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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Alfred Lande & Mrs. Lande

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Interview with Dr. Alfred Lande & Mrs. Lande
By Charles Weiner
October 3, 1973

Transcript

Weiner:

Hereís what I really had in mind. I know that you left Germany, came here and your official position started in 1931. I wasnít clear when you left Tubingen and why, what the atmosphere was like in Germany. I talked with Hans Bethe, who essentially came after you in Tubingen. He was there when he lost his position. Ewald was in Stuttgart or Frankfurt. But at the time, Bethe was in Tubingen and he left. So I know a little bit about the atmosphere at that time. I was very curious to know how things were there in terms of the general environment in the last few years before you left, and then why you left and what the circumstances were, also what things were like when you came here -- just the contrast.

Mrs. Lande:

We came because we didnít like it too much there and because it was wonderful here.

Lande:

Well, first of all, in 1921 I came to Tubingen, only after quite a struggle within the faculty. Paschen was very much for calling me to Tubingen, and as I said, had done this term analysis of the Zeeman effect, and he was very enthusiastic about it. And in fact, he gave one Zeeman pattern to me, and to Sommerfeld, and asked how would -- no, he did not give this, but he simply asked, ďWhat do you think will be the Zeeman type of this and that line?Ē Asked Sommerfeld and me. Sommerfeld gave a wrong answer, and I gave a right answer, and this convinced him. Then he wanted to have me in Tubingen. But part of the faculty was enormously against getting me to Tubingen, into this small town with a very narrow atmosphere, and the university was almost like a kind of family, with the director almighty, and the full professors in very great esteem, extraordinary professors, associate professors -- wives couldnít sit on a sofa, as long as ordinary[1] professorsí wives sat only on ordinary chairs. This was the atmosphere. Maybe itís a little bit exaggerated, but this was the atmosphere. But anyway, there was a party against me, for two reasons: first, they said I was a Jew. Iím of Jewish extraction, but Iím not a Jew. My grandparents were not religious Jews. Second, they said I was a Communist. I never was a Communist. I never was interested in politics at all. But this was all propaganda. They didnít want such an outsider. Well, finally Paschen won. We were accepted with some reluctance, and --

Weiner:

These objections youíre talking about came up at the time?

Lande:

Yes, at the time. I think that Foreman has described all this very correctly. Anyway, I felt very happy at the Institute, but Mrs. Lande and I didnít feel very happy in social and personal contacts. So when this offer came from Ohio State University to come for a quarter -- for one half a year -- to give lectures, this was a Godsend.

Weiner:

What was the basis of the offer? Had there been prior contact?

Lande:

No. Absolutely no. No contact, except that Professor Green of Ohio State, he doesnít live any more, came to Ohio State to talk about spectrometry with me. In fact, however, also for the purpose of inspecting me, whether I was a possible human being. And apparently he gave the signal that it was all right, that we came to Ohio State.

Weiner:

They had their eye on you? Did you know whether they were looking around Europe?

Mrs. Lande:

The question is that as was asked your advice, could you tell somebody, and then he --

Lande:

Well, anyway, we came for half a year. Then we came back from America to Tubingen, we felt the difference between this great country and -- and this small place, atmosphere, particularly with great intensity, and when a second invitation came in 1930, for another year, we -- and it was followed by the invitation to stay.

Mrs. Lande:

Even then, even then we said we would come for another limited time, but then --

Lande:

We came two times, temporarily, and after the second time, we had the invitation to stay. And we stayed. That is when we stayed here.

Weiner:

This is 1930 then.

Lande:

This was 1930, Ď31, in the winter. Then in the summer, Ď31, I came over --

Mrs. Lande:

-- our second son was born here, thatís why I stayed.

Lande:

And I remember the advice of a friend in Tubingen, Mr. Biederman, who told us, ďA position in distant America is much safer than any --Ē (crosstalk)

Mrs. Lande:

-- he thought life insurance is much better than a pension in Germany. At that time, Nazism was beginning.

Lande:

At that time the small town, particularly the small university towns had at that time all the beginnings of the real Nazi affair. Students went to Jewish cemeteries and upset gravestones. It was an over-patriotic mood -- well, any way --

Mrs. Lande:

There was the affair with a Professor Wierberite who was a Socialist -- they almost ran him out of town.

