Oral History Transcript — Dr. Peter Glaser
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Dr. Peter Glaser
Peter Glaser; May 31, 1994
ABSTRACT: Some of the topics discussed include: his Jewish childhood and early education in Czechoslovakia; his family's escape from the Nazi takeover; his education as an engineer in England; fighting with the Czech army during World War II; his return to Czechoslovakia after the war; his emigration to the U.S. where he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Columbia University; his employment as a consulting engineer at D. Little in Cambridge, Mass. where he spent his career; his resolve to obey the Hippocratic oath to "do no harm;" Cryogenic insulation; lunar surface research and experiments; von Braun rocket team; space solar power; thermal imaging; Krakatit (the book).
Glaser:This is the town square. As I remember it this was more for parking of cars and it was a paved area. This is the townhall and behind it are lots of churches. As you can see it is a medieval town. The shops are underneath these arcades. This was sort of thanks to God for surviving the pestilence.
Elder:Do the people live up here?
Glaser:Yes. This was all inhabited. What strikes you when you look at it, this is supposedly 25,000 people; there are no people around because the population is very small now. Most of the population were the Germans which were thrown out. This is at the upper end. At this end there is a square. You can still see the grassy areas and this was my uncle's textile store, which of course was taken over by somebody and it is still a textile store. My uncle used to live up there; this is one side of the street.
Elder:Were there animals around? Were there horses?
Glaser:Yes. There were a few horses, but by the time cars were around in 1935 you could get taxis, buses, and so on. I took this because that is a temple. It is just one block if you go to the right here. One block and you come to the temple. It was a beautiful temple. The Germans used it as a garage. This is rabbi's residence and a school where I had my Bar Mitzvah lessons. It is not inhabited. These are gypsy children. You can see the very dilapidated, with windows broken and so on. Somebody from a neighbor's house yelled "Here are those Germans again." I said "No, I am not German. Why do you say German?" They said, "Well, they always come here to show how terrible things are and take pictures of our children."
Glaser:This was part of Yentyl's general.
Elder:These gypsies live there now?
Glaser:Yes. I don't know if this will ever be restored because there is a new law which returns all communal Jewish property to Jewish community, but there is no community in this town anymore. This is our house and here I even took a picture of me standing in front of it. Here it is called "children's school."
Elder:This is the house close to the factory?
Glaser:No, that is the new house. That was built in 1937 and it hasn't changed. They haven't painted it or done anything for fifty years, the way it looks to me, and as you can see it is a modern house. The entrance is unchanged. They haven't done anything to the door in fifty years. The copper flashing has a nice green pattern.
Elder:Did you go in?
Glaser:No I didn't because I figured I would have to prove that I am the owner. This was a garage and that is the street. This is a view from the back of the house.
Elder:This is just somebody's house now?
Glaser:Yes. This is the school. This is the rear entrance. You can see it is in rough shape and the edges are still this spring. The house of the rabbi leads down here.
Elder:There is a well?
Glaser:Yes, that is a well. At the garden you will see the well as you go down this little road. I am standing in front of the factory gates and this was my father's factory. This is a tiny portion — these were heavy machines. All you can see if the office and that was the entrance. This was where we lived. These three wings went back, so you really don't the impression of the size of the building.
Elder:When you were at home did you hear the machinery going?
Glaser:No. This is my best friend who lived just across from us. None of those people survived. This is where I went to school. I told you the town is built top of a mountain. It is here you see one of the watch towers. Here is a picture of the cemetery where my family was buried; grandfathers and all the Jews. There were two parts to it. This is one part and it continues here. This was a chapel. There was a glass roof over this thing so you could have services there. This is that view from the other side. You can see the caretakers, chickens, and ducks. All the monuments were removed and he cuts it for hay. The brick wall was removed. Here is an eye view of the graves and I am standing in front of the stone which is my father's grave; I knew exactly where it was. They toppled the tombstone and it's my fathers. This is what it looks like today. As you can see here is the man who supposedly takes care of it for a few hundred crowns. This is a town where Eva's family comes from, about half an hour away.
Elder:When you came back did you have any idea whether you would find these things still there or not? It seems remarkable how much was still there.
Glaser:I had received information from people who was there — that is from the 12th century. Here is a clock; one is going this way and this one going the other way. That is in front of the presidential palace. You can see Prague. It is very well worth visiting. That is the famous Charles Bridge where we were. You can see the tourist. That is the famous clock tower. That is where Pico de Bragh [???] is buried. There are lots of things to see. Now you've seen the pictures.
Elder:This is May 31, 1994 interview with Peter Glaser by John Elder. Peter was just showing me a photo album of a return trip that he made to Prague, places that he lived and knew in his childhood. Now we will finish going over some questions which I had from previous interviews which we had last week. We got all the way through except the last —
Glaser:To when exactly I returned.
Elder:You may have answered that.
Glaser:Did I? In May 1945.
Elder:Yes, May 1945 visits you in Pilsin. That was when you returned.
