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Interview of Aleksei Kozyrev by Robert A. McCutcheon on 1987 December 1, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5035
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This interview with A. A. Kozyrev (1916-18) covers the early career of his brother, the astrophysicist N. A. Kozyrev (1908-83). It begins with N. A. Kozyrev’s childhood in Irkutsk, where he first became interested in astronomy. A. A. Kozyrev continues with the family’s move, to Leningrad and talks about N. A. Kozyrev’s student years at Leningrad State University -- in particular his friendship with V. A. Ambartsumian (b. 1908) and reminiscences of various professors. The interview then moves to N. A. Kozyrev’s years at Pulkovo Observatory. A. A. Kozyrev mentions his brother’s contacts with various foreign astronomers and describes the 1934 visit by S. Chandrasekhar. He discusses his brother’s work on the Commission for Study of the Sun and his poor relations with the observatory director, B. P. Gerasimovich (1889-1937). The interview deals at length with the worsening situation at Pulkovo that culminated in the mass arrests of astronomers beginning in October 1936. A. A. Kozyrev describes his brother’s arrest, imprisonment, transfer to a corrective labor camp, and ultimate release that was brought about through the intervention of G. A. Sham (1892-1956). The interview ends with a brief mention of N. A. Kozyrev’s experiences following his return to Pulkovo Observatory.
Good, let’s start. In regard to your family, I would like to find out, for example, what your parents did for a living.
My father was a geologist, more precisely a hydrogeologist. His most important work in the area of geology was his Short Hydrogeological Sketch of Kazakhstan. He wrote this work after he had suffered a stroke. He was very ill, but this didn’t even prevent him from going out on geological expeditions, from continuing his geological work. He died from an infarction in 1930.
In what university or institute did he work?
He worked in VseGI, which is now called the All-Union Geological Institute. Earlier, when he worked there, it was called the Geological Committee. At the same time he also worked In the Hydrogeological Institute, whose director was Glushkov. Glushkov was a close acquaintance of Numerov and was arrested even earlier than my brother.
From the Geological Committee?
Glushkov was director of the Hydrogeological Institute This was an independent institute
Here in Leningrad?
Yes, here in Leningrad. My mother was a homemaker, as they say, and raised the children.
Understood. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Two sisters and one brother — Nikolai Aleksandrovich.
Did they also go into science?
They did not become scientists. My older sister graduated from the Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad, but she never became a teacher. She worked as a bibliographer in the Geological Committee, where our father had found a job for her. My younger sister graduated from the foreign language institute and worked as a teacher — she taught English.
You are the youngest?
Yes, I am the youngest. I am eight years younger than my brother.
Yes. He was born in 1908, and I was born in 1916.
And he was the oldest?
No. The oldest was my sister, who was born in 1903. There was a large [age] difference.
When you were a child did your family constantly live in Petrograd — Leningrad — or did you move here?
No, we came to Leningrad from Irkutsk sometime — I don’t remember precisely — in 1925 or 1926. The first one to return was my father, who set up our apartment on the Griboedov Canal, where he moved everything that remained from our former rather luxurious surroundings on Vasilevskii Island, where we had lived. We moved into a house that previously had belonged to a relative. The whole house had belonged to him. He rented apartments, and in particular he rented one apartment to a very well-known doctor who headed the dermatology department at the medical academy — Timofei Pavlovich Pavlov. His son, Timofei Pavlovich Pavlov’s [son], Sergei Timofeevich later inherited the apartment and during the war with fascist Germany occupied a very important post — dermatologist of the entire Soviet army with the rank of lieutenant general.
How was it that your family had been Irkutsk? Had you moved there during the Civil War or did you [already] live there before the Revolution?
You know, all of us, all the children, were born in Petersburg, in Petrograd, but the Revolution found us in Samara because Samara was my parent’s, my mother and father’s, home town. And then somehow we ended up… I don’t remember how, because at the time I was in only a half conscious state — we ended up in Irkutsk. But after Irkutsk was occupied by units of the Red Army, my father also worked there in his specialty for a time, and my brother went to school there — I am probably anticipating your next question—and became very interested in astronomy. I will tell you in more detail how he was carried away by astronomy.
