Oral History Transcript — Dr. Leopold Halpern
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Leopold Halpern; March 5, 1999
ABSTRACT: In this interview, Leopold Halpern discusses the life of Marietta Blau. Topics discussed include: Hertha Wambacher; Institute for Radium Research; Auguste Dick; Georg Stetter; Albert Einstein; Otto Halpern; Philipp Lenard; Brookhaven National Laboratory; experiences with gender discrimination and antisemitism.
Rentetzi:So, we can say what you want for the tape and how we can use the tape?
Halpern:Yeah, I think it would be best if, say, the tape is to say on the tape, I definitely want what I have to say to come into the archives. But, in the interest of the research that is still going on I would want to be very selective with the people who have access to it.
Rentetzi:Okay. Then everyone that wants to have access, he or she has to have your permission to see the tape?
Halpern:Must get my permission, yeah.
Rentetzi:Okay, so I think that we can start. And I would like to ask you more about how you met Blau
Halpern:I met Blau through Herta Leng. I got the Fullbright grant to the United States, and my institution affiliation was with the Polytechnic Institute with Herta Leng. And I was the assistant of Herta Leng at this time, she had no other assistant.
Rentetzi:When was that?
Halpern:This was in 1952-53.
Rentetzi:So that was the first time you came from—
Halpern:From Austria to the United States, yes. Occasionally, Herta Leng invited Marietta Blau. I had heard about the achievements of Marietta Blau already from my course on radioactivity at the University of Vienna.
Rentetzi:I think that Herta Leng and Blau were at the Radium Institute in Vienna at the same time. Is that true?
Halpern:Yes. Blau was brought in regularly and didnít have a position, and Herta Leng most of the time worked as a teacher and also didnít have a position at the Radium Institute. But both did research there.
Rentetzi:So Herta Leng also did, but wasnít paid for what she did?
Halpern:No, no, she was not.
Rentetzi:At that time who was the director of the institute?
Halpern:This I cannot — it was I think Stefan Mayer. But Stefan Mayer had maybe less influence in what was going on, who was employed, who was not employed, and so, as the assistants there. As far as I know, Stefan Mayer did not take care of too much influence on the assistants. But I am not sure when Stefan Mayer retired, and how long he was just still in the Radium Institute but not already retired.
Rentetzi:So you met Blau through Leng here in America when you came.
Halpern:In America, yes. What I had heard about her already before, yes. She was nevertheless brought in to work in Vienna, and this was certainly mentioned, yes.
Rentetzi:Did you do physics in Vienna also?
Rentetzi:So you started about the same time as Blau was —?
Halpern:Yes, and I also had to work occasionally in the Radium Institute.
Rentetzi:Okay. So, you met Blau in Vienna?
Halpern:Later I met Blau in Vienna when she and her other party care of circumstances had to stay in Vienna because of an eye operation that she needed that she could not afford in the United States. She had probably from her work severe cataracts from the hours of radiation. Yes, this is not proof, but probably is correct.
Rentetzi:So Blau had close relations to this man or not?
Halpern:They were good friends.
Rentetzi:They were good friends. And where was Blau at the time that Leng was up there?
Halpern:She was in Brookhaven in 1952-53 she was in Brookhaven and nice and healthy as she always was. I got immediately very well along with her, which is maybe not — well, she was a rather shy person. She invited me for a visit at Brookhaven, which was very difficult for a foreigner to achieve at this time, to be admitted there for a visit, because it was so confidential.
Rentetzi:Why was it confidential?
Halpern:Because of work on atomic energy.
Rentetzi:Okay. And Blau wanted not to be in Brookhaven at this time?
Halpern:I can tell you this from her own biographical data, which she gave to me much later. And there the details of what she did there is mentioned. I cannot by heart just recite.
Rentetzi:So, Blau and Leng had a close relationship?
Rentetzi:Possibly had, I mean —
Halpern:A rather cordial relationship which is quite clear they were both women in science which were in Austria in a difficult situation, so they were both immigrants, yes, and they got very well along with each other both, in my opinion, very nice spirited and they got very well along.
Rentetzi:I wanted to know more about the time that Blau was in Vienna before she came here. Let us start with family and some information about your family, because I think that your family was relatives or —?
Halpern:No, they were not relatives, but they knew each other, yes. They were families of a certain background and they knew each other in connection with some social occasions of sorts. This was not actually my parents, it was my uncle mainly who had contact with the Blauís.
Rentetzi:What about Blau? What did you know about Blau?
Halpern:Well, her father I think was born in Eisenstadt, although this you can — I think I have it in my own article on Marietta Blau, where her father was born. He was born in the Austria-Hungarian Empire and then came to Vienna as a lawyer who worked also in connection with courts. He in a private enterprise started a publishing company that became very important because it published some of the works of the great composers that lived in Vienna. This publishing company seems to have been very prosperous, so that her family was well off.
Rentetzi:What about her mother?
Halpern:I have the date of her mother too, but by heart I cannot tell you much. I have all of the birth dates, I have both of their birthdays, and in Vienna and I have information about their professional activity which was mainly the professional activity of her father, yes.
Rentetzi:So, her mother was also working?
Halpern:No, no. At this time in general most women were not working and I have no evidence that she had a professional role. She was a housewife.
Rentetzi:So, Blau, I think also had a brother? You mentioned that.
Halpern:Yes, Otto Blau.
Rentetzi:What about his studies? It is strange because Blau came from a family that the father you said was a lawyer, and I donít the story about Herta Leng. Lengís father was an engineer and she mentioned — actually, Herta Lengís says somewhere that it was because of her father that she got into physics. And I was wondering about Blau. How did Blau get interested in physics? The family was oriented in a different field.
Halpern:Yes, your questions is a very good one. She did not tell me in detail. I know that something played a role in this. Marietta Blau is from a Jewish background, and you may be surprised how many Jews at this time were interested in the natural sciences and started to work in the natural sciences, fared there often very successfully, yes. So she seems to be in, it was no doubt the general trend, yes, and for a long time the Jews had no access to modern studies at all. Then they opened up many studies, and frequently very successful, and especially many moved into physics, which is a very difficult subject. But it means that some special talent, and you would find so many Jewish people in physics. This must be background related. Probably must have played a role. She didnít tell me exactly how she got into it, but she must have been probably from the high school on very interested in it.
Rentetzi:What about her brother? Was he also in Vienna?
Rentetzi:So, she was the only one in the family that was interested in this?
Halpern:Yes, as far as I know.
Rentetzi:What about the time that she finished her education? I read of ??? —
Halpern:All this I can give you but I donít know it by heart. It is in her personal data.
Rentetzi:I know that she went to Berlin and —
Halpern:Yes, she got some of her first positions here in Germany, where she already had a position in Wauchbect. In Germany she was in Frankfurt and she was in Berlin. And all of this is in her personal data.
Rentetzi:I think that she was in the industry in Berlin between 1919 and 1920.
Halpern:Well I can give you the information precisely in a short moment because it is in her personal data.
Rentetzi:You mentioned that between 1921 and 1923 she worked as an assistant in the Institute of Medical Physics in [???] Frankfurt —
Rentetzi:— and she was instructing doctors in the theoretical and practical basis of radiology. This is what Gallison mentioned. And I wanted to ask you if she had an interest in medical use of radiology?
Halpern:I never noticed anything of this kind. She found the position in working with it and usually what she worked in she did very well, but she never pointed out to me that she had a particular interest in radiology.
Rentetzi:Was it paid, this position?
Halpern:I can only guess, and I guess so, because — also her family supported her so to say, supported her work as she could not have survived at the Radium Institute. But to go to Frankfurt and have a non-paid position, I donít believe. I think she was paid for it, but no proof.
Rentetzi:What about the years that she was in the Radium Institute in Vienna, what do you know about this period? How did she speak about this period?
Halpern:Yes, she spoke to me a lot about this period. She was not particularly well treated from the very beginning. She never had a paid position there. This is certain. Her work was not always well recognized. This means there was some hair-raising things that she told me. In order to really explain this, I must become a little broader. Marietta Blau was an extremely helpful person. If she would see somebody who she thought needed help, she would come to the person and offer her help. It was unusual. Most people, they donít care possibly if somebody comes to them asking them if they have food or not. But with her, you could be almost sure that she would do it even if she was not asked. When she was working in the Radium Institute, there was a student there who complained to her that she did not know what she should study. This student had studied law for some time and had not succeeded and didnít like it, and she didnít know what kind of study to undertake after giving up the study of law. Her name was Herta Wambacher.
Rentetzi:Is this the same person that later on Herta Leng?
Halpern:Yes. Now, Marietta Blau told me, and this was in detail because it comes important for the story to develop later. Wambacher complained to her that she didnít know what to do really, what to study, how to go on after she stopped studying law. And helpful as Marietta Blau was always, Marietta Blau said, ďWell, I have here some work which may become important, of course it is not paid (like womenís work was in general not paid), but if you want, I know already what to do and how to proceed, and if you want I can introduce you to it and you can work with me and if you like it, you can study the subject.Ē
Rentetzi:Wambacher wasnít officially at the Institute at this time.
Halpern:No, but Blau was always officially not at the Institute, and Wambacher was at this time a student who did not know what to study at all.