Glaser:I returned home in June. When I came back our house had a family living in it. The man was a forester, his wife and their child. He realized that I was the rightful owner and he decided to go without my saying anything. He and his wife took their possessions and moved to another house to let me have use of my house. There was still a time period where the officials were primarily Czechs who were communists even in 1945. The communist party had put their people into positions in the town governments, so I had to deal with essentially communists and they didn't really want to give us back the house. I convinced them that we were going to live there and if they had a problem I had some good friends in Prague that can help them find that indeed a returning soldier has a right to his home. They listened to that.
Elder:It was a threat?
Elder:Was it real?
Glaser:Oh yes. I had people that I knew. My comrades in Prague I would say "Look here I am and they won't even let me live in my house." They knew. I was going around in my British army uniform and they knew they could only get away with it that much. Several of my other friends came back and they went through the same thing. Nobody wants to give anything back; it's true to this day. I don't have my house back after the communist. It took some doing to get it back after the Nazis took it from us. Now I am going through the same thing to have the Czech government give it back because Parliament doesn't want to return anything. 250,000 Jews lived in pre-war Czechoslovakia; 5,000 live there now. They don't want to give anything back. The problem is always possession is ninety percent of the law. I don't know if I will ever get it back now. You have to be a Czech citizen and you have to live there, and God knows what else.
Elder:What would you do with it if you did have it?
Glaser:I would figure it out. I don't know yet. At the moment that is a remote possibility, so I haven't come to that. It is a nice house and I may just use it for my own purposes and have somebody live there to take care of it. I don't intend to just let them keep it if I can help it. Returning to the Czech language, in the army I spoke Czech. I was always fluent.
Elder:I knew that. Maybe the chronology was wrong. When you went into the army was that a kind of transition?
Glaser:No, you see it was too short a time for me. It was my mother tongue. I never lost that.
Elder:I wasn't thinking you had lost the language and had to get it back, but I was thinking that when there is an extended time where you don't hear it around you —
Glaser:But remember, that was only about three years. That is a relatively short time and I was twenty-two years old. I didn't really forget it. Where did I stay until I got my home back? I mentioned to you, in our house! I went there and I said "Give me the keys" and I got them. They knew that I would back it up. They heard about others doing the same thing. I demanded it back and I got it back. [???] University at that point — that is interesting. There were enormous classes because there was a whole generation of students who couldn't go to school because they were closed. I don't know all what went on during the war. I know the university took over various cinemas and lectures were given there because of the size of classes. Then the professors were still coming back and you had good professors. There were some very good ones who knew about atomic physics, modern physics and such. It was hard work and studies at Czech Technical High School, which is part of the university system, was no pushover because of the final exams and written exams. There were eight students around the table and the professor writes a problem on the blackboard and now he goes around. The first one solves the problem and if he doesn't it goes to the second one, the third and so on until you've solved the problem. It is a harrowing experience, these oral exams. You really study hard. I still have some of my books. This is a physics textbook and the paper itself was very poor quality after the war. This is a famous book by a professor in 1946; Nachtigall which is German — not quite German — but it means nightingale. That was the first edition in 1931 and the second and the third in 1945. It was the university essentially came back to life and this is all the physics that was known at that time.
Elder:This is a Czech word?
Glaser:No, an old Slavic language. Russian and Czech of course the same root, so you have the whole thing. I haven't looked at these books in ages — the basic chronology of mathematics, the study of technical and natural sciences. Always published after the war is over. The same math which you were studying in university here.
Elder:Do you ever have a fond feeling for these books?
Glaser:Yes, they were in fact among the few possessions I was allowed to take. I took the books because they last. They witnessed a certain time period that I felt was important for me to have. They helped me when I studied here because I could relate what I was studying at Columbia.
Elder:I am curious because it seems another kind of science fiction scene of what it must be like when an enormous war ends.
Glaser:The Czechs... were starting over again. They've done it several times and passive resistance I have been able to the nth degree during three hundred years of living under the Hapsburgs. If you ever want to read the story of how to do, how one soldier can discombobulate the Austro-Hungarian army you have to read The Good Soldier [???]. You will understand that this is national character that they can do that. I think it is very interesting that the good soldier [???] is sort of a national hero because all he does is what the regulations say. That is enough. You discombobulate any organization doing just what it says on that piece of paper. You sabotage single-handedly just everything. What did I feel when the Sudaten Germans were expelled? Well, they were expelled during the summer of 1945. I knew several people who worked in my father's factory. They were taken to that camp where and I personally went there in my army uniform and got a few of those people released by the local commander and said we needed those people in order for my father to start the factory. After I saw Schindler's List I realized that here I was essentially having a list of names of people which my father gave me to get the workers back to the factory. I've seen this before. I know what Schindler must have felt. I had to do similar things like Schindler. The little things to assemble, the powder into the forty-five millimeter.
Elder:I haven't seen it.
