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Chapter 13: Back to Poland with the doctorate


13.1 The cult of personality was a religion (1963)


Writing the draft of my dissertation in Polish was easy; but translating it into French is not. I first translate it without paying too much attention to spelling and grammar. Then I depend on others to turn my text into something acceptable. F often helps me with this, when I visit her in the hospital (in a little private room for a resident on duty). We often talk about other things. She would not mind living in Poland, if we get married. I tried to describe inconveniences but they do not scare her. […]

If I met God I would ask him why I am so lucky. What did I do to deserve so many blessings? My life as a bachelor is not as painful as it could be, in fact it is often the other way around. I am healthy, and I have a very good scholarship. Several days ago I attended an interesting meeting of Catholic students in Orsay. The speaker was a theologian priest, P. Liege; the topic was “atheism.” A true Catholic, he said, should not be against atheism, which is one way to discover God. An honest atheist, he explained, is facing the same dilemmas as we face--how to understand the world around us. […]

I also went to a student communist meeting where the Cuban revolution was discussed. Naturally, I was only listening; I enjoy being a passive observer. Thank you God for allowing me to go to any meeting I want. Yes, I am an atheist. But I think that the cult of personality was a religion; Stalin was treated as a superhuman being. I am glad that the party rejected that kind of cult. But I am aware that the luxury of being a bystander will not be available to me in Poland; party members must serve the party. […]

My dissertation was formally submitted today (May 16, 1963). I am proud of this work. Dying today would be different from dying five years ago; today I know that I have made an important scientific contribution. Will I be able to make more contributions in the future? I hope so.
[My recently updated list of publications contains 92 items. Click if you are interested .] The time before the defense will be spent working on the second subject--the origin of cosmic rays. […] The defense of my thesis is tomorrow (June 26, 1963). That was my goal for several years. What will motivate me in the future? […]


Poland does not have a large accelerator. But there is a way to overcome this limitation. I am thinking about mica detectors of fission fragments. Several months ago I met R. Walker, an American researcher from a General Electric laboratory. He showed me how easy it is to detect fission fragments in ordinary chips of mica. In performing delayed fission experiments now I would use mica chips. Suppose a mica-holding setup, prepared in Warsaw, is sent to Orsay, Dubna, or Geneva. They would expose it to the beam, and send the mica back to me, for etching and microscopic examinations. […]

About ten days ago I asked Pawlowski to inform the rector of Polytechnic that I plan to return on October 1. The photocopy of my doctoral diploma was attached. But I am still waiting for a reply. I see several possibilities: (a) Nothing changed and I will return to work under Pawlowski, (b) He retires and they offer me his place, (c) Someone else replaces Pawlowski, and I am working under a new professor, (d) There is no place for me at the Polytechnic, and I must start looking for a job elsewhere. The last alternative is likely to be the most probable. […] In two days F and I are going to visit Israel. I do not think that she is the girl for me; will the trip confirm this or not? […]

The trip has been wonderful so far; we took a train to Venice and then a Greek boat to Haifa. […] And now we are on the way back. Our boat left Haifa two days ago; we are due in Venice on Saturday. This is the end of a wonderful vacation in the wonderful land of Israel. One month was hardly enough to establish family contacts, to work in a kibbutz (picking lemons and oranges) and to hike all over. I admire the country, and the enthusiasm of those who are building it. We also had time to convince each other that we should not be married. Close physical relations are fine; high barriers are psychological. […]



My uncle, Henio Okonowski (right), my cousin, Jakov Guterman (center), and myself (left), during my trip to Israel, in 1972 (?). Jakov, a kibbutz member, was a teacher and artist; Henio was a veterinarian.

I will be missing Claude; working with him was a real pleasure. But we did have several disagreements. He will start working on his doctoral project, probably using the same scattering chamber. I hope we will be working together again. […] And what will happen if predictions of my Israeli uncle, H. Okonowski, come true, if I encounter the wind of anti-Semitism, blowing from the East, and supported by Polish authorities? That would ruin my plans; I would leave Poland and would never return.


Where would I go, to France, which I love so much, or to Israel, where I have two family connections? I told the Okonowskis that I must return because Poland is my first country, and because I promised to return. I was thinking not only about Pawlowski but also about Joliot, Radvanyi, Teillac, Claude, etc. […] I have nearly one million francs [$300]. What should I do with this money? I will leave one-third with Tunia and will bring the rest to Poland. […]

I will be in Warsaw in ten days. […] Radvanyi probably senses my problems. He told me that I can count on cooperation with Orsay, after settling in Poland. He also said that Teillac was recently in Warsaw, and talked about my return with Danysz, at Warsaw University. I know that Danysz is the director of IBJ; but I did not know that he is also a co-director at Dubna. Perhaps I should go and see Danysz before showing up at the Polytechnic. But I do not want to hurt Pawlowski; I would be nowhere without him. Who can I ask about his relations with IBJ? […]

There was a good-bye party for me in Orsay. They collected enough money to buy me the latest Rossignol skis. I was really impressed by such a generous gift. Radvanyi invited me to a dinner party. Helene and Michel Langevin were also present.
[Helene was the daughter of Joliot-Curie, and grand-daughter of Marie Curie, Michel the grandson of another famous French scientist. I was proud to be professionally associated with such people.] It was a very pleasant evening; they complimented me for good work and reassured me that Orsay will be glad to see me again. […]


This is Chapter 13.
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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