Chapter 2: Arguing with My Mother--Polish or Jewish?

2.1 Glory to Our Leader (before 1950)

The first entry in my diary is dated 1/21/1946--the anniversary of Lenin's death. I was 15 years old. It is my poem, written in Russian, commemorating Lenin, and mentioning his great successor, Stalin. The English translation of this diary photo is shown below. The poem was composed in Zagorsk, a town north of Moscow, where our Polish orphanage was located.

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/ Lenin died today
/ Was the newspaper headline
/ Read by Stalin
/ Remembering our dead leader

/ But Lenin did not die,
/ He lives in each of us,
/ He said to himself
/ With tears in his eyes.

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1945, Zagorsk, Polish orphanage. Ludwik is the third from the right.

We were repatriated to Poland in the spring of 1946. Traveling several days by train we saw devastated Ukrainian towns and villages. In Poland we were absorbed by Nasz Dom, a Polish orphanage in the northern, only partially destroyed, part of the city. Names of two famous Polish educators are associated with that prewar institution.

The next diary entry, dated 8/1/1946, describes our departure from Poland to a summer camp in Yugoslavia. It was a great trip. We spent a month on the Adriatic island of Hvar. I was able to communicate with locals by imitating their accent but using either Polish or Russian words. My day-by-day descriptions of the trip are interesting, but not worth recording here. Portraits of Stalin and Tito were everywhere; this was one year before the break between Yugoslavia and the USSR. After that we were told that Tito was an arch-enemy, agent of American imperialism, etc.

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1946, Yugoslavia, on the way to the beach.

My diary entry dated 12/25/1947 shows a drawing of a piston engine in which fuel consists of atomic bombs. The title of the essay is “non-military applications of U-235.” No wonder I became a nuclear physicist. I was probably inspired by our high school math teacher; he liked to speculate about the future of technology. And he wanted us to be ready for it.

The diary also contains a seven-verse poem I wrote in 1948 (the last year of high school). It shows how enthusiastic I was about building communism in Poland. The photo of the entire poem, in Polish, is shown below. The first line translates into "we from RTPD," where RTPD stands for the Worker's Association of Friends of Children. Our Warsaw orphanage, and our high school, were managed by that socialist organization. The trip to Yugoslavia, by the way, was also organized by RTPD. The English translation (word for word) of the last two verses is shown below the photo. This poem earned me first prize in a competition--a book.

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/ There will be no hungry children
/ Shivering on winter days.
/ All will go to school
/ In reality, not in dreams.

/ Working hard together
/ Students, workers and peasants
/ Will draw power and unity
/ From books, sickles and hammers.

2.2 Second Year at Warsaw Polytechnic (1950)

Our victory in Korea is a triumph of Marxism. [I was referring to the 1950-1953 war between South Korea, allied with the USA, and North Korea, allied with China.] Super-weapons will not help capitalists. The outcome of the war is predetermined by historical necessity. The party is ingenious. It will organize International Brigades, if necessary. I would sign up. For the time being my place is here, to study engineering. [...]

Today J said that he will support me if I apply for party candidateship. Why should I become a party member? I see many non-communist things in myself. Let me first see how I do in ZMP
[Polish communist youth organization] . [...] Today mother said she is sorry that we did not emigrate [to Israel], like Eva [her sister-in-law.] How can she be sorry? Others are jealous of our situation; we are free to build socialism. Mother is not able to feel the spirit of new times. I understand her (she suffered so much); but I was surprised. I cannot imagine myself in Israel, or in the USA; I am Polish and my place is in Poland. [...] There is nothing Jewish in me; I have not been exposed to Jewish culture, or to Jewish language, as my mother was.

My mother . . . .

Why wasn't I responsive to the idea of emigration? Primitive anti-Semitism was well known to me. In Dedenievo Russian boys often beat me because I was a Jew. The same thing happened in the Polish orphanage. Polish boys claimed I was responsible for the suffering imposed on them and their families in 1939--when Eastern Poland was occupied by Russians. In those days I believed that anti-Semitism was already disappearing from our classless society.

