Oral History Transcript — Dr. Maria Stein
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Maria Stein; May 28, 1974
ABSTRACT: Gottingen community in 1930’s; relations with Max Born, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Stein’s career in pediatrics and as refugee from Germany (left 1939 for Edinburgh); the community of physicists in New Jersey in 1941.
Weiner:Let us just identify ourselves; this is Dr. Maria Stein I’m talking with, 28 May. I think what we decided we wanted to talk about (after the photographs refreshed my mind on a lot of things, about your association with the Max Born family and with Maria Mayer-Goeppert, at New York) — is to talk a little bit about your life and family background in Germany, the background of how you became acquainted with Maria and with the Borns.
Yes. So you don’t want to know anything out of my youth, of course? I was born in Leipzig, many, many years ago, and my father was a big merchant and industrialist, and my mother was Jewish. I went to school in Leipzig and Berlin, and went to the University of Heidelberg to study medicine, and graduated in Heidelberg in 1917. And then I was married in 1918, and I worked all the time as an assistant in children’s hospitals, where my husband was assistant at the University of Prague, when we married. After the end of World War I and the revolution, he went to Halle, Germany, and from there to Gottingen, where he rehabilitated himself and became a professor. And I worked in the children’s hospital in Gottingen with Maria Goeppert’s father, as assistant.
He was director of the children’s hospital there. And Maria was a schoolchild when we met, because I was ten years older than she was. We became very friendly, the Goepperts and I, and we took Maria even on travels with my husband and me. Prof. Goeppert died in 1927, while Maria studied physics at the University of Gottingen. Oh, at the same time as my husband worked with Sir John Hopkins in Cambridge, England, Maria was a student at Gurton College in Cambridge, and I went there for three months to visit with my husband, and was very often out in Gurton College, and Maria spent many days with us. Then I divorced my husband in 1930, and started my own practice, left the Children’s Hospital and got the Board of Pediatrics, and had a children’s practice. Maria married too, in 1930, and I was of course at the wedding. I also received her with all her friends when she had passed her doctor’s examination. Max Born was her so-called “doctor-father.” Now, you want to know about Born.
Weiner:Let’s hear when you first met Born.
Stein:Born. I went to school in Leipzig with Hedi Born, who was born Ehrenberg, and her father was professor of law at the University of Leipzig. We went to school together, and got our so-called maturity examination together. You know what that means? That means the admission to the university. That’s what they call junior college here. We had a four years’ course, because there was no mixture of boys and girls yet; by the way, I was in the first woman generation who could take the medical State Boards in Germany. The previous generation had to go to Switzerland. We didn’t hear for years of each other, but met again in 1920 or ‘21. I think we were first in Gottingen, my husband and I, and then the Borns came a year or two later, and of course the friendship started again. And I met then Max Born. I had never met Max Born before. And especially after my divorce, I was constantly with the Borns. Because when they traveled, they asked me as a favor — they had a housekeeper for the children, but they always said, “You are with your bicycle back and forth, in your practice, won’t you stay the night with the children?” And I did several times when they traveled. That was my friendship with the Borns. Then came Mr. Hitler. Oh, by the way, I treated, of course, the Born children. Also the James Franck children. The Francks I met through my practice, and through the Borns, and of course, I met in the house of the Borns, Teller and Weisskopf and oh, that famous — Heisenberg — (I am not sure whether he was a Nazi.) But —
Weiner:It wasn’t your opinion then?
Stein:No, no, no, I was long gone then. And Born, Franck, Courant, there were two more, five professors, Jewish, who were thrown out by Hitler in 1933.
Weiner:There was Born, Franck, who else?
Stein:I know it was Courant because I treated the Courant children too. Then there were no other Jewish physicists any more. There was only Born and Franck. There were more of course, Pohl was there and there were lots of physicists there, but all younger people, they were mostly in the crowd of Franck and Born.
Weiner:Did you know Hilde Levi there?
Weiner:She was a student, a woman who got her PhD, I think the last one in that —
Stein:— in that group?
Weiner:—- I wasn’t sure.
Stein:No, I didn’t meet her. But that doesn’t mean that I met everybody. I met Einstein there once, in the house. And a man from Holland whom I recognize here, Ehrenfest, and all the younger group I met who worked with Born. Like Weizsacker and Teller. But Teller I met mostly later in Leonia, New Jersey, where I lived with Maria and Joe.
Weiner:Let me ask a question about the general atmosphere in Germany at that time. Your circle was a special circle of professors and people connected with —
Stein:— unfortunately, yes. What here are the rich people, were the professors in Germany. Because we didn’t care whether somebody was rich or poor, we wanted the education, educated people.
Weiner:So your circle was made up of —
Stein:Yes, very much. I say unfortunately. I think I was the only person of all these people who had friends in the city, and that came of course probably due to my practice.
Weiner:In this case, what was the atmosphere? Was there any feeling that the situation was deteriorating in Germany, even before Hitler came into power?
