Oral History Transcript — Dr. G. Rossi Lomanitz
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G. Rossi Lomanitz; July 29, 2001
ABSTRACT: Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, was born on October 10, 1921 in Bryan, Texas. He would grow up in Oklahoma and receive his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 1940. In the fall of 1940 he enrolled in University of California –- Berkeley to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. He continued with his graduate work until June 1942, when he began working at the Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley on topics related to the production of atomic weapons. While employed at the Radiation Laboratory, he was active in attempting to organize a union in the workplace. This continued until September 20, 1943, when he was drafted out of the Radiation Laboratory and into the Army. This drafting occurred in spite of the fact that men such as Ernest Lawrence and Oppenheimer informed officials that they felt his war work was essential and that a deferment was certainly warranted. In the spring of 1949, Lomanitz was called before the House Committee of Un-American Activities to investigate his activities while employed at the Radiation Lab. At this point he invoked the 5th Amendment and in December of 1950 he was indicted for contempt of Congress. The following year he was found not guilty of this charge. He had, however, been effectively, if not officially, blacklisted from any academic work. This oral history focuses primarily on the period of time from 1940, when he first went to Berkeley, through the mid-1950s, when he had to face many problems that resulted from his political views and his appearance before HUAC. The oral history was conducted in July 2001 at his home in Hawaii.
Mullet:This is an oral history with Dr. Ross Lomanitz by Shawn Mullet. It’s the third session on July the 29th, 2001 at his home outside Pahoa, Hawaii. Dr. Lomanitz, yesterday we concluded by talking about a couple of the people you had met at Berkeley, most notably David Bohm and Joseph Weinberg. And I wanted to kind of continue along that line. Another individual that would become very – his fate would be tied with your case to some degree was Max Friedman. What were your impressions of him as a physicist, as a person and politically.
Lomanitz:You know, I’m not quite sure when I did first meet Max, because most of my memories are after I was working at the radiation laboratory which didn’t happen until June of 1942 and then the organization of the union in which Max was active as well as I and some other people. And then especially I have especially deep and fond memories of Max at the time when the United States government had gone to all out efforts to see that I was removed from the Radiation Lab project and drafted into the Army and Max was a great source of companionship and of help and of doing whatever he could. And these are the real – really the memories I have. I don’t even remember when I first met Max. But I do remember that he seemed to be a very decent, warmhearted guy, that he seemed to be sincere. When we starting organizing the union he became active in that. It was as though that was an important thing. He went on from there, and then especially I remember his doing everything he could to oppose the forced induction against the will of my own draft board. As a physicist I can’t even say about that too well. It seems to me as though Max and I were not really much in the same classes. So you know, I mean all I could really say about that is that well it seemed like he was doing all right.
Mullet:Fair enough. Another person was actually someone who was a little bit older than you was Dr. Bernard Peters.
Lomanitz:Peters was the one who had corrected and typed up and mimeographed Oppenheimer’s notes for the graduate quantum mechanics class that I took in 1940. Peters’ notes were dated 1939 and I don’t remember meeting Peters either until Radiation Laboratory days. We certainly did not have classes together. What I most remember about Peters then was that he too was working on the project. I think I’ve mentioned – perhaps I haven’t – that one of the big things we needed to do on the project was to see what could be done with a spread out beam of uranium in order to track and focus it in such a way to separate the 235 and the 238 and I think that Peters had been working either on how to try to prevent the spreading to start with or some such thing as that. I don’t really know for sure. We didn’t really discuss it. And again, my impression was again of a very serious man. Later on I came to find out that he had been in Germany and I think he’d been in a concentration camp and had escaped concentration camp and come to this country, but I didn’t find that out until later. It probably explained why he seemed to be so serious.
Mullet:You wouldn’t happen to know why he was in the concentration camp? Was it because of his politics or was it because of religion? Do you know any of the details surrounding that?
Lomanitz:No, I don’t know for sure, but Peters was sympathetic to the union also. In fact he joined the union at the Radiation Laboratory, so I imagine that he was — I mean, I think the Nazis put people in prison and concentration camps for the least deviation, and I don’t even know for sure that Peters was Jewish or not so I can’t really answer the question. I’m not sure.
Mullet:The physicist I want to ask you about is Frank Oppenheimer. What were your experiences with Frank?
Frank Oppenheimer, who was J. Robert Oppenheimer’s younger brother, and an experimental physicist, was important in the experimental work that was going on with the calutron the magnetic separation device for isotopes of uranium on the hill. Because I remember occasionally going up to the hill where the calutron was and discussing some problems with him and also his showing me an amazing phenomenon. We had been making calculations about the separation of uranium-238 and uranium-235 and it was a kind of a complicated business because of the spreading of the beam and we had calculated though that the correctors would correct these two different isotopes not in simple straight lines and shapes but in curved shapes. And I remember going up to the hill and seeing that this actually seemed to be true. And that is quite something to see the two different curved shapes with the 235. It was pretty well separated from the 238. The particular reason I think at that time for going up there is that Frank was interested also in how before you even put shims in to make an inhomogeneous magnetic field that was required to do the job, of how you might even without them how you might try to make the magnetic field more nearly uniform over a bigger area. Because out to the edges the field would no longer be uniform, but it would fringe out.
And I remember doing some calculations on trying to get that solved. And what finally happened was that after we gave Frank our results and he tried them, decided they weren’t good enough, he could try experimentally putting on more and more pieces of iron at such-and-such places, and it turned out a reasonably uniform magnetic field but that didn’t agree without calculations. I think our calculations were wrong, but we didn’t have time to stop and go over them once he had solved the problem anyway. But Frank appeared to me to be a very personable, a very decent, a very sincere person. And one of the things about Frank, a little anecdote, is that he had given a colloquium. I don’t even remember what it was about right now, but when he and his co-worker had gotten some results that did not seem to make a great deal of sense, you know, he had gotten experimentally and someone in the audience asked Frank, “Well, is there a reason for this discrepancy?” And Frank did not claim to know it all. He just said, “Oh yes, of course there’s a reason. We just don’t know what it is.” I rather liked that.
Mullet:One more physicist was Robert Serber, if you had any interactions with him and if so what were your impressions of him.
Lomanitz:The only real interaction I had with Robert Serber was after the war when I came back to Berkeley in 1946. I was doing graduate work. And Oppenheimer was gone a great deal of the time but he was in the process of going to be transferred over as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and I was taking some directed study from Serber. And this is really about the only contact I had with him.
Mullet:Okay. One person that is not in physics but was at Berkeley at the time was Betty Goldstein who had later become famous as Betty Friedan for writing The Feminine Mystique. And I know David Bohm had some interactions with her and I was curious as to whether or not you had any interaction with her and if so how would you characterize her as a person and politically.
Lomanitz:Yes, I did come to know Betty Goldstein, later Betty Friedan. She was a graduate student in psychology when I was a graduate student in physics. I think she probably came a year or so after I did. She probably came in ‘41, possibly in ‘42. As of a matter fact I dated her at least once. I found her a very interesting person to talk things over with politically. I also thought she was quite companionable as a date. Back in those days left-wing politics had not really tackled much the problem of sexism, but it was there in the left wing just as much as it was anywhere else where it was essentially assumed that women would do the Jimmy Higgins work, that they would do things like, oh, mimeographing leaflets and such, while the men did the organizing and the using the brainpower to tell you what was to go into the leaflets. And Betty Goldstein was already beginning to get some of her ideas together that later showed up in The Feminine Mystique. And I remember discussing some of these ideas with her. Sexism. It was instructive for me.
Mullet:One question. I forgot to ask about the group of physicists I had asked about earlier, is that many of the theoretical physicists at Berkeley were involved in left-wing politics or had at least left-wing ideals and I was curious as to whether or not you noticed any common traits or any particular reason why you think maybe theoretical students at Berkeley at the time were attracted to left-wing causes as opposed to the experimental students. Do you think that that might have been a reflection upon Oppenheimer’s influence over you as opposed to Lawrence’s influence over the experimental students? Or do you have any ideas as to why most of the theoretical students tended to be left wing?
Lomanitz:Not too well organized, but just sort of off the top of my hat, the impression I got at Berkeley was that physics students at the moment not differentiating between theoretical and experimental, but that physics students were liable to think more in terms of liberal and left-wing ideas than chemistry students, who seemed to be more conventional. And so I came to the conclusion that people who went into physics tended to be less conventional, more willing to entertain ideas, new ideas, strange ideas. Not that I think that left-wing ideas are strange. I just think that they are strange to the way media, government and culture acts. But within the physics community I guess it probably is true that theoretical physicists statistically tended to be more liberal and left wing than the experimentalists. And perhaps it did have something to do with the people in charge. What I really remember is that there was one man whose name was Leonard Loeb, who was a Ph.D. in physics and he had done a lot of work in discharge through gases, written books on it and so on like that, and it seemed to me he was an extremely reactionary fellow. The scoop I heard was that when the general strike was on he came to class with a pistol and saying he wasn’t going to let those commies take over. And I imagine that those students who at least worked with him would be more nearly prone to accepting his views. In fact I knew one or two students who did their graduate work with him, and they were not particularly liberal, progressive or radical. Lawrence. My experience with Lawrence — I wouldn’t have particularly called him a reactionary or right-wing person at the time I first knew him. I first knew him because I was auditing a graduate class in electrostatic from him. And it seemed to me that he was a lot more conventional type of guy than Oppenheimer but I didn’t at that time think of him as being really reactionary.
Mullet:Were there any theoretical students that you can remember that had decidedly conservative or right-wing views?
Lomanitz:It seemed to me that occasionally later on I would run into such. I am trying to even remember who. But when I first came to Berkeley at least — who did I know in theoretical physics? There were people like — No it seemed to me that at that time, when I first came to Berkeley at least — no, I did not know, I did not meet any theoretical physics students with really reactionary views. I did sometime later, but I can’t recall who and I can’t remember if it was even at California or if it was at Cornell.
Mullet:The last person I want to ask about is someone that I know had become very important in your life and it was actually someone you had known or met while in Oklahoma, and that was Merry Morgan, the woman that actually went out to Berkeley the same time as you, in fact in the same car, and then she would become your first wife. And I was wondering if you could give a little background on how you met her and how the two of you interacted at Berkeley and whether or not she would exert any influence on you as far as your political views or vice versa.
Lomanitz:I’m sure we influenced each other. We came out to Berkeley in the same car because her husband at that time had gotten a teaching assistantship in chemistry a chance to do graduate work for his doctor’s degree in chemistry.
At Berkeley. They asked me if I would care to share expenses driving out from Oklahoma with them and I leapt at it. I thought that was a great idea. As it turned out, there had been a considerable amount of unhappiness in their marriage which I didn’t know at the time, and very shortly after they got to Berkeley they separated and divorced. I met Merry — Well, I had met her at a physics department picnic in Oklahoma a couple of years before that, but had basically no further contact with her until coming out to California. And I was mightily impressed with her. I had thought of myself as being one who would discuss things with my friend Gladwyn Lago and my friend Troy Knowles at an earlier time, Oklahoma, that were non-conventional things to discuss. But with Merry I found out that she seemed to have given a great deal of thought to actually some of the social problems and what might be able to be done about their solution by trying to analyze what they arose from to start with. Now Mary’s mother was working class, she was a waitress, her stepfather was also working class, he was a cook, so she came in from a background that really was not my own. I came in from middle class background I would say.
And I discovered, first discovered through my association with her in Oklahoma probably, then followed by many other things, a fundamental difference statistically between working class psychology and middle class psychology which has stood me in good stead to this day. And that is, I found out that what I call working class psychology was the kind of outlook in which people working on the job concluded, or sort of automatically knew out of their experiences, that they were not going to be helped by some other worker’s failure. That that was not the way you advanced, not because somebody else did poorly. And the middle class psychology that I had run into so much of, without anybody saying so, and with anybody probably being willing to deny it if it were said so, are a great deal in it of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” And, “If these guys flunk out then they’ll give me a better chance, or if I insinuate myself with the boss better it will give me a better chance.” And to me, I had never really thought in those terms about the difference in these attitudes before, and I first discussed some of this with Merry. Later on when I myself was forced to make a living by doing blue collar work I found out how very true these differences were. Not 100 percent of the time.
There was always a stooge as it came to be said at whatever kind of job you were working on, but they were far, far less amongst working class people than amongst middle class people. And this was one of the I’d say sort of revolutionary things that came to me. First in terms of ideas and second in terms of then later on when it became my own experience, so that I have since then I think been able when I’m trying to analyze what in the world is happening and I hear a lot of stuff about, “Well, here’s these welfare frauds,” and “If you just leave it up to individuals to do private enterprise then we’ll get a nice efficient system where everything works,” and people who disagree with that are Bolsheviks or anarchists or communists and so on. And I come to look around, I can analyze that more and say, “Who is trying to make us think this and for what reason?” And I would say that the people trying to make us think this who gain from it economically, gain from it for power, they have been a lot more successful in dividing and conquering amongst middle class people than they have in the working class. So anyway, this was one of the tremendous things in discussions with Merry. And many other discussions with her too. I mean, I found out you know what was making her unhappy and how she felt she had been unable to overcome it in her previous marriage. And I spoke about learning some things from Betty Goldstein about sexism. Well, I also learned some things from Merry about that. In addition to which I fell in love with her. She was an extremely important person in my life and we had many happinesses together and we had many years together.
Mullet:When were you all married?
Lomanitz:I think we actually married in 1947.
Mullet:You made repeated references to June of 1942. You left graduate school to begin work at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley and I was curious as to how that opportunity came about and what your initial impressions of the Radiation Laboratory were.
Oh. At the particular time you are talking about, in June of 1942, what I was devoting a lot of time to was, at Oppenheimer’s request, revising some notes on electrodynamics for a course that he taught which had been compiled earlier by Shuichi Kusaka and later revised first by Frankel and Nelson and which were in need of further revision. And I had been working on those and one day he comes in with a sheaf of papers. I don’t know, thirty pages maybe, twenty pages. And says, “Would you be willing to look this report over and see whether you think there are any errors in it?” And of course this was a kind of an overwhelming thing to me and here the great god comes around and asks me to find out if he’s made any mistakes. But it was just his way and, you know, I don’t think he probably made many mathematical mistakes but I know that he knew that it was crucial to not make mistakes. The paper actually had been written by him in collaboration with Stanley Frankel and Elderd Nelson. And what the paper was about, although it did not mention — Well, what he paper was about was how a mass spectrograph might be changed in some way so that instead — so that instead of separating isotopes from one another in the standard way that mass spectrographs had done, namely a uniform magnetic field would cause the more massive isotope to go in a larger semicircle than a smaller one, than a less massive one, and therefore there could be separation.
This had been known and done for some time previously. I mean, deuterium for example was separated from hydrogen-1. But the paper itself was starting with a known spectrograph which uses a uniform magnetic field to separate isotopes, can it somehow be revised so that when the beam you send in is not nice and collimated that it’s spread out over a considerable angle so that the individual ions of one mass will end up over a whole spread of region which will overlap the region covered by the ion of say greater mass resolving but not having a very good separation after all. In other words, running into the problem of what happens because a beam that is spread out when you run it through the mass spectrograph will have considerable overlap in its isotopes for the heavy ions and the lighter ions. Can you devise a magnetic field somehow that is not uniform, that will make separations, decent separations occur again even when you have a massive beam which inevitably repels itself electrostatically and causes this spread to begin with. So the paper then was on, with a massive – with it spread out, can you revise the constant uniform magnetic field of a mass spectrograph in such a way as to achieve at least a fairly decent separation again of the isotopes as they go around. It was a very complicated question, because if you make the magnetic field nonuniform then the individual particles are not going in arcs of circles anymore. And if they are not going in arcs of circles anymore then just what part of this non-uniform field they’re going through gets shifted around and you get a…
Mullet:Okay. You were saying?
