Chapter 15: Year of Blessing

What follows was not recorded in my diaries but was preserved in boxes, albums, and in a special notebook created for our daughter.

My father's three surviving sisters: Beatrice and her husband Oscar (left); Tunia and her husband, Henri (right); and Franka Okonowski (center), whose husbabd, Henio, was no longer alive (1985).

15.1 May 1968: Red banners and portraits of Karl Marx

My main preoccupation now is to find a permanent job, preferably in a research university, or a national lab. Miller told me that this will not be easy. […] I see a red banner and portraits of Karl Marx displayed on windows of buildings occupied by some Columbia University students. I am now a passive observer. But this does not prevent me from thinking. The red banner, and pictures of Karl Marx are symbols of the “Red Church” to which I belonged, and whose ideology I studied. I left that church because I was disappointed by what was going on. […]

15.2 October 1972: Cooperating with Columbia University

Working at Montclair, for nearly three years, keeps me busy. But this college is not a research university. Fortunately, my association with professor Miller will continue on an informal basis. In a recent letter he wrote: “It is difficult for me to overstate our appreciation for your past contributions to our studies on heavy-ion nuclear reactions. […] It is my earnest hope that you will be able to work with us from time to time again in the future.” Yes I will; New York City is very close. […]

15.3 September 1975: Praying for my parents

I think that one important event must be recorded. We just joined a synagogue, Beth Sholom Reform Temple, in Clifton. Is it only because Linda expressed a desire “to belong,” and because “not belonging” bothered her for several years? I think that there is more to this. I want to consider the possibility of guiding my decisions by religious considerations. Many times in the past I asked myself why should I do this or that. It bothers me, sometimes, that important decisions and actions (or position taking) do not have deeper justifications.

Our daughter becomes a Bat Mitzvah (1991). Rabbi Stanley R. Skolnik is on the left.

This does not mean that I feel lost or helpless, or that I want to abandon principles of rational behavior based on reality, science, and understanding of human needs. But I am ready to reject my anti-religious attitude. Religion does not have to be the “opium for the masses.” It has played a constructive role for several thousand years; it did bring us to the age of Renaissance and reason. Religion probably still has enough power for cementing human groups. My cousin Murry, however, reminded me that the Crusaders, who killed so many, were motivated by religion.

I feel a need to learn about the religion of my ancestors, despite the fact that both my father and mother rejected it. By the way, I did pray for them at yesterday’s Yizkor
[memorial prayer service] . At the same time I was thinking about millions of their comrades who also believed that communism was the best solution for social ills. […] We have attended several services […] Sometimes I think that there is too much ritual. I would very much like to join a Torah [Bible] study group. Unfortunately, it is on Mondays, which is my Columbia University day. Perhaps they can be persuaded to change the day. Otherwise I will be studying by myself. […]

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Left: Linda and Ellie at home, 1979, eight months after the adoption. . . . Right: June 28, 2009 at Ellie's wedding. And we hope to become grandparents in August 2010.

15.4 Year of blessing 1978

1978 has been a year of blessing for me. First US citizenship, then promotion to full professorship, and finally publication of a physics textbook, together with Hal Hellman. And how can I not mention the expected fourth blessing, parenthood. We have been accepted for adoption and the baby may arrive as early as two weeks from now. I resisted the idea of adoption for many years, counting on a medical success. But now I am glad that we took this initiative; I will be 47 this October while Linda is close to her 38th birthday.

15.5 To our unborn child 1978

Expecting our soon-to-be-adopted child, I started another notebook. I gave this special diary to Ellie, a few months prior to her wedding in 2009.

(3/31/1978) Do you know that your arrival will rescue us from frustration which characterized one aspect of our lives in the last six years? We both badly wanted to have children but this was not coming to us in the usual way. So there will be an unusual way; you will come from Texas and we will never know about those two people who gave you life. […]

In particular, I was thinking about you during last night's service at our synagogue. We were reading about the Ten Commandments and about the obligations imposed on all Jews to “teach them faithfully to your children,” to post them on our doors, etc. etc. These words seen and repeated so many times suddenly gained concrete meaning; they became a call for interpretation; they triggered a lot of questioning. Do they apply to you, who will become our child? How should we bring you up? […]

I do not want to write about God and religion now. We will have plenty of time to deal with these meditations in the future. But one thing is obvious, our ways toward Him will be very different. This is an area in which I hope you will help me. As a child I was not exposed to any formal, or even informal, religious education. On the contrary, I was raised to believe that there is no God. As I see it now, I missed an opportunity to learn about one important dimension of human existence. When you will be growing up and learning about the mysteries of this world I will be doing the same with you. It is with you and through you that I hope to experience natural and traditional ways of learning about these things. […]

(8/11/1978) Welcome to the world. You were born two weeks ago but to us you became a reality only last night. I was not at home when Linda received the phone call. “A little girl is waiting for you,” they said. I missed this moment. I was working on Long Island, on a research project. Linda called me and said “you are a father now, we must fly to San Antonio tomorrow and bring her home.” […]

Everything turned out to be a surprise. We expected a Mexican baby but you came with silky blond hair. […] Your natural parents were in love with each other and they planned to marry. But you came too early and they could not take the responsibility of raising you now. Your mother was 21 and your father was 22, both healthy and responsible people. […] Of course we will never know their identity and they will never know who we are. That is how the agency works; all documents are sealed somewhere.