Stein:No. Not before Hitler came to power. I mean, the political situation was awful. Beyond his age, old Hindenburg was impossible.
Weiner:What about the relative security of academics in their profession?
Stein:After World War I, it was very insecure, because the salaries were so low that the assistants, the young professors, asked the government if they could at least get as much salary as a cleaning woman — which was, of course, a slight exaggeration.
Weiner:The social atmosphere too, was this group aware of any changes taking place in terms of the whole morale of the country?
Stein:No. It was like a little circle so completely —
Weiner:— an enclave?
Stein:Ja, ja — and I think all the university cities were that way. Of course Heidelberg was exactly the same, where I worked for six years, and I knew how it was there. Of course, I ended my career there, my official career as a student, in ‘17, but I was visiting very often later.
Weiner:What about the economic situation? What I’m trying to get at, was there real discussion —?
Stein:It was really — except the real professors; the extraordinary professors, and the young privatdozenter who got lousy salary. I didn’t suffer very much because I had a rich father still; but he lost all his money like everybody else in the inflation. It was terrible. But I enjoyed it — sort of. You know, we were so young. I still remember when we women got the salary three times a week; because our mark went to a billion, what we got salary for three days would buy just a half of bread. And we enjoyed it. You know, we young people. I can’t say how the old people felt at that time, because I was the young group.
Weiner:When Hitler took power in January, ‘33, there was the culmination of a whole series of events. Was there a discussion about the threat of Nazism, after all these things started?
Stein:The threat was long before. I remember a Sunday afternoon, I was supposed to visit the Borns, and I went from my house, which was on a hill, down to the Borns, who lived very close. We were almost neighbors, and I went, and there came perhaps 50 boys, already dressed in Hitler suits, and they sang, “When the Jewish Blood Rolls from the Knife.” I had to hold myself somewhere, I remember, on a garden gate, and then I went on to the Borns. And Max and I sat alone for a while, and I said to Max, “This is the worst thing I have ever been through, this — song.” And Max said, “It comes worse, it will come worse.” And so, that was the beginning. I didn’t notice very much, because I was a so-called “Christian.” My brother was a soldier from the first day in World War I, a volunteer, but he was also a medical student and was used as a young doctor. Thank goodness, he never shot anything but a white owl in Russia. I was already terribly against the war, of course. I was married at the end of the war to a man from Vienna, who was of course, a young assistant at Prague University as I told you before. At the end of the war, when I had finished my intern years, I was for three or four months volunteer physician in the Austrian Army, in Poland in a hospital for infectious diseases, typhoid, typhus, cholera. I got from Hindenburg, (which was given to me by Hitler) — I mean, not personally, I never saw the man personally — a cross, not the Iron Cross, but a Cross for participants in the war. So I had this very questionable honor, too.
Weiner:Did this give you a certain feeling of security in your own —
Stein:No! Absolutely not. I mean, I was secure, because I — I don’t want to go on about my private life. I had a very lovely private life, and I was to be married again, to a German professor at Gottingen. And of course, it was out, as soon as I was classified as a Jew. He would have lost his position immediately. He died two years ago. We were in connection all the years through letters. Anyway, I lost my practice.
Stein:No, it was what England had, what we had since Bismarck in Germany, krankenkassen.
Stein:Socialized medicine. I lost that in ‘35. Then I knew it was out, because all these professors whose children I treated that were Jewish philosophers, etc., Misch and all these people in Gottingen, — they all left.
Weiner:One of the people you didn’t mention before, was Panofsky there? Panofsky, the art historian?
Stein:I know the name and I probably met him, but I don’t remember him.
Weiner:Irwin Panofsky — his son is the one that’s at Stanford now.
Stein:I don’t remember him, but Misch’s son-in-law is in Stanford and is very famous, he’s also a physicist.
Weiner:What’s his name?
Stein:I don’t know any more. I was in their house when Misch visited them from Germany after the war. After Hitler was gone, Misch came back from England, like Born did. Unfortunately, I think — that’s one thing I never forgive Born, that they went back.
Weiner:That they settled in Germany, finally.
Stein:Because Born was completely Jewish, Hedi was half Jewish, her father was Jewish, and they went back, built a house. Of course they had lots of money in Germany. Born was a rich man. His father was an anatomist in Breslau University and wrote a book which every medical student in Germany had to have. You see, he had a lot of money.
Weiner:You retained your position up through 1935?
Stein:Yes, I had private practice still, a little bit, but I didn’t earn really much anymore.
Weiner:By that time Born had left.
Stein:Yes, Born left in ‘33. Franck left in ‘33.
Weiner:Right and Maria Goeppert had left?
Stein:Oh, ‘30, but she came visiting several times. She came with her child and I always treated the child, and Marianne was several times sick when she was in Germany with her grandmother, and she lived quite a while with her grandmother. Maria left her there for several months once, and Frau Goeppert did not dare to do a thing without me. She always called me for the littlest thing.