Weiner:

Tubingen was in the part of Germany which was much worse in terms of the Nazi movement, wasnít it, than some other parts.

Mrs. Lande:

Iím not sure. Tubingen wasn't too bad, Bavaria was worse.

Lande:

In fact, we came here two years before the Nazis really moved out and consequently we were in a position to help a very great many people with affidavits, to flee, to come to America.

Weiner:

Iím interested in that. Did you work with any of the organized groups?

Lande:

Yes.

Weiner:

The English group was the academic Assistance Council. The American group was the --

Lande:

Well, I worked with this group, or this group helped me a great deal, only much later, when my sister and brother with their families went to Paris, in 1933, and thought they were safe there, but then at the last moment, this New York organization helped to bring my sister over at least, but my brother stayed, and --

Mrs. Lande:

He died really from disease.

Weiner:

In Paris? I found the records of that group -- the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars. At first it was German, then Displaced Foreign Scholars, and I found the files which are preserved.

Lande:

Yes. Well, anyway, we came two years earlier, which was one of the great fortunate events in my life. There have been several. If you get 81 years old, and nothing real serious has happened to you, you are very lucky!

Weiner:

What was your reaction when you came? First of all, how well did you speak English on your first trip in 1929? Were you able to converse in English?

Lande:

Well, my beginning was that I knew very little English, and -- we came here in September, end of September. We were on the boat, beginning of September, on the boat I still had an English-German lesson book and was learning Lesson 13. But it had 24 lessons.

Mrs. Lande:

In the summer, we were in the Alps, my parents lived there, and we had an American student, and he talked more or less with us -- prepared some lectures --

Lande:

-- my lecture into English at that time. Of course, you cannot lecture with --

Mrs. Lande:

I had been in the school, gymnasium, where you didnít learn any modern languages but only Latin and Greek, but of course that didnít help me.

Lande:

So my English was even worse than Gamowís ever was. You know, these Russians never learn English.

Weiner:

You saw the letter yesterday.

Lande:

Yes, they were in English.

Weiner:

What was it, a single course you taught that first trip in 1929? Was it a series of lectures that you gave?

Lande:

Yes.

Weiner:

What subject? What was the title?

Lande:

Well, quantum theory. Iíll show you my lectures.

Mrs. Lande:

At that time, I think the department was still pretty small, and I first wished to enlarge it and to improve it, but I think Enslewer -- what was his first name? And Thomas. They both came at the same time.

Weiner:

L. H. Thomas.

Mrs. Lande:

Very nice -- this was a friendly little Englishman, I donít know whether you know him?

Weiner:

No, I never did.

Lande:

This is in German, printed in Germany, but --

Weiner:

This was published in 1930? Are these the same lectures you delivered?

Lande:

Yes, these are the lectures I gave in Columbus. Here, lectures -- no, let me see -- yes (something in German)

Weiner:

I see, thatís the subtitle which doesnít appear on the title page. I think we have this in our library. Then this was translated in advance by this student, or at least some of these lectures were translated into English?

Mrs. Lande:

His first lectures -- he had a few --

Lande:

-- I worked this -- after --

Weiner:

I see, but this was based on what you did here.

Lande:

Yes. This is essentially my lectures for two quarters.

Weiner:

Was there anyone here at the time with whom you could discuss theoretical physics?

Lande:

L. H. Thomas -- we both came at the same time. Our department head, Alfred Smith, who was a really great man -- got grants and also private support to have two theoretical physicists at the same time, two members, and L. H. Thomas is a very first class theorist. And Alfred Smith said several times to us that theoretical physicists must have company to discuss. Thatís why he had two.

Weiner:

Very interesting. This is what the Michigan people did, and what the Princeton people did with von Neumann and Wigner.

Mrs. Lande:

I didnít know that. I didnít know Alfred Smith said that.

Lande:

Yes.

Weiner:

So when L. H. Thomas came, did he come also just for the half year? or he stayed right on permanently?