Yeah. I was saying that if you have to make your magnetic field nonuniform in order to bring back at least a fairly decent separation of the isotopes then you have a real kind of messy problem. Because if the magnetic field is nonuniform then any ion going around is not going to go around in the arc of a circle as it would have with the uniform magnetic field. Because it does not go around in the arc of a circle anymore, then it’s quite a business to figure out what part of the magnetic field does it then encounter because the magnetic field is not uniform anymore, and if so what effect will this have on it, and instead of one of these really messy problems to which you need to find a sort of, somehow a self-consistent answer — and you never get a perfect answer to it, you sort of have to get a self-consistent answer that gives you still separation when you are said and done that is okay from the practical standpoint. Now the article that Oppenheimer asked me to look over never said anything about that isotopes they were talking about or anything like that. However, anybody who was in physics at all at that time and a little bit before that time would have in the first place noted that fission of uranium had been reported back in the end of 1938, the beginnings of 1939 with the release of an awful lot of energy.
That fission is the splitting up of the uranium atom. And further that the isotope uranium-235 would perform this much more easily than the isotope uranium-238 which was however the predominant isotope. So that if I were looking over a paper that had been written concerning the separation of isotopes and knowing that this was supposed to be connected with the war effort, then it would not be that hard to figure out that they are talking about uranium. In addition to which, there had been a man in military uniform that we would see from time to time talking to Oppenheimer, in LeConte Hall on walking outside of it. So while everybody — Oh, and finally one other thing, and that is that shortly after, I mean in 1939 sometime or shortly after 1939 t his news about the fission of uranium which appeared both in the New York Times and of course in the Physical Review, suddenly shut down completely.
There was no further news whatsoever about it. And when something as revolutionary as a process like fission occurs then you expect there to be a climate of gathering around and work done and reports to be made on it for quite some time to come. And there was in fact a shutdown of any mention of it whatsoever. So these things put together made one almost sure that it was a separation of uranium-235 and uranium-238 that was involved in here. And they were also sure that if all the engineering were successful and this separation process plus other processes of putting it together to make some kind of an explosion that there would be a terrific amount of energy released compared with the kind of chemical energy that was released in puny little stuff like dynamite and TNT and so on like that. So nobody talked about it, but it was there to draw the inference from without any great deal of effort. If you were a little familiar with the physics, what was being looked upon was separation of the isotope uranium-235 from that of uranium-238 even isotopes like 233 and so on in order to use the 235 to make a fantastically powerful bomb. Now I myself, and some others that I knew it turned out, were really not very happy about this sort of thing. Because if something with that fantastic an explosive possibility were in the hands of one government, even though it might be our government, what might this mean for the future of the world? Because if there were no restraints on its use — or if there were restraints on its use and some idiot, some maniac decided to steal the thing — it would produce terrible results. Our worries about this were quickly put down however, because we were told this: the Nazis were probably working on the same thing. “Do you want to see the Nazis get it and we not have it?” and I can assure you my reaction to that, and I think everybody I knew was. “No. Of course not. We’ll take our risks with what happens if there is a monopoly on this new bomb on the part of our government rather than on the part of the Nazi government.” So we went to work on it. In fact, after I looked through the report that Oppenheimer had asked me to look over, I had found no errors that I could discern in it and so reported back to him. He then asked me whether I would like to change jobs, stop being a student, stop being a teaching assistant and instead work at the Radiation Laboratory on further stuff on this same thing. What was essentially being done was to try to find out better and better shapes of pole pieces to produce better and better magnetic fields for the better and better separation of the isotopes. And so I did that. I took the job.
Mullet:You mentioned just briefly, you said that you saw a military official walking around, in uniform walking around with Oppenheimer. Was that General Leslie Groves as you would come to find out?
Lomanitz:I’m absolutely sure it must have been. The thing we called him was, “Hey, the braid is back.” That’s all we knew, that nickname.
Mullet:You mentioned your moral reservations or your concerns about the production of an atomic bomb were overcome by the idea, the fear that the Nazis might get it. As someone who worked at Berkeley on projects relating towards the production of an atomic bomb or towards the Manhattan Project. Why, after the Germans surrendered, did why America continue with the production of atomic weapons.
Oh, yes. Yes. And in fact we continued with it, I understand the work was sped up as much as possible to try to produce one test, one bomb for a test and then one bomb, it turned out two bombs, for actual dropping on Japan. I know that it has been said that, “See? The atomic bomb ended the war against Japan, and look at all the American lives that were saved, maybe all the Japanese lives that might have been saved, so it was done basically for humanitarian reasons.” Which is absolutely in my opinion hogwash and meant to brainwash us. Well, I think there is one reason why our government kept pushing, and there is another reason why the people who worked on it kept going on ahead with it after VE Day, after the victory over the Nazis in May of 1945. I think the reason our government worked on it was what I am going to call power politics, Cold War, domination of the world, things like that. One of the reasons I think this is true is because it turns out that very shortly after the Nazis surrendered – certainly by June of 1945 – the Japanese were desperately trying to carry on negotiations for the end of the war. And they in fact as it turns out basically agreed to everything we demanded.
We demanded unconditional surrender, but that they agreed to everything except one thing, and that was that they wanted have their Emperor Hirohito continue. And we said, “No. Unconditional surrender.” As it turned out, the Japanese were permitted to have their Emperor Hirohito continue, and he continued for quite a while. But I am convinced now that the war could have been over by negotiated settlement with Japan which included essentially “unconditional surrender except you can keep your emperor.” And if that had been done in June instead of in August, then not only would Japanese lives have been saved but American lives would have been saved also, because we went on ahead with island hopping after, for the next two months. Now I myself was in the Army as a grunt and my outfit in the Pacific, it was commonly rumored, was going to be one of those that was going to be in on the invasion of Japan in November of 1945 was what the scuttlebutt said. And not a one of us was at all interested in being in on the invasion of Japan — that I know of at least. And so it was very tempting to think that, “Gee, if the atom bomb stopped the war, I’m for it regardless.” The atom bomb did not stop the war. The war could have been stopped without the atom bomb. As I say, I think the reason that our government pursued it was for power politics reasons.
Now as far as the scientists were concerned, the best I have heard said by a couple of the scientists themselves about this was in the movie The Day After Trinity. And in this one, this movie, which consisted amongst other things of interviews of various people at Los Alamos, one of them interviewed was Bob Wilson, Robert Wilson; one of them interviewed was Frank Oppenheimer. And they were, of all those interviewed in that movie they were the only two that I heard raise the question, “Well, why did we go on pushing to develop the bomb after Germany had surrendered and the threat was no longer there that the Nazis were going to get it?” Because nobody felt there was going to be any threat that the Japanese were going to get it. And both Frank Oppenheimer and Bob Wilson came to the same conclusion, and they were basing it on their own feelings as best as they could analyze them, and they said essentially, “Look, we got caught up in things. It became something tremendous. It became something like gee, can we push it through?” and the issues of why we had originally started it and what would happen if we did push it through and it were used now sort of took a back seat on this big drive about, “Gee, can we do it?” Myself, I think there is another thing related to that, and that is I think there is always a feeling of power when you are in on the sort of inner work on something like that. And whether we like it or not, most of us are subject to that.
In fact I have another little anecdote about it. I am going to tell that anecdote. One of the reasons I know that is that back when I was working at the Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley and there was a meeting one time, as we were getting ready to begin to go into production of the calutrons there was a meeting at which a senior vice president from General Electric, a senior vice president from Westinghouse, and from Stone and Webster, all — well, the first two were huge industrial companies and the second two were moderate sized. But I remember being at that meeting because I was working on the calutrons, and I remember that in spite of myself I had a feeling of awe that I was sitting in a meeting that had these big wheels from these big industrial outfits present also and that the work that I had been doing was going to be going into production. And I by that time had been exposed to and absorbed enough of the idea that the heads of big corporations are not about to be trusted any more than General Eisenhower when he was president trusted them and referred to the military-industrial complex. And yet I found this feeling of awe in being in their presence. So I think this was a part of it too.
Mullet:Were there any other experiences — aside from your political issues or your political involvement or labor involvement at the Radiation Laboratory, were there any other instances that really stuck out in your mind, any other experiences that you had at the Radiation Laboratory that you think were particularly important to you? Or was it pretty much just a regular job that was connected to the Manhattan Project?
Lomanitz:Well I guess one or two things do, as I come to think about it. We all knew that this was not to be discussed, what we were doing, with anybody. Didn’t matter if it seemed like it might be harmless or something or another, don’t discuss it with anybody. And I was going with Merry Morgan at that time and we were talking about very important things, not just politically but personally and so on, and I made very sure not to say anything about what work we were working on and she made very sure not to ask me any questions about it. So I think I was impressed by that and by the fact that as far as I know – See, one of the things that really makes me angry right to this day is there had been a lot of insinuations about people leaked information or they might have leaked information or they would have leaked information, that their politics would make them ideologically want to. And this is awful. I mean, the people who bring these things up, in my opinion, and accuse others whose politically ideology was different from theirs, of being possible or probable traitors, as far as I’m concerned I and everybody else I knew working for the Radiation Laboratory were a lot more patriotic than those people who tried to make these innuendos or statements. So anyway, that was one thing. I don’t know.
Mullet:That’s basically what I was asking you. What your overall impressions of your time at the Radiation Laboratory were and how you felt about working there. And with that, you know like you said, the specific experiences that might have given you a particular impression.
Lomanitz:Except for one thing of course, and that is when we organized the union at the Radiation Laboratory, a union of professional people mostly — the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians. “Physicists” wasn’t included because there were so few physicists at that time that the name wasn’t even in the union. When we organized that, I came to find out the hard way —
Mullet:Do you remember when you began those organizing efforts or when you all were organized into the union at the Radiation Laboratory?
Lomanitz:Not for sure. It was sometime probably toward the end of ‘42 or early ‘43, and the way it all started was that this same union, the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians, had branches already organized at a number of industrial research places very close to Berkeley in a town called Emeryville. Shell Development for example was the research and development arm of Shell Oil Company, with a pretty strong branch of the union there. And some of the union people from there said to us, “Why don’t you form a union there?” So that’s how it started, but I think it was probably toward end of ‘42 or early ‘43. But what I found out was that in spite of there having been a law that workers are free to organize into unions of their own choosing — this law had come in during Roosevelt’s administration, Franklin Roosevelt’s administration — that in spite of that this was not true as far as when the Army took this place over this was not true, because while it was supposed to be true they took great pains to make sure that that union was dissolved and that I, as one of the active people in the union, was drafted into the Army as one way to see that the union was dissolved. The reason for that is that there was again a law that you were not to be fired for union activity, but there was no law that you were not to be drafted union activity. So anyway, this was another really great thing I learned which I wouldn’t have in the run of the mill, and that is that the highest offices in government itself were determined there would be no union. In fact eventually when I got hold of some documents, papers years later, I found in there that there were instructions that were given to the national chairmen of the CIO, Philip Murray, to see to it — instructions given by the government out of the President’s Office — to see to it that the Radiation Laboratory union went out of business and was not to resume. Okay. So this is another that I learned.
Mullet:You have already expressed that very soon after arriving at Berkeley you developed a much greater appreciation or respect for unions, or a much higher opinion of unions. Prior to your experiences at the Radiation Laboratory, had you moved from just talking about politics to becoming politically active? When did you actually start to engage in political activity? Was there any cases prior to the Radiation Laboratory union drive or was that the first case of true —?
Lomanitz:There were. Yeah. When I lived at the student cooperative, Barrington Hall, I found out there was an organization on campus of students called the Student Workers Federation. It was not affiliated with any international union, national union or local union per se, but the Student Workers Federation, one of its main points was to learn and understand the union viewpoint and to try to disseminate information about it. On campus there was a thing that bore the name of “Fair Bear”, which was a name for what was recommended to be a minimum wage for students and the Students Workers Federation pushed to have the Fair Bear wage raised. But there was another thing with the Student Workers Federation, and that is during the summertime some of the unions in San Francisco or in the East Bay might need extra people to work jobs because in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for example I know that in the summertime there was an increase. I don’t know just why, but I mean the what people went out to work on, I mean whether it was unloading ships for example of sugar sacks or if you work on the docks in warehouses there was a greater need in the summertime for people. The union sometimes did not have enough people to supply all those men, and yet they had contracts which said that union men were the ones that were to be hired. And so there was this — what would you say? — this relation between the Student Workers Federation and some of the national and international unions that when they needed more people than the union had available that some of us out of the Student Workers Federation would be sent out by the union to work on the jobs and then of course these wouldn’t continue when the need was over but then after the summer was over our need didn’t continue either. So the Student Workers Federation had a dual purpose: one of them was ideological and one of them was very practical. So I became a member of the Student Workers Federation and I did indeed get some summer jobs out of the unions that way. There was a group called the California Youth Legislature which discussed issues of the day. I’m not sure. There were other student groups which I attended. I don’t know if I became a member of them. I remember attending a meeting of the American Student Union at one time. I don’t think I ever became a member of it. I might have. But given an atmosphere where this is sort of the affair of the day rather than — well, it’s just sort of different. That was the culture you were in.
Mullet:I know David Bohm, as we mentioned earlier David Bohm actually went to the point of joining the Communist Party in the United States at that time. I know that you had later, when you testified before the Un-American Activities Committee you refused to answer the question concerning your membership in the Community Party. I was curious as to whether or not you were in fact a member of the Community Party or if you still take the Fifth so to speak on that or what’s your opinion on your own membership in the Communist Party or lack thereof.