The term “primitive anti-Semitism” is probably appropriate for what one encounters among uneducated people. Such animosity can be contrasted with what flourished in Poland later, when I was already in the USA-- “anti-Semitism from above”--persecution of Jews organized by the governing authorities. In that case the goal may have been to divert attention away from those who were guilty of various political abuses. Officially organized anti-Semitism “from above,” and primitive hatred “from below” seem to be mutually related; they depend on each other.

Most early entries in my diary were not devoted to speculations about racism; they were devoted to difficulties in studying, and to relations with Anya, my first sweetheart. I was not a good student during the first two years at the College of Telecommunication of Warsaw Polytechnic. Anya was a better student; we took the same courses and often studied together. Our relations, as I see now, were much more complex than I realized at the time. My constant drive toward analysis of everything--how naive it often was--is remarkable. I was very critical toward myself, and toward others.

My goals were well defined. All details are very interesting to me now; but they are not worth sharing with others. According to T, during a revolution or war those who are not with us are against us. I think that it was Lenin who said so--to justify terror, immediately after the revolution. I was a real communist in those days; I believed that brutality and terror toward class enemies were justified. What is our society's long-term goal? It is to build communism in the entire world. And what should be the goal of each individual today? It is to build socialism. All individual efforts should be channeled toward this goal. I want to become an engineer and serve society. [...]

2.3 Who am I, a Jew or a Pole? (1951)

My mother is at a union conference; she is disappointed in me. She wanted me to take part in a Jewish meeting but I was not interested. Who am I, a Jew or a Pole? I should devote some time to study the question of nationality. Then I will decide about my attitude to the Jewish question. [...] K said that people unable to be productive become teachers. I have to think about this. […] Lenin died 27 years ago. One minute of silence, at our ZMP [youth organization] meeting, commemorated that day. Then M presented a review of our activities; it led to an interesting discussion. Our main shortcomings are absence of planning, poor organizational effectiveness, and insufficient political education activity. Our group will become a model, as far as political education is concerned. [...]

I finished reading a novel
[“The Stars Look Down” by A.J. Cronin]. It is a good book, picturing capitalist reality. It shows how elections are won in England. Joe, one of the contemporary western leaders, was a bad guy. David was a good guy. But intentions are not enough; even looking for support of miners is not sufficient to destroy bad reality. David needed party leadership; the party would have helped him to be effective working with miners. [...] Last night I started reading “About understandability.” A person who wants to be a good engineer or physicist must know Marxist philosophy. […]

Writing comments for oneself is useful. Marx also had some kind of a diary. Both Marx and Lenin wrote summaries of books they were studying. Stalin examines about 500 pages of text daily. My learning is mostly superficial; it must be supplemented later by more penetrating studies. I am only 20 now. First I will learn more mathematics, then I will learn English. One day quantity of knowledge will be transformed into quality. [...]

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Anya, probably in 1952

I will have to choose a specialty soon. It will probably be electro-medicine. Professor Pawlowski, impressed me. […] J has a strange attitude toward political organization work. […] Why doesn't he understand that we also have one common place, especially communists. We must be ready to be where we are needed. Today it is a laboratory, tomorrow a battlefield, and a day later it can be a collective farm. [...]

2.4 Two Years After we Fell in Love.

Today I went to a meeting in the regional ZMP [Union of Polish Youth] headquarters. It was about cooperation with the L13 factory [it became the Rosa Luxemburg factory]. Our task will be to help them organize a discussion club, to talk about properly chosen novels, and to promote other collective activities. J and A should be willing to do this, together with P. The young man at headquarters addressed me as comrade, as if I were a party member. [...] Another task is to influence our own students who do not belong to ZMP. That is not easy; I am thinking about D and B. [...]

Descriptions of several ZMP group meetings, in 1951, at Polytechnic, show that problems piled up, and that I was not a very effective group secretary. A lot of initiative came from F, who was a little older than most of us.

