Oral History Transcript — Dr. Sam Schweber
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Interview with Dr. Sam Schweber
Sam Schweber; October 18, 1998
ABSTRACT: Topics discussed include: family background; Schweber's education at City College, University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University; Herbert Jehle; general relativity; Eugene Gross; Abraham Pais; J. Robert Oppenheimer; Eugene Wigner; Francis Pipkin; David Pines; quantum field theory; Melba Phillips.
Kojevnikov:October 18, 1998 I believe, and I am Alexi Kojevnikov. I am sitting in the house of Sam Schweber in Lexington and recording an interview. So Sam, do you mind if we start with your European childhood and your family background and what brought you to the United States.
Schweber:I was born in Slazboo [?], France in April 1928. Both my parents are of Polish origin. Polish Jews. My father came to Slazboo probably 1922-23 after he had been a soldier in the Austrian Army.
Kojevnikov:What part of Poland did he?
Schweber:He come from Gelizio [?] near a place called Rimenauf [?], which is in fact the place where Robby was born. He was drafted into the Austrian-Hungarian Army, was captured by the Russians, and spent until 1922-23 in Siberia, and was eventually freed, made his way to Germany, to our country and then came across to Slazboo. My mother, who had been likewise born not too far away from where my father was born, she was born the Auscheinitz [?] which is a little village ten miles down the road from Rimenauf, her mother had died very shortly after her birth and eventually at age three or four she was actually brought to Slazboo because her father was a traveling salesman of some kind and put in an orphan asylum in Slazboo. And so she grew up in Slazboo from before the war (she was born in 1901) and raised in German schools, and more or less, her native tongue was German. They were married in 1925. My father had a business in wool clippings, which was fairly prosperous. That is, we certainly during a time that I can remember, we lived in a fairly large apartment. I would be sent to summer vacations and things like that. So we were part of the Jewish community, of the Polish-Jewish community.
Kojevnikov:What language was spoken in the family?
Schweber:My mother would speak German to me, and my father would speak Yiddish, and I would be going to school and learning French, and on the streets we'd be talking Alsatien. That was the potuia [?], that was the native language there.
Kojevnikov:Were you able to speak Polish?
Kojevnikov:What education did they have?
Schweber:My father had primarily gone to Hader [?], and so the education would be mostly religious and learning how to read and write in foreign language, which would be Yiddish and German. My mother had a regular schooling. She went to the German schools and through the war, and in 1918 after the Armistice and the French came back, she had gone to all the regular German schools. Her native tongue is really German, and that's what she's most comfortable with. She certainly learned French, and once I started speaking, that is, mostly only speaking French, she would certainly only speak French to me. With my father it was always Yiddish.
Kojevnikov:But she also spoke German?
Schweber:Well between, she would answer in German, she would understand Yiddish, but that was the...
Kojevnikov:What was the issue towards religion?
Schweber:It was an orthodox home. I mean not from fanatical orthodox, in the sense that — well, let me put it this way. French schools, once you go to school, in my days you would go to school from eight to noon. You'd go home for noon for lunch, come back from two to four and I would stay in school because you have supervised homework and you would stay in school. There were no classes on Thursday, but you had classes on Saturday. And I would go to class on Saturday, but I would not write, okay. And it was perfectly...
Kojevnikov:It was okay with the teachers?
Schweber:I mean it was perfectly acceptable. It was most of the Jewish community would be doing that, at least in the Polish.
Kojevnikov:What were the attitudes towards the Jewish in Strasbourg in those days?
Schweber:Well, let me put it this way. It was clear that we were Jews, and every once in a while you would be called names because you were Jewish. So you had a double sense. You had a sense that on the one hand you were Jewish and therefore not really French, and by virtue of being a student, you were not quite members of what the French or that Alsatien-Jewish community was about because they had their own separate temple and things like that.
Kojevnikov:And so the synagogue was also separate for the Eastern Jewish?