Lande:

I donít know. I donít even know whether he came already in Ď29. I think he came in Ď31 at the same time for keeps as we came in Ď31 only, but Iím not sure.

Weiner:

But there was no one here on the faculty, from the older faculty, who was involved in theoretical work?

Lande:

Well, or course, not involved in theoretical work, but for instance Professor Blake gave a lecture on atomic physics, simply by teaching Sommerfeld atomic structure, spectrograms, one chapter after the other -- until I came and took over.

Weiner:

How about the laboratory facilities? Were they poorly equipped, well equipped?

Lande:

Well, comparatively well. But you know, a theoretical physicist doing his own work doesnít need much laboratory.

Mrs. Lande:

I remember that the whole physics department was one floor of Menden Hall. -- one floor, the other was optics, I remember.

Lande:

Well, much later we got this beautiful building, where physics is now -- half of it. The other half of it, a few years ago.

Weiner:

Did you find, when you finally came to settle in, that it was easy to find a place in the larger physics community? How did you communicate with other physicists in the United States, beyond the ones at Ohio State?

Lande:

Well, at that time I had several invitations to lecture and to give single advices -- one to Chicago, one to Minneapolis, one down in Kentucky, in Lexington -- no, where was it? In Kentucky. And in Iowa, with Horovitz.

Weiner:

Indiana --

Lande:

Indiana, yes, Purdue. And I forget, where else? I had a lot of contact with others.

Weiner:

Were these people you had known earlier in Europe? The people who invited you, for example, Horovitz?

Lande:

No. We didnít know them before.

Weiner:

But some of the other invitations?

Lande:

Now, Horovitz is from Vienna. The others -- they all knew about the Zeeman effect.

Weiner:

Is that what they asked you to lecture on primarily? Was that the subject?

Lande:

No, no, it was any lecture I pleased, and of course I talked about the Zeeman effect.

Weiner:

How about the Michigan summer school?

Lande:

I was not connected with it at all, but once I --

Mrs. Lande:

And at Ann Arbor, you were there --

Lande:

I was at Ann Arbor. And attended other peopleís lectures. I knew Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck from much earlier times, when I think in 1920 I was in -- and after the Zeeman effect, I had a visiting lectureship to Holland. That was in Leyden with Ehrenfest and saw Zeeman in Amsterdam, and then Einstein in --

Mrs. Lande:

-- in Copenhagen.

Lande:

And Gustav Herz in Eintoken and all these places, and these people, some of them, later came in America.

Weiner:

What about the meetings of the American Physical Society? Did you go to some of those meetings?

Lande:

Yes.

Weiner:

From the beginning? From the very start?

Lande:

Well, I donít think so. Well, let me see. I was in Minneapolis, there was a meeting --

Mrs. Lande:

For a while you went to Washington I think almost every year.

Lande:

-- Washington was a great meeting, but I donít know in which year this was, Ď31, or -- later.

Weiner:

Talking about the social life, getting settled in a new --

Mrs. Lande:

Incredibly nice. I cannot say enough -- they received us with incredible kindness. That was one of the reasons, not only the special kind of feeling -- everything was tight and anxious and depressed in Germany after the loss of the First World War. And here it was just -- we sometimes said, ďOh, we have been on the wrong side.Ē As if they would make up to us for --

Lande:

In Tubingen, personally we were just suffered. As here, we were accepted with open arms and people were incredibly kindly.

Mrs. Lande:

But not only -- it was the general atmosphere in Germany, after. A look around things, and unsatisfactory.

Lande:

We were introduced to every important person on the campus, and --

Mrs. Lande:

All these people, you know, who have names on their buildings were our close friends at that time.

Weiner:

That generation.

Mrs. Lande:

Henderson, McPherson, Alfred Smith. These people of the campus were our close friends. Numerous. I couldnít call them all.

Weiner:

Were there strict lines within the German university in your experience that would prevent this crossing over? Iím not talking about the general atmosphere you described in Germany, but within the university for example, in Tubingen, would you have the opportunity to know somebody in another department?

Mrs. Lande:

Of course. It wasnít really -- we were young and we didnít mind not seeing too much. We had a young child. No, it wasnít that bad. The contrast was so very very great.