Weiner:Well, she wasn’t sure —
Stein:— no, of course not.
Weiner:Did Maria talk to you or write to you during that period?
Oh yes, from time to time, we wrote. Then, the thing was that one evening, in ‘36, I got a telephone call from Frau Goeppert saying, “Maria, do you want to take over my theatre tickets?” She had a subscription for the theatre. “I don’t feel good.” I said, “I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t, I have my friend — she knew about my friend” “I have my friend for supper, I can’t, I have already prepared supper.” In the middle of this talk with me, she stopped — but the telephone, I heard, was not hung up. So I knew something must have happened. I went down, got my bicycle and in five minutes I was in the house of the Goepperts. I rang the bell, the maid opened me and I said, “Where is Frau Goeppert?” “Oh, she’s upstairs dressing.” There was a telephone upstairs too in the bedroom. “Dressing for the theatre.” I went up, and here was Frau Goeppert stretched out, completely unconscious, on the bed. The telephone was lying on the floor. That was her last word she ever said in her life — to me.
So I called immediately the professor of internal medicine, Professor Straub, who was an internist, and he came right over from his hospital, and said, “Yes, you are right, it’s a stroke. But we can’t get her moving tonight, I’ll get a nurse for her.” So he tried to phone, he phoned three or four times, couldn’t get a nurse — the same thing as it is here — and I said, “Then I want to stay the night with Frau Goeppert.” And I was the one, I wasn’t named, but in that book it says, some friend called Maria in America, got her over. And I made the overseas phone calls that night. I said to the maid, “You sit here, I get my tooth brush, a little bit of night stuff — “I rushed home, phoned my friend, “I can’t have you,” and went back to Frau Goeppert. And the next morning, I went in the hospital ambulance with her. And she never woke up. After three days, she died. I was there every day, and she never woke up. Then when Maria came, she saw her mother before she was buried. Then that was the time when Maria said, “When you ever want something from us, please call.” Then, I had no intention to leave Germany. I wanted still to marry there, again. But two years later I knew it was completely impossible, so I wrote to the Mayers, “If you want to give me the affidavit, it’s fine with me, I have to leave Germany.” And meanwhile, the Borns wanted me out of Germany — that’s really a very complicated thing. They were first — when they came from India they went first to either Oxford or Cambridge.
Stein:Cambridge — oh, ja, of course, because I knew where they lived and everything and I was three months in Cambridge, I knew Cambridge. So he was already professor in Edinburgh. Hedi Born was a Quaker, and she was secretary of the Quaker Society in Edinburgh, and she fixed it for me to get an invitation in a pastor’s house five miles out of Edinburgh, in Musselburgh. I got a very nice invitation, and immediately the Nazis were so glad to get rid of me — they had somebody less to kill, you know. I got a passport and everything very easily, only I couldn’t take a penny out of Germany. I went with $2.50 in my pocket out of Germany. I smuggled a few of my old jewelry, with a friend to Holland, and picked it up in Holland, because I was flying from Cologne to Rotterdam, where I was received by a friend of a friend who had all my things.
Weiner:What year was this?
Stein:That was ‘39.
Stein:Ja. It was high time, because my brother already was for several weeks in Buchenwald. But he got free because he had as a young doctor all the medals which were necessary, Iron Crosses, Turkish Cross, and the Saxon Medal and all this, and he had the presence of mind, when they picked him up to take him to Buchenwald, after they beat him up in front of his wife, he had all these medals in his pocket. While he was in the concentration camp, his wife fixed it up for America for him. He also had an affidavit, but from completely unknown people, in New Jersey. And he settled in New Jersey. He had a wonderful practice — he’s a gynecologist and obstetrician. So I went to Edinburgh. I stayed first a week with the Borns. Then I had finally to call up my pastor and get in that house with seven children. And when I wanted to help in that house, they were pretty well off, they had a maid and a woman coming in — it was a beautiful old mansion house, the pastor house there — and when I wanted to help, they said, “Oh, Steinie,” they called me Steinie there, “Steinie, you teach my children German. Don’t do anything in the house.” They found out how much I knew in the house. But I learned to bake scones in that house. I have forgotten it now. I stayed there for over a year. Until France was taken, that’s very interesting too. Max Born and I, we talked a lot, of course, about the invasion. We were terribly afraid. Hedi wasn’t a bit, but Max and I practically trembled when we talked about the invasion which was threatening. For two years, I carried far more than the deadly dose of a sleeping pill, very strong sleeping pill, with me, and I divided it between me and Max Born, because we both said, “We don’t fall in the hands of Hitler.”
Weiner:You had to register there as an alien in Scotland?
Stein:Oh, I got a new passport from the British; on it was printed, “Victim of Nazi Oppression.” And I threw my old passport in the Atlantic Ocean. Just threw. I came here only with this registry.