Schweber:Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, there were 3 synagogues in Slazboo. There was one which was the Concise-saua [?], which was general one with a gravadad [?] appointed by the French government, and we were part of that. Then there was the Hungarian-Jewish community and then there was the Polish-Jewish community, and they were separate.
Kojevnikov:So were the differences in religion, or it was simply ethnic?
Schweber:Ethnic. Ethnic, right. Accent in the Yiddish that you spoke.
Kojevnikov:And in schools, do the children mix together?
Schweber:Yeah. One wouldn't know who came from where and that didn't matter.
Kojevnikov:And with French children as well? Or...
Schweber:Yeah, yeah no. There one didn't sense any difference. Where did the Jewishness show up? It showed up throughout the '30s. I mean this is now in terms of periodization, up to '38 it's one kind of world. And I do remember fairly distinctly '36, '37 the unbloom [?] and the unrest which goes with that period. '38 Munich and was certainly a very telling and chilling time. And thereafter, having a sense something ominous was going to happen, there's no question about that.
Kojevnikov:Did your parents ever go to the place where they were born?
Schweber:No. No. The Jewishness also manifested itself that from a very early age probably starting in '35-'36, I was a member of a Zionist Youth Organization which met regularly.
Kojevnikov:Which meets from what age would you be there?
Schweber:Well we would be starting 7, 8 and upwards. And some of my cousins, or second cousins actually, immigrated to Israel and established a Kibbutz in '39, '38-'39. Other friends — I mean and there were two groups. One was Shamitz Irir and the other one was the more religious we belonged to the religious conferment. So, in terms of cultural background...
Kojevnikov:You didn't go to to Hader, yourself?
Kojevnikov:You didn't learn Hebrew?
Schweber:Yes, oh sure, but that more with private teachers than in the regular school. So I went to Istansbud. It was essentially the elementary school taught. The war broke out in '39. We happened to have been in French vacation in a vacation during that time in Savoie. My father had actually left at the beginning of '39 to go to the World Exhibition in New York with a definite plan of seeing where we would immigrate. Would we go to the United States? He was looking at that situation over, and when he came, when he would have come back, he would have gone to Palestine to see if that would have been a suitable place for us to go. And the war broke out in between in September, and he never came back. So my mother, I have an older sister and I, were in the Savoie [inaudible, spoken in French].
Kojevnikov:There were just two children in the family?
Schweber:Two children in the family. And in September of '39 when the war broke out, we couldn't go back to Slazboo because, Slazboo was in front of the marchino line. And so we were evacuated. We had a choice to go where we wanted and we went to Vichy [?]. Because they had gone to Vichy taking the orders the year before so, starting in June, I mean in September of '39, we were in Vichy and we were there when France fell. When the patarine government would take over. So I remember very distinctly the Germans coming in and that episode. And in late' 41, my father who was only a visitor in the United States and therefore we couldn't come to the United States, had made arrangements for us to go to Cuba. And late in '41, we went to Cuba. This was just before the rest of France became occupied. We went through Spain, which at that time all perfectly legal because I was not of draft age, I was thirteen. And we went to Pouf which was on the border of France and Spain and crossed there. Went from there to Barcelona and from Barcelona to Madrid and from Madrid to Lisbon.
Kojevnikov:Did you hear from your father all the time?
Kojevnikov:In between while you were caught in France, was there communication with your father?
Schweber:We could write.
Kojevnikov:What was he doing?
Schweber:He couldn't work because he was a visitor. And so he was trying to find a way of becoming a legal immigrant and trying to see what kind of a business he could go into here.
Kojevnikov:Where was he, in New York?
Schweber:In New York, right. He was living with a friend in Brooklyn. And so we made our way in late '41 to Cuba and we had to stay in Cuba till the following July.
Kojevnikov:Where were in you Cuba?
Schweber:In Havana, in Rigado actually where we lived.
Kojevnikov:Did you also go to school there?