Yes, I would like to know. How did he become interested in astronomy?
It was only one person who interested him astronomy. Later this person played a probably not very good role in his life, but these are, so to say, just vague suspicions. Speaking for myself I don’t know anything bad about him, but… This person was called Leonid Kolerin. He was significantly older than my brother, with whom he became acquainted in Irkutsk. He [Leonid Kolerin] interested him [my brother] in astronomy, and I remember what a particular joy it was for my brother when our father bought him a spyglass, such a very small one, but which could be placed on a tripod and looking through which you could see a vague relief and observe something.
This is when he was in school in Irkutsk?
Yes, when he was in the middle classes in Irkutsk. Later, when my brother was in Leningrad.
I know that here there was the Mirovedenie [amateur astronomy] society.
He joined the Mirovedenie society. Leonid Kolerin stayed behind in Irkutsk, but later he came to Leningrad and for a time lived in our apartment as an old friend. My brother had become friends with other members of the Mirovedenie society, however. I don’t remember very well with whom precisely, because this relates to my brother’s school years. He graduated from a school on ul. Truda, which is now called ul. Dozend [?] and is located near the Central Square and in which I later studied. After graduating from school he had either to enter a so-called Rabfak so as to enroll in the university, or enter a VUZ [higher educational institution], which did not require such preparation.
So at that time the simple fact that you had graduated from high school was not sufficient for entry into the university?
Yes, evidently. It was necessary… Because they still conducted some sort of selection process for the university. But my brother finished school very early because he had skipped one class. School lasted nine years at that time.
Not like now…
Yes, he studied a total of eight years in school because he had skipped a class and, it seems, I don’t remember precisely, but it seems that on had to be of a certain age so as to enroll in the first year at the university. At the time he was only fifteen years old. Therefore the university did not accept him, but the Pedagogical Institute did. He studied…
Wasn’t it there that he met Viktor Amazaspovich Ambartsumian? In the Pedagogical Institute?
Yes, because it seems he had been in the same situation.
He was also fifteen years old at the time.
Yes, yes, they are the same age. They were both born in 1908, so that evidently for these reasons they [both] studied for some time in the Pedagogical Institute.
As far as I remember, it was perhaps a year later that they transferred to LGU?
After one or two years, I don’t remember precisely, but it seems to me that they transferred to the third course. And when they transferred there they formed an “Astronomy Department” — a small club that published its own journal using a typewriter.
Good. So there was a club there in the university?
Yes. For short the club was called the “Astrokab.”
“Astrokab” — astronomy faculty?
Yes, astronomy faculty was abbreviated as astro-kab.
Was there an Astronomy Department at the university at that time? I thought there wasn’t one there at that time.
No, at that time there was [only] a Physics Department.
But there was an observatory?
The University had an observatory and there was astronomy major in… the physics or mathematics… I can’t say precisely, but I know that Ambartsumian and my brother organized an “astronomy faculty” where specialized scientific work was carried out and where in addition they published a journal with caricatures and poems. In particular, the well-known physicist Bronshtein, with whom my brother and Ambartsumian had become good friends at that time, took part in this journal. He dedicated a sonnet to this journal when the journal celebrated its first anniversary, and I still remember these words: Shine forth, Astro-comic journal! You have been, favored with the highest honor. Kostinskii himself has rewritten you! Kostinskii was a professor at the university when my brother was studying there.
Wasn’t he an astronomer — Kostinskii — at Pulkovo Observatory?
Yes he was. He, like Ambartsumian later on, worked both at Pulkovo and in the university. Such double positions were allowed then. But it must be said that Kostinskii was not very popular among the students.
He was an old astronomer.