Weiner:Well, there was a time when Max Born was there, that he was threatened with internment, as so many other Germans were.
Stein:Wrong! He was already a British citizen when I was there! Because he was not — you know, the thing was that they lied so terribly, the Nazis — they all said, “Who participated in the First World War is not threatened, who fought for the Germans.” Max was asthmatic since youth. He always had some asthma. And his son, also, I treated him for asthma; for years I made exercises with Gustav Born, in Gottingen. And so he was never a war participant. But Franck was an officer.
Weiner:No, but I mean, in England there was the threat at one time, there was a certain law that the home office in England would intern any enemy aliens — after the World War II had started.
Stein:— every man, I have lots of friends where the men were interned on the Isle of Man. But the “nicest” thing is, they didn’t intern Mr. Fuchs. I met Fuchs at Born’s. He was an assistant of Max Born in Edinburgh.
Weiner:I know that. Well, the interesting thing is, when these letters came, when Born was safe, with this possibility of internment and registering, and not being allowed to go outside a certain radius — that he wrote to Lindemann at the time (who became Lord Cherwell later) complaining about this, and saying that he left Germany so his son, his family, would not be raised in fear, always being the refugee, and here he has to go through the same thing.
Stein:But Max Born was already a British citizen when I got to England. Before the war. I know that he was a citizen, because he said to me, the first or second day I was in the house, when he took me to the Botanical Gardens, and showed me Edinburgh. Because Hedi as a secretary of the Quakers, was always busy somewhere, and Max took me around, he said, “Why didn’t you go three, four years ago? You could have stayed in England then,” because only 50 German doctors could stay in England, and I was a guest and was not permitted to work — but I “worked black.” I did a lot of teaching English to very rich refugees who didn’t even know how to read an English newspaper. You can imagine how my English was, then.
Weiner:Well, better than theirs, obviously.
Stein:For sure. I made a little bit of money, and first I toward even Germans, before the war started. But I still remember the Sunday of September 1st, 1939, when the war started. We were in church. And somebody came in, one of the elders in the church — it was the Church of Scotland, not the Episcopal, the other one —
Stein:Ja, like Presbyterian — it wasn’t like our Lutheran at all. Anyway, somebody came in, interrupted his preaching and he said, “Winston Churchill has just announced that we are at war.” We all went home. And on the way home was our first air attack. The sirens, everything — I didn’t see an airplane, but the sirens were all over. When France was taken, all these poor women were sent from the West Coast to — where’s Glasgow, west or east?
Weiner:Glasgow is west.
Stein:West. Then we were from the east coast sent to the west coast, and the British government paid for me in a very nice boarding house, because I had to be taken away from my friends in Scotland.
Weiner:You say Franck was there then in Scotland?
Stein:No, Franck was never in Scotland —
Weiner:But you say he was taken?
When France was taken. And I lived there until my number came up, for three months. I took four children. Oh, that’s another story, I took four children, two of my old patients whose parents I had promised — the mother was American, the father was a German Jew, an industrial man. They were already in America, and their children were in a very nice boarding school; that was all arranged between me and Hedi Born, that there were four or five children we all knew, all professors’ children mostly, in a very nice boarding school in Edinburgh. And they were afraid — since all school children were out of the big cities — London had no children any more, Edinburgh had no children, they were all in old horribly cold castles. I visited some in their castle. I don’t know how they could stand it in winter there, because I couldn’t stand it in my place in winter. When I got my number — these children, it was really a wonderful coincidence, these two little girls got their number too. And then I was called from the Christian Refugee Council — the night before we left — if I would take two boys from Vienna with me to America whose father was already teaching in Columbia. So I had to say “yes” because they paid everything for me. So I came — I arrived in America with four children.
I sent a telegram to Maria, one to my brother, who was already for a year in America, and one to the parents of the girls and one to the parents of the boys. But we could do that only after we were out of the enemy zone. We were in a convoy, of course, and a few miles, five miles or so out of New York, we could send the telegrams. So nobody got these telegrams in time. Maria got it in time, but was in Columbia with Joe and the maid couldn’t read it, so the only people who got the telegram were the parents of the two horrible boys. Oh God, they were terrible. The nastiest little things I’ve ever had under my finger. And these parents came and got them. But we had to be picked up. You see, they didn’t let us debark, if we were not got by somebody. Maria and Joe — they had to feed us another meal, at least that they had to do — but then Maria and Joe came to the boat, and Maria said, “Is there a Dr. Stein on board?” And these ladies — there were all these helps for the refugees, you know, and they said, “There is a German woman doctor with four children on board. And Maria said, “Four children? She had not one, last year.” (laughter) That was my arrival.
Weiner:Let me ask now, before going back a little bit — did you exchange letters with Maria when she was in the United States, on her experiences, what kind of —
Stein:No, she never told me anything, and not her mother either, because this isn’t true, that she writes so many letters. She just didn’t.