Schweber:I went to briefly to — I mean in France there was a hiatus because after from June of' 40 when France till late that year, things were fairly chaotic. And then it started over again and I went to a college in Quisea [?], which is a few miles from Vichy. Nothing intensive either. It was really a strange time. In Cuba, I went for a few hours a day learning Spanish and things like that. We were only there for roughly six months.
Kojevnikov:You were crossing the Atlantic on a ship?
Kojevnikov:Cause that was at a time when the U.S. started war with Germany right?
Schweber:The U.S. started the war in December of' 41, and by that time we were already in Cuba. And we were stopped several times on the way from Portugal to Cuba by German U-boats, inspected and things like that. And we came here in July of '42, and eventually settled in the Bronx. And what happened is I went for a couple of semesters to high school.
Kojevnikov:So that's when you learned English?
Schweber:Right. Essentially what happened was that for more or less a year I didn't speak anything, and then eventually I…
Kojevnikov:You didn't lose any of the years in terms of detention because of...
Schweber:Yes. No, I mean the rigorous training that comes from this period like I mean really from the age of 12 to 14 or so, there was really no school. And it started again seriously only when I came back. And that is when we came to the United States, which was the fall of '42. So I went to high school from the fall of '42 to June of '44, and in June of that fall I started City College of New York. And that really was the saving feature. I mean if you think back, City College at that time was an outstanding school. But in terms of cost…
Kojevnikov:It had many campuses, right?
Schweber:Well, there are several free colleges in New York. There is the City College of New York, there is Brooklyn College, there was Queens Colleges. These were the three big ones. So the City College of the city of New York is a separate college, on 137th Street and Convent Ave.
Kojevnikov:Did you say free?
Schweber:I was going to say, the total cost for the first term was $2 for registration and $2 for library fee. That was the total cost of the entire... so it was totally free. You had to buy your own books and you had to be able to get yourself there, but yes, it was no tuition.
Kojevnikov:Before we go to the college years, do you remember any science books in your family or maybe a high school teacher who would — so when would your interest in science start?
Schweber:It starts in high school, I mean when I discovered. I mean, I always had an interest in mathematics and I remember even as a little kid trying to figure out what algebra was about in terms of reading books and things like that. In high school in the United States, I had some very good teachers. I mean, there was an outstanding geometry teacher whose name was either Mr. Felman or something like that. And I gobbled up geometry. I mean it was really something which clearly came very naturally. The same was true with algebra and any kind of mathematics.
Kojevnikov:Just how much mathematics did you learn in high school?
Schweber:Well, in high school I learned geometry because I know previous mathematics essentially, so I took a course in geometry and I took a course in algebra, and that was it.
Schweber:No. No calculus. And there was an outstanding physics teacher. Again, this was war time and the man was a real good, I mean, he clearly knew physics. And so there a sense there was something special to physics.
Kojevnikov:So, when you went to the City College, did you make your preference what you would like to study?
Schweber:I mean again, when I started out, I started as a chemical engineer, because in terms of thinking of, what would be — I don't know why chemical engineering, but that's what I started out as. I was very fond of chemistry, and so the first year the chemistry course was the same as for everyone, irrespective to whether you — so by the end of the freshman year, I had become a chemistry major. And so I took all the chemistry courses, like Inorganic Chemistry, Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis, Organic Chemistry. I had a very good chemistry, Organic Chemistry teacher who really tried to get me to go on and become an M.D. or a biochemist or something like that. But somehow in my junior, at the end of my junior year, people said very good things about physics.
Kojevnikov:And so which year was that?
Schweber:That was '43. And by that time I had taken the calculus courses and things like that. And I had taken the physics course because as an engineer you had to take physics. And Simanski [?] was a teacher in that and so 1'd done very well and it was clearly a very nice way of teaching physics. It was all macroscopic theory. And then I took thermal dynamics with him in my senior year.
Kojevnikov:And that physics, was it mostly quantitative/qualitative? Was there any experiment in all that?