Lande:

But in Germany it always was a class society, just as in England. In England, if you donít have the Oxford or Cambridge accent, you are just low. In Tubingen, the same thing. You know, Frau Paschen -- Frau Paschen, she was just an ordinary girl without much sophisticated German -- she never had read Goethe and Schiller probably. But she was just a wonderful person who took things in her hands and was very energetic. But her accent was folksy.

Mrs. Lande:

She didnít come from a good school.

Lande:

There were constant jokes about how Frau Paschen had expressed herself.

Mrs. Lande:

And it wasnít only Frau Paschen. It was the wife of the minister Ebert, Mrs. Ebert was the goal of jokes too, because she too didnít speak the German which we talked who came from a good school.

Weiner:

You mean Ella Abel?

Mrs. Lande:

Ebert. Oh now Ella Abel is an intimate friend from that time.

Lande:

Well, here is of course a great difference between Southern and Northern, but not a great difference between how a professor and a plumber speaks. Of course here this doesnít make any difference -- you consider everybody your equal. But in old Europe, not only in Germany, in every country, there was this upper class and middle, the upper middle class, the lower middle class, and the lower class.

Mrs. Lande:

You see, there was no getting out of that. The son of a workman never could have made it in any university or college. A completely absolutely tight class -- and that contrasted with here, very much.

Weiner:

So this appealed to you very much, the openness of the society.

Mrs. Lande:

Yes.

Weiner:

What about the continuation of your work in the 1930ís? Did you find, other than lecturing at other universities, did you find a group of people you worked closely with in terms of communicating regularly?

Lande:

No, but this is purely personal. I never worked with a group but always worked as a loner. Completely alone. Except I discussed things with Thomas. But this just personally -- I donít have pupils to speak of. But I always had my own problem, and didnít expand, and worked on it for many years. I worked on the one problem, to derive quantum mechanics from more elementary principles. There are very few people interested in this problem, and just because I worked quite alone and had nobody else to discuss all of this, I made very slow progress. This is just my way of working. I took one big problem and worked on it until could solve it.

Weiner:

It reminds me of Paul Ewald who worked the same way.

Lande:

Well, Ewald was very expansive, and very organized.

Weiner:

But he followed a specific idea and worked on it without a great group working with him.

Mrs. Lande:

I want to make that clear, the Ewalds are close friends. Eva Ewald was my childhood friend. All our lives we have been almost family.

Weiner:

What about ties with experimentalists here? Was there anything that was similar to what you had in Germany when you were working reasonably close to people who were doing very important experimental work, generating data that was important?

Lande:

Well, I was privat-docent in Frankfurt, and there just at this time when Stern, also with some help from Garner, had his atomic wave experiments. And the first, the splitting -- the Serber wave -- for which he got the Nobel Prize. This was in Frankfurt. And then in Tubingen, there was Paschen.

Weiner:

That was my question. Then when you came here, was there anyone doing experimental work that you were in touch with?

Lande:

No.

Weiner:

What kinds of courses then did you offer, once you got settled here?

Lande:

Well, first I had my graduate course in quantum theory, and quantum mechanics, which became clarified very very slowly. People simply had amazing forms that were to replace the momentum by operator and very mysterious complex imaginary functions and so on, until all this gradually cleared. I had my lectures on quantum theory. Then I had always one three-hour lecture on either thermodynamics or optics, and then an undergraduate course, either medical students or engineers.

Weiner:

What was the undergraduate course? Land: Just -- I didnít like the course for medical students at all, because they had no interest at all. They were only there because it was a must, and had no desire to understand anything really. Whereas I enjoyed the courses for engineers very much, because they wanted to learn something, and many things became clear to me only when I had to teach them. Which is a wonderful thing. Thereís nothing better to learn a subject than to teach it. If anything was not clear, the students realize it immediately and put you on the spot.

Weiner:

Was this a course in theoretical physics? What was it called, the one for engineers?