Lomanitz:The reason I refused to testified before the Un-American Activities Committee about even my own membership or that of various other people that they asked about was because I thought it was a terrible infringement of our rights of free association, free speech, free ideas, and that that question was a loaded question that was going to be used to try to persecute people. And if the answer were yes about myself or about somebody else — now in those times I can assure you it was, “Yes. You see, these people were trying to get hold of our most vital secrets and no doubt give them to the Russians.” And if I said no I already knew of cases, in the case of some labor leaders previously that said no they were not members of the Communist Party, but were persecuted, prosecuted for perjury regardless of whether they were or whether they were not. Because I can assure you, in those times the government was out to paint a picture that there is this evil menace of communism, and any time anybody challenged the government’s policies or any of the policies that existed with respect to segregation, with respect to discrimination, with respect to working conditions and so on like that, they would be diverted from that by saying, “The main thing is we’re threatened by this big evil enemy of Communism and that’s the big thing” and you know, “We’ve all got to unite against that” and while in the meantime the powers that be would continue to prevent any action being taken against any other important issues. So I knew — I absolutely knew — there was no decent purpose in asking a question like this. It was to brainwash us, it was to whitewash them, it was to threaten us. I wanted to say that I wasn’t going to answer the questions they asked because the First Amendment to the Constitution is the right to free speech, free association, free thought, free press, free petition for redress of grievances, but the reason I and a bunch of others didn’t do that was that two years earlier some Hollywood writers —
Mullet:You were saying about your experiences…
Lomanitz:Yes. That in 1947 there had been a number of Hollywood screenwriter and such called up before this same committee, House Committee on Un-American Activities, and had been treated in the same kind of a way. “All right now, are you or are you not a member of the Communist Party? All right, now what about this person you know over here. Was he or was he not?” and so on. And these people, these Hollywood people, had in fact used the First Amendment to say, “You have no right to do this. We have a right to or not to, to tell you or not to tell you, and this is protected by the First Amendment.” It turns out that these Hollywood people who said that were indicted for Contempt of Congress. They were convicted of Contempt of Congress. They were sentenced to prison for one-year terms for Contempt of Congress. Their appeals went as far as the United States Supreme Court — which at that time upheld their convictions and they spent the time in jail, in prison. So what I really felt was exactly the way they had, that the First Amendment says that, “You guys have got no right to do this. You are undermining our rights,” and so on like this. I saw no particular reason in just being another one who was going to go to jail because I said it, so I and a number of others with me at the time said, “All right, we have another thing in our Constitution which is very protected. It’s called the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees the right of a person not to testify against himself.” Now as far as I’m concerned, if I answered that question yes, if I answered that question no, I would be testifying against myself because I knew what they would do with it. I would still prefer to use the First Amendment. But I used the Fifth instead. And I have felt that way for many years since then, and I have always very suspicious when a person asks me a question directly, “Are you or do you know anybody who was a member of the American Communist Party?” I have been very suspicious that either they completely missed the big scene I have been describing about how this was being used, or if they did know it that they had evil intentions. So I have made a policy of not answering that question, and, if I have the opportunity of trying to say why I didn’t answer, which is just what I have been saying right now.
Mullet:I know the union at the Radiation Laboratory, the FAECT, at the Shell Development Company a man named George Eltenton was very significant at that company. And was he significant in helping to bring the FAECT to the Radiation Laboratory?
Lomanitz:I don’t know. I have a vague memory of the name. I have a vague memory there were several people from the Shell Development that did come around and talk to some of us. Eltenton was probably one of them. That’s all I can say.
Mullet:Eltenton would become somewhat infamous in his connection with the J. Robert Oppenheimer hearings as far as Oppenheimer’s friend in the literature department, Haakon Chevalier, had discussed with Oppenheimer that he had been approached by Eltenton and in the course of the hearings it was suggested that Eltenton was at least in some way perhaps a courier for the Soviets as far as espionage. So you never had any indication from Eltenton that he might be interested in conveying secrets to the Russians? I mean I know your experiences with Eltenton were limited, but he never approached you in any way about things such as that did he?
Lomanitz:Oh, no, no, no. In fact I’m even trying to remember if I even remember him. The name sounded familiar, but certainly not — Incidentally, I don’t think it has been established yet one way or the other as to whether Chevalier for example was suggesting to Oppenheimer that there be a sharing of the atomic information or whether he was saying to Oppenheimer, “Somebody has raised to me whether I think there should be a sharing of it” or just in what sense it was used. But certainly no. Neither Eltenton nor anybody else ever approached me about that idea. “How about turning over whatever knowledge you may have to the Russians”. Never.
Mullet:Another person whose name would be connected with yours during your time at the Radiation Laboratory was Steve Nelson who was an official of the Communist Party in Alameda County which is the county in which Berkeley is located, and a lot of people, a lot government or military officials suggested that there was a relationship between the two of you as far as a connection that could be seen as a potential avenue for espionage. What recollections [do] you have of Steve Nelson and if the conversation ever in any way addressed issues of secrets that you might be privy to at the Radiation Laboratory.
Lomanitz:I remember the name Steve Nelson and I probably met the man, because I went to — as I said, I went to all kinds of meetings, including open meetings of the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party, the America First Party and so on. And there was a Steve Nelson, I know, at least one of those meetings. And if I remember right, Steve Nelson was introduced as being not only an official of the American Communist Party in Alameda County but also as someone who had fought in Spain on the side of the Loyalists. And I’m sure I was probably introduced to him. But as far as any conversation is concerned, let me just put it like this: nobody at any time ever, ever asked me any information about what I was doing, and I never volunteered any. And I had to labor mightily when I was called later before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to get a statement into their record saying, “If you guys are interested in did any such thing happen, I will tell you right now, no, it did not for me and I do not know of any.” And I had to struggle getting my statement in. They finally said, “Oh well, we might as well let him put that statement into the record. It will save time.” And then they brushed it aside. But no. Never. Neither with Steve Nelson, whatever his name Eltenton was, nor anybody else.
Mullet:I know later a lot of military intelligence records would indicate that you along with other physics students and physics faculty were being, were subjected to surveillance by government officials, be they the FBI or military intelligence officials. Do you remember when you first became aware of the fact that you were under surveillance? Or do you remember when you first began to have any interactions with security officials either from the military or from the FBI?
Lomanitz:Ah. Let’s see. I hadn’t thought about when first they had done that. You know, I know that later on some cases, some instances after the war I could definitely point to, but when did I —? Well, I know this: I know that from time to time people would come around and identify themselves as being from the Provost Marshall’s Office, whatever that might be, and would ask questions. They would ask questions about other people working at the Radiation Laboratory. “Now what do you know about him? Do you think he’s” — what? It wasn’t always even just political, you know. “Do you think he’s stable? Do you think he drinks? Do you think he’s loyal to the United States?” Usually their questions would be about somebody else, while I am reasonably sure that while they were asking questions about somebody else they were drawing their own conclusion of the answers we gave. But the actual tailing, I don’t really remember much of being specifically aware of that until after the war. But I do remember that somehow or another we assumed that phones would be tapped and that we would be tailed. And for example, I mean I assumed that if I went to any one of these political meetings that I was talking about that probably there would be a tail there watching to see who all went in, whether they were standing at the door watching or what. So it was just the thing to naturally assume. But I can’t recall just now of being aware of somebody right behind me. But I again just assumed that there were.
Mullet:Do you have any idea how those assumptions originated, like how you came to even assume that?
Lomanitz:Well, I know that when Oppenheimer would come back into town after, he would be at Los Alamos for a while and then he might come back to Berkeley for a little while and then back to Los Alamos. And I remember that it was his habit that if one talked about something, “Let’s just walk outside and talk about it out there.” In other words, he assumed that the phones were tapped. He wasn’t the only one, I’m sure. There is a part of a building on the Berkeley campus that was set aside for offices for what they called area engineers, which as it turned out were military intelligence people, and they had — there was a Mr. Johnson, there was a Mr. Fidler, I remember these two names — and later on I came to find out that this wasn’t really Mr. Johnson, this was really Lieutenant Johnson, this was really Captain Fidler, and so on. I don’t know. I mean, let’s put it like this. There had been such a history of tailing on things that had nothing to do with Radiation Laboratory — tailing of Harry Bridges for example and they were trying – the head of the Longshoremen and Warehouse Union years before when they were trying to see if they couldn’t get some kind of evidence that they could use to deport them on — that it was sort of common knowledge. It was part of the common culture, “Oh yeah. The [inaudible phrase] people were around there watching and they’re probably tapped.” Okay, you’re wrong, okay you’re wrong, nothing lost. It was sort of in the air.
Mullet:You said before that the office of the president sent a letter to the President of the CIO to try and halt any union organizing or union activity at the Radiation Laboratory. Do you remember when it was first made clear to you that there were efforts to stop the union? Or was it during your time at the Radiation Lab that it became clear to you that somebody, be it the government or whomever, did not want a union formed at the Radiation Lab? Or when did you become aware of that?
Lomanitz:It didn’t become clear with evidence I could point to while I was there, however actually the letters that I am thinking about, that’s in some documents I have, was either just after I was inducted into the Army or just during the period in which I was trying to prevent its happening. Let’s see. What was the question again please?
Mullet:While at the Radiation Laboratory were you aware of the fact that there were efforts to stop the union organization?
Lomanitz:When I first received a notice that I was put into 1A and to be inducted immediately.
Mullet:1A meaning you being…
Lomanitz:Oh. This was draft classification, and 1A were those that were fine, were eligible to be immediately inducted. When after having gotten at least two previous deferments for essential war work and not being inducted and expecting another one when I suddenly got this notice that I was declared 1A and was to be drafted in ten days.
Mullet:And when did you receive that notice?
Lomanitz:Around July, maybe July 30th, give or take, of 1943, toward the end of July. It was really a sort of a strange thing, because Dr. Lawrence had just had a talk with me about some new work that he wanted me to undertake which was supposedly more important, which was to go out to Oakridge and be a liaison man between Berkeley and Oakridge while Oakridge was building a couple of hundred of these machines. He had just [inaudible phrase].
Lomanitz:Yeah, the calutrons. It was just after that — you know, I mean a day, two days, whatnot after that that I received this notice of 1A classification. Anyway, I did a lot of things, and some other people did a lot of things about that. I didn’t end up in the Army ten days later. It took as a matter of fact nearly two months when it was all said and done. But I went around, and first I asked Dr. Lawrence what was going on. He said, “Oh, there has to be a mistake. I’ll take care of it.” It turned out that it was not a mistake and he was not able to take care of it. I went around to see some of these area engineers and I received various responses as to why I was being drafted. I received I think at least three different sets of responses, none of which I’m sure had any truth to it, and one of them was that, “Well, I guess your services just aren’t needed anymore.”
Mullet:At the Radiation —?
Lomanitz:At the Radiation Laboratory. I received another one that, “Well, maybe you are going to be put in the Army and sent back here in the Army in an important way on the project,” which also did not happen. And the third one was, “Search your conscience.” Well, I don’t think I needed to search my conscience, but I can assure you I searched my conscience and saw nothing that I had done wrong. I had not done — I had not been — what’s the word? — indiscrete. I had certainly not been deliberately saying things I shouldn’t say. So anyhow, when did I become aware, when I went around and asked why I was being inducted and was given these three different lies about it. It seemed fairly clear that the one truth involved is that the union was not wanted there. And as a matter of fact it was not very long at all after I went into the Army that the union at the Radiation Laboratory was dissolved, and later on when I looked at the, finally got access to some of these documents, I think the document that Ann Rosenberg, who was assistant to the President Roosevelt, had written to Phillip Murray, the head of the CIO, was just about the time I was inducted — a little before that or a little after that. So just when I became aware — Because I had the naive idea that, you know, that our Constitution says, “Okay, you can do these sorts of things.” And I didn’t realize that they would go to such lengths to subvert the Constitution.
Mullet:You mentioned that Ernest Lawrence had expressed an interest in assisting you to get a draft deferment. In 1954 when Oppenheimer was testifying at his security clearance hearing he said that in 1943 he wrote a letter to military officials concerning your draft status and he said that he would not have written a letter had he known you were “an active communist” as military officials perceived you, as being an active communist. Yet in a 1943 statement to John Lansdale, an Army officer in military intelligence, he said he knew for a fact that you were an active member. What do you make of that contradiction where at first he said in 1943 he wrote a letter on your behalf and yet at the same time he was telling an Army official that he would have never written a letter had he known you were an active member. Do you have any idea of what was going through his head concerning how he perceived you at that time or do you, can you make sense of why he would contradict himself like that?
Lomanitz:It really makes me very sad, because I have a great respect for Oppenheimer. I have a great respect for his potentialities and some of what he actually did. Unfortunately I do not have respect for his courage. I think — you see, the way I remember wasn’t the quotes you were just giving. What I remember was that first Oppenheimer sent a very strong telegram requesting that I be deferred because otherwise there would be real problems with continuing to work on the project and so on like that. Later on I remember his saying something about, well, he had understood from military intelligence that I had been indiscrete — whatever indiscrete meant. Which I of course am still very unhappy about the statements being made, because I don’t think it’s true, I’m sure it’s not true. Military intelligence may indeed have told Oppenheimer this. Military intelligence may indeed have told Oppenheimer whatever one statement and then the other statement and so forth. Military intelligence, CIA, FBI is quite as capable as their Russian counterparts of telling whatever lies that they think will accomplish their objectives. I’m just really sad that Oppenheimer was, you know, that he was not able to just sort of honestly stand up to it. I wish he had honestly stood up about his friend Haakon Chevalier. And I gather instead of that he sort of tried to protect himself by making some cock and bull story. It really makes me very sad about the man. And if he had been just a little more courageous I don’t think all this stuff would have had to happen.
Mullet:So having worked the Radiation Laboratory, did you have — and you mentioned before about Lawrence’s desires to promote you to liaison with Oakridge — how would you compare? I know a lot of people have tried to compare, contrast or analyze Oppenheimer as opposed to Lawrence and I was curious how would you compare the two men. Or what was your impression with their relationship with each other at the time you were at Berkeley and at the Radiation Laboratory?
Lomanitz:Their relationship with each other I really didn’t know all that much about. I had heard the scuttlebutt that there had been conflict between Oppenheimer and Lawrence and that Raymond T. Birge had been chosen as a compromise for chairman of the physics department to try to help resolve the conflict. I myself had not been in a position to actually see any of this stuff at that time. And as far as personally with Lawrence is concerned, sure I got the idea that Lawrence was conventional — although he certainly wasn’t conventional in terms of that bigger and bigger cyclotrons. But my impression at the time was that Lawrence was a pretty decent person, that he did not have the imagination to conceive of new worlds of the sort that Oppenheimer had — and I may be wrong about that, but that was my impression. Even after the war when I came back from the Army I had a feeling that Lawrence still was a decent person, because he talked to me, and he talked to me in what he would consider to be – and I guess I would too — a fatherly way. He said, “Now look, please don’t consider yourself to be scientific worker. Consider yourself to be a scientist. You will not only get in trouble by considering yourself to be a scientist worker, but I mean scientists are scientists.” I mean, I was almost touched that the man was sort of – what would you say? — almost as though he cared about this young guy enough to say it, whether I believed it or not.
Mullet:As you said, there was definitely tension between the two men. Did you ever feel that that tension filtered down to the graduate students — Oppenheimer’s theoretical students and Lawrence’s experimentalist students — or do you feel it was pretty much well contained between the two of them?
Lomanitz:I certainly never saw that there was conflict between the students. I mean the closest I can come to it is thinking that some of the graduate students might have tended to look a little snidely on Lawrence.
Mullet:Theoretical graduate students?
Lomanitz:On Lawrence, yes, the theoretical graduate students might look a little snidely on him as not really having as much on the ball as Oppenheimer. But this is sort of a sad thing that can happen between theoretical and, theoreticians and experimentalists anyway, who considers who at the top of the heap. But the funny thing is, I didn’t really sense much of that at all either between the two men, Oppenheimer and Lawrence, or between the graduate students.
Mullet:So on September 20th, 1943 you were officially drafted into the Army in spite of the efforts of Lawrence to obtain a draft deferment.
In spite of the efforts of Lawrence and of Oppenheimer. And also of my own local draft board and those sort of things. And my local draft board, who had put me in 1A, found out what was going on — that it was not some such of a thing as well they just, you know, there wasn’t a job anymore or that I was just being sent on some secret mission or something like that, but that it was clearly a case of discrimination for, union discrimination or political views discrimination or whatever. They became incensed because they felt that this was absolutely not right. And while draft boards were under pressure to you know grab people into the Army, this draft board took the amazing step of putting me back into deferred classification 2B even after they were told by the state, by the National Selective Service Director General Hershey. Now what they were told — I’m sorry. My local draft board was told by the California State Selective Service Director Colonel Leach [spelling?] that if they did not put me back in 1A that he, Colonel Leach, would appeal this decision to the State Board of Appeals and would have me put back in 1A. Which is what in fact happened. I didn’t even know that anybody could appeal except the draftee himself, but it turned out the State Selective Service director could. And then in documents I saw later General Hershey, under pressure from General Groves, General Hershey, the National Selective Service Director, had told Colonel Leach that unless I were put back into 1A and drafted that the Appeals Board, California State Appeals Board and my local board would both be dissolved and be replaced — which is a fair amount of pressure. In spite of this, my local board put me in 2B deferred anyway.