Schweber:Yeah, they were all that.
Kojevnikov:What was the time of quantum physics in those days?
Schweber:Oh, it was, I mean it's not that different from the way it was taught in 1870. I mean in, what is it called, the scotch text book of Calvin & Tate & Thompson, or Thompson & Tate. I mean that's the standard way you teach physics, right? You first teach mechanics, then heat. There was no atomic physics or anything like that.
Schweber:Yeah, there was a lab which was the standard. You learned about venires and ink line planes and things like that, and nothing very inspiring. And then the second year, there would be somewhat more technical courses, like I took a course in electricity and magnetism in the senior year, and I got a reading course in mathematical physics by Mr. Wolf. We went to Kimball the textbook in quantum mechanics, mostly to learn mathematics, and that's what convinced me to go on to physics.
Kojevnikov:The Kimball book?
Schweber:No, just this exposure to these people and to the way of thinking and to the attraction of mathematics.
Kojevnikov:You mentioned Simanski.
Schweber:Simanski taught the heat of thermal dynamics, and just the elegance of the presentation and the clarity, so I mean I was, there was something very clear about seeing the world that way. And so I actually applied to graduate school in physics.
Kojevnikov:So that means there was kind of a decision about the career, because it was no longer engineering?
Schweber:Oh, the engineering had been given up after the first year and it had become chemistry, pure chemistry.
Kojevnikov:Well, it stands that maybe chemistry would be a career in sense of just practicality?
Schweber:No, it was always the beauty and ultimate truth and things like that.
Kojevnikov:What did your parents think about that?
Schweber:My parents? I mean we were on fairly hard times in the United States, and the fact that I was doing well in school and clearly the teachers had said I should be encouraged, it implied my mother was ready to go to work, and she did work, so that I would be able to go to college.
Kojevnikov:So, but you didn't say what trade your parents were doing here?
Schweber:I mean, here my father continued doing the same thing as he did in Europe and much less successfully, which was buying up wool clippings factories which were making garments and then sending them for reprocessing to make wool and whole cloth out of it. But he had a partner and the partnership was not a very successful one, so financially it was really a totally different world than we had known in France before the war. My mother worked as a seamstress. She took in things at home. She had worked for a while at a place and so tailors would send her things and she would do piece work.
Kojevnikov:And your sister?
Schweber:My sister. When we came she actually never went back to school, and became trained while on the job as a bacteriologist and started working in the hospital as doing bacteriology and those kinds of things.
Kojevnikov:In New York?
Schweber:Right in New York. Everyone was in New York.
Kojevnikov:And in New York, did you also live in a Jewish community? In a Jewish neighborhood?
Schweber:Not particularly. I mean let's put it this way. The neighborhood we lived in, which was the University Avenue in the Bronx, was probably the majority of the people were Jewish, but there were many people who were not religious. So it was Jewish, but not like parts of Brooklyn, okay.
Kojevnikov:And you kept your lifestyle?
Kojevnikov:For family, was it still the orthodox Jewish family?
Schweber:Yes, my parents have always been orthodox. Have remained orthodox. My sister has remained orthodox, is married to an M.D. who's orthodox. They actually immigrated to Israel in '67 and to give you an indication, she has a daughter who's married who has now thirteen children, and by virtue of her religion. So, no they have, but it's not the black cat kind of orthodox, it's not the extreme right wing. It's orthodox as a way of life. It's fairly rigorous.
Kojevnikov:And how about the City College, was it also, was there also Jewish and German students.
Schweber:I would say that probably 70 to 80% of the student body was Jewish.
Kojevnikov:And spoke in English or Yiddish was also taught?
Schweber:Oh, no, no, no. Nothing but English — no other foreign language.
Kojevnikov:How about teachers at this college?
Schweber:They were all very outstanding.
Kojevnikov:Were they also from local communities? And were they Jewish themselves?
Schweber:Some of them were, some of them were...