Glaser:If you see it you will know what I mean. Essentially I had the Glaser list which my father gave me and we got these people to come. Were they Nazis? They might have been, but in German the beautiful thing is called meitlauf and it means people who run with the crowd. I wasn't about to charge the Sudaten Germans except those which I knew were really rabid ones. Several of my friends from school came back and they sort of resumed their relationships. I didn't ask questions and I didn't elaborate what they did or didn't do. We had to start out lives. Several of them stayed, if they had a Czech father or whatever, but most of the population disappeared and in their place came Czechs from some of the provinces in Russia. They were totally different background and I had nothing to do with them. As far as the Jews, they probably could have gotten together in [???] but I am not sure. 2,000 Jews or 4,500 Jews in the town; most of them were killed. As far as I know one hundred might have saved themselves. 250,000 Jews pretty much at [???]; 5,000... 30,000 saved themselves or ten percent roughly by getting out before things got bad. So what did I think and feel? I couldn't be the judge. I had to ask if I would have behaved differently or if my actions would have hurt people. I was a soldier. I was fighting in the war. I may have seen the results, but I wasn't there. I have still always, when I see a German, have to say to myself — if they are your age I have no problem — if they are my age, first of all they know I speak German because I have an accent. They wonder where I come from. I say I come from the Sudatenland. Most of them know my hometown. They look at me and ask where I was during the war. I tell them I served in the Czech army and that is enough. They know exactly who I am and that makes them awfully uncomfortable and I am delighted. The people who obviously were Nazis, I don't make a blanket condemnation of the Germans. There were some good Germans. Unfortunately I have heard of only one Schindler. Perhaps there were others. They have to live with it; I don't. I have a clear conscience. Most of the people probably don't. You don't forget. You cannot forget. I am not a psychiatrist. The reason why so few Jews are buried in that cemetery is when I came back there were two graves. Two Jews during these forced marches to concentration camps were buried in the cemetery.
Elder:Who buried them there?
Glaser:A lot of people died. The war stopped in May and they died in June or July of after-effects of Typhoid or god-knows-what diseases. These two people were left more or less as dead after the forced march to concentration camp. They weren't killed; they just died of disease. If you see Schindler's List it is a shadow of the reality. You should see it because there are some good points made. Remember, the actors aren't skeletons. It's totally different and it portrays it very well, but it couldn't be portrayed in its reality because people would faint and feel sick. My father was the third Jew buried in the cemetery. Since, when we went in October, there are two more graves of Jews who came from there and lived elsewhere — Canada or somewhere — and wanted to be buried with ancestors, so to speak. I don't want to take my father and bring him to Lexington. He is buried in hallowed ground, consecrated ground, near his parents. Although I don't know exactly where the grave is, it's just the grassy area. The process of finding out what had gone on in Czechoslovakia during the war. I had a few friends like my cousin who came back from Auschwitz left for dead by the Germans and the Russians essentially saved his life. He came back in 1945 — June or July — and I met him. I forgot how I found out he was back. He was in the Jewish hospital in Prague and weighed eighty pounds. But he survived.
Elder:When you went to meet him did you have any idea?
Glaser:By that time I knew. By that time it was common knowledge what the Nazis did to the Jews in concentration camps.
Elder:What I meant was, during the war did you know at all? There is some transition from not having any idea about this.
Glaser:I think we learned what was happening towards the end of the war. There was a television program about American knowledge of this and how they stopped refugees from coming here and the State Department probably knew in 1943-44 and they gave out an edict that it was a sort of secret knowledge and they didn't want anybody to know about it. The first time I saw people really still in their prison clothes was as we were going towards the Czech border from the army. Trucks were coming back with people who were liberated and I saw a truck with French prisoners. I don't know if they were in concentration camps; they had striped clothes. Here was a whole truckload of these people. The French had missions to find people and every country tried to get — it wasn't just Jews. There were other people in prison in forced labor and they were trying to get them back home. It was the first sight. Tanks were going this way, these were going that way.
Elder:And they were walking skeletons?
Glaser:These were not because they were not Jews. The Jews that I met — my cousin was the first one and I could see how he looked at the time. Thank God he survived and prospered since then. He died five years ago and I was two weeks ago at the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson. Terrible things happened to all these people and they didn't want to talk about it. I could tell. When you went through you could see it in their eyes, through their expressions. I couldn't put my hands on it, but I could tell by looking at them that they must have gone through horrible things.
Elder:I don't mean to be morbid, but I wonder because all my life I have known about this and I can't imagine what it's like to find out about it.
Glaser:People committed suicide even after they were liberated. They just couldn't — they lost their families. The hardest thing was I showed you the house across the street where my best friend lived. His mother survived, her husband died, her only child died and what was her life to be? She was in her fifties and that was the end of her life and then she went to an old age home and then she died. Essentially surviving the concentration camps was not the end. Adjustment to normal life after the horrors that people went through was difficult. They couldn't face the reality. Even though they dressed and went through the motions, they were shattered human beings.
Elder:Do you remember first being told about a concentration camp?
Glaser:There were also ghettos. We found out, somehow there was a poem that was circulated in the army from the Warsaw Ghetto. It's a famous poem now about the fighters in the ghetto. That was sort of the first inkling of what was happening in the ghetto.
Elder:Was that how you knew the Germans were out to kill the Jews?
Glaser:You had these little tidbits, but we never got the whole story and there was, if you like, I think a concerted effort not to talk about it in the West. They felt it was just a fling. Knowledge wouldn't have helped at that point. After the war these people came back — these survivors — and with these stories then you could see what was happening and really begin to understand the magnitude of the disasters.
Elder:Did you have the sensation of “you must be kidding — this couldn't really have happened?”