He was old, and he was, it seems, a very boring lecturer. The following epigram concerning him was placed in the “Astro-comic Journal.” His name was Sergei Kostantinovich, and his abbreviation was the nickname SK. The epigram was: If you want to die of weariness, study with 5K. In addition they had a professor named Gorshkov. Petr Mikhailovich, I think, if I am not mistaken. I think that’s right — Petr Mikhailovich Gorshkov — with whom they also didn’t get along very well. No, their relations were good, but they used to make a little fun of him too. They also placed verses about Gorshkov in the “Astro-comic Journal” that were written, it seems, also by Bronshtein, although perhaps by someone else, which described his trip to Frankfurt to see the astronomer, if I am not mistaken, Brendel. Wasn’t there an astronomer by this name?
Yes, yes, Brendel. He was, I think, head of the Computing Institute in Berlin at that time. He was either there, or he was a minor planet researcher — also in Germany at that time.
Yes, yes, he was a minor planet researcher in Frankfurt. So Gorshkov went on a trip, and after this trip, so said the evil tongues of the students, he became completely stupid. For this reason the Astro-kab journal printed the following verses, which I of course do not remember completely, that parody Pushkin’s “Prophet” Pushkin’s “Prophet” begins: With a spiritual thirst we languish. Through a stunted desert I dragged myself, when the four-winged Seraphim appeared to me at the cross-roads, Whereas the poem about Gorshkov began as follows: Having a defect in my brain, I dragged myself to Brendel in Frankfurt. A four-volume lexicon Appeared to me at the cross-roads and tore out my sinful tongue. And so on… what he did with it…
When I was with Viktor Amazaspovich Ambartsumian, he told me that at that time the director of Pulkovo Observatory, Ivanovo, also taught in the university. What do you remember about him? Or did your brother tell you anything about him?
I think the relations between them were good. At least they didn’t make jokes about him. When I was still little it was mainly the jokes, the anecdotes, which made their way to me.
At that time did Gamow also take part in this club? Or was he older?
No, he was older. He was older and did not, I think, take part in the club. In general I met Gamow much later, after my brother had already graduated from the university.
It seems that while still a student your brother worked at Pulkovo as… did his laboratory work with Belopolskii.
Yes. In the first place, during his fourth or fifth year my brother and Ambartsumian wrote various articles jointly [for] Monthly Notices, Astronomische Nachrichten, and other journals. These articles, as far as I know, mainly dealt with stellar atmospheres.
And also sunspots?
Sunspots, yes. But my brother then was very interested in the subject of pulsating stellar atmospheres, in particular [he published] works on the Cepheid’s. And so my brother established new contacts and corresponded with foreign scientists, in particular with Miln and Chandrasekhar. Miln wrote to my brother. Chandrasekhar… among those that I remember.
At that time he was still a student in the university?
Yes, he was still a student. Yes, yes, yes, there was Hilbert also. Yes, he also received a letter from Hubert. He was an important specialist in the theory of relativity in mathematics.
And so, he had already published some articles before graduating from the university?
Before he graduated from the university, and he received a lively response from such well-known specialists as Miln.
Did your brother tell you anything about Belopolskii?
Yes, my brother always spoke about Belopolskii simply with reverence. He was attracted by the very image of Aristarkh Appollonovich and considered himself to be his student. He was very happy when Belopolskii gave him a portrait painted by the Pulkovo astronomer Morin.
This was a portrait of Belopolskii?
This was a portrait of Belopolskii painted by Morin. And Belopolskii’s portrait in my brother’s office… it was in our apartment… I remember that Belopolskii and his wife came to us on that very day when Belopolskii brought this painting as a gift…
You could say that they had very good, close relations?
Yes, very good relations. Belopolskii treated him very well… both my brother and Ambartsumian… and in my opinion he treated my brother better [than Ambartsumian]. I remember Belopolskii as a very happy, witty man who never parted with his Pulkovo cap and who had a sort of large wart on his cheek that did not at all disfigure him but rather, on the contrary, gave him an even solemn look.
But then, when your brother graduated from the university, as far as I have read in his biography, at first he worked in the Leningrad Institute of Railroad Transport? And also in the pedagogical. How did this come about?
Well, first of all, your information is not quite accurate. He worked not in an institute of railroad transport, but of automobile transport.
