Chapter 1 Brief Outline

1.1 Political background and early recollections

I was born in Poland, eight years before the WWII started. My parents, like many progressive intellectuals, emigrated to the Soviet Union because they were communists who wanted to participate in building a better social order. They were not aware that the country was becomeing a police state and that millions of “true believers” would soon be either executed or sent to die in Gulag camps. My father was arrested in 1938; they took him away at night and we never saw him again. Our appartment was sealed and we became homeless. The architect of communist brutality and violence, as I learned two dacades later, was Joseph Stalin.

Let me begin with early recollections. I am in the Moscow kindergarten at the age of four or five. I clearly remember our teacher, and my classmate Irma, who allowed me to explore the difference between boys and girls. I also remember the large portrait of Stalin, holding a little girl in his arms. He is our great leader, we were told, he is the father of all Soviet children. He loves us and we love him. I also remember the large portrait of Stalin, holding a little girl in his arms. He is our great leader, we were told, he is the father of all Soviet children. He loves us and we love him.

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We lived in a shared apartment from our arrival in the USSR in 1932 until my father’s arrest and deportation to Kolyma, in 1938. Most people in our block were recent emigrants from western countries, including Germany, Hungary, the USA, etc. The three of us had one room and a Hungarian family had the other. The kitchen/dining room was so small that both families could not use it at the same time. Use of a small shared bathroom had also to be coordinated. My father was an engineer, my mother a nurse at Moscow’s 39th Polyclinic.

After my father’s arrest we had no place to go. For a short time we “lived” in the Polyclinic; during the day my mother worked and I played in the waiting room. At night we slept on couches in doctors’ rooms. On the other side of the wide street was the secret police office. I remember going there with my mother when she tried to find out my father’s whereabouts. I also remember waiting in long lines at a prison; I have no idea which prison it was. Later we lived near Moscow, where my mother found another job. Then we moved to a settlement called Dedenievo, about 30 miles north of Moscow. There my mother worked in a nursing home. I started attending a local elementary school at the age of eight, and became a Red Pioneer. I still remember the oath—“to faithfully serve the cause of Lenin and Stalin.”

Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were political allies in 1930s. But this ended in June of 1941, when the country was attaqued by Germany. I was nearly ten years old. Five months later we were between two armies, for about a week. The Red Army retreated from Dedenievo (after blowing up the railroad bridge across the canal) but the Germans did not enter; they stayed about two miles away in Jachroma. Our settlement was heavily bombed by Germans. Most of thenursing home residents died from cold after windows were shattered by explosions. My mother carried some patients to the nearby hospital, on her back. Then she worked in that hospital, just across the street from the shelter where I was hiding. It was the basement of a church destroyed after the revolution. About 100 people sat there, on tons of carrots and potatoes; the place had been used to store vegetables delivered to the government from surrounding collective farms.

I remember another dramatic moment. At a quiet time between bombings my mother came to the church basement and said that I would be better off in the hospital with her. As we prepared to leave, bombs started falling again. One hit the wooden hospital building, burying about one hundred people. We heard calls for help but nothing could be done. Then the fire started; those who survived the bomb were burned alive. The first Soviet WWII victory, pushing Germans away from Moscow, took place where we lived. A week later I walked to Jachroma and climbed into an abandoned German tank.

Ludwik in Dedeniewo, 1942

The constant roar of cannons became weaker and weaker. That was the beginning of a very difficult two or three years for us, due to the limited food supply. Like most people around, we grew our own potatoes. I was able to help by bringing home mushrooms and fish during the summers. Winters were very cold. My ability to gather wood, sometimes stealing rejects from a local sawmill, was essential. We lived in a barrack, each family in a single room. Half the room was used to store potatoes, which we rationed to last until the next summer. In springtime we depended on eggs from birds’ nests, and on fresh nettle. A little later in the season we ate birds, schav, berries and mushrooms. We were hungry most of the time.

1.2 Polish connections

In 1943 my mother started working for a Polish organization established in Moscow. That is how I ended up in a summer camp for Polish children. Relearning to speak Polish came easily to me; I was exposed to it at home, before they took away my father. Then my mother became a nurse in a Polish orphanage near Moscow. Here I entered a Polish elementary school. Most children were Gulag survivors; they, and their families, had been deported from eastern Poland occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939. In the spring of 1946 the orphanage was repatriated to Warsaw.

My mother worked at the new orphanage, called Nasz Dom, and we lived in a little room there. Like most of the kids, I was a student at a progressive gymnasium. There I became a member of a communist-oriented organization of Polish youth. My mother belonged to the Polish Worker’s Party [a Stalinist organization]. She told me that many victims of Stalin’s purges, including my father, were innocent. She also warned me not to talk about this with others. It could be dangerous, she explained. After high school graduation I was accepted to the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Two years later I joined the communist party.

After becoming an engineer, I specialized in electro-medicine, learning how to design electro-medical tools. My graduate degree project was based on research conducted at Warsaw’s Radium Institute. After graduation I applied for admission to a nuclear laboratory in the Soviet Union. This was in 1956. But my application was rejected. My mother was happy; she did not want me to study in the USSR. Fortunately, another opportunity presented itself. The director of the Radium Institute, Cezary Pawlowski--God bless his memory--was an assistant of Marie Curie’s before WWII. He gave me a letter of recommendation to study in France.

1.3 French and American Connections

My father’s sister, Tunia, survived WWII in Paris and I went to visit her. She took me to see Joliot-Curie (Nobel Laureate 1935), who accepted me at once. I had a chance to start working under his personal supervision. Unfortunately, he died one year later. But I remained in Joliot’s new laboratory for six more years. In 1963 I defended my Ph.D. dissertation, specializing in nuclear physics. I returned to Poland and started working in an academic research laboratory. A year later I came to scientific conference in the US and stayed on to become a research associate with Professor Jack Miller, Department of Chemistry, Columbia University. My teaching career began in 1969, at Montclair State College in New Jersey, and lasted till 2004, when I retired. Four years later, as mentioned in the Introduction, I published a book about the horrors of Stalinism.