Kojevnikov:Because at that point, it was still a point where there was quite a bit of anti-semitism in America academia.
Schweber:'44-'45, yes, but City College was precisely staffed by many of the people who couldn't make it — who didn't get jobs at Columbia or NYU or something like that. So there were outstanding teachers both in physics and mathematics, in philosophy. No in general, it was certainly an outstanding school with higher standards. There's no question about that. Look when I applied to graduate school even, I didn't know it at the time, okay. I had applied to various places and I got accepted at Caltech and various other places. I decided to go to University of Pennsylvania, stupidly, because they gave me the highest scholarship to go there, and it was close to home.
Kojevnikov:And that was in what year?
Schweber:This was 1947. I graduated in June 1947 in the fall of '47, I go to the University of Pennsylvania as a physics major.
Kojevnikov:By that time it was already clear that physics was a very exciting field.
Schweber:Yes. And this is now after the war. In retrospect, there was not the best of choices to go. A person who really influenced me deeply there was a man by the name of Herbert Jehle.
Kojevnikov:This is in Pennsylvania?
Schweber:This is in Pennsylvania, yes. Herbert Jehle was actually a very good theoretical physicist. He had been trained in Germany by Switiger and people like that. He had PHD with Switiger. He was a Quaker, and therefore once Hitler came to power, got into a fear among the trouble in Germany, was put in a German concentration camp. Found his way out of the German concentration camp and landed in France, only when the war broke out to once again put into a concentration camp because he was German. And luckily he was able to get out after the Germans occupied France. Came to the United States…
Kojevnikov:He wasn't Jewish?
Schweber:No, he was a Quaker. And came to the United States, taught at Harvard for a while, and then got a job at the University of Pennsylvania after the war. I took several courses with him.
Kojevnikov:Was he in theoretical physics?
Schweber:He's theoretical physics, right, and he eventually went into bio-physics, things like that. The other person at the University of Pennsylvania, at least I took courses from, not that I got very close to him, was Walter Elzhouser, who was at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. And I took statistics with him.
Kojevnikov:What was he in personality?
Schweber:At the time he actually had gone away from doing physics and was doing geophysics. Radiation transport through the atmosphere. He was worried about the constitution of the Earth. His best student, a man by the name of Isenberg or Iceberg, who later went to the University of Oregon, actually did a thesis on the iron core within and tried to find the origin of terrestrial magnetism. What kind of a person was he? I think he was mostly left to his — he didn't interact very strongly to most of the people there. That is, one didn't have the sense that he was an influence upon what physics was then, because he wasn't doing physics. A person who taught quantum mechanics was a man by the name of Ufford, who had written a standard textbook. And Ufford taught it essentially that way DeArch teaches quantum mechanics. Reading his own — I mean reading the book word by word and going through all the... nothing beyond that. So it was not a very inspiring course.
Kojevnikov:And generally, in City College and in Pennsylvania, what besides the regular curriculum did you learn about physics from extra reading or from just the general?
Schweber:No, I mean.
Kojevnikov:Anything strikes you?
Schweber:I remember in City College, I would go Sunday afternoons to the public library, and really work my way through Kimball. And Kimball probably because of Wolf, and my real first introduction to quantum mechanics was going through Kimball in 1934. Reading other things in physics, not that much. We would talk about some degree of physics. Certainly atomic bombs and things like that, what was the physics behind that.
Kojevnikov:That was from the general publications you'd get?
Schweber:Yes, right, right.
Kojevnikov:Because at that time there was probably no physics books on atomics or all that?
Schweber:No, I mean the Smythe report was coming out at that stage. No, I mean I think I certainly read some relativity that was special in general. Evington is a book that I read at the time. And that was it, okay. So I was always looking at...
Kojevnikov:In terms of [???] physics, were you interested in some kind of philosophical aspects of it, or more mathematical? And also at some, at what point did you think you worked to decide between the experiment and theory?