Yes. That’s in the first place. In the second place he combined [this work) with his graduate studies, which he carried out at Pulkovo Observatory. It’s just that his graduate student stipend was not very large, and so as to have money… Well, a young man always needs money for amusement.
Graduate students are alike in all countries at all times — there is never enough money.
That’s how it was here, and so my brother worked in the Institute of Automobile Transport, which at that time was located on Moscow Prospect. Back then it was in a completely uninhabited region that was called Middle Turnpike — on the very edge of the city. He also worked in the Pedagogical Institute for very long. From there he transferred to the Military-Naval School. He taught there also, and I even remember my brother in a naval officer’s uniform.
That was, perhaps, in about 1929 or 1930?
No, that was likely somewhat later, in 1932-33. [He continued to work there] even after he completed his graduate work. That was very common then: to work in one or another scientific institute and teach somewhere not just in one, bet in several [institutes]…
And so, when did he complete his graduate work? That was in 1931, right?
Yes, graduate studies lasted for three years, so that apparently was in 1931.
And he was invited immediately to join the staff at Pulkovo Observatory?
Yes, right away. On recommendation from Academician Belopolskii he began to work under his [Belopolskii’s] direction on the 30-inch refractor and carry out observations… His work obligation concerned the sun, but nevertheless his field of interest was…
And this was, in particular, the work that was continued by Chandrasekhar, right?
Yes, Chandrasekhar visited us, I believe, in 1933 or 1934. I remember that in Leningrad at that time there were very few foreigners. It was very rare to see a Negro or a Hindu, and so when by brother, Chandrasekhar, and I walked along the Nevskii, many street urchins would run ahead, look at him, and say: “Look, they’re leading a Negro!”
And he stayed with you?
Yes, he was in our apartment, he spent the night with us. And I was very disillusioned. I ran to the stores, I bought wine; I found good candy and cookies to treat him to. And what happened? He took a little bag containing some small balls out of his pocket, placed them on the table and said that that would be his dinner. But what about the wine, the candy? “I don’t eat that food,” he said. He sucked on those balls and said he would go to pray and then go to bed.
Pray and go to bed.
Pray to God and go to bed. Thus the gala supper did not take place.
Were there any other foreign astronomers who… This isn’t in my list of questions. Were there other foreign astronomers who…
Who came to visit us? No, perhaps someone came when I wasn’t there, when I was away. The time with Chandrasekhar somehow stuck in my memory, and then I remember how he and my brother had a lively discussion about the theory that later was called the Chandrasekhar-Kozyrev theory. My brother was somewhat surprised when Chandrasekhar gave a paper and somewhat… I don’t want to say anything bad but I recall what my brother said when either Miln or someone else among the important scientists shook Chandrasekhar’s hand and said he had read his article-“congratulate you with your beautiful paper.” My brother said that that was not altogether “his paper.”
I see, I see.
Well, that’s along the lines of gossip. Please forgive me, if you can, Chandrasekhar.
I will cut that part out. Let’s continue. I think that you already mentioned previously that at that time your brother still lived in the city. He had not yet moved to the observatory, right?
No, my brother lived both in the observatory and in the city. We had an apartment in the city. At first it was a separate apartment, but later it gradually turned into a communal apartment. First one tenant moved in, then the astronomer Leonid Kolerin came from Irkutsk and lived behind a screen in the room where I lived. And. I must say that the atmosphere surrounding Kolerin, the women and men who came to see him, were not at all from our circle. My brother broke his friendship with him completely and in general soon afterward proposed that he [Kolerin] leave despite the fact that childhood friendship had once united them.
I know almost nothing about him. Did he work as an astronomer in Leningrad?
No, in Irkutsk.
Right, but when he moved to Leningrad?
He moved to Leningrad in connection with his dissertation defense. He was preparing his candidate’s dissertation and was sent from Irkutsk either to defend the dissertation or to take his qualifying exams. I remember only that he was preparing for some sort of candidate exams.
And then he left, and that’s all you remember?
And those relations were difficult… That’s all that I remember.
It seems — this is what they told me at Pulkovo Observatory — that your brother married the daughter of one of the Pulkovo astronomers. Is that right?