15.6 September 1985: Blaming Jews

K, now an Israeli, is visiting the US. We met today and he told me that in 1968 most Polish Jews, at least in academia, had two choices: to publicly denounce Israel’s aggression or to emigrate. Two of Polytechnic’s M&L assistants became ideologues of official anti-Semitism. I remember them very well. Did they change dramatically or were they always anti-Semitic? Did they hate Berler, when they were his assistants?

I do not think there were Jewish professors in the College of Telecommunication, or in other Polytechnic colleges; Berler’s chair was not linked to any particular college. Out of about 400 Telecommunication students no more than 5 were Jewish, as far I know. I was the only Jew on our executive committee. But our party unit had five Jews, out of about seventy members. They were assistants from various sections. I was the only Jew among electromedicine assistants.

S, according to K, was especially active in purging Jews. He traveled from institution to institution with a list of names. The campaign was well organized. [Did he change dramatically or was he always an anti-Semite? Did S hate me when we worked together in ZMP?] Most professors remained neutral. But G and several our common Polish friends were terribly upset by what was going on. One of them, R, was not afraid to say that this was similar to what Germans did in the 1930’s.

Hmm, German Jews would be purged even if they publicly applauded Nazis. German policy was racially motivated, Polish purging was motivated by politics. But that was not necessarily true at the individual level.

A dramatic example of blaming Jews for horrors of Stalinism can be seen on a 2009 Russian blog, on which the author wrote: “I also think that the people of Russia would be wise to ask about the actual ethnicity of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. It seems to me that there were only a very few actual Russians among them. Stalin was a Georgian Jew. Kaganovich, the monster who designed and ran the Gulag was not a Russian - he was a Jew.“

Yes, many Bolsheviks were of Jewish origin, and many of them were monsters. But my recollection is that Stalin’s parents were Georgians, and that the Gulag was run by Beria. On another blog the author emphasized that Yezhov’s wife was Jewish. Thus Jews are responsible by crimes committed by this notoriously vicious Russian Bolshevik. Molotov’s wife was also Jewish; does it mean that Jews are responsible for execution orders he signed? I suppose that for every Bolshevik Jew there were many thousands of “class enemy” Jews, especially among private property owners or synagogue-goers.

Why should all Ukrainians and Poles be hated because some of them helped Germans to kill Jews? Why should all Germans be hated because of Nazis crimes? Why should all Jews be hated because some of them were Bolsheviks? Why should all blacks be hated because some blacks are criminals? Blaming by association is nonsensical. Unfortunately, this kind of social poison exists. I know this from my own childhood experience, and from reading what some bloggers write. How can such poison be eliminated? I wish I knew how to answer this question.

15.7 December 1988: Glasnost=freedom to think and speak

The slogan "socialism with a human face" is now being heard in the Soviet Union. That idea was guiding reformers in Prague and in Budapest. Will Gorbachev succeed in turning the USSR into a better country? I hope so. Soviet people certainly deserve freedom and prosperity, after a long period of proletarian dictatorship. But I am not very optimistic about a quick success. Those who believe in the ideology of proletarian dictatorship might find a way to eliminate Gorbachev and his coworkers. That would be the end of another dream.

By the time of Gorbachev’s reforms, I was no longer a communist. That is why I was not as fascinated by his ideas as I had been by Khrushchev’s revelations. The main question on my mind was why so many decades had to pass before freedom to think, speak, and act was finally introduced in the USSR. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, three years later, was a clear indication that something irreversible had been accomplished by Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

15.8 Renewed Interest in Cold Fusion

This book would probably be twice as long if the draft entries connected to scientific topics were retained. I eliminated most of them, as suggested by Linda. But my renewed interest in the so-called nuclear Cold Fusion must be mentioned. Like most scientists of my generation, I was highly excited by the 1989 claim, made by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, that a strong nuclear process can be triggered by a chemical process, such as electrolysis. That conflicted with what most of us learned in common textbooks. But puzzling experimental data continued to be published. Impressed by credentials of Fleishmann and Pons, and of some of their followers, I decided to pay attention. It took me nearly two years to do what most scientists did--to reject the claim.