Schweber:There was never any question that it was always the theory which was attractive. So it was never doing the experiments, okay. I mean, that was never the attractive part of physics. And at Penn you didn't have to take any experimental, any experiments, so I never took an experimental course at Pennsylvania.
Kojevnikov:How much mathematics?
Schweber:At Penn, we had a course in mathematical physics, okay. Which was...
Kojevnikov:Just mathematical equations?
Schweber:Yeah, it was Smith. Lloyd P. Smith has a book on mathematical physics which is a standard Cornell course, which goes through the usual things: theories, partial differential equations, complex variables, all of those things. The other person who was at Penn who was much more of a presence in terms or theoretical physics was Herb Callen. He was a student of Tisa, and he came there I think during the second year that I was there and went, started. One felt his presence, okay. I mean he started a theoretical seminar where he would have people talk about some of the things which were going on. He was interested in solid state physics, so first exposure to things like dielectric breakdown. The theory of dielectric breakdown. The people who were doing thesis, and this was Iceberg, Larry Spruck, would be the people who talked. And so you were starting to be exposed to what other people did in physics. You certainly didn't get it from Ufford and you didn't get it from Elzhouser. And Jehle, but Jehle was primarily interested in fairly high-brow things and mostly general relativity, and so I would talk general relativity with him.
Kojevnikov:Did you discuss physics with classmates and students? Or it was mostly teachers in regular classes?
Schweber:Mostly teachers in regular classes. With classmates we would discuss some of the problems, but since it was competitive you were supposed to do it by yourself, and so you didn't talk that much with other people.
Kojevnikov:And besides classes, what was the student life like in those days?
Schweber:Most of my activity at that time — this was really the University of Pennsylvania. I was still orthodox at the time. I would go home once every two weeks. I had a girlfriend in New York. But I came more and more deeply involved in politics, and left the politics.
Kojevnikov:At the university?
Schweber:At the university, yeah.
Kojevnikov:And in what form was that?
Schweber:Support for Wallace primarily, okay. I mean this was just at a time of the debate. I mean Wallace was running, and so a good deal of my energies outside of physics were taken out in helping the Wallace campaign. I had a close friend, an older friend who's a graduate student in physics, who, shall we say, nurtured these tendencies. But realize the Zionist movement that I was part of in France already, was socialist, okay. It was to make kibbutz cement things like that. So it wasn't Marxist because we were religious. But if it would have been Amin Sharir, it would have been Marxist, okay.
Kojevnikov:Was this a continuation of the Zionist movement?
Schweber:Yes, yes. I mean in New York once again, I became a member of the Zionist organization. In New York, actually while in high school, I went through a religious school almost every night in Washington Heights in a German-Jewish community which was not far from where I lived. And at City College I would actually study Tolbert with a friend who was a physics major at City College.
Kojevnikov:Is it that kind of transformed it to the left wing [???]?
Kojevnikov:Was it the organization of the campus? Was there any student political organization?
Schweber:We didn't belong to that. It was really directly we just supported the Wallace Campaign of the Labor Party. I think it was... Let me put it this way. It was a reaction to the extent that I can reconstruct or recall to the beginnings of the Cold War. I mean, here we had been allied with Russia, USSR. There was the hope that there could be some peaceful way of going on and all that we were seeing was ever-mounting tensions, and in part blaming the United States for it and Wallace was seen as an alternative. As a possible way of...
Kojevnikov:And that was '49?
Schweber:'48. '47-'48. '48 I remember very distinctly helping the Wallace Campaign. And the democratic convention which nominated Truman was in Philadelphia and somehow I got tickets to go and I was present when Truman was nominated. But, that is, my soul was with Wallace, okay. Not for Truman or anything like that.
Kojevnikov:But within the political spectrum, was there any particular place where you placed yourself at that time?
Schweber:I mean, we would be supporting Wallace, who was running on the Labor ticket at that time.
Kojevnikov:And were there also differentiation within throughout the left wing movement between different directions or it was more or less united?