The State Selective Service Director, Colonel Leach, got the State Appeals Board to put me back into 1A, and that still wasn’t the end of the story because my local board told me that if I could get another job which would send in the standard requests for deferment then they would put me back in 2B again even after what the Appeals Board had done because, legally, because there would be new evidence. My local draft board, Board #69, Berkeley, California, would deserve a certain medal for courage themselves in my opinion. But anyhow, they said that even with the Appeals Board’s putting me back into 1A things weren’t necessarily over yet because if they had new evidence — new evidence being if I got another job and from the new employer I got a request to the draft board for deferment and if the draft board considered that this was an essential war job then they could and probably would indeed put me back into 2B. As a matter of fact, I did — first I got a job with the math department at the University of California. It talked to the head of the math department.
His name was Dr. Griffith Evans, and at that time the Army or the Air Corps, or the Army, was sending groups of aviation cadets to various colleges to get some college training before they went on out and learned how to fly planes and drop bombs and navigate, etc. And at the University of California there was indeed such a group of aviation cadets, and Dr. Evans was really distraught because he did not know whom he was going to have to be able to teach them the mathematics that they needed to be taught. The reason why this is, is because times were tight. I mean, people trained in these fields were already off on other war jobs or something like that. So I called Dr. Evans, and he was very happy and he said, “Oh yes, that will be great, and I’ll send in a request to your draft board tonight for deferment.” The next day I got a call from Dr. Evans and he said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this. I’m sorry that I can’t even tell you why, but I am not able to offer you the job and I am not able to send in the deferment.” Incidentally, I should have said something else before this, and that is that Dr. Lawrence had requested a deferment for me back toward the end of July when my deferment was coming up and the next regular course of events, but that had to go through the area engineer’s office for approval and the area engineer’s office had not approved and had not sent it on to my draft board, is why my draft board had not gotten that request for my deferment and why Dr. Lawrence was unaware of all this.
I got another job. Max Friedman, of whom you asked me previously, was being very, very supportive of me. And he had a new car, a Pontiac, Lady Godiva, and he took me up and down Bayshore — I don’t know what they call it, Bayshore Avenue, something or another in Berkeley or in Oakland — where a lot of new outfits had recently sprung up who had government contracts. And we’d stop at one place and another to ask if they had any jobs open for a person of my training. One of them, a place that made radar tubes and sold them to the government, was interested. They wanted to haggle over wages. I said, “Look. I’m making $300 a month right now. I’ll go to work for you for half that if you’ll just send in immediately a request for my deferment.” And I told them — I didn’t tell them the entire truth. I just told them that I had let my deferment slip. And he was gleeful, “I’ll send it in tonight.” This tonight was a Friday. I had been slated for induction the following Monday. I called my draft board and told them that I had this job and that the request for deferment would be sent to them, and they said, “We will hold a special meeting.” They were so concerned about the wrongness they felt they saw going on they were going to hold a special meeting on Saturday and they would consider the request for deferment and if they felt that it met the requirements for essential war work they would indeed put me in 1A [sic; 2B] which would automatically cancel induction at that time.
Mullet:You mean 2B?
Lomanitz:Yeah. It would cancel the induction. The next day I got a call from the draft board, my local draft board, and they said, “We are very sorry. We tried as hard as we could, but just as we got this request for your deferment, we were formally considering it, we were coming to the conclusion that you should be deferred for another six months when we got a telephone call.” The telephone call was from this man from the radar tube outfit who had sent the request in, and he requested that the request for deferment be withdrawn. And they said, “We told him that all we could go by were things that were in writing, and that the latest thing we had in writing from him was a request for the deferment” and therefore they could not honor his request to withdraw over the phone. Whereupon he sent them a telegram withdrawing his request for deferment so they had it in writing. And as much as they didn’t they had to. And so then I was indeed inducted into the Army on September the 20th, 1943.
Mullet:Has it ever been made clear to you what was said to this man in the private company and the math department at Berkeley? Do you have any idea what events followed their initial willingness to offer you a draft deferment?
Lomanitz:I mean they clearly had to be reached by somebody and by somebody in a hurry.
Lomanitz:There must have been tailing going on.
Mullet:But you don’t know exactly. Obviously, beyond the fact that they were contacted do you know what was ever said to them that would compel them to withdraw their requests?
Lomanitz:Not for a fact, I do not. I know this one thing that might be somewhat relevant to it. Max Friedman, the same Max Friedman you and I had referred to, he had been working at the Radiation Laboratory and he immediately quit his job there and got a job teaching in the physics department. They needed instructors there and so forth. And he had been assured — and then the chairman of the physics department wanted to make sure that there was no problem and there was no objection apparently for a week. And Max started teaching physics classes, and then there came down something from the president of University of California’s Office. That was probably Robert Gordon Sproull. Well, I don’t know for sure if he was president then or not. And this thing that came down, came to the physics department and said that this man is not to be hired. And the head of the physics department was very, very unhappy about, Dr. Birge, and he apparently wasn’t able to do anything about it. I think it was he, but somebody told Max Friedman that perhaps he would be better off if he were to get completely out of the geographical area, the 9th Corps Area, and go somewhere else and perhaps he wouldn’t be harassed. Max Friedman did in fact go out of the 9th Corps Area. Birge sent a recommendation for him for teaching at the University of Wyoming, which was out of that area, and Max taught at the University of Wyoming. So I am not sure at what levels, of whom and so on, but somebody was very, very clearly.
Mullet:To your knowledge, were there any other Berkeley theoretical physics students or anyone else at the Radiation Laboratory that was — do you know of any other individuals that were drafted into the Army in spite — you know, some might have volunteered but do you know of anyone? To your knowledge are you the only one who was actually drafted into the Army out of Berkeley physics or out of the Radiation Lab?
Lomanitz:I’m pretty sure that was true, at least at that time. I’m not sure. I know that David Fox for example went into the Navy, but that wasn’t until you know quite some time later, a year or two later. And Hal Lewis. I think went into the Navy. And again, that was later, and again I don’t know whether it was either of these guys volunteering or not. But at the time and place, no. I absolutely know of nobody else who was. Apparently it was thought to be important in breaking up the union and against that plus the order from Phillip Murray together certainly accomplished the job.
Mullet:It’s your belief that you were drafted out of the Radiation Laboratory strictly as a matter of halting union activities at the Radiation Laboratory?
Lomanitz:I can’t even say whether strictly. I don’t know what goes on in the minds of these spooks, you know? Maybe — you know, [sighs], I know that later on in the — Well, first let me say I am absolutely sure that breaking up the union had a lot to do with it. I don’t know whether it had everything to do with it or not. How do I know that? I do know that later on I got to see some of the documents. Much later on, like recently. And there was — something came down from military intelligence recommending that I be removed from the project, inducted into the Army and assigned to some outpost where I wouldn’t be able to have further information. Maybe somebody felt that would have something to do with it. I also know that when I was in the Army itself, every time my division — there were two times when my division, which had been slated to go to the Pacific — was suddenly, had suddenly its orders changed and went to Europe instead. One was after D-Day and one was after the Battle of the Bulge, two different divisions. Each time, after the division I was in was ordered to go to Europe I was taken out of the division and assigned elsewhere and ended up in the Pacific instead. So maybe somebody had an idea that — I don’t know what their ideas were, you know? Put it all together. But I am absolutely surely that there was a petty-mindedness about it and a –- Well, I mean, and also — I mean, people like General Groves. I don’t know. He was smart enough to insist that Oppenheimer be given clearance when a lot of them in military intelligence were not wanting him to give him clearance. And this was a very smart move on General Groves’ part. But he wasn’t about to think the same thing to subordinates who were working for him. Now I don’t know. I can’t swear that this and I don’t even know what was going on in their minds. I do know – once again I’m gonna say it — I myself did nothing whatsoever indiscrete in the form of transmitting information to anybody. I myself knew of nobody who transmitted information to anybody. And had I known, I would have reported it to the FBI, regardless of what I thought of the FBI.
Mullet:One final question I have about the union and the Radiation Laboratory is just some basic logistical questions, how big of a union was it or how strongly was its presence felt at the Radiation Laboratory by the time you were drafted into the Army?
Lomanitz:Where did I see some information somewhere? That is was probably somewhere between thirty and forty people were union members.
Mullet:And how many people were employed at the Radiation Laboratory at the time?
Lomanitz:I don’t know that entirely actually. I do know that there were — that besides a few theoretical physicists and a few experimental physicists and I think a few chemists in the union there were also some people, some glass blowers for example who joined the union, and some others I think. But if you try to put it all together I couldn’t say how many people were at the Radiation Laboratory. It was not supposed to be generally known, I guess because they felt that somebody would draw some conclusion from it. Who knows? But I did not know and I did not try to find out. It’s not my business.
Mullet:Sure. Do you think — have you ever seen anything to indicate that maybe part of the explanation for your being drafted out of the Radiation Lab wasn’t just a matter of union organizing activity but out of a fear that you were, in spite of your own statements to the contrary, a prime candidate to be an ideological spy? Have you ever seen anything that suggested that that was part of the decision?
Lomanitz:Oh, I have seen some document, probably from Colonel Lansdale which I still wish I could sue about, in which he said something about a couple of incidents he knew of, incontrovertible evidence that what I had done was tantamount to espionage.
Mullet:The exact quote, it’s in a letter dated August the 13th of 1943. It’s actually a memo to General Groves from John Lansdale, the lieutenant colonel who was, Lieutenant Colonel Lansdale, who was in military intelligence. In the quote it says, “Investigation of Lomanitz disclosed information removing all doubt that he is a ‘Red’ and a member of the Communist Party. At least two incidents were uncovered in the course of this investigation which indicate that Lomanitz’s activities in the Communist Party are tantamount to espionage.” And then he goes on to describe an event, a meeting you supposedly had or a report that you — the report that you had met with Steve Nelson to discuss your continued employment at the Radiation Laboratory, and the second incidence is a interaction with Sid Kaplan who was a “known communist,” and he said that he was being kept informed about the personnel at the Radiation Laboratory.
Mullet:The actual quote is, it says, “Sid Kaplan, a known communist, said that ‘Rossi’” — and then in parentheses it says “(that is believed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be Lomanitz) was a party member and was keeping him informed about the personnel at the Radiation Laboratory.” So indeed you were supposedly informing Sid Kaplan.
Lomanitz:When I finally saw those documents, which wasn’t terribly long ago, one of the things that incensed me was I had no knowledge of anybody named Sid Kaplan, communist or non-communist or this or that or the other. Not just that I wasn’t informing anybody about the membership, but the very name they use there, I don’t know where they got it from. So if I had any reason — you know, if I know what’s going on in these guys minds, I don’t know. The most kind thing I can say about them is paranoia.
Mullet:So, on September the 20th, 1943 you were drafted in the Army in spite of your training in theoretical physics and your work at the Radiation Laboratory. Now without going into any great detail about your time in the Army, were there any specific instances or experiences you had that led you to believe that even in the Army people were still monitoring your activities or that someone was paying special attention to you?
Two things I can think of. One of them was that not too long after I got into the Army the battery clerk of the outfit I was then in went on furlough and I was assigned to take over for him temporarily during the two weeks he was gone. I availed myself of that to look at the service records. That record that I had access to, the service record of everybody, of all the enlisted men, none of the officers. And so I looked at my own service record. And to me there was nothing out of the ordinary I saw about it except for one thing, and that is there was a little piece of paper stapled to my service record that said, “This man is not to be transferred without the consent of the Commanding General 44th Infantry Division.” Now, you know, I mean ordinarily the Commanding General of a 15,000-man outfit isn’t bothered with what about this one guy over here. Usually. That’s the only I saw there that seemed out of the way. Enough to make me a little frightened, but the only thing I saw then. The other instances I think I already mentioned, and that is that when I was in the 44th Division, which was my first division I was assigned to, which was supposed to in due course go to the Pacific, that — in fact we did amphibious training and all kinds of things like that — that after D-Day, D-Day was on June the 6th of 1944, after D-Day the 44th Division had its orders changed.
It was to go to Europe instead. And I got specific personal orders that I was to report to a different division which was in California. This was the 97th Infantry Division. So they went to Europe, I went to California and joined the other division. This division was supposed to go to the Pacific, but something else happened. There was the Battle of the Bulge occurred in December of 1944. This was Hitler’s last offensive, and it was bloody and there was great slaughter there of our guys. The orders were changed for the 97th Division and they, too, were ordered to go to Europe instead of to Asia. And again I was separated from the division. And this time I wasn’t even assigned to another division. I was assigned instead to a replacement depot and I came to Oahu and then from the replacement depot there went further west to Saipan and Okinawa and then Mindoro and Luzon and then so on and so forth after that. But these two transfers out of an outfit that had been scheduled to go to Asia and had its orders changed were indicative to me that somebody was still watching. Oh. One more thing I forgot.
This was when it was almost finally time for discharge. It was something like eight months from VJ Day (when the war was over, against Germany and Japan,) before I got home and got discharged — got discharged and got home. During that time one of the jobs I had was as a sort of an assistant to the personnel officer in the outfit I was in which was the 96th Division. And one of my jobs, one of my duties was to open all the incoming correspondence, cablegrams, mail, whatever it was, and sort of sort them out so that I could present them to Lieutenant Beck and tell him that this is that and that the other. And I would get there before he did. Once when I was going through them I found a cablegram which really sent a fear into me. It said — it was from the CINC AFWESPAC which means Commander-in-Chief, Armed Forces, Western Pacific, and it said, “Do you have information concerning whereabouts of enlisted man Gidmani Rossi Lomanitz?” It wasn’t I, but it didn’t sound — I mean, you know, literally it wasn’t I but it sounded far too close for comfort. When Lieutenant Beck came in I showed him that letter and I said, “Lieutenant Beck, we don’t know anybody like this do we with that name?” And he kind of looks at me quizzically. He doesn’t see anything to be gained, you know, by saying, “Yes, we do know such a person.” Besides that I had done him some favors anyway. He says, “No. I think we can safely tell them that we don’t anybody by such a name.” But this upped the fear in me until I finally actually got my discharge papers. But those were the incidents which you asked did I know, did I see any evidence of surveillance.
Mullet:When were you finally discharged?
Lomanitz:April of 1946. I think it was April 3rd. Excuse me. There was one other occasion I forgot to tell you about in which I noticed evidence, I think, of being followed. When I was inducted in order to report. When I was inducted on September 20th, 1943 there was a man right ahead of me who was also being inducted it seemed. His name was Richard C. Hampton and his Army serial number was 39140465 — I know that because he was one number ahead of me and I know my own, 39140466. With Richard C. Hampton it turned out seemingly we had a pre-induction furlough of three weeks, and I was going to Oklahoma to visit my parents. Coincidentally it seemed, Richard C. Hampton said that well he was going to Little Rock, Arkansas at the same time. So we rode the train together. Later on after we came back we were both assigned to 44th Infantry Division. We were assigned — we were the only ones assigned. The other guys were all assigned to basic training somewhere. We were assigned to a division with no basic training, just signed to the division. Very shortly thereafter Richard C. Hampton obtained a discharge of the Army for the convenience of the government. I have no evidence, but it makes me really think he was assigned there just as a – as my tail, or whatever you want to call it. Okay, I’m sorry. I interrupted.
