at some later time. […]

Relations with M did not develop the way I expected. J, who is 22, is very different. We met the day before yesterday and we are already so close. She wants to be loved. At one point I asked her if knowing that I have a wife in Warsaw would prevent her from being so loving toward me. No, she answered. Then I asked her how she would behave if I had a girlfriend in Paris. After looking into my eyes she said that she would behave in the same way but her love would be unhappy.

Today we were demonstratively dancing and kissing on the street. Some people were smiling; others were totally indifferent. No one seemed to be surprised, as I was when I saw similar scenes in Paris, after my arrival. Then we invented a new game, in a little cafe--spitting wine into each other’s mouths. Our bodies know that the moment of maximum joy is close. Is it real or is it high art of flirtation? […]

Tunia and I were reading results of an interesting survey of French children, conducted by L’Express. She asked me about my own childhood. How would I answer the question about happiness? No, my childhood, in Dedenievo and in Zagorsk, was not happy; as stated before, I was often beaten because I was a Jew. How I was hated by the P brothers; they believed that Jews were responsible for the deportation of their family to Siberia, in 1939. […]

The situation changed dramatically in the Warsaw progressive high school. I felt like everyone else, in the company of E, J, T and A. Another dramatic moment of change took place when I decided to fight back, after being kicked and insulted in the orphanage. My fist landed into M’s face. He started running away; I chased and kicked him. That what I would identify as the happiest moment in my childhood; I discovered that I could defend myself. […]

Later my happy moments were associated with the secret love of a girl, with learning, and with the growth of communist ideas. My hero, in these days, was K, a committed communist. Tunia asked me about particular episodes. I could not identify anything specific. But I knew that doubt was the source of unhappiness. It started before the 20th Congress. In France I can identify two reasons for being happy. First is to be among real scientists; second is to have a family. Except for early childhood, before the arrest of my father, I did not have any family life. […] And what about sex? Is it not a great source of happiness? Yes, it is. But it should go together with other things. LONG LIVE CONTRADICTIONS, HAPPINESS OF SOUL, SONGS OF HEART, FEAR OF STORMS AND TRIUMPH OF THINKING ! […]

Yes, triumph of thinking. What should I do? The longer I wait to tell J about my decision, the more it will hurt her. And how do I know that returning to M makes more sense? Yes, this is a contradiction--on one hand this and on the other hand that. Perhaps not everything should be decided by thinking only. […] I am proud of the Soviet satellite orbiting the moon. But that is only one part of progress. What about showing superiority in standards of living; Soviet people deserve better. What about superiority in tolerance toward what other socialist countries prefer. That would really be appreciated, all over the world. […]

I took a week off because my mother arrived from Warsaw. I will be her tourist guide in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is one of the places to visit, during her short stay. What a shame to be here for two years without looking down from the highest elevation in Paris. We will also go to Louvre, and to other museums. […]

Mother told me that neither she nor my father wanted me to be circumcised. This was done by my grandparents […] She would very much like to visit Israel. But she is afraid this might have a negative effect on my attempts to obtain Polish permission to stay in Orsay for the third year. I am still waiting for a letter from Poland about this. I will send another letter to Pawlowski tomorrow. […]

Once again I was lucky to get a very good “progress report” from Orsay; this will probably persuade Polish authorities to give me permission to finish the program […] And my ionization chamber will soon be ready. I might be able to publish an article about its performance. That would be my first publication. […]
[Yes, that was my first scientific paper, published in November 1960.]

9.4 You can even kill yourself (1959)

Spring vacation in the south of France is over. Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle during the first day of skiing practice. This prevented me from participation in the ski trekking to Briancon with others. Instead, I hitchhiked to Nice and stayed in the youth hostel there. I was able to walk around slowly. The team came to pick me up, after the hike. […]

I am highly impressed by a book I discovered accidentally-- Darkness at Noon, by A. Koestler. Henri said he knew about the existence of this book but hadn’t read it. The party declared it reactionary slander. […] My scholarship does not expire till the end of the summer; I am now reasonably certain that it will be extended for another year. This might allow me to switch from this program to a real doctoral program, and live in my own place. […]

To simplify things I applied for the Polish multiple-use passport. My present passport automatically expires upon each return to Poland; the new passport would allow me to leave Poland several times, without any formalities. […] Ludwik, keep in mind that winners are usually those who are not afraid of risks. You know what you want (to be a scientist) and you should act accordingly. You are a free person; take control of your life. Do not compromise; fight for what you want. You can even kill yourself, if necessary. This, by the way, would be the highest act of freedom. […]

My dear mother, I know how much you are worrying about me. You will be proud of me one day; I promise. I love you very much. […] J is full of love; I often think about her more seriously than I should. My situation is uncertain; how can I plan for anything? Her parents, who own a little grocery store, hate me. Her father is an anti-Semite. Why does she love me? We hitchhiked together to northern beaches, sleeping in our little tent. […]

Three important letters were waiting for me at home. The first was from Pawlowski; he agrees with me that staying in France, and trying to obtain the state doctorate, is a very good idea, even if it means breaking with the Polytechnic. I will be happy to hire you again, he wrote at the end. The second letter was the approval of my multiple-use-passport request. It means easy trips to Poland for many years. The third letter informed me that I got a room in the student dormitory in Antony. Why am I so lucky? […] I am missing J; she is working at a summer colony for children. […]

I am in my new home. For the first time in my life I have my own room. It has a bed, a desk, a drawer and a bookshelf. It also has a bathroom with a shower, to be shared with a French law student in another room. The train station is within walking distance. Antony is half way between Paris and Orsay, about 15 minutes by train, each way. […] J is back; she came to see me at once. We were crazy for an hour. Then I worked at the desk while she was writing letters in bed. She took the last train to Paris. Where will this lead? […]

It turns out that in order to obtain a doctoral degree in physics one must have a master’s degree in that discipline. Many, but not all, of my engineering courses were accepted as equivalent but I should take several undergraduate courses at the Sorbonne. Today I told Radvanyi about my intention to go ahead. He thinks that working toward the doctorate is a good idea, but not easy to implement. That is true. But I am a communist and communists are not afraid of difficulties. I know what I want and I will do everything possible to succeed […]

Ludwik (in the middle of French colleagues) during a sabbatical year in Orsay, 1982

Radvanyi thinks that my ionization chamber paper is worth publishing. This will probably be an acceptable equivalent of one exam. He also said that I should start thinking about a topic for my doctoral dissertation. It should be determined not only by my interests but also by what is possible in Orsay, and what is scientifically significant. He mentioned elastic and inelastic scattering of protons, polarization of neutrons, and even my own hypothesis of delayed fission. It was clear to me that he was thinking about all this before our meeting. I must be well organized this year. The topic of my dissertation will probably be “Angular correlation of fission fragments.”

This is Chapter 09.
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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