Rentetzi:This is how they met, as a student?
Rentetzi:But Wambacher wasnít a student of Blauís, or she was?
Halpern:Well you see, in order to be a student of someone officially, you had to be a professor at least a Dozent. Wambacher, as far as I know, learned about everything from Blau. She would never have known anything about all that. She always worked with Blau and Blau was by far, really by far, was the leading person in the research work. But officially Wambacher became a student who worked on, letís say, practical work that was necessary to get a degree physics. All or some of this work was at the Radium Institute. I also assisted with this practical work there when I studied much later. She then continued research work with Marietta Blau, hoping to make a thesis and get a doctorate degree in physics. Now, what happened here was appalling. When Hitler in the 1930s came to power in Germany, and the National Socialists became more and more active in Austria. Hitler is originally Austrian, and many National Socialists moved illegal to Germany and came then back to Austria, and Austria was one of the next things, at least, that Hitler tried to invade and join to Germany. Among the intellectuals in Austria, due to organized student organizations, also due to tradition, there were many who had sympathies, strong sympathies for Germany, and somewhat less, but not that much less, who had other strong sympathies also for Hitler. They were already traditionally raised with anti-Semitic tendencies. This made it strongly felt for Marietta Blau in the Radium Institute. Which means, they appreciated her really excellent work there. They recognized that, yes, she really developed things and they recognized it but didnít recognize it officially but they certainly did not want her to get a position there. Now, this was different with Wambacher, who was from such a background that they appreciated her.
Rentetzi:Do you know more about that?
Halpern:Yes. Well Wambacher, this Peter Gallison has found out after I informed him about what I have informed you now, and I am very happy that he succeeded with that. He researched the illegal National Socialists membership numbers of people involved in Austria and he found that Wambacher and Stetter, who plays an important but I think not very decent role in the Marietta Blau story, had both very low membership numbers. This means they became very early members of the National Socialists party, which was illegal in Austria after the National Socialists came, the Austrian chancellor/dictator who was of a different direction; he was of a fascist Catholic direction. As he didnít want to join with Hitler, they murdered him. After the murder of this man (whose name is Dolfus), the National Socialists party in Austria was outlawed. Wambacher as well as Stetter were members of his party, although when it was outlawed, and had very low membership numbers. This is what Peter Gallison found out.
Rentetzi:Which means that the —
Halpern:That there were very early with it and always sympathizing with.
Rentetzi:Which means the beginning of 1930?
Halpern:Well actually, Dolfus was murdered in 1934 and only since then the party became illegal. I did not ask Peter Gallison about the year number, but he just told me since he found out that their membership number indicates that they very early members of this illegal, from 1934 on, illegal National Socialists party.
Rentetzi:From what kind of family was Wambacher from?
Halpern:I donít know much in detail about this. I cannot think. Because Wambacher is a person who interested me much less than Marietta Blau and shre interested me mainly in connection with Marietta Blau and convinced, from what I heard from so many different sides when I investigated the letter, that Wambacher was completely insignificant as a scientist. It is mainly the helpfulness of Marietta Blau and the effect may be that ultimately Marietta Blau needed somebody with whom to work and with whom to talk, that she later participated on her work. This was then proved by a person that should really be very well known. She is one of the heroes in this matter by an Austrian mathematician/physicist whose name is Augusta Dick. Augusta Dick became later an historian and did very excellent work. I was very lucky to meet Augusta Dick and I found she is one of the greatest personalities that I have maybe met in my life, and I have met very many great personalities [inaudible]. Very seditious, you know, very clever, very seditious person, and at the same time very pleasant. When I told Augusta Dick about Marietta Blau and just what Marietta Blau had confided to me, which I have not yet told you it all. It will come up in the tape soon. Augusta Dick was ready to begin research about this matter. Augusta Dick was, when the National Socialists came to power in Austria, she was a director of a school. And she declared that she her faith, she was a devoted Catholic, doesnít allow her to distinguish between races. As a result she had to leave, she was thrown out of the school. She had to work in the factory and there was a difficult condition. Later she was placed at an area which was frequently bombed, in the rural area and she lost her position and was in disgrace with the government. And after the War, she then got a position back, but she started to do historical research. So when I told her about the situation with Marietta Blau and Wambacher, she got interested in them and was willing to research the matter. Whereas I did not know how to proceed to find out more about this, she knew it in a moment. She went to the archives and found out all the school records of Blau and Wambacher.
Rentetzi:Was that in the archives in the —?
Halpern:In Austria? No, no, no. Already the school records from the elementary school only. When she found out that Wambacher was practically, everyone would realize, rather a bad student, and which just passed, Blau was always excellent. Then she examined the records of the final examination of Blau and Wambacher, and again Blau had everything excellent, Wambacher once even failed her final exam and she had to repeat, to get special permission to repeat it, it was difficult to get, because if somebody was accepted for a final exam, he must have been accepted in general it is very rare that somebody was to fail the final exam, completely fail it. Well, so Wambacher was a very mediocre student no doubt, and Blau was a very excellent student, couldnít be better. That is Augusta Dickís way brought a certain degree of evidence that what Blau had told me is correct, namely, that Wambacher was really an insignificant aid to her, and was, however, due to the fact that she was Arian and more than that, that she started to have an extra-marital relation with a person, a married professor, named Stetter, who later became the Nazi boss. He wanted, by all means, to have Arian Wambacher, with whom he had extra-marital relation.
Rentetzi:So it wasnít an open relationship, I mean, did they —
Halpern:Everybody in the Institute knew it. I mean, when Augusta Dick asked Professor Urban, who was working in the Radium Institute during the War and also some time before the War, what do you know about Blau and Wambacher, who of the two women really has the merit, Urban immediately said to her, ďWhat are you talking about? Everybody knows that Blau did all the work and Wambacher was just a love relation to Stetter who was a real Nazi.Ē Well, Augusta Dick, who is a very devoted Catholic person, did not know how to answer him. She said she was out of her mind, that means, she said, this is not historical evidence. Can you give me an historical evidence, but he didnít even want to talk about it and said it was known to everybody. Then, just to give an example, then I asked long year laboratory aid in the Radium Institute who practically knew everything that was going on in this Institute. This was even before I knew Marietta Blau that I asked him about it. And I just wanted to know, for me it was quite a sensation that two women really achieved some of the greatest discoveries in the Radium Institute. So I asked him who of these two women actually was the leading one, and he immediately said, ďWell, it should be known that Marietta Blau had practically all the merit and said that Wambacher mainly had her — her greatest merit was her relation with Stetter,Ē and that Stetter tried by all means to have the non-Arian Blau out of the Radium Institute as soon as possible, yes. Of course, he needed her to some extent, he couldnít do the work that she was doing, because she did absolute pioneer work in this emulsion study.
Halpern:Schwella is the name —
Rentetzi:The one that you asked?
Halpern:Yes, the laboratory. He practically knew everybody and everything and he was very courageous during the Nazi time. You see, it is a wonder that he got away without serious trouble. But SchrŲdinger once explained that Schwella was an unimportant employee, in a way, everything went through his hands. But he was not considered the person really of importance for the research. There were not too many people who were against the National Socialists, because they could not arrest all of these. If he had been an important person with his anti-Nazi tendencies, he would have been arrested probably immediately. But as a non-intellectual, but very courageous, and he also was a very careful person and he could get away with his strong anti-Nazi tendency.
Rentetzi:How did you get to ask him about —
Halpern:Well, he was the only person whom I could ask about it because one knows that he knew everything in there that passed into the Radium Institute. That went back to many, many years. He was easy to talk to, he was very friendly man, and so I asked him you knew these two women who of them actually gets the real merit in this discovery if any of the two? I mean —
Rentetzi:It was a little bit known that one of them was the most important—
Halpern:Not only a little bit, it was very much known. I mean —
Rentetzi:But the time that you asked him, it was already known —
Halpern:Yes, this was unfortunately vague. You see, there was the lecture of Berta Karlik always mentioned Blau and Wambacher, and never said which one of the two really played the more important role. And then she said — you see, when the Nazis came to power, fortunately Blau was out of the country but, and there I have to confide some things of interest which is not yet of in any of the reports that I wrote, at least not in detail and where some research could really be done. Blau had to leave. She took some of her work with her. Wambacher remained, and due to Stetterís influence who became then during the Nazi times the boss of the Institute. He was assistant at the time before when he was officially not much influence. But due to his political influence with the Nazi party, he played a great role in the Institute.
Rentetzi:Iíve read your article, you mentioned that Wambacher [???]. Blau didnít know — before we come to this time when Blau left Vienna, didnít know that Wambacher was a Nazi?
Halpern:She did definitely know that Wambacher had extra-marital relations with Stetter. And she knew, of course, that Stetter was a Nazi, this everybody knew, although, officially nobody seemed to know that he was an illegal Nazi, as he would have been arrested but this was very frequently so. I, for example, had in my school years, and I started at the high school in 1934, I think. I had also a teacher and professor who was, say head of our class as one calls this the Klassenvorstand and everybody knew that he was an illegal Nazi. Officially, apparently some of us didnít know it, because he would have been arrested. So, this was in general a rather well known, but of half of the people were. But still, these two women worked together all the time.