Weiner:Do you have any letters she wrote from this period?
Stein:No. The only note, I gave you, in that envelope, and that was —
Weiner:Nothing from the Borns or from Maria or Joe during that whole period, no letters that you have anywhere?
Stein:No. From the Borns? I was with the Borns all the time, then I couldn’t hear from Germany. There was a six year gap. Because you couldn’t write after five years to Germany, you had to wait —
Weiner:— how about Borns’ writing to you while you while you were in Germany after they left?
Stein:Hedi was several times in Gottingen, visiting.
Weiner:But there were no letters that you have.
Stein:No. I had to leave all my papers back. I smuggled my doctors’ and my state board thing out, with my jewelry.
Weiner:It must have been a pretty miserable period though, up to 1939.
Stein:Do you know that they looked — I had about a thousand books. I took about 50 with me, my favorites. And they looked in every book, this way —
Weiner:— at each page —
Stein:— whether I had hidden money. Everything in the book. I had two SA men in my home, until I had packed everything.
Weiner:What happened to the remaining things that you didn’t —
Stein:— oh, I gave my piano away, I gave so much furniture away. I couldn’t take the money out. Oh, and I had beautiful furniture, old, I had collected. I was a collector of antiquities at the time.
Weiner:You knew you were really leaving for good, no doubt about that.
Stein:Oh yes. I knew it was a complete —
Weiner:Hadn’t things gotten pretty bad by then?
Stein:Oh, I couldn’t even go to church any more. My pastor, by the way, didn’t visit me once. He was too cowardly.
Weiner:What church were you a member of?
Stein:Lutheran. German Lutheran.
Weiner:Were you raised in that?
Weiner:So your mother was the one who was —
Stein:— out. But I went with my grandmother to the synagogue, when I visited her.
Weiner:But you were raised —
Stein:We were very — in Germany, Jews as we were, we came originally from Spain, we were all so free thinking. Nobody believed anything. I was the most pious of all the friends I had, but I lost it.
Weiner:So, you’re Sephardic Jews.
Stein:Yes. And then they intermarried. They didn’t want to be baptized then, otherwise they would be burned. They went to Holland, and at the beginning of the 19th century they came to Germany, about 1804, 1806. The things of my family, I couldn’t take out either.
Weiner:What was the reaction of Max Born, as you gathered when you came there, to his environment in Scotland?
Stein:He loved it. He made reproaches to me that I didn’t leave earlier.
Weiner:Did he feel that he was given proper recognition in the university?
Stein:Yes. Oh yes. I met quite a few people, other professors there, through the Borns. I forgot the names completely. One was a chemist, where I was very often for lunch, but I forgot the names. We never wrote later, because I was here, and the war was on.
Weiner:Did he talk about his experiences in India?
Stein:No. I have never heard Max talk about India. I’ve got heaps of photographs from Hedi, but it’s mostly their house, and botanical gardens, and festivities they were involved in, and elephants and stuff. And I still have them, but, somewhere — I couldn’t find much more than what I had right now, because I’m terribly disorganized in my little apartment. That’s why I am so inhospitable. Otherwise I would have asked you to come to me.
Weiner:We’re lucky you —
Stein:— because I am writing Braille for the blind all the time, I have all these papers around in my living room, and so — it’s terrible.
Weiner:You said that there was a scientific circle, and Born had Fuchs as one person studying with him. Do you remember others?
Stein:No. I think the only one of the younger group I met in Born’s house was Fuchs.
Weiner:Was Heinz London there? One of the Londons was there.
Weiner:I’m just dealing with that period now. Well, you didn’t have any chance to do any medical practice in Edinburgh?
Stein:Yes, I started to work in the Royal Children’s Infirmary or children’s hospital or clinic, whatever it was called, infirmary, I think. And by the way, I was the first German refugee who gave blood for the war effort there. They told me I’m the first. I wouldn’t know it, there were so many people. I worked until the war broke out. Then I didn’t dare to go anywhere.
Weiner:What was the total amount of time you spent in Scotland?
Stein:One and a half years.
Weiner:Then what happened when you came to the US?
Stein:I was picked up by Maria and Joe, came to their house, and the Kimballs — he was a chemist I think, at Columbia at the time, George Kimball, he’s dead now, but Mrs. Kimball still writes me for Christmas. She was pregnant with her first child, and asked me — that was the only sentence I understood because American English was so different from the English I had heard before, that I didn’t know what they were talking about. But Alice Kimball said to me, would I be her baby nurse? The first evening in America. I said, “Of course, yes.” And she got on Christmas Day her first baby, and I was three weeks with her, baby nursing. Had no idea of it. Maria had to show me how they bundle the children here and everything, because I had help in my practice, I didn’t unbundle my babies and bundle them. I was a much too big shot.
Unknown Man:How did you get to Walla Walla?
Stein:Oh, that’s a long story, but he doesn’t want to know that.