Glaser:I guess we took it as a fact. You know, my grandparents and I have an aunt who was killed. She had polio was unable to walk. I couldn't understand how they could kill old people. In other words, nobody believed when we left our grandparents that anyone would do anything to them. They had no reason to be killed. It was not because they were old, young — they were Jewish. It was Hitler's thing to exterminate the Jewish race. We have had Hitlers before so it isn't new to the Jewish religion. We read the stories. I had to come to terms and accept that indeed my family had disappeared. I was with my cousin and at that time we were the only survivors. It is a funny feeling. You know, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and extended family — all gone. What I had to do was come to terms with that. I have survived and therefore I have to carry on and do what I can to make up for it.
Elder:I would also like to think that you had fled to escape maybe going to jail or maybe just your father going to jail and then to find out what you really had escaped!
Glaser:It was a very fortunate thing that happened, that my father had to escape. He knew he had to escape. None of the other people knew that they had to. I have to admit that if you believe in God it was God's will. I can't put it in other terms. It was God's will that we weren't there and that I'm here and that I do what I do. If that is what God willed, that is what I am doing. You cannot have an explanation for this. The magnitude — I have had thirty-five members of my extended family.
Elder:Did you have nightmares?
Glaser:At some point yes. But I rarely have them. I feel that one has to come to terms with reality. It was hard for me. I can't imagine what a father or mother must have felt in those circumstances.
Elder:What did your parents experience as they also found all this out? They didn't know either. It was a science fiction story to them, too.
Glaser:It was hard. People at that early stage couldn't talk. Nobody could talk about it. It was such a horrendous thing that you couldn't discuss it. If you were a survivor it might have taken ten to twenty years before you could talk about it. Only now can people start to talk. Only now could you actually do Schindler's List based on the people who were willing to discuss it. You couldn't have done it in probably 1950. It was too much for these people to face. God gave us only a good memory, not a perfect one. Perhaps that is the reason for it. That part I have no explanation why it happened. I can't really blame America for not doing more; they should have done more. The British — two of my friends next door were on those ships which were sunk by the British when they tried to get to Palestine. But again I didn't know about that until after the war. The [???] — a well-known... I feel that is fate. Hopefully it has shown the world that it doesn't help, but today on the radio North Korea and all that stuff! I wouldn't foretell what is going to happen there. There is something in the human psyche that we are imperfect beings. Why am I so interested in space? Well perhaps the reason is that I am looking at creations of God which have not been touched by humans. Certainly this coming back and this whole integration into society for me, as well as those released from the camps, was difficult. We were slowly getting back when my father died fairly young. Then the communists started to become active and I knew the dye was cast in the elections of 1948 when you put your ballot into a box and there was a guy standing to see what you put into the box. Democratic elections and lies! If you read papers and those of us who were educated in the West knew that this was just damn lies. I knew we had to leave. I saw the communists marching in February 1948. It was the workers spontaneous... and I knew that was the end. Mesaraic[???] was essentially killed, so I knew we had to leave and that is when I tried to find ways — it was hard to do — you could still go illegally, but not with my mother. I had to find a legal way. We did get the affidavit.
Elder:You mean you could sneak out through the woods?
Glaser:It was dangerous, but there were ways but not with an elderly lady. I decided we'd have to find a way to get out and I got in touch with the joint distribution committee. You know what the UJA is?
Glaser:At that time there was money to help Jews escape out of Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and all these countries. The money was essentially used to buy their freedom. The only people who could leave legally with passports were Jews and Czechs in 1948. I figured for every one of us they paid some sum of money to the communist government in dollars. It was a long process. You had to have an affidavit which my mother's sister in New York gave us. It was required to guarantee that you wouldn't be a burden to the state.
Elder:You mean the American government?
Glaser:Yes. So we left. We were to leave November 6 and that was a Friday night. My mother had her passport and mine was to be ready on Saturday morning. I felt that I didn't know if I would get my passport and it was the last plane I could get. I decided I could stay here and my mother would be safe going to New York to be with her sister. I had good friends. I forgot to tell you one interesting thing. I was able to make arrangements if I didn't get my passport and go to Israel. The Israelites were very interested... Let me trace one little story. My hometown of [???], during the war the Germans built a large airport near there. In 1946 the Panamanian airline arrived in time at the airport. The Panamanian airline was a fictitious airline that carried Czech weapons to Israel prior to the war of 1948. We had there pilots and crew living in our house. One I remember was Ben Fingerood[???] from Detroit. That air force was there from the beginning of 1947 using the airport to ferry raw material — munitions, guns, airplanes; disassembled airplanes and flew them to Israel . . . foreign aircraft, the first types were flying over. I have forgotten when, the war started and all at once they had B-17 bombers somehow landing there. One of my good friends from the RAF helped put in the bombs; he knew how to do that. That was the only time that they flew from that airport to Cairo during the war of independence and then landed in Israel and there was a big hullabaloo. In fact a United Nations commission was going to go and looked what happened to that airport. That was all done because the Russians felt that Israel would support their position. Overnight all these people were shipped off to Yugoslavia including my friend and his family. Later he was chief inspector of LL Airlines. He still lives in Israel. That was an interesting period as well. I recall once that we went out to buy any kind of revolvers around the countryside — you know people had them and we picked up quite a few.