Rentetzi:How was the relationship between them when Blau and Wambacher worked together? Blau knew that Wambacher was Nazi?
Halpern:Yes she did.
Rentetzi:It sounds strange that —
Halpern:Not only did she know this, she also knew that Stetter wanted her to leave the Institute as soon as possible and give all the fame for the work to Wambacher. She knew this. She somehow at this time, you see, the women were much more used to not to be treated fairly, and she somehow accepted this. Of course, she would have been glad if it had not been so, but she somehow thought she couldnít do anything. Now, I must tell you one interesting incident that Marietta Blau confided to me then. She, after years of successful work at the Radium Institute in Vienna when her work was already internationally known, asked if she could have any kind of even the lowest paid position. She asked the professor whose name she told me, but because I didnít attribute much importance to that when she told this to me; I did not try to remember that name. Now, later it became clear to me how interesting this actually was and I wanted by all means to recover the name. As good as I can do, this was Gustav Jšger, this professor, whom she asked, could she not finally get any position which would pay anything. Now, Jšger, I am told, was also a German National but not an anti-Semitic. You see, this existed also, a German National and anti-Semitism was not necessarily mutually exclusive. Most of the German Nationalist had certain anti-Semitic tendencies from severe to mild, but not all. So, Jšger was married to Jew, his wife was Jewish. All right, this is just a bit of controversy that I know about Jšger, and she asked Jšger if she could not get a position and he said to her, not perhaps in order to frustrate her, but just to explain her situation, you know, you are a women and a Jew, and this is too much. I will not be able to get you a position at the Radium Institute.
Rentetzi:So she was never paid?
Rentetzi:So what about the other women that were working there?
Halpern:Yes. They, practically all of them as far as I know, they were also not paid.
Rentetzi:This sounds very strange, because there were so many women at this time at the Institute. Why was that?
Halpern:You see, due to perhaps, mainly due to the influence of Madame Curie. The work on radioactivity and radioactivity emulsion attracted many women and the women there often in the majority in the institute where radioactivity research was done. This was in the year this I must also take out the biography of Marietta Blau, it is in her biographical data that she gave to me in the 1960s. Well, I better donít quote the years, in any case it was still 1938 when she, to her luck, she went to Norway. Yes, she was very lucky to have been outside of Austria because of an invitation, a very short time invitation, by Gleditsch, and also women who worked in radioactivity, yes, whom she met in Paris in the Curie Institute, to give some lectures in Oslo. Marietta Blau was, to her luck in Oslo when Hitler invaded Austria. She would have else no doubt not expected it and be caught. She had taken some of her results of her work with her. Of course she took the most important work with her. When Hitler invaded Austria, she of course did not want to return and she stayed in Oslo. But Scandinavia had already exhausted the quota of refugees that they would be ready to accept. These quotas were very strictly kept, and Blau had no possibility to stay on in Norway. Well, some people already in 1936, this means two years before Austria was annexed to Germany, people approached Einstein to tell him about the situation of Marietta Blau, who was unpaid in Vienna, and Einstein investigated the matter.
Rentetzi:This is one of the questions that I wanted to ask. How did Blau know Einstein? Because I think that Einstein was so known at this time, I donít know if it was easier to get in touch with him, and it seems that Einstein supported her a lot.
Halpern:Yes, indeed and this is an interesting thing because Blau would in general not approach somebody to help her. She would help. She would help everybody that she thought might need it but it was very difficult for her to approach somebody to help her. Especially Einstein, who was the most famous physicist of his time, maybe of all times. So, I mean how does it come? I have the impression, but not the knowledge that Einstein — [Tape 1, Side B]
Rentetzi:And it seems that for many it was very easy to come here. She went first to England and then she came, I think in 1940 she came to the States. And it seems to me that for Leng it was very easy to come, although she was not Jewish and she was also a woman. So if you concur with this story, for Leng it seems to be very easy to come and for Blau, I can see that there were so many difficulties for Blau.
Halpern:No, not for immigration. Why Einstein recommended her in Mexico, well, I cannot say in detail. It was at this time, in the United States also not that easy for women to get a position. I was told for, example, that Meitner after she has already been very famous with her success in radium discovery of nuclear fission. I mean, as I said, she already had prospects of it the basic idea of it, that she wanted to have a small position in a college in the United States after the War. She was in Sweden also, and she couldnít find it. So it seems to have been rather difficult for women to get a position in the United States, either. How it comes that Einstein recommended her for Mexico, I donít know. Certainly it seemed to have been interested in the development of the university in Mexico and possibly some people had contacted him. Moschinski would know this better.
Rentetzi:But Blau did know Spanish?
Rentetzi:What languages did she know?
Halpern:Well, she knew German, she knew French, English, and but this was about all. Whether she knew another language, I donít know. She, in any case went to a school where she must have learned all these languages but she didnít know any other, she certainly did not know Norwegian, which is rather —
Rentetzi:Easier to learn?
Halpern:It is a very easy to learn Scandinavian. I was three years in Scandinavia and I learned it very — actually four years, and I learned it already in the first year. For a German speaking person it is rather easy.
Rentetzi:She did the same in Mexico, she had to learn the language?
Halpern:She had to learn, yes she —
Rentetzi:And she was 40, 45 when she went?
Halpern:Again, this we must look up from her data because I donít know figures by heart right now, offhand. Now, we will find all this out. How this actually came, this Mexico, by Einstein wrote to Mexico, whether he was the person who suggested her to go to Mexico, I donít know. He was in any case also interested in the development of the university in Mexico and he thought that she would be very good influence in working there. Einstein then wrote his letter already in 1936, and I am not so sure if Marietta Blau asked Einstein to do this. It seems that somebody else besides Einstein somehow noticed the situation and started to explain it, and he wrote that in his opinion, as far as he could find out that this was really the very best person the Radium Institute, that did the best work. But that she for very wrong reasons did not get the position there, could not find the suitable position for her in Mexico. This means a higher position. So again he wrote. Now Marietta Blau was in Norway, she knew that she couldnít stay in Norway and she was very worried that the War would break out, because Hitler was shouting everyday louder I think demands for parts of Europe that he said actually belonged to Germany, and she had the right idea that this would be a very fragile base if she tried to get away from Europe at War. So there began the reference that Einstein had given to Mexico, played a role that she got a position offered in Mexico. And she wanted to get away as quickly as possible from Europe because she felt that War may break out in a moment. She was right. To get to Mexico, the quickest way, she chose an airship — not a plane, as far as I know, an airship that regularly flew from Scandinavia, I donít think from Norway, but from Sweden to Los Angeles. From there it was very easy to make it to Mexico. You were practically in Mexico in Los Angeles.
Rentetzi:She went through Hamburg?
Halpern:Right, you see this was the quickest way to get out of Europe because she was, of course, aware that if the War broke out that she hardly be able to travel. Nobody believed that Hitler would invade Norway. This was one of his follies. But she somehow knew that it would be a very difficult situation in Europe and she also couldnít get a position, she could have nothing to live on.
Rentetzi:But why was she in Norway?
Halpern:Because Ellen Gleditsch had invited her for a short visit.
Rentetzi:How do they know each other?
Halpern:From Paris, no doubt. They were both women who important work in radioactivity and they knew each other, I think they knew each other from Paris, but I am not sure but I am not sure from. In either case, they knew each other from the publications.
Rentetzi:It seems at this time that the reason, letís say an [???], working under a coo, because Blau did make [???] and Gleditsch.
Halpern:Well, this was, I think, naturally formed due to these women being more or less in the same position, being at a disadvantage. Because Meitner, no question, was also very disadvantaged in Berlin but Meitner is also from Vienna. So that then these women knew each other in any case. And then it is probably so that there was a meeting when they came to the professors and they gave the lectures and the women often did the most important work, like in the case of Marietta Blau, they were not much in the forefront and so due to this it was much easier to start to feel a common bond and to communicate. This is just a speculation of mine that this may have worked. There may also have been, there was no doubt, something for the women to try to help each other to get positions. Because women in most parts of physics were definitely at a disadvantage, not necessarily, however, for scanning work in radioactivity because they are from the time when more and more women had entered in the field. And so you may be right that there was something like a network, but I do not know — not organized one, in that case.
Rentetzi:Following this, there was an Austrian women scientist organization at the time, because I think you were the one who mentioned that Blau got a grant from them and she went to Paris, so there was something organized.
Halpern:Yes, all this is stated specifically in her biographical data. Which I am German, you cannot read German?
Halpern:Well, I can translate this to you what she says in her biographical data about the grant that she got from —
Rentetzi:But there was something organized at this time, do you know more about this?
Halpern:No, I know very little about it.
Rentetzi:So, one question before we discuss the refugee part of Blauís life. At the time that she was in the Institute, Meyer was the head of the Institute?
Halpern:Part time, at least. I donít know when he retired, at least I donít know this by heart, I could find it out.
Rentetzi:I ask because I think that Gallison is the one who mentions that Meyer was very helpful with women at this time, and maybe this is one reason that we have so many women at the Institute.
Halpern:Not only, I think. It is certainly is a contribution, but it is not the only reason.
Rentetzi:Was he Jew?
Halpern:Yes, he was Jewish. He had a non-Jewish wife. And was able even to survive during the War in Austria, which was very hard for a Jew. This was possible because he had very good, great reputation and even the Nazi bossís like Stetter, they may have somehow indirectly protected him.