Stein:I was in the East, deathly afraid that I wouldn’t pass my medical boards any more, my medical state boards, and I had a friend who also had a Jewish wife; he was pathologist in Charleston, West Virginia. And one day there was a meeting in New York, and of course, he came out. He knew Maria Goeppert, and he visited them at their house, and me. He said, “Maria Stein, if you want to pass, if you’re afraid of the state boards, why don’t you come to Charleston and take the laboratory technician examination? I have a lab technicians’ school there, you can get your certificate in one year with your knowledge.” After I was about a year at Maria’s, and worked in New York on the state boards already — I had some courses, there were so many new things, I was so — just for babies — we could only treat children up to 12 years in Germany as specialists — and I had so many missing things, and then everything in English suddenly, you know — So I left Maria, and went to Charleston. My friend rented me a room close to the general hospital where he was pathologist and where I had the course. After a year, I got my certificate, but I also got after a year my state boards. I went to New York and took — I could only take it in New York, I wasn’t a citizen yet, New York or Massachusetts, and in New York I had friends and my brother, so I could live there for nothing, and stayed a few days in New York and took the state boards and got my state boards there. I had at the same time the certificate and the state boards. But I was so afraid of speaking with people that I even refused — the general hospital offered me an internship after I had the certificate. I said, “No, thank you.” At the same time, I got an offer from the state health department of West Virginia, which also was in Charleston, from the director, to work as a bacteriologist. So I worked for $175 a month, for four years.
Stein:Until the war was over. In Charleston. Then when the war was over, just then my sister-in-law died, and my brother was terribly unhappy. It was a very happy marriage. And I thought I’d stay a while with my brother. So I left my position in Charleston, went to New Jersey and stayed two months there, but looked out for a position with the government. I didn’t want to stay in the state of New York, not in the East, I knew that. I hated New York. So I got offered a position in Hawaii and in Alaska. I, of course, always take the bitter part — I took Alaska, and it was beautiful. I was a school doctor in Sitka for over a year. Then, that was in the Indian Service, or the Native Service they called it in Alaska. Then I was transferred to the largest Indian TB hospital, which is in Tacoma, and I learned TB there. That was in ‘48. Then they wanted to transfer me to a small Indian hospital where there were only two doctors. I would have been the main doctor. But I would have every second night duty, nothing doing, I leave this. At that time, they notified me — a physician who came through our hospital and who wanted to see how we did TB, said there was a position for a TB doctor in the VA hospital in Livermore, California. So I wrote to them and sent them my qualifications. One night I got two telephone calls. One was from Washington, D.C., and one was from Livermore — “Accepted as a senior physician,” with $2000 more salary a year than I had in the Indian Service — and from Washington I got a telegram, not a telephone, that I was extended for indefinite period of time. And the people in Tacoma didn’t want to let me go. “Maria, you won’t like it with the veterans, I’m sure,” said my chief. I said, “But I don’t want to go to a little hospital, and ‘indefinite time’ can be two months.” So I accepted the position in Livermore. After I was in Livermore two years and one month, we got a telegram again from Washington, would one of us — we had the full quota of doctors there because it was a beautiful location, 30 miles from Palo Alto, 35 miles from San Francisco and Oakland, we went to all the concerts in Oakland. So nobody wanted to go to Walla Walla.
Weiner:This was a request to go to Walla Walla?
Stein:Yes, it was a request to volunteer to go to Walla Walla.
Weiner:What was it, a hospital?
Stein:Walla Walla had a TB hospital here. I was the last ten years chief of TB here, before I retired. Nobody said, “Yes.” So two weeks later, I got a telegram from Washington, D.C., “Would I accept a transfer to Walla Walla?” I went to my chief of staff, and I pounded on the table and I said, “I am not going!” He said, “We don’t want you to go, Maria. We can arrange that.” I went to our manager and the manager said, “You don’t need to leave. But I can tell you one thing, Walla Walla is very nice, and I know the hospital. It’s a very nice hospital. Think about it. Because you will get the next transfer too, and you know why.” Because I’m alone, have no children, no husband, and I’m cheapest to transfer, because the government pays for the transfer. So, after thinking awhile, I accepted. And I hated it here.... oh, the beginning of Walla Walla was the worst thing I have ever had in America. Chief of staff hated me, because his wife was a nurse, and he didn’t want anybody who might feel superior, but I never felt superior to a nurse. Oh, he hated me and I hated him. It was terrible. But then, everybody else was delightful, the nurses and all my colleagues. I was always in the best standing with my colleagues. And I’m still belonging, after I’m seven years retired.
Unknown Man:Well, just think, you’d have never met me and I’d have never met you, if you hadn’t come to Walla Walla.
Stein:That’s right. That’s right. And Emma Jane and all my good friends. I have lots of friends here.
Unknown Man:Could you question her a little about other physicists she might have known?