Mullet:No, no, no, it’s fine, because I think it gives a fuller picture of your experiences in the Army. The final question about the Army is that, in spite of your training in theoretical physics and your experience at the Radiation Laboratory in your entire time in the Army would you say your status or your responsibilities were ever anything more than that of what would be commonly referred to as being a grunt?
Lomanitz:That’s right. That’s right. I even appealed. I even wrote to some professors that I had had, like I wrote to Dr. Jens Rud Nielsen who had been my undergraduate advisor, and I wrote to others, I probably wrote to Lawrence and to Oppenheimer asking them if they would write letters to the Army suggesting that I might be of more use in a technical position. And later on I saw a copy of Nielsen’s letter which was embarrassingly praiseful, but these letters did no good either.
Mullet:After you were discharged from the Army in April of 1946 you returned to Berkeley in the summer of ‘46 where you worked at — Where did you work for the summer of ‘46?
Lomanitz:Well, I applied to the Radiation Laboratory to get my job back, because again there was a law that is that if you had been inducted into the Army off your job — not if you’d been fired, but if you’d been inducted into the Army off your job or with the other services too, then after you were discharged you could apply and have your job back and you would get it back for a period of at least one year. So really, more out of — more out of — I shouldn’t use the word spite, but I’m gonna use the word spite — I just thought I’d finally see what would happen if I would do this. So I applied. And sure enough, the Radiation Laboratory hired me back. They hired me back for $330 instead of for $300 a month in that respect. However, there was no theoretical work on design of calutrons available at that time and I got assigned to doing some — it was supposed to be experimental work on carbon-14 beta-ray counters, and I am –- Oh. Yeah. Well, I consider experimental physics to not be my forte, to put it very mildly. So when I was trying to make thin sheets of mica to install in the beta-ray machine I was not succeeding very well. So I really didn’t like the job, I wasn’t doing a good job at it, and when the fall semester began I was very happy to quit the job even though I had been guaranteed a year and go back to school. So I went back to graduate work.
Mullet:Back at Berkeley?
Lomanitz:At Berkeley. And it turned out that Oppenheimer indeed did come back to Berkeley. He was gone a great deal of the time too. As a matter of fact it was in the works that he was going to become director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, which he did in 1947. So I did take some courses there. In 1947 when he went to Princeton for the Institute for Advanced Study he did help me get a teaching assistantship and probably also helped me get admission into graduate school at Cornell to finish up my degree. I’m quite sure he must have talked to Bethe about it, and I don’t know you know whether I would have gotten in without that or not, but anyway it did not hurt. Anyway, so I went to Cornell.
Mullet:That was beginning in – you began Cornell in the fall of ‘47?
Lomanitz:The fall of ‘47. Yeah.
Mullet:Okay. And you had been at Berkeley from the fall of ‘47 — excuse me, fall of ‘46, spring of ‘47 as a grad student and then you switched in the fall of ‘47 to Cornell.
Lomanitz:Yeah. Correct. And I — At Cornell, by the way, there were three full theoretical physicists on the staff, Bethe, Feynman and Morrison. Now there may have been at other schools too, but I know when I was first applying for graduate work a school was lucky to have one top flight theoretical physicist. Anyhow, I took a little bit of course work and began my Ph.D. thesis — dissertation, whatever — under Feynman, who had just been one of those to make some real breakthroughs in some problems in quantum electrodynamics, which had — Well, the interaction of radiation and matter I think going up through first order and second order. It could have even been finer except somehow it got infinite and people didn’t know what to do with it. In the meantime Lamb and Retherford made an experiment where it became important to know what the second order effects were, because something had to be done to calculate this interaction up to the second order without getting infinities into it. And Bethe first found a kind of a heuristic way of doing it and then Tomonaga in Japan and Schwinger at Harvard and Feynman at Cornell, each found his own somewhat different way of doing it. And there was a great deal of stuff to pick up the pieces of then because if you can treat the problem of second order effects in the interaction between radiation and matter then there is a whole bunch of specific instances to which it might apply if you want to calculate and have a chance to compare with the experiment. And it was one of those that I got onto with Feynman. It was second order effect in the scattering of electrons by electrons. I’m already past Berkeley. I’m already at Cornell.
Lomanitz:In the meantime, well, I had gotten an offer of a job at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mullet:Now when did you receive this offer?
Lomanitz:I must have received this offer in — let me think. I thought I was gonna go in fall of ‘48. I received it in time that I was supposed to go in the fall of ‘48, so I had probably gotten it not too long after I had come back to, come to Cornell to start my graduate work. Spring of ‘48 probably. But I got this offer largely because Dr. Jens Rud Nielsen again had been consulted by Fisk University’s administration about what could be done for Fisk University to make a, sort of a giant leap forward. Fisk University had been an all-black university as far as students were concerned, founded by missionaries, and with all white university presidents and mostly white faculty and it specialized in choral singing and had done very well at it. But there was an effort on to make a real leap where a graduate program could be instituted in physics and a new president had been chosen for Fisk who was the first black president they ever had, and he was a scholar. His name was Dr. Charles S. Johnson. He was a sociologist. He had written some books. And Dr. Nielsen had consulted with him as to some advice as to what specifically to do to make the steps to make it into a decent master’s degree program in physics. And Nielsen then talked to me and said, “I think this might be a good opportunity for you if you are interested. I told Johnson it might be a good opportunity for him if he were interested.” And so we had made the connections and I was due to start teaching in the fall of 1948. Incidentally, the GI Bill of Rights had made it possible for many, many students to go to school, veterans to go to school after World War II who would probably not have been able to and certainly not have even thought about it. And there were, I don’t know, eight or nine young men who were not black who were very seriously considering coming to Fisk to do graduate work in physics. Some of them had gotten undergraduate degrees there but had not figured on going there for graduate work because there wasn’t any in physics. And they did in fact come back under the GI Bill of Rights for graduate work in physics. So it looked like a kind of an exciting setup, all sides. There was a hitch. I didn’t get my dissertation done on time. So I talked to people at Fisk and asked, “What’s the chances of waiting a little and I come afterwards?” They said, “Well, we can afford to wait one semester.” I says, “Good. Then let’s change the contract and I’ll come in January of 1949 when surely I should have my dissertation finished.” And which I did not. I still didn’t have my dissertation finished. Dissertations go that way frequently. I went to Fisk anyway in 1949, took the job there.
Mullet:In January of ‘49?
Lomanitz:Yeah, January ‘49. “ABD,” as they say — All But Dissertation. But my dissertation was really a very large part done at that time, but there was still some. And I taught at Fisk for that semester, the semester of the spring of ‘49, and had very good rapport with the students, had very good rapport with my department head, Dr. Lawson who by the way was black, and things were looking promising — until in I think it was May of 1949 I got a subpoena.
Mullet:I believe, it was in April of ‘49 that you first would appear.
Lomanitz:Okay. So I got the subpoena in April and I was probably supposed to appear in May. As it turned out, this was to throw a whole monkey wrench in the plans that all of us had of what I would be doing at Fisk University, because after appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which again I don’t remember if it was May or June was my first appearance —
Mullet:I think the first appearance was actually in late April and the second appearance was in early June.
Lomanitz:Okay. Thank you. Thank you. Why I had two appearances I don’t know. So did everybody else I think who was called before them. I think probably the first appearance was in order for the committee to tell, to ascertain just what the attitude of the victim was and to what degree he would be scared or tempted into cooperating with them and so on. In any case, the first appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities — I think I mentioned before that they had a, I had a very hard time getting the committee to agree to let a statement be put into the record of mine to the effect that I knew of nothing in the way of giving away of information from the Radiation Laboratory to anyone who was not authorized to receive it and that if I had known of such I would have reported it to the FBI and that I had certainly not done any such myself. Because it took some arguing to get them to admit this statement into the record. And when it was admitted, they ignored it. They went right on back to, “Now, whom did you know who was a communist?” essentially, or, “Whom did you know who was believed in the neighborhood to be a communist?” or “Were you yourself a communist?” or this, that or the other. And Richard Nixon was an aspiring Congressman at that time, and he was probably the most astute of those there, because his line of questioning was such as — well, I’ll give you an example. He would ask a question like, “Now Mr. Lomanitz, isn’t it true that communists are instructed to obtain whatever information they can and turn it over to agents who will get it to the Soviet Union?” And I said, “Mr. Nixon, to the best of my knowledge this isn’t so.” And, “Are you saying that you know that this isn’t so?” And I said, “To the best of my knowledge it isn’t so.” “Well you’re a scientist Mr. Lomanitz. You’re a scientist. You know you must have some facts to back up your theory. What facts do you have to back up this theory?” and so on. When he repeated his question, “Now isn’t it true” and so on, I said, “Mr. Nixon, how do you expect me to know?” And at that point he went off to another argument. The point is, the whole tenet had nothing to do with what the committee was supposed to be established for, namely to find out if there were any leaks, any breaches of security in the Manhattan Project. Instead it was filled with two things, and one of them was Congressmen trying to advance their own reputation and the other one was promulgating what I consider to be lies and harassment. So my experience with the committee was not a good one. Finally, since I did not wish to resort to the First Amendment — which I thought was the thing that applied — that it was my right and anybody else’s right to have whatever political opinions he wished to have — I finally said that I declined to answer some of these questions on the basis of the Fifth Amendment that one isn’t required to testify against himself. For which I — and other people of course — eventually were indicted for Contempt of Congress.
Mullet:Just one more quick question about your experience at Fisk or your employment there. When you went there you mentioned that Fisk is a historically black college. When you decided to teach there, to accept the position, was it at all a matter of politics or was there a certain appeal that came with teaching at an all-black university or was it strictly a more practical matter?
Lomanitz:It was both. I mean certainly it was a practical matter. Here was a chance for a job. Here was a chance for a job where I thought I could be useful. And also, yes, it’s true the fact that here it was, an all-black university that was trying to change and make a great leap forward and that the students who were coming back, veterans, also were doing this. To me this was also a worthy thing. It was everything put together, not this or that.
Mullet:We know, we have already begun to discuss a little bit about your time before the Un-American Activities Committee, but before testifying there when you were still at Fisk, after you received your subpoena you went from Nashville and instead of going straight to Washington, D.C. you went up to Princeton where David Bohm was a professor of physics at Princeton or a lecturer of physics at Princeton and during your time in Princeton you happened upon, just on the street you happened upon Oppenheimer. I was curious if you could talk, if you give any recollections about that particular encounter between the three of you.
Lomanitz:Yeah. It’s almost — sadly, tragically — funny. Naturally David Bohm and I each was concerned, was worried, you know, “What happens when we get before this committee?”
Mullet:Bohm was also subpoenaed to —
Lomanitz:Bohm was also subpoenaed, and the same day I think. But Oppenheimer —
Mullet:I believe Bohm’s testimony was actually a little while after yours, but the first set of testimony was after yours and the second set of testimony was on the same day.
Lomanitz:My memory certainly…
Mullet:Back to the —
Lomanitz:Yeah. Oppenheimer, unfortunately, he acted like a completely frightened rabbit. He said something about — and these are almost a direct quote, “Oh my God, all is lost. Velde is on the committee, and Velde was an FBI agent.” This is not exactly his quote, but it is close enough. And neither Dave nor I felt that all was lost and neither one of us really saw kind of what the big deal was about an FBI agent there. Probably some others of them were FBI agents. All of them were lawyers and all of them were politically ambitious and willing to sell their grandmothers out — mostly at least I think — to get [inaudible word] advancement. Anyway, this was a – it was a sad experience. And Oppenheimer probably said something like, “Well, be sure and tell them the truth.” Okay. And I think what we both said to him was, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to lie.”
Mullet:And that was the extent of the conversation?
Mullet:So, after you appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee, shortly after that you left Fisk University and returned to Oklahoma. To what extent do you think the two events — the testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee and your leaving Fisk University — to what extent do you feel those events are connected?
Lomanitz:Oh. Well there was a cause and effect relationship, because I went in to see Dr. Johnson, the president of Fisk, and also all of the physics graduate students and the chairman of the department went in to see him. They went in to see him without me. And they requested —
Mullet:When did these meetings occur?
Lomanitz:I don’t know the exact dates, but it was at least after the first hearing before the Un-American Activities Committee. And all the graduate students, plus the department head, requested Dr. Johnson to not let this interfere with the program — with my being rehired and with the program going on and the graduate program at Fisk and so on. And Dr. Johnson refused to agree to that then. When I saw him separately what he told me was that he had, that the Board of Trustees had made out a contract for me and signed the contract for me for another year which he had on his desk. However they had signed this before the hearing before the Un-American Activities Committee and before the Nashville “Banner” in Nashville, Tennessee and they had had a big about it. And what Dr. Johnson said was that he was not going to release that contract until “this matter was cleared up”. So there was a direct cause and effect relationship.
Mullet:So and did he say anything about if he didn’t sign the contract was that to be the end of your time at Fisk or —?
Lomanitz:Oh no. He said if I wanted to, if I wanted to work on a day-by-day basis that would be possible.
Mullet:And what was your response to that?
Lomanitz:My response was no. I think the reason for a no in the first place – in the first place, we had moved into university housing.
Mullet:“We” being you and your wife.
Lomanitz:Yes. We’d never know from one day to the next what was going to happen. Secondly, this is not done. I mean, even when the lowliest of instructors, lecturers or whatnot are hired for even a short period of time there is always a signed contract. And I also think that Dr. Johnson — he wouldn’t have minded it a bit if I had come back.
Mullet:Just stayed on a day-to-day basis?
Lomanitz:Yeah, because he could have assuaged the students and Dr. Lawson and so forth on the one hand and on the other hand he could tell any of the powers that be when the time came, “Well, I told him I was going to do this anyway.” So we took off and went to Oklahoma. The reason we went to Oklahoma was because the times were getting to be threatening.
Lomanitz:The times were getting to be threatening all over the country. Merry felt safer in Oklahoma, because she knew it better and people there better. And I’m not saying whether it was safer or whether it wasn’t safer. When a little later on I was called up before a Grand Jury I think that it really was helpful to be in Oklahoma.
Mullet:So once you returned to Oklahoma what did you do? And that was in the summer of 1949 that you returned to Oklahoma. And what did you do upon returning to Oklahoma?
Lomanitz:Well, in the first place found a little place to live, and each of us looked for jobs. Merry got a job as a bookkeeper. I was in a way fortunate to be able to get a job out of the Laborer’s Union in Oklahoma City, Construction Laborer’s Union — because I had a bread truck which could carry a number of men to work and because there was a new project on which was quite a ways out of town and a lot of guys did not have transportation of their own, so they were happy to let me go in the Laborer’s Union for $25 if I would you know take people to work. So that went on for a while. And then that collapsed due to a number of reasons. I could get into the details of. And came, oh, came sometime around the end of the year I went on back to Cornell to finish my thesis I hoped. And it was helpful that I was able to get the, still get money from the GI Bill to support me. I’ve forgotten what they paid a month, $150 a month or something like that, during my several months I was there, three or four months I was there. And I did. I went back to Cornell and actually was finally able to finish my thesis.