Elder:I am surprised people would want to give them up.
Glaser:They felt fairly safe. They were mostly souvenirs. They weren't there for protection. That was an exciting period. That is how come new people could get me the "hagenah"[???]. All borders are porous. "Hagenah"[???] had ways to get people across. The Polish Jews were transported in sealed trains across Czechoslovakia into Hungary, Romania and eventually [???]. Essentially governments were paid off. These people who were survivors were transported to Israel from Poland. A lot of things are possible under certain circumstances.
Elder:Did you want to go do that?
Glaser:Go through "hagenah?"
Glaser:Well I felt that was a way I could get out. I had to get out awful fast. It was November and with the communists I figured it would only be a short time before they put me in jail. My general had warned me — all of us — to get out as many as we could because the communists were going to get after us. I didn't tell you that I had a lunch in October with some of the former officers and the general there was incarcerated nine years. An RAF pilot was there for seven years. The communists just put everyone in jail. I would have ended up in jail and I would have had to work the coal mines, or worse the uranium mines.
Elder:What was the point of putting these people in jail?
Glaser:There were people who had fought under the British and Americans and were contaminated politically.
Elder:Of course that's true. You were.
Glaser:I was. We knew what freedom was; freedom of expression. They were right. We would have been a thorn in their side, particularly an army. You don't want these guys around. So they jailed most of the people. In 1948 the plane was to take off on Friday night and I didn't have my passport. I was about to join the "hagenah" [???]. Before takeoff, just a very short time, there was a Talmudic Bible scholar aboard — Dr. Yeiter [???] — and he said a planeload of Jews couldn't take off on the evening of Sabbath. They agreed. They kept the subpoenaed charter airline in Prague until Saturday night and I got my passport. We took off and I'm here in Israel.
Elder:I thought part of the Talmudic law is that you don't commit suicide to obey the law. Glaser: Well it wasn't that dangerous. He knew that nothing would happen to the Jews to wait one day. There was an article in 1953 when I remember reading in the obituaries about Dr. Yeiter [???] in New York had died. He was a well-known Talmudic scholar. Essentially my being here is because I'm an observing Jew.
Elder:Didn't anybody object to that?
Glaser:Not to my knowledge. Had they I wouldn't be here.
Elder:Well they might not have prevailed, but they might have objected and not prevailed.
Glaser:I don't know. The fact is it was a DC-4 unpressurized. We first landed in Brussels where there was dinner to eat and it was late at night. Then we landed in Shannon and I tried to send a postcard to my aunt in New York and I had no money. They gave us ten dollars. So the stewardess somehow scrounged the money for a stamp for my postcard. Then we landed in Canada and then New York. Landing in New York I recall there was sort of a shack we got into. It was at the time [???]. That was a small airport at the time in 1948. I remember I saved the oranges and as we were going through customs they asked if I had any fruit and I said I had the oranges. They said I couldn't take them and I asked why not because they were good oranges. They said they couldn't let me take oranges into the country. They said furthermore I'd have all the oranges I would ever want here. That was my first introduction to the quarantine of importing fruit from abroad.
Elder:And to the American's spirit of plenty.
Glaser:My aunt lived in the Bronx and I recall feeling troubled when I saw all the cars parked in the street. I asked what was going on and if there was some big deal going on. In Prague the only time you saw cars parked on the street was when there was some government meeting or a meeting of big-whigs, then you saw cars parked on the street. I got used to seeing parked cars on the street!
Elder:What language were you speaking?
Glaser:English. I was very fluent in English. With ten dollars my aunt had rented a room for us on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. I had to find a job. The next day I went to HIAS — Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — and they found me a job. I started the job in two to three days as a craftsman in textile management.
Elder:Were you a legal immigrant?
Glaser:Absolutely. I was totally legal. Everything was legal. I had an affidavit. I had a valid checked passport and all the right documents. I became a citizen in 1954. Here I arrived, I had a job and I was — you know!
Elder:Do you remember any of the conversation on the plane? Was there any conversation?
Glaser:Nobody knew what the hell America was like. We had some relatives that would hopefully take care of us and that was it. None of us had anything. I had a little suitcase.
Elder:And those books.
Glaser:And those books. I knew I would be going to school and I said I might as well use those as a starting point.
Elder:What did your mother have?
Glaser:My mother was a very courageous. She had lived her whole life and she never worked. She was the head of a household of a rich man. She came to America and HIAS got her a job. I think her first job was in New Jersey in a Hebrew old age home in Jersey City. She worked there and then she got another job as a house mother in a girl's correctional institution in Darling, Pennsylvania. She sent a postcard and said this was a shack except it was the busiest on February 14 — St. Valentine's Day — because everybody wanted stamped "Darling."
Elder:So she moved to Pennsylvania?
Glaser:Yes. I was living in a room in the Bronx and then I moved to Columbia.
Elder:Why would she move away like that?
Glaser:We had no money. We couldn't pay for room rent. I earned a little bit of money working as a craftsman. Then she took care of children. Afterwards she found a job for a doctor. When we were doing a little bit better we moved to New Rochelle to an apartment that had a seashore and was very nice. I commuted to Columbia.