Rentetzi:What about the role of Petterson in Blauís time? Because Petterson was something like her boss or her advisor?
Halpern:Yes, he was her advisor and he certainly played a role in actually originally introducing her to this kind of work. Of course, not giving her a position or paying her but introducing her to it and giving her at first, suggestions. So he played a certain role that was important for her initiation at least.
Rentetzi:Was he Nazi or not?
Halpern:I have no direct evidence of this. It was claimed that these people, Kirsch and Petterson were also Nazis. Not as extreme as Stetter was, but it was said that they were. I can however, have no evidence of this, I didnít collect any evidence.
Rentetzi:It sounds strange to me that Petterson asked Blau to [???] what he wanted to do with emulsions because Blau was a women, she was young, she was Jewish.
Halpern:Yes, but she was not paid and Petterson was not afraid that she would take away some of the power of his fame. So he needed somebody who would work, and apparently as Blau was a very good student always, apparently he found out that in the practical work that every student has to do, she was outstanding, and he thought, well, he could well use her. But he did not try to give her a position at the Institute.
Rentetzi:I think that the first occupation that Blau had in England is [???], the one that speaks about the start of the discovery with Wambacher.
Halpern:There we must also look up her list of publications, because I am right now, know nothing there. I am anyway not very good in remembering things that have been told me, entrusted to me, all this I remember. But if you ask me some tried data of numbers and so on, this I canít remember.
Rentetzi:Coming back to what you said before about Mexico and how she went to Mexico, when she took the airship and she passed through Hamburg?
Halpern:Thatís right. She boarded the airship outside Germany, was an international passenger, and she felt that it was safe because according to international law, an international passenger cannot be molested in any way by authorities of the country where she makes a stopover. What, however, happened, she told me a little, and as I found out and fortunately, very late, I thought that everybody must know this. I was the only person with whom she entrusted this, nobody else even Herta Leng, who was such a good friend to her and who was for years in contact with her heard anything about it. And it was very shocking to me, that for many years had kept these things she had told me about her confiscation. Thinking about it now, after the War, when Nazi camps have become so well known, everybody will know about it. Nobody knows about it. Otto Frisch, who is my contact and connection with Marietta Blau, knew nothing about it. Herta Leng knew nothing about it. I asked one person after another and nobody knew about it. It was just really — if you ever meet Moschinski, you will get in contact with him. Moschinski, I think even Moschinski didnít know about it. I mean, I think I asked Moschinski, asked nearly everybody who was in contact, what do you know about this confiscation in Hamburg, all they know about it. So as found out a little, was rather shocked about it. Since for years I had known and thought everybody knows about it, actually, it wasnít known to the public at all. Many years after Marietta Blau was dead. So, what she told me there, was, she felt rather safe as an international passenger or she would have not boarded the airship at all, she wanted to get away as quickly as possible to the other continent, to America, because she was afraid that later sea War would break out and she couldnít go at all by ship. There were hardly any passenger planes going over there, but there was this airship, which was German. She boarded it in Scandinavia. In Hamburg there was a stopover. The first people who came on board were some officials, asked for Marietta Blau, asked her to come down. You see, airships were fixed at a mast a very high mast, you see, because if they were very low to the ground they could be damaged. So they were fixed mast, the Hindenburg also in Los Angeles, was ignited in there, it exploded in Los Angeles, you know. This was a terrible catastrophe because nobody who was on this airship survived it. This was due to Hitler, without making the public know about it, started to fill the ballast with hydrogen gas instead of helium gas. Hitler didnít have so much helium at this position. He needed foreign currency to buy it and he was willing to do that and so he had the airship filled with hydrogen gas. Now hydrogen will cause it terrible it was a risky thing to carry on the ship, and there were huge amounts of it there. So this Hindenburg, airship, the second one, the second big airship that the Germanís had built, about the only one or two successful airships have been over the ocean, exploded in Los Angeles, and nobody on it survived. Fortunately this did not happen to Marietta Blau, the airship was on the mast, as I pointed out, and she had to come down all these long stairs to catch up with her baggage. These officials opened her baggage and searched only a very short time, she told me, which means they knew precisely what to search for. She left everything in her baggage except the photographic images with important tracks that she had and they confiscated it, and then let her again get up to the airship and leave.
Rentetzi:Why do you think that Blau never mentioned that to anyone else?
Halpern:This I would like to know. Blau opened up really to very, very few people, and I have been one of them and I donít actually know — I mean, Herta Leng was her close friend and they had a very cordial relation. Why she never told this to Herta Leng, I cannot understand. I mean, she would at least tell such a thing to her brother, but she did not. Now, there is a point in this connection which makes it perhaps a bit more understandable that she thought to tell it to me. I was at this time, it was in 1962, when I met her in Vienna, I was very frustrated about some political developments in the University of Vienna. At this time I was in Austria but I didnít have a position. And I told Marietta Blau about it and knew Marietta Blau already for years, from my Fullbright visit in the United States, and I told her about what frustrating things I had experienced. When it came to these frustrating things, she was immediately concerned. As I told you, when somebody was in trouble she tried to help them and she told me what she had experienced, how much frustrating things she had experienced in Austria in order to console me in a way. Maybe this was the reason, because she saw me in trouble, thought about her own troubles and then remembered that she wants to tell me some things that I see, what can happen.
Rentetzi:She said that very late, it was 1962 when she said that for the first time?
Halpern:Yes. Before she had invited me to visit Brookhaven, which was else very difficult to achieve a visit in Brookhaven from Vienna because of the terrible security controls that existed, and she was very helpful in that, and she showed me then all the Brookhaven Laboratory, of course then she didnít tell me a bit about it. It was only when there was a really difficult situation in which she felt that I was that she wanted somehow to show me that she had to experience all through her difficult things that she wanted in a way to console me with this and to warn me also.
Rentetzi:When did you become more close to Marietta Blau? At the beginning when you first met her?
Halpern:There was a certain personal harmony from the first moment that I met her. You see, I had told her that I already had big expectations before, when I just heard Herta Leng had invited her because I knew about her important work. Then I found her very, very pleasant person, and there was immediate certain affinity. We were from the same home town, so to say. Back then we didnít know yet that our families actually knew each other. But there was very quickly a certain affinity when I visited Brookhaven then this became even more so. But then she more or less slipped out of my horizon and I just learned occasionally that she had moved from Brookhaven to Miami and I did not know anything more about it. But in Vienna, I met her again.
Rentetzi:So, you stayed in the United States for how long? When you came for —
Halpern:I had the Fullbright fellowship in 1952-53, and I was offered to stay on in the United States, and stupidly enough, I didnít do this. I returned to Austria where for years I had no position because I wanted to shift — this was partly on my own decisions and directions because I wanted to shift to theory. I was working on experiments. Herta Leng was the experimenter and I wanted to shift to theory. I was also successful in experiments. This was not the reason. I simply got more and more interested in theory and I thought that I do not understand enough about the subject that I am working in if I do not study theory. So I did say, from the point of view of financial concentration catastrophic things to shift from experiment to theory, and even to a domain of theory, which had no chance at all to find a position. This was gravitational physics, general relativity. But I wanted to learn this, and I had to wait for years. But just this, strange enough, helped me to find a position in theory, because SchrŲdinger came back to Vienna after he left from the Nazis. Also because he was very unsympathetic with the Nazis. And he came back to Vienna and wanted to have somebody who understood the subject that interested him the most, and this was general relativity gravitational theory. And there was no one else, it was not taught in Vienna. I had studied myself, in my self-study of theory. So I was the only one with whom he could talk about it in Vienna, and he saw that I was very interested. So I became, due to this, his assistant. Else, if I had done only things to study that part of theory in which I could make a career in, letís say, nuclear physics or radioactivity or something like this, but I would never have become the assistant of SchrŲdinger.
Rentetzi:And that was?
Halpern:Well, I was the assistant of SchrŲdinger from 1957 to 1959. It was three years actually, but one year was not paid. You see, it was rather frequent for people to work at the university who were not paid. Two years I wasnít paid.
Rentetzi:During this time, did you have any correspondence with Marietta Blau?
Halpern:No, very occasionally if I came to a meeting or so, then yes, I spoke from an acquaintance, asking how she was doing and so on. This was all. Then the relations became really cordial — I mean closer, it wasnít cordial — in Vienna. They were very good when I visited at Brookhaven, of course, but they were very short. They became really close in Vienna where she told me about her frustrating situation in Vienna. She was waiting for that operation — she was actually only coming back to Vienna to have the eye operation because in America there was low Social Security, she couldnít afford such an operation. American medicine was not socialized. Austrian medicine was socialized and in many parts, they were still people who had considerable standards. You see in some time, Austria, before 1938, was a center of medicine, and this standard hadnít much changed during the War, of course, very much declined, and already before the War many people emigrated but there was still some very good people who remained.
Rentetzi:And she didnít have any pension from Austria?