That’s not quite correct — not the daughter of a full staff member of Pulkovo Observatory, but rather the daughter of the head of the seismic station. There was a small seismic station at Pulkovo, and he directed it. His name was Kozhin, and my brother married his daughter Verochka, whom almost all the Pulkovo astronomers were wooing at that time. Martynov writes about that in his article.
Yes, I noticed.
He was also in love with her and perhaps is not indifferent to her to this day. Because when I visited him two years ago in Moscow with a request that he autograph a copy that I had made of his article, I asked him if he couldn’t give me and original, since I had seen that he had several copies. He said that “No, I can’t give you one, but if Verochka had written and requested one, I would have asked you to take one to her.”
[Laughs] So it continues to this day.
She was really so enchanting that unfortunately even my relations with my brother were infected a little because along the way I could not help but fall in love with her.
Well, she moved in with us after they married and lived in our apartment. This was after out father’s death in 1931. It was immediately after she had finished her graduate study and become an astronomer at the observatory. They had a son, Aleksandr Nikolaevich, soon after. He now lives in Leningrad and works in Fiz-tech, the Institute of Technical Physics.
At the end of the 1920’s the director at Pulkovo Observatory was Ivanov, but it seems that he left at the end of 1930. Do you know anything about the circumstances under which he left? Did your brother remember anything from that time?
You know, Ivanov was on very good terms with my brother. They had established good working contacts. Ivanov had made it possible for my brother and Ambartsumian [to stay at the observatory]. In general it is evident that he was a person who supported graduate students who showed promise of becoming important scientists. Therefore I do not know anything special outside the framework of the usual, official relations.
But what do you know about his heir, his successor, Drozd?
You know, I know only that there was bewilderment. . Just that the [Pulkovo] staff and my brother, in particular, and Ambartsumian were bewildered how this all could have happened. I only participated in the conversations around the kitchen table that took place in our home and in which participated, as a rule, Ambartsumian, Bronshtein, Eropkin, Khramov-Khramov, Zigel… At these kitchen conversations the talk was of this completely incomprehensible phenomenon — why Drozd?
How did he become director? How did this all happen?
Yes, somehow… simply… this somehow all took place quickly in a way that is little understood.
It seems that he was director for all of two-three years, as far as I know.
Yes, yes, yes.
It is not evident where he came from or where he went afterward I know only from the old [observatory] reports, that in the early 1920s he was on the Pulkovo staff and observed on the zenith tube. Then, it seems in 1922, he was forced to leave because he had incited some sort of revolt among the lower workers at the observatory. That is what is written in the observatory reports from that period.
Who are you calling “lower workers?” I don’t completely understand. Simply the technical personnel?
Yes, yes. When the director was away, that is when Ivanov was not at the observatory, when he was on a trip to Moscow; it seems that at that time Drozd incited this revolt and then, when Narkompros sent its representative to learn what the matter was and justified the director — then Drozd was forced to leave. And therefore it is incomprehensible how he returned as director in 1930. I do not understand it at all. Maybe no one understands to this day. At least I have asked many people, but no one knows anything in particular.
Yes, you know, I think that some sort of neutral person was needed here. These are only my personal thoughts, perhaps connected with reminiscences of my brother’s surroundings, that there a neutral person was needed who would not interfere with the work of Aristarkh Pavlovich Belopolskii. Because in fact at that time all scientific work at the observatory was headed by Belopolskii. Ivanov was also sufficiently independent, and perhaps even Drozd’s return, perhaps, was to some degree supported by Aristarkh Pavlovich because he didn’t want anyone to be appointed who would exert pressure on the working out of scientific plans and on the appointment of staff members. In this regard Aristarkh Pavlovich was a man of principle who was anxious for the scientific successes of the observatory. And therefore this sort of neutral person who would be concerned more with grounds keepers and maids suited him better.
I understand. Good. The Commission for Study of the Sun was established at the end of 1930, and in 1931 the Solar Service was established under this commission and, it seems, your brother, Ambartsumian, Eropkin, and Perepelkin all worked In this commission. Do you recall anything about their work, about these people? In general about the Solar Service. You have already noted that in accordance with Pulkovo Observatory’s program your brother worked on the sun.