Elder:At that point you and your mother were back together.
Glaser:Yes, that was in 1953. Actually it was before then. In 1951 another friend of mine had an apartment in Jackson Heights and when she got married we got her apartment. Typical story. Nothing especially new in this country. The story of an immigrant, small family doing the best they could. I had the advantage that I had very good schools, education. I remember coming to Columbia and I didn't know what the — First of all, Columbia was the only school I had ever heard of. I didn't know there was any other school in New York. I did hear of Columbia.
Elder:Before you came here?
Glaser:Before I came here.
Elder:Why had you heard of it?
Glaser:I have forgotten, but it was known in Prague. Harvard was not known nor any of the other schools. Since Columbia was in New York I could — Professor Salvadora I think was a university professor in Rome or some place in Italy and used the European system and I asked him, "Gee, what should I degree in or have I done enough to be considered having gotten a bachelor of science — what the hell is a bachelor of science?" I had the first state exam that the Czech recognized. He said "Don't worry, you have more than that — got for a Master's." And I was very friendly with him. He was a very nice guy.
Elder:How did you come to be talking to him?
Glaser:You know I don't remember. My guess is that they knew that as I was interested in enrolling that they had a professor there who came from Europe. So they told me to go and he will advise you. I asked what a Master's and what a Bachelor's was. Those were terms I wasn't familiar with. I didn't know what it meant. He said I knew enough that I should go for a Master's. I enrolled in the evening and worked during the day in the textile management office. I found it very good. Columbia is one of the few schools which had evening courses towards a degree and I completed my Master's in 1951 and then I applied for a fellowship and I was successful in getting a very good fellowship, which at that time seemed marvelous. I got $1,500 a year and that was plenty of money for me. I had one of the more prestigious fellowships — the Higgins Fellowship — and that helped me get through school. I did my doctorate thesis. I might want to tell you that the Master's I did in the evenings and then I left work and did several courses towards a doctorate still in the evening. Then I became a full-time Ph.D. student. In 1953 I started my Ph.D. full-time, my thesis. I was very fortunate because at that time at Columbia I worked in Capein [???] which is a physics building named after a well-known Yugoslav physicist. My laboratory was on the fifth floor and the engineers were on the fifth floor, and the sixth floor were the physics students. My thesis professor was Professor [???]. On the sixth floor there was Rabi, [???], Kush, Lee and [???] and they were all Noble Prize winners. Rabi had afternoon teas for graduate students and I remember him inviting me to come. I had a lot of friends who were physicist. Townes was there doing work on mesas for which he won a Noble Prize. I had courses with [???]. [???] I liked very much. There were some excellent — this was sort of the heyday of Columbia in terms of the scientists in engineering. I had a very good education. My thesis, you know, I was looking around for a good topic. I was interested in heat transformers. After discussing it with a number of people I found that there was a scientist by the name of Smulekovski[???] who, in the summer of 1910, did some work on evacuated powders. I found that very interesting and I said that I would like to do more. I found a thesis topic to carry that further and particulate materials which could be used as insulations. My thesis topic was certain properties of evacuated particulate materials. The thesis dealt with some measurement of some conductivity, understanding how come they are such very good insulators. I completed my thesis in 1955. I mentioned to you that I worked with Polycarp Kush and he did some work on super fluid helium. The helium sort of crawls up the wall and there were all sorts of people doing Ph.D.'s on that. Kush was asking what machine did we have that liquefies helium for you. It was tough to liquefy. So he showed me the machine and I said "Gee, that's an interesting thing — who makes it?" He said it was some company in Cambridge called Arthur D. Little. I said that was interesting; here's a company making this complicated device so I thought I'd find out more about Arthur T. Little. I still was in contact doing part-time work at the [???] management company which was sort of the leading textile consultants. One of the guys there was a friend of mine, Boris Yavitz. I don't know if you know New York politics. Senator Yavitz —
Glaser:That was his uncle. So Boris was a consultant and he asked if I'd ever heard of this Arthur D. Little. I said yes. He was working for some old town paper company. It was a very good company. I said "Boris, what do you think? Should I apply for a job?" He said yes, in fact they had been working for him at this old town something or other. He had some consulting work there. Boris arranged for somebody to go and talk to them. So I did and I remember that I finished my thesis in mid-February and I decided to go to Cambridge. Arthur D. Little had invited me and put me up at the inn which doesn't exist anymore on Brattle Street. The window shop was where the inn was. It was a very nice inn. I guess I made a good enough impression that they offered me the job and I started the beginning of June. At that time already I had met my wife. The way I met her is that she worked in the office of the Dean of Graduate Sciences. I had all the privileges of a student. I only had to pay a small fee of twenty dollars. I had to get permission to order, so I went into the office and I knew the lady in charge of the office. She was on the phone and there was this young girl sitting at a typewriter, so I asked her to take care of this thing for me. She did and asked me what course I was going to order and I said celestial mechanics. She thought that was interesting and she filled out some things and gave me this thing and I went away. Then I got a postcard in a few days that said she had forgotten to say that there was a registration fee of twenty dollars. Oh yes, while we were talking she asked me if I was from Austria or something because I had an accent. I said no that I was from Czechoslovakia. She said that was funny because my name was familiar. When she was a little girl she went to a birthday party at the house of somebody called Glaser and they had a little girl and a little boy. I said that was funny because I had some cousins in Vienna by that name. I didn't give this much more thought but when the postcard arrived I asked a friend who this girl was, this Graf girl. He said she was very nice and why didn't I ask her out. So on Monday I called her and told her I'd pay the fee. I asked her if I could ask an unofficial question — would you have lunch with me! It turns out, would you believe it, that the birthday party was my two cousins. One cousin lives in Los Angeles and one cousin in Rhode Island. The emigrated to New Zealand and my aunt is in an old age home in Rhode Island. My aunt and Eva's mother went to grade school together in Vienna. Small world! I started to work at ADL. Because of my knowledge of heat transfer my first assignment was to work on a new insulation —
Elder:Can I ask something before you start ADL? I am curious what you did at the textile company.
