Chapter 14: Missing diaries

14.1 Beyond the green trunk

Unfortunately, the next diary begins in 1972, in the US. I do recall recording observations occasionally, but I can’t find the missing diaries. Here is what I remember. After seeing professor Pawlowski I went to the university and at once obtained employment at the Hoza Street Institute. Professor Wilhelmi, who studied in the US, became my boss. He had a Cockroft-Walton generator, used as a source of neutrons. I became one of his several research assistants. Some of us were planning to conduct experiments in Dubna.

No special task was assigned to me; I was busy setting up an optical system to analyze Orsay films on which electric pulses due to fission fragments were photographed. The plan was to extract additional information and to publish it, as another paper. I lived with my mother and commuted to work every day. J.F. Kennedy was assassinated while I was mounting a bookcase, in our one-room apartment.

No signs of party activity were apparent. My party card was submitted to the Central Committee before the departure to France; I did not go to retrieve it. And I did not want to be in contact with my Polytechnic comrades. I was glad that I could spend most of the time in the physics library, and in the lab, analyzing Orsay films. At one of our seminars I described my work in France. Wilhelmi said that my skills would be very useful in Dubna. About a month later professor Flerov, from Dubna, came to see us. He complimented me on speaking Russian with a perfect Muscovite accent. He said that my Orsay work was well known in Dubna; one of their detectors was calibrated on the basis of my doctoral dissertation data. I was pleased to hear this.

Gomulka was the First Secretary of the Party at this time. I heard rumors of rising anti-Semitism from several of my mother’s friends. In a bookstore I saw two Russian books with traditional anti-Semitic illustrations. The term “zhidy” [a Russian pejorative for Jews] is now replaced by the term “Zionists.” This reminded me of the “wind blowing from the east,” predicted by my Israeli uncle Okonowski.

In the middle of the winter I learned about a scientific conference in the USA and submitted a topic--fission induced by high-energy protons. They were interested in that topic. Professor Wilhelmi said that I should go to the Ministry of Higher Education and ask them to arrange for the trip. I did this and waited. Several weeks later my application was rejected. I do not remember how this was explained. Assuming that they were short of money, I wrote to the conference organizers asking for financial support. They responded positively and I informed the ministry about this. The conference was to begin in June. At the end of April I was again informed that my application was rejected.

I contacted the conference organizers again and told them about my difficulties. I asked them for a formal invitation emphasizing that I am an invited speaker. They sent me such an invitation and I brought it to the ministry. The conference was approaching and I was waiting. That upset me very much. Why was I prevented from making an important presentation at an international conference? That is when I started to regret my return to Poland. Permission to attend, and the passport, were finally given to me, several days before the beginning of the conference. Fortunately, I was able to arrange for Pan Am airline tickets immediately. Only my mother knew that I decided not to come back. We were afraid to talk about this at home; my mother suspected hidden microphones.

The Gordon Conference I attended took place at Colby College, New Hampshire. My presentation was very well received and I met many interesting people. It was a great pleasure to be treated as an expert in my own narrow specialty. One of the people I met was professor Jack Miller, from Columbia University. He needed someone with my skills and I became his research associate, for four years, at a yearly salary of $8000. At one point I hired a lawyer, recommended by the university; he was able to obtain permanent residence status for me.

That was complicated by the issue of my party membership. The lawyer wanted me to say that without becoming a party member I would not have been able to continue studying. But I did not want to lie. At the official hearing I said that I joined the party because I believed its deceptive ideology.

Professor Jack Miller (left), me (next to him), and other researchers. We are waiting for the heavy ion beam, at Yale University, to start an experiment.

Miller had another post-doc and several graduate students. Our main tool was the Columbia University cyclotron, a machine used by Fermi to study fission in 1939 and 1940. Then we started studying nuclear reactions induced by heavy ions, at Yale University and in Berkeley. Over one hundred papers and conference presentations resulted from this kind of work in cooperation with two distinguished scientists, Jack Miller and John Alexander.

During the first year I lived with my father’s sister, in Brooklyn. Beatrice and Oscar were as nice to me as Tunia and Henri in Paris. Their two boys, Murry and Danny, were in college and I had my own room. But the long commute to the university, about one hour each way, was not convenient and I moved to the International House for students, near the university. That is where I met Linda in 1966. To support herself she worked as a research assistant at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. At the same time she was in a doctoral program in educational psychology. Somehow I knew that she was just the right girl for me. We were married one year later.

Our engagement party in Long Island, 1967. Seated from left to right are: Beatrice (my father's sister), Iris (Linda's sister), Linda, and Robert (her father). Standing are Ronnie (Iris' youngest son), me, and Oscar (Beatrice's husband).

Our wedding was also very modest; first the ceremony in a Long Island synagogue and then a small reception in Linda’s sister’s home. I knew I would be faithful to Linda, but she was not my first partner in the USA. Was I tempted to take advantage of other girls, during my many trips to conferences, etc.? Yes, I was. But I knew that I must resist. Would I have resisted if I did not have so many girls before? Probably not.

My mother was one of about 15 wedding guests. She lived with us a while but decided to return to Warsaw, to her own apartment and to her own little pension. The language barrier played an important role in her decision. Shortly after her return she had a heart attack and died in a hospital, at the age of 63. This was at the peak of an anti-Semitic campaign in Poland. Most Jews who occupied government and academic positions suddenly lost their jobs. Invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, and by armies of other socialist countries, including Poland, was another disappointing reality. I was thinking about this a lot but I did not march to protest the invasion. At that time I started looking for permanent employment, as my post-doctoral appointment was coming to the end.

Linda helped me produce more than 200 letters, to major universities and national labs. Most of them were not even answered. Finally I received an offer from a college in New Jersey (now Montclair State University). It was a teaching position and I accepted it. Fortunately, this did not prevent me from participation in experiments conducted in other universities and national laboratories. In that way I was able to remain in touch with frontline research. That, in turn, had a positive effect on teaching. At some conceptual level research and teaching do influence each other.

At one time I had to accept the chairmanship of the department, for three years. I was not a good administrator but a secretary helped me to survive. I retired in 2004, after 35 years of teaching. Two things have kept me busy since that time: research in a highly controversial field, known as Cold Fusion, and sharing what I know about Stalinism. My 2008 book “Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime,” was written for those Americans who know very little about Stalinism. Excerpts can be read at this link. The book is dedicated to my father. The diary-based book you are reading now is dedicated to my mother. It is also an attempt to address political issues, but in a different way.

This is Chapter 14.
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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