Yes. You know, I think that the director Drozd somehow participated in this matter and… I have heard that this commission was in some way connected with his appointment. The establishment of this commission. But, you know, here perhaps there was some pressure from above in the sense that a whole series of astronomers who Belopolskii was taking care of were considered to be loafers. That is [they were thought to be] people who did not come to work at the designated time, who sat alone in their booths, their rooms, which were called by their nickname — “kukushki.”
Such small rooms — well, sort of like mine — for two or three people with little high-up windows in a building that has not been preserved. There in these kukushki they thought out their ideas and corresponded with foreign scientists when they should have been loaded down with everyday work.
Was it Drozd himself who was exerting this pressure?
Yes… This was, strictly speaking, the participation of my brother and Ambartsumian and Eropkin, not counting Perepelkin. Now Perepelkin, he really put his whole soul into this commission and even shined with this work. But Ambartsumian and my brother — in particular my brother — only in so far as the problem of temperature distribution interested them.
In stellar atmospheres.
Good. We’re ready. Let’s continue. In regard to the Commission for Study of the Sun?
Well, I don’t know anything in detail about the activities of the commission itself. In connection with this question I would say only that the young astrophysicists at the observatory –- ones such as Ambartsumian, Eropkin, and Kozyrev –- they stood out sharply against the background of the scientist-bureaucrats who had definite planned problems, who carried out exactly those works that did not fall outside the framework of their subjects. And here you had such beginning scientists who formed a circle with very wide-ranging interests. Besides scientific work they played tennis, went skiing, and occupied themselves with music, poetry, and literary activity and, like Eropkin, were concerned with various science fiction problems. For these reasons they were, as they say, an “eyesore.”
An eyesore, that is when you have a cataract on the eye, it is called an “eyesore.” In other words their activity was only slightly controlled, which somehow was never encouraged very much. Aleksandr Nikolaevich Deich was also in this group, although by age he was older than them, but in spirit he was just as young and took part in all of their amusements. In regard to their position at Pulkovo Observatory he wrote the following short epigram: Mitia Eropkin — is with the ballerinas, Kolia Kozyrev is in rosy clouds, and Ambartsumian is drunk. I must say that this is, of course, a caricature, because I never saw Ambartsumian drunk. However, if he came home to his family in an even slightly happy mood, his father, Amazasp Asaturovich, would ask him very strictly, listing many great people — he usually would begin with Kant — would ask him: “Did you ever hear that Kant drank vodka?” He foresaw that a brilliant career awaited his son.
What were relations like between the young astrophysicists and old astrometrists at Pulkovo Observatory at that time?
You know… On the part of the young people relations were, perhaps, unjustifiably scornful toward such venerable scientists as Tikhov and Kostinskii. But this whole group of young scientific pioneers somehow concentrated around Aristarkh Pavlovich Belopolskii. In general they greeted Gerasimovich with great ill-will.
From the very start?
From the very start. In this young group. Because he [Gerasimovich] began to fight for rigid work discipline. Well, in addition he formed a sort of defensive nucleus around himself. There was one person in this group who in general was very unpleasant to this young group. I think that Boris Petrovich had her transferred from the Kharkov Observatory at his personal request. I am afraid to try to remember her name, something like Parkhomenko or Potapenko. Well, in general I don’t remember precisely…
I will have to look over the old reports.
Boris Petrovich would fuss over her, and he gave her unlimited time on the 30–inch refractor, which upset Ambartsumian, Kozyrev, and others to no end. When they would go into the dome they would usually see her moving around up high opening a window or something. Well, in general, once I even heard this expression [about her]: “Abomination and depravity.”
And abomination — in the sense that it was disgusting to look at her; depravity in that she was not wearing pants when she was clambering around high up there.
Well, she was Boris Petrovich’s favorite who did not, in general, gain favor [for Boris Petrovich among the young astrophysicists].
So you could say that relations in the observatory became worse after he became director?
Or was it because of the way in which he directed the observatory?