Halpern:No, from Austria, nothing. She got nothing from Austria. So, she had to live on about $200 Social Security. She had the right to earn another $100; if she earned more than $100, then she would have to pay tax. So she thought it doesnít pay, she would only like to earn $100 in addition to the $200. This was a lot of money then, in Austria especially. In the United States it wasnít that much money. One could live on it, but not so well. In Austria it was a lot of money, at first. But through the years of inflation, the value of the dollar declined and she needed some additional income. From Austria, she didnít get this. By the way, I want to mention that due to a certain semi-private activity from a woman whom she knew before the War and who had become in the city of Vienna, an official, a rather important official, she obtained in Austria a cheap and rather good modern flat.
Rentetzi:Do you know her name?
Halpern:Yes, her name is Jacobi. I think her name is Maria Jacobi. Of the first name, I am not so sure. She was a well known council of the city of Vienna who was mentioned repeatedly in the newspapers, so I did not know her at all. And then Marietta Blau told me, that Ms. Jacobi, on her own initiative, not on the initiative of some government office cared that she would get through the city of Vienna a cheap, nice place that was relatively modern. I had been in this flat, it had central heating, which was rather rare in Austrian flats at this time, and it was quite good flat.
Rentetzi:Were you also there at this time?
Halpern:Yes. At this time I was there. I had been in the United States. I came first at CERN and then in the United States for another year. But then after this year in the Institute of Price David [?], who is a very well known peer person in my field of general relativity and gravitation, I had no position. They had promised me a position in Austria, but when I came back to Austria they did not remember about this. So, I was here without a position, and Marietta Blau was also without a position. Our old acquaintance was revived, and then I found out that she knew my uncle, who was at this time again staying in Austria for a limited time. She met my uncle also and as we were more or less in a similar position and Marietta Blau in particular felt that. This may have contributed to that she opened towards me, but she wouldnít open up to other people. So I learned of this confiscation, which unfortunately, to my surprise, nobody else knew about.
Rentetzi:Do think that when the Nazis took her notebooks, this was the reason?
Halpern:Yes, she told me that. See, Stetter and Wambacher, after she left, continued her research and got a certain reputation for that and she told me that what they did just corresponds to her research plans which were confiscated.
Rentetzi:I think that Blau left in 1939 from —
Halpern:No, in 1938.
Rentetzi:1938, and I think the last moment she worked with Wambacher and Stetter was —?
Halpern:No, no, she didnít work with Stetter, but Stetter had a lot to say in the Radium Institute. Stetter was not yet a college professor, but often the assistant, who were regular assistants had a lot more actually power in the Institute than the professor himself. They would deal with everything, I mean administrative and there were things the professor had nothing to do with and didnít want to have anything to do with.
Rentetzi:It seems like he had a lot of power at the time...
Halpern:There is no question. He, for example, told by the various people, he was responsible for the fact that another man named Halpern, who had all of his qualifications to become a Dozent in Vienna an assistant professor — he is not yet a real professor but you cannot become a professor without being a Dozent first. Halpern had all of the qualifications to become an assistant professor, he had done the necessary work, he was internationally recognized, he was recommended by all the professors who were, many of them were Jewish or Jewish background, but not all the professors were. [???] Hans Thirring, who was a long time at the Institute and who was a determined opponent of the Nazis, and also a Professor Carl Przibram, who is Jewish, and Felix Ehrenhaft, whose father is Jewish. I mean, this of course, wasnít the only reason they all supported him. They supported him because he was extremely brilliant. As a person, he was, to say the least, what I learned about him, a very difficult person, and the person that was generally not particularly liked by his surroundings, I think with certain reasons. So, Stetter was particularly opposed to him because Otto Halpern knew a lot about physics, theoretical physics, he was brilliant, and Stetter knew nothing about it. So, you see, [???] just radicalizes too much. There are people who cannot understand anything about physical theory and who canít even be extremely brilliant in experiment. An example is an historical example of Philip Lenard. Philip Lenard was one of the best experimentalists in physics at all, no question. He made thousands of greatest discoveries. This was much recognized by Einstein, but Philip Lenard was a very difficult person, very envious person, envious about everybody, and he was completely unable to grasp anything in theory of physics. So he couldnít grasp Einsteinís theory. Einstein recognized him highly; he praised him for his most outstanding work. But Lenard could never understand the theories of Einstein and he was also had severe anti-Semitic prejudices.
Rentetzi:You mean that it is somewhat similar to Stetter?
Halpern:Well, weíre not interested about how certainly very similar in their attitudes, in their political attitudes. Lenard was a thousand times more brilliant than Stetter — there are very few people who were as brilliant in experiments as Lenard was. But there were very few people who were as stupid in theory as Lenard was. And Lenard supported Hitler from the beginning. He hated all Jews and all foreign influence in physics. And during the Nazi time, he wrote officially recognized history of physics, which he called German physics, in which he believed to prove that only Germans or German descendants or Scandinavians, maybe possibly some English, could do physics; all of the other people who do physics just cheat. For example, Einstein was very good in cheating. But all Einstein was doing was cheating, in his opinion.
Rentetzi:Was there a relationship between Stetter and Lenard?
Halpern:Between Stetter and Lenard, certainly. Because they were both Nazi physicists. Lenard originated also not from Austria but from the German part of Czechoslovakia, which belonged to Austria, and there were certainly very good relations between Stetter. And Stetter was similar in his lack of ability to understand theory.
Rentetzi:So at the end, it was very obvious to Blau that Stetter and Wambacher and all the people that surrounded her were at least politically opposed to her?
Halpern:Not only at the end, but it was very soon clear to Blau, yes.
Rentetzi:So, when did she start trying to get out of Vienna?
Halpern:Apparently in 1936 because in 1936, Einstein wrote his first letter on her behalf.
Rentetzi:But she still was with Wambacher —
Halpern:All the time, all the time, to the very end.
Rentetzi:Do you think that she was afraid to stop working with Wambacher? That she needed Wambacher?
Halpern:No, she simply, I donít think she needed her, but she was working with her and she just continued working. She didnít give much thought about it. The fact that Wambacher was a Nazi she knew; she knew also that Stetter wanted by all means advance Wambacher and make her leave, but this was not impairing the work apparently. She was so interested in the work. And it would have caused a disruption after so many years of collaboration with Wambacher her if they had separated. There were so many urgent research projects that she didnít even think about it.
Rentetzi:Did they put any pressure on the relationship? Besides the work?
Halpern:No, they were officially termed as friends, but what friends mean? If one of these persons has relations with somebody else, extramarital relations that wants to kick her out, she cannot be very convinced of a great friendship. Originally, Wambacher was accepted to Blau because Blau wanted to help her as she wanted to help out anybody who needed help. And possibly Blau needed something like a companion to talk to. When she found out that Wambacher actually was, in a way, her greatest rival, [???] position was, she just bore and did not — Of course, she must have cooled off the personal relationship, there wasnít any closer friendship, at the time at all. I donít think a very deep friendship had been formed.
Rentetzi:What about Blauís political opinion?
Halpern:Blau was already, due to the disadvantage that she met, she was very well aware that she was a Jew, and she would say this everywhere and she would of course, sympathize much at this time, everybody had to sympathize with those political groups that were not Nazi. I mean, it was the only thing to do. Now, say Catholic kind of fascists that one had in Austria were not for the Nazis, this is true. But they would not so easily accept the Jew. So the only political parties that was really acceptable to her were the Socialists, because the communists, she was from a rather wealthy background and this whole communist ideology didnít fit her very well. I mean, she did not understand it at all. So, she had her friends in socialist circles. This I know. I doubt that she was very actively involved in politics.
Rentetzi:I asked this because and we come back and to the discussion that we had about Mexico. I asked the Rockefeller archive and I found that there is a letter there, you can see along. It says that they didnít renew their contract with the Mexican University because some of their activities were socialists and because of this they didnít renew.
Halpern:This is remarkable. I didnít know anything about this.
Rentetzi:You can read this. [Tape 2, Side A]
Halpern:Blau, in general, didnít complain very much. I mean, she told me about hair-raising things that happened to her in Mexico only at times when I was depressed in Vienna. Just when I told her that I told her that I was depressed and what was going on, she told me at the same time when she told me about the confiscation. She told me all about what had happened to her in Mexico. Helpful as she always was, in Mexico she wanted to help and other women scientists in biology to get a position to get a position at the university, and also a refugee. For this she went to the professor of bacteriology into his laboratory together with this other woman and the professor showed them the laboratory. She hoped that she would make the professor hire the bacteriologist. Suddenly the professor said, ďOh, somebody has left a dangerous bacterial culture open. You must immediately get vaccinated.Ē But I cannot be sure whether this vaccination happened, the culture has set off a a-symptomatic typhus, which is not the usual typhus of the intestine; it is something completely different, different as this. It is very, very severe disease of which at least 50 million people in the second World War died, probably also in Greece. And someone left this culture open, this can also be contagious when inhaled and you must leave immediately, and you will get a vaccination and you must leave immediately. If possible, get a vaccination you will get a vaccination and then you must leave immediately. But the vaccination came too late, and Marietta Blau, when she was in her flat, just came on two days later and got this very severe disease. She was completely alone in the flat. Nobody knew that she was ill, nobody seemed to have cared for quite a number of days and having the highest fever and having losing conscience from time to time and coming back again. She wanted still, again, to help somebody. Maybe she was afraid that all of this bacteriologist who wanted the position would have been contagious, she wanted to alert people but at this time didnít have a telephone in the flat and she couldnít notify anybody. Finally after a week or so, somebody found out and they came to her flat to see why for so long she was not showing up, and then she had largely overcome the worst of it. This shows some of the troubles that she told me about Mexico when she told me what medical conditions were there. She went to a person who was apparently a doctor to get some injections, and then she wanted to see the diploma of the person and finally she came to see the diploma, it was in German because this person started in Austria, and this diploma was for making certain simple haircuts. But she had always got injections from this. And then she said that very frequently the professors had practically no instruments anymore, especially in more remote universities, not in the Central University of Mexico, but in more remote, because they used to sell all their equipment in order to make up for the salaries that they didnít get all the time.