Ludwik (left) with Martin Fleischmann at the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion (Cambridge, Massashusetts, USA, August 2003)

But in 2002, during a scientific conference, I unexpectedly heard two presentations that impressed me again. That triggered my renewed interest in the controversial Cold Fusion field. I started reading new reports, participating in scientific conferences, and even performing my own experiments. Limited resources, access to existing instruments, were provided by the university, even after I retired in 2004. My website dedicated to Cold Fusion contains nearly 400 items. Do not click on the link below, unless you are really interested, and have nothing else to do. Learning about Cold Fusion would take you away from the main topics of this book. I agree with Linda that many readers of a book about ideas of a former Stalinist would complain about "too much science." The only reason for mentioning Cold Fusion here is to show that I am still an active scientist.

15.9 December 2008: Going Public

For many years, I had only spoken about my past communist or present anti-communist sentiments with members of my family. In 2000, while in Alaska, I saw a City Hall description of Magadan, the sister city of Anchorage. A public relations brochure stated that Magadan, before becoming a great town, had been “a peaceful village” on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. That misrepresentation outraged me. My father, and more than a million other victims of Stalinism, died in Magadan, the capital of Kolyma province, the center of the most horrible set of Gulag camps. Why was the tragic history of this town not even mentioned? My subsequent letter to the Anchorage City Hall, containing this question, was never answered.

This prompted me to compose Alaska Notes, an essay on the history of Magadan’s Gulag camps, and to post it at the university website. That was my first public anti-Stalinist act. A leftist professor at Montclair State University accused me of misrepresenting Stalinism. He declared that what I wrote was nothing but a relic of cold war propaganda, a “gross distortion of reality.” The book I published in 2008 was based on Alaska Notes.

15.10 December 2010: Two Destructive Ideologies

Let me end this autobiography by quoting Section 6.6 from my book about Stalinism. “It is remarkable that the two most destructive ideologies of the 20th century were conceived in a highly civilized country, Germany. Marxism, which subsequently became the ideology of the Soviet Union, was based on the idea that the proletarian dictatorship would lead to social harmony.

Hitlerism, the ideology of the Third Reich, was based on the idea of race superiority. The world, according to Hitler, would be better without Jews and other inferior races. Stalin and Hitler viewed themselves as agents of historical destiny. Moral reservations against mass killing, according to them, were totally irrelevant. Morality had to be modified to make killing possible.

Both “final solution” ideologies were rooted in the concept of supremacy of one group of people over another. For Hitler it was the idea of Aryan domination; for Marx, Lenin and Stalin it was the idea of proletarian domination. The concept of supremacy is not consistent with the concept of social harmony. Were Hitler’s Nazi state and Stalin’s Bolshevik state deplorable aberrations or were they precursors of what may come in other forms? ”

While emphasizing similarities between Nazism and Stalinism, I am fully aware of an important difference between these two tyrannical systems. I think that political ideologies can be separated into two groups, those promoting killing for killing’s sake and those promoting killing to gain something, for example, territory or a different social system.

Nazism belonged to the first category; one of its principal goals was to get rid of inferior races, such as Jews and Slavs. Stalinism belonged to the second category. Stalin’s motivation was to establish a “paradise on earth.” I suppose he would have preferred to accomplish this without killing. But he knew that not everyone would go along. Brutality and violence were employed to promote the goal, not killing per se. We should also be aware that many believers in Stalinism were idealists unaware of the evil means used to achieve presumably noble goals. Can the same be said about believers in Nazism? I do not know. Deception and mass murdering of opponents, real and imagined, were not invented in the 20th century. They are as old as civilization, taking place on all continents. Only their technology and scale changed. Will this century be different? Probably not. The world population more than tripled during my lifespan. How will mounting problems in our polarized world be solved in the future?
Both good and evil will survive. 
To fight each other and contrive, 
To show and hide, and to refuse, 
To offer something and confuse.

To give and take, to kiss and bite, 
To make and break, and to excite. 
To promise something in the sky, 
To ruin hopes and say good-bye.

To feed and starve, to love and hate, 
To burn, to smash and to create. 
To wreck, to torture, to destroy 
To build, to cherish and enjoy.
And how can I resist sharing what is shown below? Yes, I am one of many who received such a standard letter in May, 1978. But it was, and it remains, a very special document to me.

I congratulate you on becoming a citizen of our great nation. Of very special importance is the fact that while many of us are citizens by birth, you have by choice selected America as your own land. The citizenship you have acquired today brings you even greater guarantees of freedom, human dignity, security, equality and opportunity than those offered in the past. […]

Naturalized citizens from all lands have made significant contributions to the betterment of our nation. I am sure that you will follow in this tradition and firmly resolve to do your part in making America an even more wonderful place in which we live. Jimmy Carter

This is Chapter 15.

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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