Well, perhaps it wasn’t because on the whole he somehow directed badly. Rather, he simply just didn’t fit into the circle of astronomers to which my brother belonged and with which I am acquainted. Perhaps his relations with others were completely different, but I can’t say anything about that.
O.K., let’s turn to the problem-time; to 1936 and 1937. To start I would like to ask what you personally remember regarding the noise surrounding Voronov in 1935 and 1936.
Well, in the first place I recall my brother saying that now “a young man has transferred to the observatory who is just a little older than you and who for completely unknown reasons has already gained all the positions of an important scientist. No one verifies his work. In a few weeks he carries out computing work that takes a year. Everyone accepts this in good faith, but to me this is something completely incomprehensible. I think that this should be looked into more closely.” Well, that is what I heard from my brother. And then came the unmasking of Voronov, which speaking for myself, confirmed my brother’s prognosis completely.
Do you know how it was that he was invited to Pulkovo Observatory? Did your brother say anything about that?
It seems to me that no one invited him.
He was just introduced…
He was assigned there.
He was assigned there either by the Academy of Sciences or… I think that Pulkovo Observatory was already under the Academy of Sciences.
Yes, yes, beginning in 1934.
Yes. And Voronov — that was in 1935 already.
So his transfer probably came through the Academy of Sciences. It could hardly be that Gerasimovich invited him. In general I don’t remember anything about this; I didn’t hear about any invitation.
After Voronov’s unmasking the next major event in 1936 was the solar eclipse. Did you observe the eclipse together with your brother?
No, I did not go to Siberia.
Only here in Leningrad?
Yes, I observed it only here in Leningrad through smoked glass—looked at the sun.
What do you remember of the work your brother carried out during the eclipse? Did he have some particular interests during the eclipse?
Yes, he was… In so far as he was concerned with the outer layers of the sun and with protuberances, he did have some interesting problems connected with observing the solar corona.
I understand. It was precisely at the time of the eclipse that the first article about Voronov and Pulkovo Observatory appeared in Leningradskaia Pravda. The title of the article was “The Ladder of Fame.” Do you remember this article from that time?
I looked it over somehow very quickly, arid I was simply struck by how the article was aimed not so much against Voronov as an adventurer as against the circumstances in which this adventure had become possible. That was my general impression from that article.
Namely that the situation at the observatory was such that it encouraged such a phenomenon.
Yes, that such an adventure had been possible.
Do you know how the newspaper found out about this?
No. I didn’t maintain any relations with the newspaper editorial boards. There is no way I could know that.
You probably remember that throughout the summer there was a whole series of articles in Leningradskaia Pravda. The second was in July: “Knights of Servility.” It was about Gerasimovich and even about how Gerasimovich had tried to dismiss your brother and Eropkin and about how this matter had been brought before the courts and… What precisely happened?
I simply know that after the eclipse, after my brother’s return his relations with Gerasimovich became very strained. My brother was accused of having worked on a problem from some other institutes in addition to his assignment from Pulkovo Observatory. Which institutes I don’t remember, perhaps the Astronomical Institute and so forth. In this way the work that he was supposed to carry out for Pulkovo supposedly was cut back because of this extra work. In general there were conversations along these lines, but there is nothing precise that I…
You don’t remember about that? From October 23 through 30 there was a conference at the Academy of Sciences “On the Development of Astronomical Sciences in the USSR.” Do you know if your brother participated in this conference? I know that when the proceedings of the conference were published, he was not mentioned. Perhaps that is because the proceedings were published later?
I think that it is simply that he could not participate in it.
What do you remember about the arrest of B.V. Numerov? How did you first learn about it and how did you react at that time?
Well, about the arrest… Dmitrii Ivanovich Eropkin and my brother… they connected this not with his astronomical activity, but with the stylish, for the time, accusation of wrecking. And the institute that he headed incidentally carried out work in geophysics that was connected with geological prospecting. In particular the method of using gravimetric surveys to uncover oil deposits was in vogue at that time. Well, it seems that, in general, although this method had been worked out theoretically, in practice it did not justify itself at all, and they [Kozyrev and Eropkin] attributed Numerov’s arrest to wrecking in precisely this area. And, perhaps, his acquaintance with Glushkov, about which I already mentioned. Glushkov was arrested earlier.