Rentetzi:I think that you are the one that mentioned in one of your articles that something like that happened also to Marietta, she went to prepare a lab somewhere —
Halpern:Yes, this is what I just said, this was in this, with this a-symptomatic typhus —
Rentetzi:No, the story about the treatment that she went to prepare in the lab and then, when she fixed everything she went again and the equipment wasnít there.
Halpern:Well, this was the rule, I mean, usually there was practically no equipment left because the professors sold it in order to survive. There were very astonishing conditions. If one was a relative or a personal friend of say somebody in the military, then one could rather well get out oneís salary. But else, the salaries for years, they were not paid and so the professors sold their equipment and such things she told me about Mexico. But she never complained, actually, herself except the story with the typhoid, the typhus.
Rentetzi:How was the life in Mexico?
Halpern:Well, she liked it there, she liked it there very much. But it must have been, nevertheless, extremely difficult. You see, she didnít really complain, and so to was used in Vienna to be at a disadvantage. As I was told by somebody whom I am going to recommend you also to contact and who knows very much about Marietta Blau. He knew her personally, he was a person who studied in Vienna, but before the War. He is older, considerably older than I am and he is already, he is retired. His name is Peter Havas from Temple University in Pennsylvania. Him, I think, the letters of Einstein for Marietta Blau. I got it through him. And I got through him also very many other valuable information.
Rentetzi:Did he know her while she was in Mexico?
Halpern:No, Havas wasnít in Mexico. Havas came to the United States and she met him in the United States. When he came here more or less after — I donít know when he came, and he had no position and she apparently offered to try to help him. I donít know the details about it. But she met him only in the United States after she had been to Mexico. And she knew him, however, already in Vienna. Havas was working with an important man in mastestoscopy in Vienna, Mattauch. Havas is one of the very interesting case, also being a Jew, he was not prevented from studying. He finished his studies at the University of Vienna. This was a remarkable case. I think now I cannot understand how this could happen but he told me of this occasion. He was a very interesting man. You can perhaps contact him and he can tell you many interesting facts. He knew Marietta Blau already from before the War, personally. But she also did not tell him of the confiscation.
Rentetzi:So, he knew the situation in Mexico.
Halpern:No, the situation in Mexico he doesnít know well because he has not been in Mexico. But, he knows something about Mexico as I know something about Mexico. Since Marietta Blau occasionally has told him. Also, person whom was in South America whom Marietta Blau knew was Guido Beck, but Guido Beck is no longer alive. He would have known more about Mexico because he speaks Spanish very well, Spanish and Portuguese, and after his immigration he spent most of his time in Latin America. But he is no more alive.
Rentetzi:Did she have many friends there, close friends, in Mexico?
Halpern:Yes, she must have had friends, but I donít know, besides Guido Beck. I donít know how well she was in personal relationships with Moschinski. She knew Moschinski, that is for sure, but I donít know how close their relationship was. It certainly was not bad, but how close they were, I donít know. Guido Beck she knew somewhat closer, Beck was a person who was also from Vienna and who easily opened up. And I knew him myself.
Rentetzi:So, in Mexico she taught physics and did she do any research?
Halpern:Yes, she did research. Peter Havas told me that he found out that she was also rather exploited in Mexico, meaning that she was paid in Mexico, this is sure. But as I learn from you here, only a part of the time. She then had to leave Mexico apparently. But she was a rather happy person in Mexico, but she told me but Peter Havas told me that she was also exploited. To me, she didnít complain about that.
Rentetzi:Do you know this person, Mrs. Salgo, this name is mentioned here? Because it seems that she is the one that informed them about the situation in Mexico, and that they did not renew their contract.
Halpern:No, I donít know her. That concerns Marietta Blau. If she had sympathies with the Socialists, it was because the Socialists were reliably not Nazi and they were not extreme like the communists. But in Mexico, in the previous regime, not the one that [???] of Marietta Blau. The British regime was very positive to refugees and seems to have had also that many communists in it, because Trotsky sought refuge in Mexico.
Rentetzi:He was there, I think he was there during the time that Blau was there?
Halpern:Yes, if he was not yet murdered because he was — I donít know when was Trotsky murdered in Mexico.
Rentetzi:But I know that Blau left in 1944 from Mexico, and I think that Trotsky was there, I think that there was some —
Halpern:Well, must find out when he was murdered.
Rentetzi:But it doesnít seem that she had any relationship with this.
Halpern:Well, she was friendly to people from all political directions, even to the Nazis. She was always a friendly, nice person and very nice in social contacts. But she definitely had no extreme, and of course she was extremely against the Nazis like everybody had to be but that didnít mean that she belonged to any extreme relation. So I am absolutely convinced, I am thoroughly convinced that she had no outspoken sympathies for the Communists. For the Socialists, if she had to have sympathies for something, it would be for the Socialists because they were the only one that would accept her more or less and be reliably against the Nazis.
Rentetzi:The time that Blau was in Mexico, there was also a movement in art with Frida Kahlo. I donít know if you know this, there are some of these basic cultural — there were many cultural things going on, and I was wondering if Blau had any relationship [???] in Mexico?
Halpern:She was certainly interested in art but more, I cannot tell you. She felt rather well in Mexico with the people there, she had many people with whom she was sympathetic and friends. I can, however, not tell you in detail. Beck I know, but I do not know which time Beck was in Mexico at the same time when she was there. Then Moschinski and more people I actually do not know.
Rentetzi:Do you know why she left Mexico?
Halpern:Well, I did not know, but now it looks to me that this may be the reason.
Rentetzi:At the same time they were the letters from Einstein to Mexico.
Halpern:This was earlier, I think.
Rentetzi:I think that there was another one, a letter from Einstein at this time who says that she needs to move from Mexico because in Mexico she doesnít do any research, any real research.
Halpern:She cannot do any research, probably.
Rentetzi:Yes, she cannot do any.
Halpern:Well, I remember something like this vaguely, there seems to be a letter which is, I don=t know whether it is amongst the letters, it is...
Rentetzi:Yes, it is here, this is Galisonís book, and it mentions here about Einsteinís letter and that Blau cannot do any work there because of the situation at the university. At the same time, when we have two different letters here, the one from the Rockefeller and the one from Einstein.
Halpern:Well, Einstein was simply wonderful. Einstein seems to have been the first who really recognized fully the situation of Marietta Blau in Vienna, and immediately acted on it. Well, Einstein was a wonderful man. I must admire him always more, the more I see. He really cared for people as you see. And well, I know that Einstein wrote a number of letters on her behalf from the things she writes, a position for work in Mexico, but I donít know, does Einstein help her to come from Mexico then to the United States. I know that in the United States she got a position with the Canadian Radium Institute. But through whom she got it, I donít know.
Rentetzi:Do you know more about Brookhaven, when she was there?
Halpern:Well, I was there, and she helped me to visit Brookhaven.
Rentetzi:But why did she leave Brookhaven? Because it seems that she worked there for a long time and then she —
Halpern:This is a very touchy story. She left Brookhaven because she felt not well treated there. You must know that she was already used to being not very well treated.
Rentetzi:At least not well paid.
Halpern:Well, not only. I mean in other ways she was certainly not well treated. So it must have been a rather serious thing. And she told me that she had an enemy in Brookhaven that made life difficult. She didnít tell me the name of this person, but some other people knew who it was. One of them was Havas and one of them was Otto Frisch. Somehow, Sulamith Goldhaber called Havas with whom I brought up the situation of Marietta Blau and asked if anyone could find some help for her. And she told me that she left Brookhaven two years only before she would have a permanent pension from Brookhaven, and she said can you understand that Marietta Blau is such a sensitive person, that she could leave Brookhaven, she needed badly anything like a pension, she would leave Brookhaven two years before getting the pension because of her personal sensitivity. So, there must have been some disgusting things there involved that made her leave Brookhaven. And I can also tell you what I learned from these people. Havas knew something about it, and Frisch seems to have known something about it. The name of the person that made her leave was a Dr. Salant, who appears in the common publications here. But she complained to me a number of times in Brookhaven I had an enemy and at times I couldnít stand it. This man would make my life very difficult there. This was very much a matter of sensitivity of a person that certainly must have not been very nice in any case. I mean, this person couldnít have behaved nicely to her or she wouldnít complain.
Rentetzi:Was it because she was Jewish or because [???]
Halpern:No, no, I donít think that at all. I donít think that this played a role, probably because there was rivalry in matters of work. Yes, she was probably superior to many people there, and she was a woman, and she was surprised and she was very sensitive when she felt surprised and she would not necessarily speak out but it made her leave Brookhaven.