Lande:

The whole physics. The whole physics -- mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, and what else, acoustics. Alfred Smithís book has come out in many editions, and I simply taught along this book. For medical students, and for engineering students we also had a book which was not so very good, in my opinion, and in the opinion of others who also tried to teach according to it, it wasnít very good, until Shortly and Williams came out, which, from the first moment on, everybody was enthusiastic about it. Consequently itís now accepted by about, I donít know, 80 colleges also.

Weiner:

Theyíre still using it.

Lande:

Itís so spectacularly better than many others.

Weiner:

Now, during this period in the 1930ís, was there much of an effect on the work here because of the Depression, in terms of affecting budget, affecting the pay of professors?

Lande:

Iím sorry, I canít say anything about that, I have very little idea about it, because in my first few department meetings, business meetings, I felt so absolutely inept in these things that they let me out from there on. This was very pleasant for myself, but the consequence was that I didnít have the slightest influence on anything happening in the department. I told you, Iím a loner. Business things, I have no sense for.

Weiner:

Did you find the approach to lecturing any different in an American university than in Tubingen?

Lande:

Oh yes. In Tubingen, one lectured. Here, there is a constant give and take with the students during the lectures. In Germany, in all the old countries, a student just had to listen. Had to listen.

Mrs. Lande:

Thereís an enormous distance between the teacher and the student. I donít think -- itís just, heís not a human.

Lande:

He sits there in the dark, and the professor in the limelight. I remember during my student days in Gottingen, during the lecture nobody asked anything. Afterwards, you could come to the desk and ask questions. But very few dared. Whereas here, students just talk, they just talk.

Mrs. Lande:

In general, I think students feel a competency, they have no hesitancy -- ďNow, thatís impossible.Ē No hesitancy.

Weiner:

Was it a shock to you at first to have students --

Lande:

Well, it was a shock when I came in the class and one student had his feet on my desk. Then I took my crayon, chalk, and made a circle around it, around his feet. Then he took it off.

Weiner:

This was when you first started here?

Lande:

This American informality was very pleasant for us to discover.

Weiner:

So it didnít frighten you or embarrass you.

Mrs. Lande:

We mentioned before, sitting on the davenport -- there were two or three -- there was such a difference between an ordinary professor, an extraordinary, and a privat-docent. The difference in social status couldnít be bridged.

Lande:

Everywhere was a class, and everybody was conscious of his position in this class system.

Weiner:

You came here, you started at what rank?

Lande:

Professor.

Weiner:

But youíre saying it didnít really matter anyway because of the openness.

Mrs. Lande:

It didnít matter so much with the women, with the wives too.

Weiner:

At the end of the thirties, what was the effect of World War II on the work here? How did that affect what was going on?

Lande:

Well, of course, there were fewer students, and of course students became soldiers.

Mrs. Lande:

You mean after the Second World War?

Weiner:

No, meant during. For example, did this mean that some of the faculty went away?

Lande:

In Germany?

Weiner:

No, here. In the United States, World War II

Lande:

-- no, of course it was --

Mrs. Lande:

-- in the leg but only in the leg.

Weiner:

When did you become a citizen?

Lande:

In Ď37, after five years.

Weiner:

I see, you took out the papers immediately.

Mrs. Lande:

I did it later.

Lande:

Well, in January Ď37, that means after five years.

Weiner:

What about contacts with colleagues who still were in Germany? You mentioned people who had to leave, and whom you helped. I know that you corresponded with Max Born, but if you look at some of the letters, some are from the thirties and he had left in about Ď33, Ď34. But what about others? Did you keep in touch with anyone in Germany up through Ď36, Ď37? Was there any correspondence with Paschen?

Lande:

You see, after Ď33, the first thing was, I resigned from the German Physical Society, with a letter calling me very very questionable. And I was in contact only with very few people after that.

Mrs. Lande:

So did Einstein, you know, thereís a famous story about Einstein declining all the honors. Born and others.

Lande:

Einstein was one of the very early ones. He was one of the early emigrants.

Lande:

Born -- All of my close contacts left Germany. Ladenberg.

Weiner:

Ladenberg left already in 1930.

Mrs. Lande:

Ladenberg came with us on the boat.

Weiner:

He did? First time or second time? Both at once: Think the first.