Schweber:There was still a Communist party at the time. It was Felix Brouder and these people. I don't think in '48 the party had been — I don't think...
Kojevnikov:I mean within the circles which you moved, were there any differences? Were there any communist there and were they?
Schweber:My friend was probably a communist, okay.
Kojevnikov:Which means that probably he didn't state that.
Schweber:Right I didn't know. I would not have known, okay. Because in part we were working for, and I don't remember when the communist party was outlawed, okay. At which stage was declared to be — declared. I think it probably comes a little bit later, but I'm not sure.
Kojevnikov:And among this political movement, were they mainly physics students? Is it the same friend you studied Tolbert with?
Schweber:No, no, no.
Kojevnikov:That was different. Then maybe we should mention some names, if you remember, so that to make these things...
Schweber:Well, the person in City College was Harold Merowitz, who eventually became physicist, was in Michigan for a while. National Bureau Standards and eventually immigrated to Israel and is in Israel now. In Philadelphia I don't remember the name of the friend who sort of say, groomed me politically or nurtured my left wing tendencies.
Kojevnikov:Was he a classmate?
Schweber:He was slightly older that is he probably finished his Ph.D. while I was, my first, my first two years of graduate studies. I would say there were not that many in the physics department, partly because people worked very hard, okay. I mean it was really working on physics whatever physics they were doing. The lights would be on a good deal of the night. And then no, I mean I certainly, if I think of myself I would be there at 8 o'clock in the morning and still be there at 10, 11 o'clock at night doing nothing but physics most of the time.
Kojevnikov:Was there any political discussion club, or some kind of a... it was mostly informal and the [???] What moved you to Princeton, or what caused you to...?
Schweber:What moved me to Princeton is Jehle felt that I would do much better at Princeton, and it's he who actually— his intellectual circles, or at least he would go fairly often to Princeton to the institute. This was Oppenheimer had already gotten there. And he was a friend of Ziggy Voitizen, who was a student of Oppenheimer's and he knew David Finkelstein. Not the one that you're thinking of but again the student of Oppenheimer. And so he would get the sense of what was happening in physics from these people. Epstein was the other person.
Kojevnikov:Which Epstein? It's not the Caltech?
Schweber:No. It's a young, again, we are talking about somebody 25, 26 years old.
Kojevnikov:You did your master thesis with Jehle?
Kojevnikov:And what was the topic?
Schweber:On general relativity. And so what he did was he went to the university and taught to Wigner and to Wheeler and said, they said I should apply, and I applied and I was accepted. So in the fall of '49 I come to Princeton. And Princeton is a very different atmosphere. I mean the Princeton atmosphere at that stage, we were probably 10 of us were accepted.
Kojevnikov:Did you consider applying anywhere else?
Schweber:No, I didn't apply anyplace else. I just went from... And the attitude was Princeton was we have accepted you as a student, therefore you must be very good. You don't have to take any courses or anything. You're free to do whatever you want, and do the best you can. And that was really the spirit of Princeton at the time. The only requirement you had at the end, sometime in the second year you would take a very intensive set of examinations, three days of...
Schweber:No, written. From 9 in the morning till fairly late in the afternoon for three days on all subjects in physics. And then there would be an oral afterwards. And so the first year I didn't take the quantum mechanics course. I took Baum [?] course in quantum mechanics, and I think Wigner's course in statistical mechanics, and I took a fair number... a lot of math courses.
Kojevnikov:But didn't you say that you didn't have to take courses?
Schweber:I didn't have to take courses, but since they were offered, I mean, certainly you would go and take them. I undoubtedly took more math courses than I took physics courses. I took course in probability theory with Feller, and courses on differential equations, and Hilber's Space and things like that so I took probably more mathematics than I took physics. And the person who I was closest to, mostly because they put me into an office with him was David Baum. It was in the fall of' 49 I was put in an office with him.