Rentetzi:Is he still alive?
Halpern:As far as I know, yes, but, of course, must be very old now and I cannot know. I wanted to take up the matter, but then I hope that somebody else would maybe investigate this more.
Rentetzi:So, she went to Miami? Because, she wrote Miami—
Halpern:She got a position at the University of Miami as a social professor, I think. It is, again, in her personal data.
Rentetzi:And she stayed in Miami for how many years?
Halpern:Of this, I canít also exactly tell you, as I told you I donít know, she stayed about in 1962. I canít tell you when she entered, I think it was two years. I think you better let us look up in the data.
Rentetzi:Do you know something about Miami? Did she have any problems there? Was she liked there?
Halpern:Well, she wrote a letter to a former friend of hers at the Radium Institute in Vienna that it was a nice landscape, it was a nice place, but she felt rather in a way homesick, which means she was not really assimilated, not fully assimilated, at least. She was much liked there. There is a person in Miami who knew her well, and who is still alive, this is Perlmutter. Have you heard from him already?
Halpern:You should. I think he can give you quite some valuable information about her in Miami.
Rentetzi:Is he still there, in Miami?
Halpern:Yes, but he is of course, retired. But he can somehow be found in physics work, if you inquire at the University of Miami everybody knows Perlmutter, no doubt, in the physics department. Perlmutter, Perl in German means a pearl.
Rentetzi:Is he also German?
Halpern:He, I donít know where he was born. I have the impression that he was also born in Europe. I think he is also of a Jewish family or his partner, I donít know. But in any case, the name is German and she was in rather close contact with him. She also was asked to write some handbook articles when she was in Miami, and she did some important work there too. But her eyesight was became worse and she was forced to give up her position in Miami because she couldnít do the work anymore.
Rentetzi:So there was a time when she came to Vienna.
Halpern:Yes, because in America it was $200 Social Security. She couldnít pay for the operation, and in Vienna life was very cheap. Yes, she could with $200 at first survive fairly easily and later it became more difficult. Because of this she felt that it would be best medicine was very cheap in Austria. An operation cost for an American practically nothing; in America it cost a fortune. So there was no medical insurance in America, or if so, if there was one, it was not a very weak one. And now, it must be said that her family was extremely rich due to this publishing of music. Her brother was able to save quite a fraction of the family fortune to Switzerland in time. He left also in time, and he lived in Strazer in Switzerland as a very wealthy person. She apparently never approached him to help her. I mean, also when she needed this operation, he would probably, I mean, as the situation was in this family rich, and they were a rather generous family, he would probably very easily, immediately helped her. She didnít want apparently to do that.
Halpern:This, she even didnít tell her brother about the confiscation; he knew nothing about it. I was sure I would, from her family learn something about this — nothing. So, she was very tired and didnít want to approach anybody to help her. But she could, nevertheless, she must have been liked because she was such a helpful, friendly person. So many people must have liked her.
Rentetzi:So, when she came to Vienna, this woman, Maria Jacobi, helped her?
Halpern:This woman helped her, yes.
Rentetzi:And you were there all the time?
Halpern:No, no, I was sent first from Austria when I was with SchrŲdinger and then SchrŲdinger retired. After some time, he retired, I was sent to CERN, the International Research Laboratory in Switzerland. And from there I got a position, a one-year grant to go to the Institute of Deveit which was one of the really leading institutes doing research in my subject.
Rentetzi:You mentioned in one of the articles that you wrote that you tried to get a job for Blau at CERN.
Halpern:Yes. Well, how this comes is I am just on the way to tell you. I was in the Institute of Deveit for one year, and then I was promised, before I went to the Institute of Deveit, I was promised I would get a position in Austria, the position I was there before. However, then I was told there is no position available, which was a breach of the promise that has been made to me, and I had not looked for a position in Austria because I thought, anyway I will have this position in Austria. So, I was an Austrian citizen in America and having no more position. Deveit used not to give any position for several years except if this was some person who could help very tightly with this research. It was one year, Venichi was there for two years. But he was a well-known professor already in [???]. So I had to find a place to be. So I thought meanwhile I will go back to Austria because this is place where I am a citizen and where I can stay. In America I couldnít stay anymore without a position. So during this time, I met Marietta Blau again because she was in Vienna, and I stayed about something like half a year in Austria, without a position, then I found, somebody offered me a position in Denmark and I moved to Denmark.
Rentetzi:So, this six months, you say, you were very close?
Halpern:Yes, I had close ties with her, yes.
Rentetzi:How was it at the end of her life?
Halpern:Well, you see, for quite some years she could not work in Austria. I mean, she could help the students do doctorate work or so, but she felt she could do any full valued work and she had no position and no help, and she felt also rather bitter about the way she was treated at the university. She of course had no pension at all because she never had the position in Austria. Nobody apparently thought to pay her anything for afterwards. Then finally this doctor agreed to make the eye operation. He said she had to recover in her health for her health was very fragile, she had to recover in her health for at least a year and then another year, and finally he agreed to make the operation. Then, I was no more in Austria. The operation was successful. And when I next visited Austria, when I met Marietta Blau, then she told me, now I can finally work, but I do not feel like trying to get any position at the University of Vienna. I want to work, therefore, independently on my own. I have a real expertise in my experimental work. What I could do is write, edit a journal, or make independent research, or something like this. Could you, she told, find something for me because my only income is the $200 from the Social Security and I have the right to earn another $100 more. All I want is to earn the $100 more, she said, I can then really survive with my income, I do not care to get a full salary, so I would do highly qualified work for just $100 a month, which seemed to me a very easy task. So, I said that I would send in Copenhagen. This was 1962-63. No, no, when she told me this it was already 1964. I moved then from Copenhagen, I was one year in Copenhagen at the famous Niels Bohr Institute, which has many international fellows and then I got a position at the University of Stockholm. I think, then I was in Stockholm when I visited Vienna, and this must have been in 1963-64, something like this. I thought this must be very easy, and so then I came back to Copenhagen, I spoke with the administration, a professor there, his name is Stephen Rozental. I donít know whether he is still alive today. Recently he was alive and I wrote to him, he was still alive, Stephan Rozental. Everybody knows him there in the administration. And he knew Marietta Blau. I told him about her situation, what she had told me, would there not be a possibility to find work for $100 a month. That was still quite a lot of money then, is not like today, it was like, say $400 today, $100 then. So he was immediately willing to search for that but he said, I donít think that we have the money here for such a thing, but there is an organization that has all the money in the world, and this is in Geneva. The Director General of CERN will visit Copenhagen in two weeks, at the time, I would already be back in Stockholm. And this Director General has all the influence CERN. I knew this because I was over at CERN before, he must be able to very easily help her. Now, I was sure that this would work. I informed Marietta Blau about it, she was very happy. And when I came next time to Copenhagen, Rozental told me that he had spoken with the Director General from CERN, Weisskopf, was in principle willing to take this up and suggest this at the next council meeting CERN. Because Weisskopf was already gone. He just visited Copenhagen for a short time. Alright, so the expectation of what would happen, and when I came next time to Copenhagen and spoke to Rozental, we were terribly disappointed. Weisskopf had told Rozental that he brought this up in a council meeting in CERN and it was rejected.
Rentetzi:Do you know the reason?
Halpern:No, the reason I never learned. Weisskopf had only said that I do not want to impose my will on my colleagues, if they do not want to accept this, to help Blau for a job for $100, you must know the German system had so much money, they wanted just to make for advertisement, so they spent a fortunes. That all the monies in the world, for them $100 was nothing. Neither Rozental nor I had learned why this was refused. It was flatly refused. And I thought, now, men of influence of Weisskopf will find some other way to help Marietta Blau to find qualified work for $100 a month, which was just a present because her work was so qualified that it would be worth much more, and he would certainly do something. Nothing at this time happened. I have never spoken to Weisskopf about it personally, so I do not know any reason. And I must say, I didnít feel any more like the approaching him. This was one of the greatest shocks about the human world of physics that I have ever experienced. I mean, I have experienced a number of shocks, but this was I was out of my mind about it.
Rentetzi:Do you know if there is anything written about it?
Halpern:There must be something written, there must be a report written about it. Whether they would like to have made it available to somebody who comes there, is of course a question. I have advised when people go there that wanted to find out about it — I mean, some people had the intention to go there to find out about it, they finally, in general did not do it. Also, I had rather close friends who were in the council of CERN but not present at this time. This, for example, those friends are Waltheisen, professor in Amsterdam who was already in the Dutch Council for sure. He wanted to find something out about it, but it was not possible at that I could find out. One would have to dig a lot and ask a lot advice, everybody donít tell them you want this council meeting because of Marietta Blau, they might else not want to show it. Just say you want to study all of the council meetings at a certain time. Waltheisen didnít come to do and he became ill and died. You know, I had written a eulogy in Physics Today. You may have read it. It was much shorter than what I wanted, but I didnít have too much space. So, Waltheisen is one of the people whom I thought it would be nice if one could find, not nice, very interesting, very revealing and really a document about the situation of women scientists if one found out what really had happened there. Also I wanted to tell you that I had a certain suspicion about this, also, I do not know if this suspicion is really justified. There was a man named Jentschke who after Weisskopf became Director General of CERN, and he was in Germany. But before he was actually was in Austria, and I know he was really a very devoted Nazi. This I learned all from Schwella, from this laboratory man who knew everybody in Austria. Schwella told me how he argued with this Jentschke in the old times before Austria was invaded about Nazis and he said to him how can you support such everybody knew Jentschke was a Nazi. Jentschke was very successful with some experiments with uranium fission. And he was a young successful Dozent or at least research physicist in Vienna and Schwella, told him how can you support such a thing that will lead to a terrible disaster, yet you see this unqualified, unstudied men who academically trained Jentschke, [inaudible], therefore, I know that Jentschke was really a devoted Nazi at all times. Now, he had an enormous influence at CERN already because he was the one to follow Weisskopf as Director General. My suspicion was now that Jentschke had, of course, must have had the closest contact with Stetter. Stetter was reintroduced at the University of Vienna as a professor in spite of his really already extreme Nazi past by Thirring and Stetter was in power in Vienna at this time.