Lande:

Ladenberg and Louer were on the same boat --

Mrs. Lande:

-- yes, with us --

Lande:

-- on which we emigrated. On which we came on our first visit.

Weiner:

Ladenberg stayed, Louer --

Mrs. Lande:

Louer went back, but Louer came later.

Lande:

And Louer was one of the few with which we still had contact. He wrote us letters, if they had been opened by the Nazis it would have been very bad for him. Louer was one of the few courageous people. I think I have his letters, in this package.

Weiner:

I think I saw that, that little package.

Mrs. Lande:

Both Louer and Ladenberg and his wife -- And so, one of the others, London, left; Heisenberg left, they all went up to the Hague.

Lande:

They all left Germany in time, and were received with open arms in America. Let me see --

Lande:

This is from Louer, Ď35.

Mrs. Lande:

Yes. One of the first things that Alfred tried, to get an invitation for Born here, and that came, but by then he had received something else.

Weiner:

To stay here, for Born?

Mrs. Lande:

Yes, an invitation. Donít remember how.

Lande:

Ösecret police, and this is from Ö Ď31, Ď35.

Weiner:

Well, thatís pretty late. Were there many lecturers visiting from Europe in the 1930s at the time of your arrival?

Lande:

Oh yes. Well, ďmanyĒ is a relative expression.

Weiner:

Well, by that I mean, letís say in a given year.

Lande:

One didnít hear very much of it because there was always secret work at the border --

Weiner:

I was thinking of before the war, from 1931-39.

Mrs. Lande:

Well, it was just the time of Los Alamos --

Weiner:

No, that was from Ď42, the bomb work was from Ď42 on.

Mrs. Lande:

Hans was somebody whom we have always been engaged with --

Lande:

But how secret the whole thing was, for instance, I as a physicist hadnít Ö (off tape) and wanted to see James Hunt, who worked on this project some way. I went to the physics laboratory there, and was astonished about, everywhere controls, I had to show my card and so on. I hadnít the slightest idea there was something secret going on. This was in 191i0. The news about the bomb was just as surprising to me as to other people.

Weiner:

There was nothing going on here related to that work, though there were war projects --

Lande:

No, on that, no.

Weiner:

Someone who was at dinner with us last night said heís going to bring me some report about the history of the war work here, and send it to me for our archives. So that should fill in some of the details about what was going on. That should be very very interesting. Well, I was thinking about the contact, for example, with Max Born. Was it with the intention of trying to get him to stay here, to get a position for him?

Mrs. Lande:

He was -- I just referred to that because he had asked people here to invite Born.

Weiner:

To lecture or to stay?

Lande:

In 1933 --

Mrs. Lande:

--immediately after -- in the moment when Hitler came to power --

Lande:

Born fled from Germany, first to Switzerland --

Mrs. Lande:

-- Austria, I think --

Lande:

I went around to several people here in Columbus to get an invitation for Born to come here, at least for a time. You never can come here and be immediately engaged for keeps, before anybody knows you. So, and Born got this official invitation but declined it because he had something else, I think he came at Cambridge.

Weiner:

He had some temporary thing in Cambridge. Then he had to take a position in India.

Mrs. Lande:

He mentioned that in the book.

Weiner:

His letters from India to Rutherford are fascinating because he tells of the terrible politics, the scientific politics there in India, which he would have been involved in, I mean which he witnessed and was affected by. Then he went to Edinburgh eventually.

Mrs. Lande:

Very soon afterwards, when England -- Kulo (?) couldnít have come here -- was very much with us -- he talked about England.

Weiner:

Did you you ever go back to Germany after you left in 1931?

Lande:

We traveled by train once or twice through Germany, and once also was in my home town and saw the destruction -- everything, you couldnít recognize the town any more. But we didnít -- no, not again. After all that had happened.

Mrs. Lande:

We were in Frankfurt, I think.

Lande:

I also was in Frankfurt, yes.

Weiner:

This is all after the war.

Lande:

After the war, yes.

Weiner:

You never went back in those earlier years for summers, anything like that?

Lande:

No.

[1]The rank of "ordinarius" or ordinary professor in Germany is equivalent to the American rank of full professor.