Glaser:I was sort of the head draftsman. I had to modify various of the textile machinery. In fact I got a degree in textile engineering from international correspondence schools. I knew about how you had to set the gears on carting machine and spinning and the various machinery.
Elder:You did that while you were working?
Elder:Got this degree?
Glaser:Yes. A correspondence course. I was able to learn about it. Actually Herbert Werner became a very good friend of mine. They were all refugees. He was also from Vienna and Howard Dross from Berlin. Jack Werner was a very nice guy. I knew that he was looking around for a nice girl. I told you that I had a girlfriend from my hometown. She survived Auschwitz and saved her brother's life. Her name was Vera Stein. I told Jack that I knew a very nice girl and asked him if he'd like to meet her. He said yes and they met and hit it off. I was best man at their wedding. Most of my sons, when they went to college, worked summers at Werner textiles.
Elder:What did they do? They would design machinery?
Glaser:It was the leading textile manufacturing consulting firm working throughout the United States and Canada on how to improve production and quality control. Typical engineering type of science.
Elder:And they still exist?
Glaser:They were then sold to another company... American and they still in some form exist in New York. That was how I have a textile background. I got started at ADL and my first assignment was working for Whirlpool Corporation. I came at this insulation based on evacuated particulate materials [???] and [???] was a quarter inch equivalent to about three inches of fiberglass, which was typically in the old refrigerators. In the meantime Whirlpool was also working on blown foam insulation. That was about an inch and a half, somewhat easier and cheaper to manufacture. I learned a lot and had a good time at that.
Elder:I am curious about something else. Why was that subject originally interesting to you when you chose your thesis?
Glaser:I was interested in heat transformers. I was trying to find things were sort of unexplored. You know you have to have a Ph.D. in something! I found out that evacuated particulate materials were really not well-known and there was nobody really working on it. It was a sort of topic ready to be worked on for a thesis.
Elder:What was it about heat transformers? Why was that interesting to you?
Glaser:If you remove air from a material you reduce some conductivity and when you have particulate materials of very irregular shapes — very small shapes — then the contact points are very few and heat doesn't transfer. Therefore you can get thermal conductivity and conductivities which are amazingly low. That was interesting — theoretical and practical studying — to measure conductivity.
Elder:I don't know if you can answer this, but why was heat transfer itself interesting?
Glaser:For engineers it is sort of a basic subject. As you study engines or whatever you do, always Karnow's [???] Principle requires heat to be transferred from a warmer to a colder surface. It's just typical engineering, the study of heat transfer. There is a whole division of the society of mechanical engineering called the heat transfer, which I was interested in. It was a well delineated topic for engineers to study. I was doing this at ADL, the problems of clients come and I was doing all that work. Then I had another assignment and that is we were starting to look at —
Elder:Were they happy with — even though Whirlpool ended up taking this other route — what you came up with?
Glaser:Oh, yes! I didn't know they were working on the foam in place stuff. Therefore I did exactly what I said I would do and the result was yes if you started to manufacture it would be more expensive than the other way. So, they went the other way. Typically when you go to these new things you don't know beforehand how things will turn out. The second thing that I was asked to do is look at the measurement of properties of high temperatures — again, heat transfers. I had to do it in air, which is very difficult. [???] don't know the high. What really I was studying in 1956 was re-entry bodies. That was the beginning of some of the basic, you know the Germans had come over and they were using green wood which was OK but — I didn't think we got this work from O&R. The question was how do you heat something in air. I said I would use a lens and concentrate it and —
Elder:Now were they deliberately not presenting the real problem?
Glaser:I realized they were trying to find substances which when heated by the atmosphere would survive. It was in the very early stages.
Elder:Was it meant to be for rocketry?
Elder:You didn't know that?
Glaser:I didn't know that.
Elder:It was a military secret.
Elder:Somebody above you knew it.
Glaser:Yes, they knew the Germans used this green wood and it was OK for what they were doing. The question was how the hell do you heat these things. I found out there was a Hungarian guy, Dr. T. Lazlow.
Glaser:No. I have forgotten what he was. He was a chemist. He was also interested in [???] reaction. He had built a solar furnace. I thought that was a way to heat things and I went down to [???] and Lazlow was a very nice guy. I got into peer consultant to me and we built the solar furnace at ADL. Then we did instrumentation, how would measure first of all how much heat goes into the material and what is the temperature and what is happening and so on. Very interesting work. I think that was the second furnace built in the United States which had been put together by some of my colleagues in our research lab.