Weiner:Let me get back to New Jersey, when there were so many of them. First of all, when you came to the US, Joe and Maria were living in —
Weiner:And did you live with them?
Stein:All the time, yes.
Weiner:They had a house?
Stein:A very pretty house. She didn’t like it, but I thought it was beautiful.
Weiner:So what was the life there like and whom did you meet in that community among the physicists?
Stein:Only the physicists, unfortunately, because I never understood a word of what they talked about. Fermi. Teller. The Ureys. The Kimballs, Alice Kimball and George Kimball.
Weiner:I know Alice Kimball Smith.
Stein:It’s probably someone else. Her daughter’s married in Seattle, the child I had as a first baby.
Weiner:This is someone who’s married to someone named Smith but her name is Alice Kimball.
Stein:Oh, I don’t know what her married name is. I found her a wedding gift, but I don’t know any more.
Weiner:The Kimballs and the Ureys and the Fermis.
Stein:Yes, they were the most, because I worked for them. When the Ureys went to a picture show or the Fermis went to a picture show, I was babysitting, for a dollar. And when the Mayers were invited in one of these houses, then I was invited with them. I had a very nice position.
Unknown Man:Did you ever meet Dunning?
Stein:No. It’s not a known name to me.
Weiner:He didn’t live in Leonia.
Unknown Man:No, I was just thinking of professors I knew there.
Weiner:What was the position of the Fermis there? Did you get to know Laura Fermi at all?
Weiner:Well, she wrote about it
Stein:Yes, I still have the book.
Weiner:I saw it in your house.
Stein:Ja, I lent him the book.
Weiner:She described in Leonia — what was your impression of her and how she was adjusting to the situation at that time?
Stein:I was so badly adjusted that everybody in my eyes was wonderfully adjusted. I was so unhappy. It was my most unhappy year. It’s terrible to say, because nobody could be nicer than Maria and Joe to me, and the children, they were delightful. But I was just terribly unhappy, separated from all my German friends — oh, it was terrible. Then, all these physicists — if we didn’t play ping pong — they played bridge and I hated bridge, and they played ping pong, that I liked, that was more for my spirit. And I had so much study. I had also to take languages. I studied also the English language, though I spoke better than anybody in any of the courses, which I took, in the city. You see, I had to make that money to pay for the courses I took in New York, for my state boards. That’s why I had to make money. And I didn’t want to take anything but hospitality, of course, from Maria, and my brother couldn’t give me any money. They could have me in the house if I wanted to, but he had already his mother-in-law and his wife, and I thought — Maria was most offended when I left for Charleston, she didn’t want me to leave.
Weiner:Whereas in Edinburgh, you had contact with the Borns and people who were more in the traditional German culture.
Stein:No, I was in Edinburgh completely with Britishers, the Scots. I mean, only when I visited at least once a week the Borns for a day.
Unknown Man:Apparently you learned English from Scots. No wonder you didn’t know American English.
Stein:And gosh, have you ever heard about Hertha Sponer? She married later Franck when his first wife died. She was a good friend of mine in Germany, when she was assistant to Franck.
Weiner:Did you meet her in the US? She was in North Carolina.
Stein:Yes, I met her — I met her, wait a minute, yes, I met her when I went West and visited the Mayers in Chicago. They were all in Chicago then. And we all got together, the ones I knew, Francks and the Mayers. It was in the house of Maria. Yes. And I still remember Maria saying, “From now on, I’m not afraid any more for you.”
Weiner:When was this?
Stein:That was in Chicago, when I had my first position with the government, as a doctor.
Weiner:Do you recall in New Jersey any discussions the physicists were having about any of the new things that were happening?
Stein:Oh sure, but I didn’t understand them. I mean, I don’t understand them now. Very difficult for me even to understand the things Dr. Brattain has done. By the way, I have your papers here.
Weiner:You should attend his course —
Stein:— because I have so terribly much time, you know. I’m a hard working person.
Weiner:I can imagine that.
Unknown Man:Even now.
Stein:Never was exhausted — I always tell them, in the hospital — I wish I could come back, and would I —
Weiner:When did you see Maria Mayer in recent years?
Stein:Oh, when she was already through that stroke — Peter and her husband helped her up and I almost didn’t understand what she said, and I couldn’t understand. There was an old woman doctor living in Carmel, and later in Pacific Grove in an old people’s home; she was also a pupil of Maria’s father, only ten years before me — she died last year. And she also couldn’t understand how Maria could teach this way. And when Marianne came — Marianne came two years ago, visiting me with her husband and Wenzel, and with her daughter. Anyway, they came and he had to do something with a physicist in Walla Walla College. He stayed the night there, but he spent the day with me, and that was the last I ever heard of the family, except that Marianne writes me for Christmas. I have never heard from Joe. I didn’t get even a notification from Joe of Maria’s death. Is it true that he’s married again?
Stein:Well, who did he marry?
Weiner:Someone from the university. I met her — a very nice woman.