Kojevnikov:So it was just the two of you sharing an office?
Schweber:Just two, right, in his office, and since I was still kosher, I could excuse myself from living in the graduate college. And I didn't live in graduate college anytime because the food wasn't kosher and I lived in a private room. And so I would be working most of the time in the same place as David.
Kojevnikov:So, what were his or yours working habits? Were you more or less at the same hours in the office?
Schweber:Yeah, we would be working mostly...
Kojevnikov:He was getting out late?
Schweber:He would be, well he would teach in the mornings or something like that, so the strongest interaction would be late in the afternoon and evening. And we would stay there till 11 or midnight. And he would be reading many things, and he would tell me what he's reading and then what he's thinking about. He used to live in the same house as Eric Collar, who's a very fine intellectual historian. And Eric Collar was a very close friend of Albert Einstein's. And in the same house, and it may, I think — his companion was a Mrs. Lowie, and she was the mother of Hannah Lowie, who was David Baum's girlfriend. And they lived in one side of the town. And very often I would walk them home, and meet the Collar's, and I got to know Collar fairly well. And he, every once in a while then taught at Cornell and I would see him when I eventually landed at Cornell we'd meet in Cornell. What was life like at Princeton? So it was a very... Baum introduced me to a wider world, and that's the time when I first shed my religious affiliations.
Kojevnikov:What were his views of religion at that time?
Schweber:Oh, I mean he was clearly agnostic, and I think he always was that way. I mean I don't know what happened later. And he certainly had no, didn't...
Kojevnikov:Did you talk much about religion at that time?
Schweber:No, no, no.
Kojevnikov:And so you mentioned that he would tell you what he was reading about? Was it was mostly physics?
Schweber:Yes, physics and mathematics, right. No, no, but he had a wide circle of friends and my political view were really very much more shaped than during that period, and my social circles expanded. He took me to meet people like Melva Phillips in New York. That's when I first met Melva. He took me to his circle of friends in Roosevelt. Roosevelt is a nearby community of fairly liberal, probably communist, or at least certainly some people are communist there, intellectuals. It was a community of Ben Shawn, the artist who's paintings are really charged with moral themes. I mean, we're coming working class and all of these things. Posters for — So in that sense, Baum was very important. He introduced me to Eugene Gross. Eugene Gross had left.
Kojevnikov:He was older than you?
Schweber:He's 2 or 3 years older than I am, and he had already finished his Ph.D. and was up here at MIT in the first year. On my first year we both drove up, he drove up here to a physical society meeting, and I stayed with the Grosses, and my first non-kosher meal was in Cambridge with the Grosses. And that's where I first met Eugene Gross. Then became a close friend and came to Grandice eventually. In terms of intellectual life at Princeton, the two characteristic things were Wednesday afternoons there was always a theoretical seminar at the institute, and all the graduate students and all the theorists from the university would go over to the institute. And so this is really where you learned what was going on in theoretical physics.
Kojevnikov:Were there many visitors?
Schweber:At the institute?
Kojevnikov:No, no. I mean the speakers from other places?
Schweber:Yes, there would be speakers from other places, but very often just people presenting their own work of — And this was now a time when Paise was there and Frankie Young and Frances Lowie, Marie Gillman, and Resios was there. And so that's where I got introduced really to what theoretical physics is about.
Kojevnikov:And you mentioned mostly quantum fields?
Schweber:That's what they were doing there. That's what they were doing there primarily. That was theoretical physics at the time. Urumbeck was there, but even Urumbeck was doing quantum field theory with Paise. So for the most part, the only person who wasn't doing quantum field release was Potscheck, who was doing neutron scattering, and Van Hover did some things with him. But otherwise it was dominated by quantum field theory.
Kojevnikov:How big the assignment it was? So, how many people would be...
I mean the seminar room was a long table with blackboards at one end. Oppenheimer would sit at the end, listening and always turning around, and constantly smoking. I would say there would be over 30, 35 people.