Mullet:One final question about your actual appearance before the Un-American Activities Committee. I know you said that you would have preferred to invoke the First Amendment but instead you invoked the Fifth, given the fate the Hollywood —
Mullet:The Hollywood screenwriter. Thank you. I was curious. I know David Bohm and David Fox also invoked the Fifth Amendment, and at that time when you first appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee — or actually both times — you never had any kind of a legal counsel present with you, did you? It was strictly you facing the eight members of the committee?
Lomanitz:That is true. Now I have to add, in all fairness, that in past years they had not permitted a lawyer. They had relaxed those rules now to where you could come in with a lawyer. Of course you had to pay the lawyer. I really wasn’t in any position to pay a lawyer.
Mullet:And the decision to use the Fifth Amendment, was that a decision you made or that David Bohm made or David Fox? Or how did you all arrive at that? Because it was — at that time it had not been upheld by — it would later be upheld by the Supreme Court as a valid answer, but at that time it was still, a risky maneuver to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and I was wondering how, if there was anything aside from the experiences of the Hollywood screenwriter that inspired you all to invoke the Fifth Amendment and whose idea was it to use the Fifth Amendment. If you can remember.
Lomanitz:Well, there certainly was no certainty as to what would happen if you used it, that’s correct. As far as whose idea, I don’t it was any one single person’s idea or whether it was a thing sort of in the air you know and with, well, this one hasn’t worked for this group of people. Maybe people would mostly like to use that one and see.
Mullet:So getting back to the period where you — so you returned to Cornell in the fall of 1949 and by the spring of 1950 you had completed your Ph.D., correct? Your dissertation.
Lomanitz:Yeah. I think I had — maybe I hadn’t formally gotten the degree, but I had completed all of the work.
Mullet:And what was the title of your dissertation that you submitted in the spring of ‘50?
Lomanitz:“Second Order Effects in the Electron-Electron Interaction.”
Mullet:Right. And Richard Feynman was the director of your research. Correct?
Mullet:And what were your impressions of Feynman as a mentor or Feynman as the director of your research as opposed to any figures — especially Oppenheimer — that you had encountered at Berkeley?
In the first place, I really liked Feynman. I think most people liked Feynman, actually. He was full of exuberance, he had all kinds of ideas. I have had certain issues with him. Like for example I can remember one time, once we might be discussing some things on the electron-electron interaction and sort of how to we go from here to the next step, and I could remember Feynman saying things like, “Oh, it’s easy, Lomanitz. All you have to do is” — and he would say something like maybe, “What you should do in order to do this integral” or whatever it might happen to be, and I would say, “Well, seem like that may be reasonable. I’ll go home and work on it.” I’d maybe work on it for a week and come back and say, “Well, Feynman, it really doesn’t work because I have this problem right here.” “Oh yes. Oh, we do. Oh. We’ve got to do something else. Oh yes, it’s easy,” and then he’d make another suggestion. Anyway, after enough of that went on, then he would say things like, “Well gee, we got these results here. Don’t you think it would be interesting if we were to work the same thing out maybe in the neighborhood of 90 degrees?” “Yeah,” I’d say, “I’m sure it would be interesting, Feynman, but I want do two things: I want to finish up my thesis and I want to get back home.” And finally he agreed.
The last thing though, there was one more formality after the thesis was accepted. I had already taken all the various examinations except for one, but this last formality after the thesis, there is an oral examination. The very, very last thing that had to be done after my thesis was approved and so forth was an oral – not really an examination, it sort of is, but where your committee gets together with you, you being me, and anybody can bring up anything he wants to. Well the very first thing that happened there was Feynman brought up, questioned me. He says, “Lomanitz, do you know how a directional antenna works?” Because directional antenna was terribly new at that time. I know it’s been fifty-five years ago or something like that, but I said — fortunately, I did not try to bluff. Fortunately, I said, “Well, no actually I don’t know how it works.” “Well, do you know how a diffraction grating works?” I said, “Well, I think maybe I do know about that, and I started to draw a picture of a diffraction grating and so on, and he says — interrupts me and says, “Well Lomanitz, let me tell you about this directional antenna.” All right. I just sort of stand there quietly while he talks for about three-quarters of an hour. He started on directional antennas. God knows what he got onto before it was all said and done. And finally he finishes and says, “Do you understand how a directional antenna works?” and I says, “Well, I think I do.” He says, “Good.” Then he looks around and says, “Anybody else got any questions?” And I think maybe one or two people you know a relatively trivial sort of thing — and I was free. [claps hands together] And that was it.
Mullet:And so you now basically you had, as of the spring of 1950, you had a Ph.D. — whether or not you had been officially awarded it.
Mullet:Was there anything in your dissertation that was a source of conflict or concern with Feynman as it relates to you?
Lomanitz:Well, yeah. You know, besides not wanting to go on forever and wouldn’t this be interesting and that, there was another specific thing. Many of the — many theses, besides giving due credit to the advisor and anybody else who had helped out and to people who have helped with the technical work and typing and so on like that, generally you might find something that the author is also indebted to the Office of Naval Research or the whatever it might happen to be — the National Science Foundation. I don’t know if it was established then. I think it was. Anyway —
Mullet:It was established in 1950 I believe so it might not have been until after you concluded.
Lomanitz:But mostly what I had seen was military establishments. Mostly what I had seen was the Office of Naval Research, to tell you the truth. So I wanted to put in my final statement, “The author is also very glad that no money channeled through the Army or Navy was required to finance this work.” And that was not a very — a little bit of a rude thing to say and not a very politic thing to say, and he certainly wouldn’t say it. And he thought a while and he thought, “Well, I guess you’ve got the right to say it.” Quite different from the Un-American Activities Committee. So it is the last sentence in my thesis.
Mullet:Now all the funding you received for your graduate work at Cornell was through the GI Bill. Correct?
Mullet:So now, as of the spring of 1950 you now had a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, you had extensive training or work experience given your time at the Radiation Laboratory. Upon completing Cornell, where did you go and what kind of work did you have?
Lomanitz:Well, I was not able to get any kind of a job in physics or in teaching or academe in general.
Mullet:This was due to your Un-American Activities Committee appearance?
Lomanitz:Right, right. It’s a form of blacklisting, whether it was formally said this or not I don’t know. Hmm. What I was thinking about, for a moment I had a flashback. There is something I found in papers I got — again, fairly recently — that back during the 1943 period in which a letter was sent from General Groves or somebody in military intelligence asking that the names of the following people not be submitted to the National Roster of Scientific Personnel as people who would be available for jobs in technical jobs because they were considered to be either politically unreliable or this, that and the other. I was one of those. There was about nine or ten of us. And each one of us had listed a little background on ourselves. Not very much at all — date of birth and who we were working for and so on. But one of the very important things to me was that the employer was to list by A, B, C, D or E the relative importance, the relative replaceability of this person to the job he was in now. And as far as I know every one of us — I certainly know that I had an A listed there. And I looked at what A meant, and A meant “virtually irreplaceable.”
Mullet:And “every one of us” meaning yourself, David Bohm, Max Friedman, Joe Weinberg —?
Lomanitz:I don’t even remember who all the names were [inaudible phrase].
Mullet:I know those were included. I think there might have been a couple others like perhaps maybe Bernard Peters might have been one. The point was is that you all were deemed to be virtually irreplaceable and yet…
Lomanitz:We weren’t considered for employment. So when I was talking about there wasn’t an official blacklist I may not know what I’m talking about. There may have been an official blacklist, you know. But in any case, in practical terms there was a blacklist. So Frank Oppenheimer had gotten fired at his job at Minnesota, Joe Weinberg also at Minnesota, David Bohm at Princeton, I at Fisk, and there were other people elsewhere too who got fired and were not on the blacklist. We could not get jobs in our field in this country.
Mullet:Right. So as of 1950 actually, I mean just this is a bit of a formality, but David Bohm was still you know officially employed at Princeton and he would do so until June of ‘51, but in June of ‘51 he was effectively fired for just the incidents you were talking about. So, okay, you were blacklisted from academia or academe, so what did you do?
Lomanitz:Oh. Well, for the next three and a half years or so I had various forms of blue collar jobs is what it amounted to.
Lomanitz:In Oklahoma City and thereabouts. I had gotten this job through the Laborer’s Union. I had gotten into the Laborer’s Union and therefore been sent out on jobs that occurred sometimes, but there was a big strike at Oklahoma Gas and Electric and for a long time nobody was going anywhere. And besides I had gotten into — well, what was I? I don’t even remember what the next job was. I do remember that I went the Unemployment Office and I pounded the pavement. And eventually I would keep finding a job of one sort or another. I don’t remember the order in which I found them anymore, but one job I found as a truck driver for the Clint-Cooke Company. One job I found was as a paint factory worker, except it wasn’t a paint factory; it was a one- or two-man outfit that made paint, called Standard Paint Company. One job, was at the “Roisman Products Co.” We bottled hair oil and various other things from the big vats and put it into little things. Labels we put on small bottles and sold for much more. One of them was for the L&S Bearing Company. At the L&S Bearing Company I worked as a shipping clerk, doing a fine job — fine enough anyway — and one day the owner actually — It was a fairly small company. The owner came around and told me that he was sorry but he was gonna have to let me go. And I said, “Was my work not satisfactory?” He said, “No, your work is fine,” he says, “but I had a visit from the FBI today.” I said, “Oh? What did they want?” He said, “Well, they didn’t really say anything bad about you. They just sort of asked how your work was and so on like that,” and he says, “but I’m very realistic. I don’t want anybody working for me that has come to the attention somehow of the government to the extent that they are sending people around. Now I’m sorry to let you go, but I’ve got to let you go.” Several other outfits. I worked for —
Mullet:I’m sorry. Was there ever also a consideration of the fact that because he had government contracts he didn’t —? I know in Phillip Stern’s book he makes reference to a case where because someone had government contracts he couldn’t afford to jeopardize his contracts by employing you or continuing to…
Lomanitz:That was that.
I got a job working at Arrow Bag Company which took in second hand bags, and my job — they were burlap bags — and my job there was to rush over with fifty bags at a time to these huge sewing machines that women were working at repairing the bags. A very funny thing happened there. My mother’s brother, Mose Feld, owned a bag factory in Houston, Texas. It was quite a bit bigger than the company I was working for, the Arrow Bag Company in Oklahoma, but apparently these people also knew of each other. And at one point the owner of the Arrow Bag Company in Oklahoma City called me in and said, “Are you a spy?” This really rather floored me. I mean, had he been somehow exposed to the same old junk? Did he think that I was a spy? So I said, “No, I am not.” He says — and I, you know, I went on ahead and told him that I have never given information to anybody who wasn’t authorized and so on. Mr. Kennedy was his name. “No, no, no,” he says, “I don’t mean that. I mean are you a spy for Lone Star Bag and Bagging Company, an industrial spy?” I managed to convince him that in the first place I didn’t know what was going on at his company that I could convey to my uncle, but in the second place indeed I wasn’t. And Mr. Kennedy apparently decided I was telling him the truth, so I did not lose my job over that kind of spying. The best job I had was probably the job when I was a member of the Railroad Section Gang which I held for two and a half years. And I got that job because one of the women who sewed bags at Arrow Bag Company had a husband Shorty Ontiveros who worked on the Section Gang in the Oklahoma City Railroad. And he had told her that he felt there might be some openings coming open, and she knew that the railroad paid more like about $1.30 or so an hour or $1.35 whereas what I was getting at the Arrow Bag Company at that time was like 75¢ an hour.
So she invited Merry and me over to have dinner and talk to her husband and her husband could give me a few tips on you know how do you move a railroad tie so you don’t hurt yourself and so on like that. Well, as it so happened I was able to get a job on the Railroad Section Gang, and most of the people were — no, not most — yeah, most of the people there were Mexican Nationals with permanent residence in Oklahoma City. And I found myself well treated by them, found myself getting along well with them, and I held that job for two and a half years or thereabouts. The only reason I lost it was that the railroad company was up to some shenanigans. Their idea was to build their track up into excellent condition and then not charge it to the freight trains which were going to be the main users of it but to charge it instead to the passenger trains, then insist that the passenger service was going in the red and therefore they’d petition to discontinue their passenger service. And all of this was kind of a devious plan. Where they increased their number of Section Gang workers from seven to twelve for a period of time, and then they cut it back down to two. And we were dismissed by seniority, and I still — I still could have hung around waiting for an occasional call, but that was basically the end of that. During that period I also applied for another job that had nothing to do with blue collar stuff. I applied for a job at Conoco Oil Company in Oklahoma. And apparently — and I don’t remember just how — there were some people working in their research and development department that had told the director of that department that they really would like to have a theoretical physicist as a consultant working there. And he considered that he was much more of a realist than that and that I mean why should a guy like me who was not working in the field for whatever the reason, well there must be some good reason why I wasn’t working in it, you know, why should I be had. But he did take the trouble to communicate with Oppenheimer, whom I had given as a reference, to find out what Oppenheimer thought. I don’t know whether Oppenheimer ever answered him or not. I do know I didn’t get the job. So mostly it was blue collar jobs of various sorts.
Mullet:So that was [inaudible phrase] summer of 1950 then to 1954 you had these assorted blue collar jobs.
Mullet:At that point, was it ever a political matter to reject, not even pursue academe so that you could maintain these blue collar jobs or was it strictly a matter of being blacklisted? Had you the opportunity to get back into academia would you have done so at that time?
Lomanitz:I’m sure I would, because I mean I tried to get this opportunity of getting into industry with which I wasn’t even as familiar as academe. And in fact the first time I thought I might have a chance to get back into it, I tried. It was 1960 I guess. And I’m trying to remember how that happened. I think I had heard that somebody — I don’t know whether it was David Fox, or somebody — had been able to get a job in academe along about that time after all the blacklisting. So, well, this was encouragement. This is the time to start trying. And I tried, and I was lucky enough actually [is the word] I think to get a job in 1960, a teaching job at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Why I said I was lucky enough to, two reasons. One of them is, they had already hired somebody else but that person decided he had an offer for a better job and he took it. So this job was back open again. So I was the second choice, but at least I was a choice.
Mullet:Now in that period in Oklahoma from ‘50 to ‘54 in Oklahoma City or near Oklahoma City, what was your wife doing at that time?
Lomanitz:Most days she was working at bookkeeping.
Mullet:Okay. Now, going back a little bit, in December of 1950 while you were in Oklahoma you were indicted for Contempt of Congress concerning your testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your experiences before the grand jury and any other experiences you had relating to that event.
Oh yes. There were several very unpleasant experiences. And one or two very nice experiences. One of the those experiences that turned out to be actually kind of nice — it doesn’t sound like it, but it did — was I received a subpoena to testify before a Federal Grand Jury in Oklahoma. I later on found out that there had been a federal grand jury called in various parts of the country — New York, Washington, I don’t know where all. And that the purpose of these grand juries, I am now convinced, was to try to question some of the people who were already in trouble with the Un-American Activities Committee and with their jobs and so on like that and to see whether or not — I think — whether or not they couldn’t find one who would be willing to be part of a very unsavory scheme to connect politically disliked people with communists connected to spies and make it sort of a chain of where political disagreement was tantamount to spying for the Soviet Union. I am convinced that this is some of the reason why these grand juries were called. In any case, I was called in 1950. This one was a little bit before December. There was something else after. This one was probably August or September of 1950. And it started out with my being asked some questions which were to me too much like those Un-American Activities Committee had asked. And I began to get a sort of a surly attitude. Then Merry reminded me that these guys were not the same people that were on the Un-American Activities Committee who were almost all lawyers, politically ambitious and so on.