Stein:Yes, I’m sure it’s a nice woman, but I couldn’t imagine that. He’s over 70.
Weiner:California. OK —
Unknown Man:Do you recognize any of the people in that picture?
Stein:Is that Max?
Unknown Man:Professor Franck — saying hello, hello to Hertz, the first time they saw each other after the war.
Stein:And Halpshen. “Stevtzchen”, “Hertzchen.” This is Halpshen, yes. He looks like Hertz looked in ‘30.
Unknown Man:— I was going to ask you —
Stein:— we all thought Hertz was a complete idiot, except in physics, whatever he did.
Weiner:— I want to get back pretty soon. Let me ask you, while we can, you mentioned that Joan Dash’s book, what’s the title of it?
Stein:A LIFE OF ONE’S OWN —
Weiner:— which is the story of three women —
Stein:— three women, gifted women, the men they married, and on one thing, where she says anything about me, I — correct it.
Weiner:Well, let’s hear about that, because it might be good to understand that.
It was here, where — “Maria met an old friend of hers, a woman physician, when she came for the first time visiting — I mean, I know Maria when she was a child. I was already married. “Marianne, several times, during her long visits with her German grandmother — now Dr. Maria Stein was desperate.” That’s not the truth. “She could no longer remain in Germany.” I was never desperate until my brother was in the concentration camp. That’s the first thing not true. Ja, and plan to go to Scotland — I had no invitation yet for Scotland then. You see, all this is not quite true. But that’s right, “One day in 1936, a cable from Gottingen warns Maria that her mother was dying...” That was sent from me. But there is — it must be later, ja, there is later something. There is something where I already had the help of Goepperts and that’s absolutely not true because I didn’t need the Goepperts to help me in Germany. So the Fermis, wait a minute, “The Fermis turned to Alice Kimball, the wife of a Columbia chemistry professor.
The Kimballs, like the Fermis, became Joe and Maria’s close friends in Leonia. In some ways Alice was for Maria the prop and supporting confidante Kathryn Rice had been —” That was in Baltimore, I think, that they had met. “As a teacher of English for the Fermis, she proved to be resourceful...” That was Alice. “She had them read aloud Hiawatha,” oh, that’s not important. “Alice Kimball was the first American employer of Dr. Maria Stein, the German doctor from Gottingen who had studied with Maria’s father and left German in 1937.” I left in ‘39. I corrected that. “Remembering Maria’s promise to her, Dr. Stein now turned to the Mayers for help.” That I scratched completely out. I was a guest in Scotland, and no guest is permitted to work. And I wasn’t several years there, unfortunately. It was wonderful. I would have much rather stayed in Scotland than come to America, at that time. “They were able to bring her to the States in 1940. Dr. Stein lived with the Mayers for a year while learning English.” That’s good — because Maria and I talked all the time German. “Supporting herself meanwhile with elaborate crochet work” — what, the craziest things they’ve got in that book, that crochet work, I did that, really, I worked for money and crochet work, too, and studied medicine and watched children. “With elaborate crochet work such as place mats that were bought in quantities by the Columbia wives.” That’s true. “And going out as a baby nurse. The Kimball’s first was her first patient.” Thank goodness. Oh, what was Maria Stein.
Weiner:It’s good to get that correction.
Stein:Ja, and this woman knows a friend of mine in Seattle, who sent me the book, because she writes about Maria Mayer in this, Maria Goeppert, and he didn’t even know I was mentioned. I thanked him for the book and said, “Did you send me that thing because my name is in it?” He said, “Your name is in it?” and I told him the pages.
Weiner:Did Joan Dash ever talk with you about it?
Stein:No, but Joan Dash said to my friend in Seattle she wanted to know me, after she had written the book.
Weiner:She had interviewed Maria Mayer, and we have the transcript of the interview.
Stein:She had interviewed Maria? Oh then, Maria told her these things.
Weiner:She got it from lots of places but she based it on interviews. I have the transcript of the interviews. She came to our library for background information first, on whatever we knew, in our files, and then she went and had several interview sessions in La Jolla, and then she sent me the manuscript. I was away in Copenhagen, I had no time, so I didn’t see it until it was published. I mean, those details I wouldn’t have known anything about.
Stein:No, of course not — how could you?
Weiner:And you’re the only person who can verify them or refute them, you see? And you have.
Unknown Man:It may have been a misunderstanding, misinterpretation of the interview.
Stein:Oh ja, sure. I mean, I’m certainly not important in —
Unknown Man:— shouldn’t be so damn sensitive.
Stein:... not sensitive… but for myself, (crosstalk) I wouldn’t correct it...
Weiner:— that’s right —
Stein:— I wouldn’t say you did so and so many things wrong.
I think we’ve covered a lot of ground in a little time, and since we all have to go, we’ll meet again in an hour or so, let me stop this and thank you very much.
Stein: Ah, that was terrible.