I also read descriptions of my breaking up with Anya, two years after we fell in love. The cause was religion. I knew that Anya was attending church but I expected this to change; she was also a ZMP member. But she said the Catholic church would always be important to her, and that her children would be baptized. Another entry describes how I met Ika and how we became close. Ika was very different from Anya; she was a dedicated communist. Anya and I continued studying at the same college at the Polytechnic Institute, but in different departments. She became a film sound engineer in Warsaw and got married. Is she still alive? If so she would also be 78. In fact, I would very much like to meet her and her family.

A tractor took us to PGR [a state agricultural farm] yesterday. It was a full day of work. Things are very neglected here; weeds are all over, as if they were planted. There is a shortage of manpower--only 24 people for 600 hectares of land and 1000 hectares of pasture. Workers complain. They were brought here under false pretenses; they were promised private ownership, not slavery. In some places one can still see traces of a highly organized German farm [this region was part of Germany before WWII]. A young ZMP member, who was sent here after graduating from an agricultural school, told me that productivity would improve if German farms were given to individual families. Would this really be the best solution? I do not know much about agriculture. [...]

2.5 What Does She Think about Our Political Activities? (1952)

I suggested that D should be elected to represent us, as the electro-medical section. She is a very smart girl but she is not in ZMP, and she is religious. I think that D will be happy to represent us. What does she think about our political activities? She probably approves of our battle against cheating, our goal-oriented organizational consistency, our emphasis on being good students, etc.

I heard her parents complaining about today's reality; she is probably constantly exposed to reactionary points of view. How does she respond? She is too shy to talk about this. But I saw how she discussed effective learning with the laboratory group colleagues. She does not want to be an outsider and we must take advantage of this. We should help her become more active. D would probably be happy to discuss the role of individuals in society, goals of life, etc. What will E and L say when I suggest it to them? [...]

ZMP activism was a good preparation for what I had to do later in life. I learned to organize projects, to conduct meetings, and to think critically. General skills, as I can clearly see now, are important in any society. Reading, speaking, writing, swimming, and being organized are not linked to any political ideology.

2.6 Stalin Was a Goal-Oriented Bolshevik

Becoming a candidate for party membership I am starting a new period in my life. I will be fighting all that slows our progress. Demanding more from myself, paying attention to my own shortcomings will help me fight them in other people. I will never step down from this path. Comrade Stalin would certainly approve. He was probably doing the same, but with more success, in his formative years. [...] I am reading Stalin's Introduction to Leninism. Stalin is our dear teacher and leader. To me this is not an empty slogan. He is a goal-oriented Bolshevik in everything. But he does not repeat what the goal is; it becomes obvious to those who read carefully. [...]

Ika is very knowledgeable. Her own discipline is Polonistics but she is a Marxism-Leninism assistant in the Pedagogical School. She is on the Warsaw ZMP committee; she knows what a cardiogram is, or how fog develops. I was impressed with how much she knows about electricity and biology. […] What does she think about me? How should I behave with respect to her? One thing is clear; Anya should not know about Ika, till she also finds a boyfriend. I do not want to hurt her. [...]

This is Chapter 02.
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Chapter 00 Introduction click
Chapter 01 Brief Summary of My Entire Life click
Chapter 01A Two Letters from Siberia click
Chapter 02 Arguing with My Mother--Polish or Jewish? click
Chapter 03 Why is the Ministry of Security Investigating Me? click
Chapter 04 Death of Our Dear Comrade Stalin click
Chapter 05 Attitude Toward Religion click
Chapter 06 Cult of Personality Revealed click
Chapter 07 Aftermath of the 20th Congress click
Chapter 08 Meeting Joliot-Curie in France click
Chapter 09 Communists Killing Communists in Budapest click
Chapter 10 Fourth Year in Paris click
Chapter 11 Using the Nuclear Reactor click
Chapter 12 Will She Go to Poland with Me? click
Chapter 13 Back to Poland with the Doctorate click
Chapter 14 Leaving Poland to The US click
Chapter 15 Loose Ends--Recent Years click
Chapter 16 Six Questions and Answers click
Chapter 17 Table of Contents click