Elder:Is the problem simply to measure these things or is it for the measuring devices to exist in that hot an environment?
Glaser:Both. We have calorimeters to know how much heat and temperatures. We had some very good people working with me. I sort of realized that solar furnaces are interesting things and solar energy. That got me started in looking at this whole solar energy business. I realized also that there was a problem with the solar furnace in Cambridge.
Elder:What could that be?!
Glaser:Here you are in the middle of an experiment and cloud or rain, you know — you have to find something else. I heard of a guy at Anskin [???] Field — George Plutz [?] — who had developed an interest in optical system. I'm sorry, the first thing I did was create an arkium [???] mission first, using an ark instead of the sun and have a mirror and another mirror — elliptical mirrors. Essentially I reproduced the arch at this focal point. This was an ark — we broke the first model. We got three thousand degrees. See, just the right temperatures to do a lot of these studies. I asked who made the arks. I found a strong electric company and said I wanted to build ark imaging furnaces and is that of interest to you. They said very much so. We came up with a design and then collaborated. At that time we were selling these cryostats and the same group said they'd be glad to market this ark imaging furnace. It became the ADL-Strong Ark Imaging Furnace. It was just around the time when every aerospace company wanted to make these kinds of tests. We sold thirty of them to god knows who. I wasn't in the selling part; it didn't interest me. It was a very important part. Everyone who worked on re-entry bodies and that kind of high temperature stuff got one of these furnaces. The National Bureau of Standards had one as well.
Elder:What was the definition of your assignment? You seemed to just once something got going, "How 'bout this, how 'bout that or I don't know."
Glaser:As long as I get clients interested — Arthur D. Little was making it interesting. It is just like a lawyer. Lawyers don't go into the court room unless there is a client to defend. Arthur D. Little doesn't consult unless there is some consultant. We do a few things on our own, but mostly to serve our clients. That is what attracted me about the company. I had complete freedom as long as I found somebody's problem to solve, which was an interesting problem to me and to the client. This is why I've stayed there forty years. I had this furnace and somehow that got me in touch with the Hanscom Airforce group in Bedford. I met this George Plutz and he had a clever idea about how to improve on that furnace with some parabolic mirrors. I came to the conclusion it was interesting but it doesn't really work much better. In the process I met some people at the Air Force, Cambridge — there was Guy Hunt and John Salsbury [?]. He was head of a small group and I don't exactly understand why but John Salsbury was becoming interested in making measurements of the lunar surface at the geophysical institute. I worked with John. In fact the question was how can you measure thermal properties of lunar materials. Well guess what lunar materials are? They are evacuated particulate materials.
Elder:Just the right guy at the right time.
Glaser:There was a lot of argument at that time about what was a lunar surface really like.
Elder:At the time did you know that was what the lunar surface was?
Glaser:We had indication that it was covered with dust. He did work in telescope images, measuring temperatures and so on. He had the temperature differences between the terminator passing across the lunar surface from the hot to the cold and had a very unusual profile which could only be explained that it was a very good insulator. I said there were all sorts of arguments of whether you'd sink in the deep dust. I said the only way is if I measure several properties of similar materials and I could tell. So we constructed one of the first furnaces capable of going down to ten to minus ten millimeters of mercury. I started to make these measurements and I came to the conclusion that it isn't quite like loose dust. There's a little bit of loose dust but I think it's a surface that probably one can walk on as opposed to other people who said no, there was a professor at Cornell who claimed that you'd sink into the dust. We organized the first meeting on lunar surface properties. I have a book up here some place on lunar surfaces, which I wrote to John Salsbury and that was in 1962. I was one of the few guys in this country who could show that the lunar surface based on thermal properties measurement would hold up. I had a simulated material which I produced which showed had the right characteristics.
Elder:How sure does that make you? You said, well I have here created this environment and it acts just like — my measurements of it — these measurements of the moon far away.
Glaser:We can tell a lot.
Elder:You really feel sure that if you can step on this you could step on that because the thermal properties are the same?
Glaser:Based on all the thermal data, remember we could tell temperature rather accurately, we could tell what some of the diffusivity was. We could tell based on various materials what would match. The match just was not this very fine, dusty, mile deep—it just didn't quite make it. Now NASA used some of the data and repeated the experiment and then for the LAN they just designed the footpad and it wasn't that big. It was only about this big. We could tell there was dust on the surface, but it will blow it away. If you've seen the movies of landing you will know what I mean.
You can see the footprints. There I became involved with lunar stuff... the solar energy stuff. I became very interested in the solar energy because of the solar furnace. I then served as a director of the International Solar Energy Society and I participated in this and then I became president of the society in 1968. I realized that you know we have enormous problems ahead. I became aware that there was a Swedish chemist in the 1980s who predicted that burning fossil fuels will be bad for the atmosphere, climate change and all that.Session I | Session II | Session III | Session IV | Session V | Session VI | Session VII | Session VIII | Session IX | Session X | Session XI | Session XII | Session XIII | Session XIV