These were mostly people who had become fairly successful in Oklahoma as businessmen and as farmer, but most of whom had come into the new State of Oklahoma with very little money and had come to the frontier with the idea that they could in fact realize the American Dream. Make something of their business, make something of their farms, whatever it might happen to be. And that they would be — but they wouldn’t have the same axes to grind and would be much more amenable toward just talking to like human beings. I therefore became a lot less surly, a lot more cooperative, and I explained to these men what had happened at those Un-American Activities Committee hearing. And how as far as I was concerned I didn’t want to tell these people what little I might know about what somebody else’s political views were or what my own were or anything like that because — not because I was just inherently reluctant to, but because I thought it was to no good end that they were asking these things. Otherwise I would have probably been quite willing to share my attitude, to tell them what my own attitudes were. And the attitude of the grand jury really impressed me.
The foreman of the grand jury said, “Now, as an American citizen you have a perfect right to your own opinion, you have a perfect right to not tell it to anybody. If you want to however, we would in fact be pleased to know what some of your opinions are.” Well, I went on ahead and I told them, I said, “Well, I can tell you a couple of things. One of them is that I think that discrimination is wrong.” This was kind of a radical thing to say to a grand jury in Oklahoma at that time because in our Constitution, the State Constitution, it said that there would indeed be segregation. And it wasn’t until after 1950 that the first black student was admitted to the University of Oklahoma. And this took quite some doing to do. It had not yet happened. So what I was doing was I was talking about something that was forbidden by our State Constitution. So I told them that. And I told them that if actually I thought that socialism would work I thought it might be a good idea. And this too was probably something rather astonishing to them. Well, we talked fairly cordially for a while. When it was all said and done, there was no kind of a true bill at all against me. They voted a no bill.
Mullet:No true bill meaning —?
Lomanitz:An indictment. No indictment.
Lomanitz:I think the alternative is no bill and I think that’s what I said, “no bill”. And more than that, one of them asked me if I would give a talk at his Sunday School. And one of them said that well, he had a job in the oil fields. It wasn’t a steady job, but you know if I wanted to work there, here and there and yonder, well that would be fine with him. And the third one, who was the foreman of the grand jury, was interviewed by the paper and he said, the foreman said, “When this man first came in here we were all set to string him up out of the top floor of the Federal Building. When he got through testifying we figured, ‘Well, he’s a kook, but a man’s got a right, hasn’t he?’” And I don’t know if this could have happened in Tennessee rather than in Oklahoma at that time or not, but I do know it happened in Oklahoma. I don’t think it happened in New York or Washington, D.C. Also, the first day, when I was being surly the newspaper headlines they said, something like, “Lomanitz Faces Jail” or something like that. And I got a phone call that night from somebody and he said, “Me and the boys was just reading about you in the newspaper and we thought that maybe we’d just come and save the government some trouble.” Which is a pretty scary thing.
Mullet:You perceived that as a death threat.
Lomanitz:Yes! I said, “Well, I’m just trying to make a living.” And he said, “Well, these guys in the paper said you was against our government.” I said, “I’m not against our government. Whatever thoughts I had, our government is supposed to guarantee that I have my rights to have my thoughts and you have your rights to have your thoughts. No?” He said, “Well, yeah.” And he hung up and I heard nothing further. And once again, I don’t know whether I was actually able to have some effect on him or not, but maybe.
Mullet:Now you mention the appearance in the newspapers concerning your case. How much publicity did you receive? Was it fairly common to see your name in a paper during these periods surrounding the grand jury and the indictment or was it just maybe one or two articles?
Lomanitz:It wasn’t on the order of every day. Of course not. It was in there once before earlier when I’d been working for, out of the Laborer’s Union for Oklahoma Gas and Electric building a power plant about 15 miles out of town, and there was a redwood tower that they had built that was a little over a hundred feet tall and it worked out that the water was going to be coming down over it, cooling some stuff and so on. They just called it the redwood tower, but it was a high tower and the water was gonna come dripping down and so on. And for some reason which I don’t remember right now, the reporters from the paper came on out. And this was always– when paper come on out, and it always means you’re probably going to lose your job. Anyhow, it came on —
Mullet:Okay. So you were discussing the particular incident involving your being approached by newspapers reporters. Or was it reporters coming to your job site to —?
Lomanitz:Yeah, they came out there — a reporter and a photographer. And at the moment I’m not even sure what they came out there about. It was not too important. Anyway, my foreman, a guy named Warren, comes up to me while they were there, early afternoon, says, “Ross, some reporters out there. They want to talk to you. Do you want to talk to them?” I said, “No, I don’t want to talk to them.” “It’s okay.” Then he goes and he talks to his superior, a guy named Shorty, who is — I guess they called him the job superintendent. And Shorty comes and says, “You want to talk to those guys?” I said, “No, I don’t want to talk to those guys.” “Okay.” Shorty turns to Warren, who was the foreman, and he says, “Warren, don’t we have a job on top of that redwood tower that we need to have Ross do?” Warren says, “Yeah, you know, I think you’re right, Shorty.” And Warren says, “climb on up to the top of that tower.”
Mullet:Said that to you?
Lomanitz:Said that to me. So I climbed on up to the top of the tower. It wasn’t that scary a thing, but I was climbing up the scaffolding for a hundred feet or so it’s a little scary. Anyway, I got up there, no problem. And then Shorty apparently turns to the reporter and photographer and says, “Okay. You want to talk to him? You can talk to him on the job. You go on up there now.” And the reporter was apparently a little recalcitrant, a little bit afraid of doing that, so they hung around. And the photographer. For a long time. After about an hour they apparently must have turned to Shorty and said, “Is he gonna be coming down soon?” And what Shorty said, “Well, he’ll be down when he is through with his job.” Not that there was any job to do. After a while the reporter, who still was afraid to climb the tower, got tired and went. But he had the photographer take the picture. And the next day’s Daily Oklahoma newspaper —
Mullet:Which was the newspaper for Oklahoma City at the time?
Lomanitz:Oklahoma City had a morning paper, the Daily Oklahoma, and the afternoon paper from the same outfit, the Oklahoma City Times. There used to be a competitor, the Oklahoma City News, which they managed to put out of business. The next day in the paper there was a picture of me on that redwood water tower. You couldn’t see very much of me at all. I was wearing a hard hat. You could see the hard hat, and that was about what you could see, and the byline said, “That’s not a rivet on the tower, that’s Lomanitz’s hard hat.” And that was the news story they got out of it.
Mullet:And when was that? Do you remember when that was?
Lomanitz:Of course it was 1950 at the time, but I don’t remember exactly when.
Mullet:Okay. In December of 1950 you were indicted on charges of Contempt of Congress, but before we get to that I wanted to ask you about two specific incidents that occurred between the time you testified before the Un-American Activities Committee and the time when you were indicted, and I wanted to get your feelings on how — what your thoughts were, because these were cases that might bear on the public’s perception of your own case. The first case was the announcement in early September ‘49 that in late August of 1949 the Soviets had successfully detonated an atomic weapon, and I was curious. When you first heard the news, what were your opinions about the actual fact that they had done it and what were your opinions about, did you ever think like, “Oh wow, this is not gonna help my case. This is not gonna make me look good, because now Soviets have the bomb and a lot of people might suspect that the way they got it so fast was because spies had given them the information.” So what were your thoughts upon hearing about the detonation by the Soviets of an atomic weapon?
Lomanitz:Actually I didn’t think that much about it. Most of my main thoughts about it were, “Well, I mean what did they expect? Didn’t they expect maybe this or sooner?” and it never even occurred to me that this was gonna tied up with, “Oh, they got it sooner.” Sooner than what I don’t know, because I expected that if they were gonna get it, it would be sooner than that. If they got it, that they must have must have gotten it through spying or something, it never really occurred to me that way to me. I mean, of course they were going to get it. There wasn’t any secret to the atomic bomb, just the engineering.
Mullet:And the second incident was in January of 1950. Klaus Fuchs turned himself in to British officials and confessed that while at Los Alamos and after he returned to Britain, that he had passed secrets along to the Soviets. And again, what were your thoughts when you found out about, when the story broke about Klaus Fuchs?
Lomanitz:I was very sorry to hear it. I had been this way. I had been rather proud that nobody had been able to pin anything on anybody as far as these horrendous accusations that anybody who disagreed politically was a communist and anybody who was a communist stole secrets for Russia and so on. This whole bunch of Hitler-like stuff. I was very proud that they had been unable to produce one single example of it. And I was very sorry. I don’t know whether Klaus Fuchs was guilty or whether he wasn’t, but I was very sorry.
Mullet:Okay. Now in the first week of December of 1950 you were indicted for Contempt of Congress, and I was wondering if you could tell me any experiences you had at that time related to your indictment. What events happened at that period?
Lomanitz:You know, there is a couple things. One of them is that a group of us, several of us had been arrested in Oklahoma City. I can’t remember the exact date.
Mullet:“Us” being —?
Lomanitz:Being people who were talking about what can we do about the Korean War because we did not like the Korean War and yet it was being presented as — if you disagreed with that, I mean, you were again a traitor. And so a number of people in my — I had a bread truck still that I brought from Nashville, and there were a number of people there discussing, “What can we do? Can we pass out leaflets?” and can we do this, that or the other, and the cops stopped us. We were out in a field. The reason we were out in a field was we didn’t want to be in anybody houses for fear that they, whoever the authorities be, would probably have microphones, Dictaphones, taps, whatnot on there. So we were just discussing it just by ourselves, and it was a very — it turns out to be a very stupid, sad thing to do. A couple of cops came along when they saw this bread truck in the field, and they you know asked me to open the back door of it, and what were we doing, and they saw, I don’t know, half a dozen people or so, and they asked them to identify themselves to begin with. There was this black lady, Mrs. Hayes, and this was enough. Right away there were whites and blacks sitting there together. And then they asked another guy to identify himself, and he identified himself as Allen Shaw and his job was paid organizer for the Communist Party of the United States, and immediately those two things together, Mrs. Hayes and Allen Shaw, they said, “Okay.” We all got arrested. They didn’t know what they were arresting us for. Illegal to sit together? Illegal to discuss things? At any rate, they threw us all in jail, in the Oklahoma City Jail, and they couldn’t find any ordinance that we had violated, any ordinance under which they could prosecute us, and eventually they had to just turn us loose.
Mullet:How long were you in jail?
Lomanitz:Let’s see. This was over Labor Day. One night at least. It may have been two, because of the holiday. And that was one incident that happened. And in those times were not very nice times to be living in if you believed in the Constitution of the United States of America. That was sometime in 1950. Right around Labor Day, that’s right. The other thing that you asked related to the indictment was a sort of a separate thing, and that is grand juries had been called all over the country, and one was called in Oklahoma.
Mullet:But as far as related to the actual indictment, were you arrested upon being indicted and did you spend any time in jail for the actual, a separate incident of the actual indictment did you actually spend any time in jail for that also?
Lomanitz:Yes. I was again in jail overnight until bond was raised, $1500, and my mother was able to put up the bond.
Mullet:Now, so after being indicted for Contempt of Congress you actually were tried on these charges. And do you remember the circumstances surrounding that case? Do you remember when exactly you were tried and the circumstances surrounding that incident?
Lomanitz:I no longer remember the exact day. It was probably in ‘51.
Mullet:Yes, it was.
Lomanitz:But I know it got postponed once. I also know that there was a question about how to pay for the trip from Oklahoma City to Washington because the so-called crime, the alleged crime had occurred in Washington, the Contempt of Congress.
Mullet:So that’s where the trial was to be held.
That’s right. And the government was not willing to pay for my transportation there and back. And I remember talking to a friend and he says well, he’d known somebody who was a bootlegger and had gotten arrested and what he had done was just wait in jail until the time of his trial and that way the government had to do it there for free. But this was not a very appealing thing to do, so again I borrowed more money and used it. I was going to go on the bus but it turned out the train was just about as cheap to Washington. I also was looking around for a pro bono lawyer who would take the case because I was broke and in debt. As it turned out, most of the so-called civil liberties lawyers were afraid to touch it. I finally was able to contact one, a big name already at that time in D.C. and make an appointment to talk to him about possibility taking the case pro bono. His name was Abe Fortas. Later on he became even more well known because he was appointed to the Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court, I think by Johnson. And later on yet his name again appeared because he resigned under allegations that he had done some shady, shifty things which may or may not have been true. But I saw Mr. Fortas, who was then sort of a junior partner in the firm of Arnold, Porter & Fortas in Washington, and he said that well, if he were to take the case — and he might take it pro bono — but if he were I had to tell him everything. And his attitude was basically like that of the Un-American Activities Committee.
I had to tell him everything not only about myself, but I also had to tell him everything about people that I knew as to whether they were or were not members of the communist party, whether they associated with people who were, what the neighbors they might be, and I did not wish to tell Mr. Fortas such answers as I might know to these questions. I thought they were entirely out of line. I mean I was being tried for Contempt of Congress, and what did this have to do with the price of beans. And Mr. Fortas thereupon declined to take my case. Most of the civil rights lawyers chickened out, frankly, when it came to this. They were afraid. I know why they were afraid. You know, I would have been too. I was too, as a matter of fact. So what I did was, I appeared at the Contempt of Congress trial without a lawyer except that David Bohm was still affluent enough from his teaching at Princeton University and being single to have afforded a lawyer and he found a lawyer who had the courage to take the case. The lawyer’s name was Cliff Durr — from Alabama, I think. And I spoke to Cliff Durr, and Cliff Durr said, “Look. Dave Bohm has already paid me $750. You guys are gonna be tried together. I’ll go on ahead and represent you too without further money,” which was sort of overwhelmingly kind of Mr. Cliff Durr. So I did have representation when I went before the Judge Holtzoff.
Mullet:And this is the first time between your appearances or any other activities, this is the first time that you were represented by an attorney? During that time you might have consulted with an attorney, but this was the first time you actually had representation during your case?
Lomanitz:That’s right. First time I ever appeared with an attorney. And actually there was very little the attorney said during the trial, which was held without a jury on the attorney’s advice — which may have been good advice, may have been bad advice. But his thinking at the time was already the pressure had gotten so much and the fear had gotten so much in this country that it would be difficult to find a jury that was impartial enough and not afraid enough to be able to just consider the case on its merit. I don’t know whether he was right or not. Myself, I was concerned as to whether there was a judge that would be impartial about it. As it turned out, Mr. Holtzoff, Judge Holtzoff was surely not impartial. But I remember Judge Holtzoff saying some really nasty things, like that David Bohm and I had been associated with groups that were trying to overthrow the Constitution of the United States and the precious freedoms that it gave, such as the freedom not to incriminate oneself. He didn’t really mention so much about the freedom of speech because there had been people sent to prison on that and the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld their sentences. But he did say that we were abusing the Constitution and he was very, very sorry that he had to apply the Constitution also to those of us who would overthrow it. And when he was doing some of this kind of talking I was not only getting angry, not only getting afraid, but I was starting to jump up and say it’s not true. And Mr. Durr held me down and whispered in my ear and he said, “Just be quiet. He’s talking himself into an acquittal.” So I followed Mr. Durr’s advice and said nothing, and sure enough Judge Holtzoff, again with his sermon about how reprehensible these people were, that he had nothing else he could do however except to acquit us.