Rentetzi:Do you think that there was a relationship?
Halpern:No doubt there was a relationship. I mean the people had known each other very well, there must have been a relationship. So, my suspicion was, there is a connection, Stetter/Jentschke and Jentschke has great influence at CERN possibly it was Jentschke who objected. Whether it is true or not, if it was somebody else, I would very much like to find out and I would be very happy. I would really go out of my way to support somebody who would do that, but I have no time, because, you see, a physicist has no time for that.
Rentetzi:The reason that Marietta didnít want to apply for a job to Institute of Vienna was it because of the people there at that time?
Halpern:Yes, she was very bitter about the way she was treated there.
Rentetzi:Stetter was part of that?
Halpern:Stetter was back and this made her especially bitter. You see, Stetter was back in the highest position that one could get. And his aid, Ortner, who was also with Stetter, with the Nazis, yes he was originally not a Nazi but in the Nazi time, he became one because it was opportune. He was also back in power. Stetter helped Ortner to get back in power. They both had to flee from Vienna when the Russians invaded Austria because they knew very well they would be immediately be deported. Now, they had to flee and to hide and then Thirring asked Stetter, who was practically already out of physics, who for years had only to work in that industry because he had to hide, asked Stetter back in the highest position at the Radium Institute. Stetter might have behaved very neutrally and didnít officially boss anybody. He was back in power, encouraged a lot of other people to let their real feelings show up and Marietta Blau felt it and she was very bitter about it, that she would not want to even ask for a position. Whether, if she had asked, if she would have gotten one, that is the question.
Rentetzi:So she never asked, she never even asked?
Halpern:No, as far as I know she never even asked. Well, you see, actually if things had gone right, of course there was the problem with her eyesight, she should have had the position of Stetter because she was much better in physics. Stetter was, she insisted this to me, then I said, well, this Stetter seems to be know nothing of physics because he Stetter, when he was reintroduced, in his introduction lecture, he was saying that he still believes in the ether [Tape 2, Side B] He is rather — he is a good experimenter. This means he is a formidable experimenter. This is how that Peter Galvan was criticized to me, I have seen this in the Physics Today, somebody in Vienna who was a pupil of Stetter after the War wrote that Galvan mentioned that Stetter got this big position, and whereas Blau who was much better did not get this position, nor anybody else. This meant that while Stetter was indeed — he cannot believe that this is possible, because at the time when Stetter was boss an assistant, there were Jewish professors, yes, as I told you, Ehrenhaft was a Jew, Przibram was a Jew, and Meitner, I donít know whether he was in power. But insisted not to support Marietta Blau. Then I will answer this man, sooner or later. The point that it brings up, of course, is just well known, but it shows really how typical. I may bring up the case of Halpern, who all the Jewish professors and all the non-Jewish professors, besides this, all the professors, who were then professors had recommended for the doctorship in physics. And nevertheless, due to the influences of the Professor Przibram that Stetter brought up against Halpern, nevertheless it was refused because all the professors colleagues, the whole university had to decide if somebody got a position and taught a position in any case. So, the influence of the professors, if there was an assistant to say well, we donít have a position, the other one is the most, probably, influence wasn't that great. For example, Przibram was very hesitating to enforce his view about if there was an assistant then who would say no. It is all a very remarkable thing. So this points at these man told me, and whatever his name is, there at the University of Vienna, he is now an associate professor at the University of Vienna. They brought up that Stetter must have been good physicist is in principle correct. At this time you didnít become an assistant if you were just a zero. Today there are so much monies in physics and so many people are working in it. At this time there were very few positions available and if somebody had a position, he may not have been the best person to choose — Marietta Blau was no doubt the best person — but he must have had some kind of capabilities. Without capabilities, he would have been able to stay in an assistant position. Assistant position was a very important position. The assistant had often, as I said, more to say in the Institute indirectly than the professor had. So, Stetter must have made [???] was certainly right in saying that Stetter had capabilities, too. But all these people didnít understand is that Stetter had capabilities in experiment.
Rentetzi:Blau, you said, recognized that Stetter had such.
Halpern:Yes, she told me this, ďDonít say that Stetter is a complete zero.Ē I said he is a complete zero because I knew about his theoretical remarks. I mean, it was hair-raising at this time for a professor who is newly nominated to say I believe in ether. I mean, the ether was outdated by experiment already and by the consistent Einstein relativity theory since decades. But I understood that Stetter, somewhat like Lenard, was rather good in experiment. Not as excellent as Lenard. Lenard was one of the most brilliant experimenters of all time. But was rather good in experiment, also not as good as Blau, but he was good. So donít mean that he was wrong in everything, he was only very wrong to criticize Galison. Because it needed quite some courage to do what Galison did to reveal this, to bring this up officially. Galison was very right to point out that Blau did not get the position in Vienna after the War instead of all what one owed to her, whereas Stetter and Ortner did. This was very unjustified, and I will certainly write still in a suitable context, write about this so that Galison is completely relieved of the approaches made to him.
Rentetzi:What about Wambacher at this time?
Halpern:Wambacher died rather soon after the War. After the War, when the Russians came in, there was not much hesitation in this. She was fired because of her National Socialist activity and she died two years later of radium cancer.
Rentetzi:Did she have a relationship with Stetter until then?
Halpern:She did have a relationship with Stetter all the time. I mean, as long as they were both at the Institute. Stetter, of course, had to hide after the War. He had to flee and to hide. Ortner was some time in Egypt, I know because the Egyptians were looking for former Nazis who worked in nuclear physics to make an atomic bomb against Israel and such things were going on. So Ortner was in Egypt and Stetter I think was also some time in Egypt, when Nasser were in power, I think it was before Nasser. At any case, Ortner was in Egypt and worked there for the government. Stetter, I donít know where he was hiding. Then he came back in Vienna, and I think Wambacher was no more alive. But Stetter and [???] had a memorial for Wambacher was written in part of the Austrian physics, I think from the academy.
Rentetzi:Yes, and you mentioned that in the — What about Blau? Was she alone all the time? I mean, she wasnít married?
Halpern:No, she wasnít married, she was a very lonely person. She never got married and I do not even know whether she had, even something like a boyfriend. This was not common in Austria to have a boyfriend before one was married. It was when she grew up. This was before more or less Freud became so well known in the world. And you know that Freud had brought up his rather evolutionary ideas as a kind of party protesting against these tendencies to completely suppress. We were brought up, when I was in school, there was complete separations between boys and girls and one hardly came to see a girl ever. So, I doubt that Blau ever had some boyfriend or anything like it. But today it is rather frequently discussed, homosexuality. This was completely out of discussion at this time. Probably Marietta Blau wouldnít even know what it is.
Rentetzi:It seems that she was very lonely, you said?
Halpern:Yes, yes, but she was capable to work in spite of her loneliness.
Rentetzi:I donít know if you want to mention something more, but I think that is what I have always wondered —
Halpern:Yes, what we can do is, to make a short walk now, I say that because I am now tired; you probably too. And maybe while we walk I can possibly, something may come to my mind —
Rentetzi:So, thank you very much.
Interview was corrected by Robert Rosner in 2012 and all footnotes are his with the corrected information.
 Stefan Mayer was director of the Radium Institut until 1938 (Cf. Brigitte Strohmaier & Robert Rosner, Marietta Blau Ė Stars of Disintegration, Ariadne Press, 2006 p. 103)
 Marietta Blauís father was born in Deutschkreutz, a village near Eisenstadt (Cf. Strohmaier & Rosner, p. 14)
 Marietta Blau had two brothers, Otto and Ludwig.
 Marietta Blau worked 1921 in a factory producing X-ray tubes in Berlin and started 1922 to work in Frankfurt
 There were no trans-Atlantic airship flights in 1938. After the air-ship ďHindenburgĒ exploded in 1937 all Zeppelin flights were discontinued. Marietta Blau went probably with a Lufthansa plane from Oslo to London with a stopover in Hamburg. She wanted to meet her mother in London. They went by boat from England to Mexico (Cf. Brigitte Strohmaier & Robert Rosner ďMarietta Blau Ė Stars of DisintegrationĒ Ariadne Press, p. 55).
 Leopold Halpern was according to the academic biography 1960-1961 at the University of North Carolina
 Stetter became head of the 2. Physical Institute, not the Radium Institute