Mullet:Huh. So prior to being acquitted in ‘51 you returned to Oklahoma City. Correct?
Mullet:You lived in that area until 1954 when you moved to Norman, but you did not always actually live in Oklahoma City. Now at one point you actually moved about 15 or 20 miles outside of Oklahoma City into a town called Choctaw. Could you talk a little bit about why you made the move and any experiences or conditions you encountered at Choctaw.
Lomanitz:Yeah. Actually what happened, the decision to move came just after the arrests about Labor Day of 1950 by the city police and subsequent release after some time in jail because they could find no charges. That plus also the telephone call that I had gotten which I believe I have referred to previously from the man who he and the boys were gonna save the government some trouble but he decided when I told him that I believed in the government and its giving us the right to have our opinion who subsided after that. With the harassment that was going on, Merry and I thought that the thing to do might be just to get away from where we were so easily accessible to various forms of harassment. What we had done was we had bought 20 acres of land. It wasn’t really in the town of Choctaw, it was 2 miles outside the town of Choctaw and not very good roads. The town of Choctaw itself had probably 150 people and we were a couple of miles outside of that. We had started paying I think it was $30 a month on 20 acres there, and our decision was to move on out there, build some kind of a shack out there that we could live in. Which we did. Actually we had no electricity, we had no phone, we had no running water. We had a well and we had a pump and we heated water for bathing by putting it out in tubs and letting the sun shine on it while we were gone away to work during the day. And the materials itself I think cost like $40 or something like this. This was actually made out of old airplane engine crates that I had been able to buy. The outside of the house looked pretty bad. The inside of the house Merry managed to make looking rather nice, and it was about — what was it? — it was about 20, it was about 18 — I have forgotten the exact dimensions. Something like 18 by 21 feet, something like that.
Mullet:And how long did you live in that house?
Lomanitz:Until the wood in the floors rotted out, which was about four years after we built it. We built it in September of 1950 and we left approximately that same time in 1954 and moved to Norman.
Mullet:So in spite of the fact that you had all this training in theoretical physics and you had completed your Ph.D. you were living in what amounted to a one-room shack or a one large room shack outside of Oklahoma City.
Mullet:So in 1954 you moved to Norman and your source of income was tutoring students at Oklahoma and then in 1960 you began, you moved to Walla Walla, Washington and began teaching at Whitman College. And I know this was the first official academic job you had had since 1949 when you left Fisk, and I was wondering if you could tell us about just the circumstances of how this opportunity became available to you and whether or not your politics or your past troubles was discussed prior to your employment by Whitman College.
Yeah. Actually, shortly before I got the offer of the job at Whitman, probably sometime in 1959, through an old friend and colleague Stanley Frankel, I eventually got the opportunity to work as a part-time consultant by correspondence for General Electric in Palo Alto, California. General Electric was at that time interested in seeing whether they could not build what they called a cryogenic computer, very cool, using superconducting material. They thought this might make things much more fast and efficient. And my job, which was part time of course — obtained for me basically through Stanley Frankel — was to study everything I could that might be known about superconductivity, particularly about the theory of superconductivity, and mail these results to a physicist at, that was working regularly, at General Electric, Ed Joynson. And, as Frankel put it, my job was to educate their physicists. Well, I had to of course make sure I educated myself first. And I found out in the process not only all I could about superconductivity theory up to that date, but also about many of the things that their physicists may or may not have been exposed to but had probably dimmed in their minds if they had been exposed to it.
Such things as the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of electrical conductivity and theories of thin-film conductivity, which ironically I later learned had been pursued, had been researched to a considerable degree by the same Klaus Fuchs. And also I was able fortunately to get hold of some papers from the Soviet Union by Ginsberg and Landau in particular on the theory of superconductivity — in English. Of course I wasn’t about to be able to get them by just writing and asking for them. Our government wasn’t even permitting this stuff to come into the United States from the Soviet Union, but I was able to write to a man named Schonberg, who was a very eminent physicist in England, who himself had no problem at all getting copies of the article of Ginsberg and Landau out of the Soviet Union because England was not as paranoid as we were. And Schonberg had in fact gone on ahead and had them translated into English and he sent me copies of these articles in English — which I think was extremely over and beyond the call of duty. But anyway, so I did some of this consulting work for General Electric, one-quarter time. I did that for maybe a year and a half. And in the middle of it I had heard from somebody — I don’t know if it was David Fox or who — that it seemed as though it was getting easier to be able to get jobs in the United States; that the blacklist finally after a decade or twelve years or whatever was beginning to loosen up.
So I sent out some applications for jobs in the academic field. This included Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington which was a liberal arts university. It turned out there was a job opening. The job had been filled, but somebody who had gotten it had gotten a better job somewhere else and had taken that, leaving them shorthanded and short time also in which to fill it and I talked to the president, Dr. Perry, and he was amenable after having talked to the physics department head. And what’s more, I told him everything I could about my previous political troubles and in fact sent him a copy of the transcripts of my hearing in 1949 before the Un-American Activities Committee so that he would be prepared should the Regents or anybody like the politicians sort of bear down on him and say, “Where did you drag this guy up from?” And he was appreciative of having the information and went ahead and I was hired at Whitman College in 1960.
Mullet:All right. And what were your impressions of the school?
Lomanitz:It wasn’t bad for a liberal arts college. It was not as good as some of the people teaching there would have liked to believe. It didn’t rank up for example with Reed College, it didn’t rank up with Oberlin for example, but there’s a number of things I can compare it with. But it was not bad. And I was able to teach my courses there. In fact I had one little victory to begin with. Instead of having separate courses for non-science majors, a separate physics course, one of the things I and a chairman of my department, Bob Bennett, both pushed for was let’s just have one course of beginning physics and teach it the same way to all concerned and not sort of look down on the non-science majors and at the same time also be able to conserve manpower by not having to teach physics in separate courses. This worked very well, and I taught there for two years and it all went very well.
Mullet:Excellent. In 1962 you began teaching at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, also known as New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico, and you stayed there until you retired in 1991. Were your politics discussed in this case also?
Lomanitz:Yeah. I got tired of teaching at Whitman partly because of the attitude about “what a wonderful place are we” or sort of “the best amongst the liberal arts” and this and that and the other, and without opportunities being given for advanced course work, other research or something like that. So I wrote out to quite a number of places. I almost got a job at Oregon State University at Corvallis, Oregon. The physics department wanted me, they liked the talk that I gave in my visit on superconductivity and they asked for my being hired, but the administration at Oregon State was still a little bit too paranoid to think that they might get the university in trouble or whatever, bring down some kind of wrath, and so they vetoed the physics department’s offer of a job.
Mullet:Did the people tell you, “You are not being hired because we are paranoid” or is that your speculation?
Lomanitz:I got a letter from somebody. I think his name of Junker, who was the head of the department at that time, of the physics department, in which he explained this to me. Because he said, you know, it had almost been certain, “We’d be very glad to see you in the fall” and this. And then he had to write back and saying, “We cannot take — we have to withdraw this offer because of the administration.” It was kind of brought up.
Mullet:You were saying about New Mexico Tech?
Lomanitz:Oh yeah. The president of New Mexico Tech at that time was a man named Workman, and Workman it so happened — for whatever, this may or may not have any importance — had himself been a graduate of Whitman College sometime quite a while back before that. So the fact that I was at Whitman and got good letters of recommendation from Whitman certainly didn’t hurt anything. However, Workman had another goal. Actually why did he want me at all? He wanted to improve the physics department, and to improve the physics department he realized that they — he thought they should have a mathematical physicist — a theoretical physicist, which they didn’t have, and I was a theoretical physicist and a mathematical physicist. Albeit I hadn’t really been working in the field for a decade. Workman liked my recommendation, he liked the fact that I came from — Workman liked my recommendation, he liked the fact that I came from Whitman College with a good recommendation, and Workman also was the kind of a guy whom I respected very much in terms of courage. He was one for example who when asked almost routinely by the CIA, as was done in those days or when you have some of your professors going abroad on leave or exchange or something like that. So the CIA said to Workman, “You wouldn’t mind talking to them a little about gathering a little information on the side and transmitting it to us and so forth, would you?” And Workman told them to get the hell out of his office. He surely would not. He was really a man of considerable courage in those days. So it did not faze him at all, my political troubles.
Mullet:So consequently politics never really was a factor, at least not in the mind of Workman.
Lomanitz:Right. There might have been some other kinds of politics that were. For example, I remember Alan Gutzahr, a professor in mathematics, had a sign on his door saying the reason campus politics was so petty is that the stakes were so small, but that’s a different kind of politics.
Mullet:I believe it was in 1965 when Stirling Colgate became president and shortly after, in 1965, there was an attempt by New Mexico Tech to hire your former roommate David Bohm who was at that time teaching in England, in London at the Birkbeck College, University of London. And I know the end result was that David Bohm was not able to come back to America to work. I was curious if you could discuss any recollections you have with that incident and why you think he was not able to come back to America or what were the circumstances that made it impossible or difficult for him to come back to America.
Lomanitz:Okay. Here’s what I know. David Bohm had taken out Brazilian citizenship back in the early fifties when his American passport had not been given back to him. It had been taken away from him — I think illegally — by the consul, the American Consul there. And David wanted to travel abroad to discuss physics with physicists. So he applied for Brazilian citizenship in order to get a Brazilian passport to travel abroad, and he was able to do this. However, this was used against him later to insist that this native born American, David Bohm, who had never renounced his American citizenship, who had never been convicted of a crime, was denied admission to this country — to his own native country. Again I think this was probably strictly illegal. But he was denied, and obviously on account of the politics. I spoke to Stirling Colgate, who was delighted to know (a) that I knew Dave, (b) that I could be in correspondence with Dave and express my opinions to him as to what I thought about this, that and the other, and that on the other hand that he, Stirling Colgate, considered himself to be a really high muckety-muck amongst the old boys in the science at least of the United States Government. He had been on advisory boards to Lord knows what, Atomic Energy Commission maybe, I don’t know, National Science Foundation? I couldn’t tell you just which one. I was reminded for the moment of an incident that occurred when — a totally different incident — when a man named John Corben had been arrested by the feds on charges of, I don’t know, distributing marijuana or other drugs or something or another —
Mullet:John Corben the —?
Lomanitz:John Corben was a student there. And John had asked Stirling Colgate and me if we would be character witnesses in his trial. And we both had met John at student parties or whatnot and we both agreed. And I remember when Stirling was being sworn in and was asked sort of what his background was and so forth, and he talked on for quite some time about all the jobs that he had held in the government and so on and ended up by saying something about “and other honors too numerous to mention.” That’s the way Stirling Colgate ended up his interrogation by the prosecuting attorney. And then when I took the stand the prosecuting attorney turns rather sarcastically to me and says, “And I suppose that you too are an internationally known physicist with honors this, that and the other.” And I said, “No sir, I just teach physics at New Mexico Tech.” Anyway, it went on from there. And Stirling and I each at that time just attested to the fact that as far as we knew John was an honorable man. We knew of nothing bad that he had done, or something like that. But anyway, I was telling this story to hone in on the idea that Stirling Colgate had indeed had government positions, presumably of high order, and considered himself to be really one who could accomplish all kinds of things because of these connections. Stirling Colgate wanted David Bohm to come to New Mexico Tech and teach. David Bohm was quite willing to do this because it would give him a way to get into this country.
Mullet:So Bohm’s living in England wasn’t so much necessarily what he wanted but he felt like that was all he could get, that was the best he could do at the time.
Lomanitz:Actually he had improved himself. He had gone from Israel to Bristol College I think and then to Birkbeck which was really a pretty damn good university. But he wanted to get back to the United States. If he had gotten to come to New Mexico Tech and teach I think it would have been a comedown professionally, but at that stage it was not the point. So Stirling Colgate wrote to and telephoned to quite a number of different people that he knew or had known in government and thought that it would just be a cinch. He’d say, “Hey, I want this guy here” and it would be a feather in his cap to have gotten David Bohm here and that’s the way it would be. I happen to have the files of Stirling Colgate’s communication with various government people about his unsuccessful attempts to get David Bohm into the country. The reason I have them is that when Stirling Colgate resigned the presidency of New Mexico Tech in 1975 after the ten years that he had allotted himself to stay there he presumably didn’t want to keep these files around. He didn’t know what to do with them, so he gave them to me. And so I have them. And he was unsuccessful. And I think it was a big comedown to Stirling Colgate in the first place that he couldn’t get Dave here, and secondly that he just did not have the power that he thought he had.
Mullet:So the only thing that was barring David Bohm was his political past or complications arising from his past.
Lomanitz:Oh yes. I mean, he has become a really, you know, a world class theoretical physicist.
Mullet:The final thing I want to ask you of in summation is, when you look back at that period in your life — the early forties when you were at Berkeley through to the early fifties when you had the encounters with the Un-American Activities Committee and the resulting legal procedures. When you look back at it, what do you feel? What are your thoughts on it now, fifty years after the fact.
Lomanitz:I think that it is a tragedy that things like this had to happen in what at that time I would have called “this modern age.” I knew I had read things in American history I think varying anything from the witch hunts in Salem to the alien and sedition laws in around 1800 to some of the ways in which people were treated just before and after the First World War in which people, I’m pretty sure, strong union leaders were actually hanged for — what did they call it? — anarchists, Bolsheviks, something or another — and I think this was on cooked-up charges. I really had been pretty aghast about these things, but I thought, “Well, at least we’ve come through those days,” and I’ve found that these modern days into which we had emerged in the nineteen thirties and forties and fifties and so forth were not — you know, they had the same sort of things behind them and the same sort of weapons of terror and people being killed by the government and being out of jobs and sent to jail. That had happened for a long time, and I think this is some of the tremendous tragedy of it. Whoever said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” I think was right. However, I think the fact that we have our Constitution means that we have the groundwork from which we can fight — sometimes more successfully and sometimes less successfully. In addition, for myself personally I don’t know what would have happened if all these things hadn’t happened to me. What would happen as far as my career. I don’t know what would have happened, but I do know this: I came to find out more about what everyday working people, what kind of lives they live and what kind of philosophies they can live by, in particular the one about, “Well, we’re all in the same boat together. Let’s help each other and not stomp on each other” which I probably never would have run into had I not had these problems and had to work with people in the working class. I know I was very glad that I found that Mr. Nixon was in trouble and finally had to resign. In fact I remember myself somewhat childishly say, “Hey! I’ve got a job and Nixon doesn’t.” But I think that’s understandable too. In spite of all these things having happened to, I’d say, even though they matured me, I still think it was very, very wrong what happened to me and some of the other people.
Mullet:You don’t look at it as just that, “Well, that was the times we lived in”? You know, it’s, to you it’s not just a matter of a product of the times but it was a morally or ethically incorrect to persecute these people or prosecute them the way that they were.
Lomanitz:Well, it certainly was morally incorrect. And as far as a product of the times, their being able to get away with it to the degree is not just the product of time. And the thing behind it all, I’m still convinced of a lesson that was given to me by a chemist in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians who worked in Emeryville at Shell Development. He said that, “One of the things is that you get the idea that what is really motivating society to move; if you look at it in terms of the class interests of the ruling class and the class that they exploit then you can understand things so much better.” And I still use that tool right to this day. Thank you David Adelson.
Mullet:Thank you, Dr. Lomanitz.