What was the atmosphere like among the astronomers after his arrest? Were they all afraid or…
No, they were not at all afraid because somehow… perhaps… precisely this supposition, this hypothesis according to which he [was arrested] for something different, not astronomy, because they [Numerov’s institute] were occupied with these geophysical things.
Do you think that this was… From what I have read it seems that Numerov was arrested at the start of November 1936. As far as I recall you remember this differently.
You know, here I am relying on my memory, because my brother could have told me about Numerov’s arrest only a few days before his own arrest.
So, this could have been only several days [before your brother’s arrest]?
Yes, it could have been only several days, but I think that a longer interval was more likely.
I would like to ask you what you remember about the arrest of your brother. How did it all take place, and how did you react? What happened? What measures did you take?
Well, it is of course very difficult for me to speak about this. I remember that evening as though it were now. I must say that Nikolai Aleksandrovich and I were both great patriots at that time. We were very inclined, so to speak, to believe the party and government, and therefore we — I was so astonished by this that I thought it must all be a misunderstanding that would be cleared up momentarily. They would just question by brother, or perhaps even before the questioning they would realize that they had taken the wrong person. [I wanted] it all to be solved as quickly as possible. In the beginning I was more upset that there were quests waiting at home and that here various… the eve of the October celebration, and here came these [NKVD] agents to wait for my brother, which in general… I was more concerned about our quests than about what could happen to my brother because I thought this was such an obvious mistake that it just had to be solved very quickly. But what happened was something I never expected. There was arrest after arrest. Soon Zinaida Dmitrievna Eropkina came to us and told us about the arrest of Dmitrii Ivanovich, which took place very soon after my brother’s arrest. Then, in general, began our own sufferings. Well, before they sent us into exile — at that time an arrested person’s relatives were sent into exile, and so we were sent into exile in Samarkand. Well, I tried to avoid being exiled by leaving Leningrad. I didn’t even take part in our own preparations; I couldn’t help my family. I hoped that by transferring to the Tashkent — excuse me, the Kazan University — I would somehow be able to continue my studies. However, when I came to Leningrad for my transfer documents, they summoned me to the appropriate organs [the NKVD] and proposed that I follow my family, which I did. Thus I entered the Samarkand University.
When did you leave for Samarkand, and how long did you stay there?
We left in 1937 and returned in 1939. I returned first so as to somehow find a room after our apartment had been taken away. I was able to do that [find a room] in our very own house, although this was only one room in a communal apartment consisting of two rooms. That’s what I can say on that subject.
And what, in general, do you know — do you know anything regarding the situation at Pulkovo Observatory at that time? I know that Numerov was arrested first, but he, of course, was from the Astronomical Institute. Was everyone at Pulkovo arrested almost simultaneously or over some interval?
No, there the arrests took place differently than they did at the physics faculty, let us say, in 1937, when in one night Prudkov and Frederiks and other… Flibuterskii and other physicists were arrested… you could call it a “night of the long knives.” At Pulkovo the arrests took place consecutively. It seems in fact that the last arrests began with my brother and… No, not my brother but that Trotskyite… I forgot…
Yes, Shchiginov… They began with him and then my brother and then Eropkin and then… who? It seems the last one was Velson. As far as I remember that was the order.
Do you know anything about… At that time there was one… not an astronomer but the editor of an astronomical journal. He was the editor of the journal Mirovedenie. His name was Ter-Oganezov, Vartan Tigranovich. Have you heard of him? Is his name familiar to you?
I didn’t know him personally. I heard from my brother only that there is such a person as Vartan Tigranovich. There was nothing in particular… nothing really remarkable about him in our conversations.
What do you know, in general, about your brother’s time in prison?
Well, at first, when he was under investigation, he was in Leningrad. Then, when we were exiled to Samarkand, he was in the Vladimirskii and Dmitovskii Prisons near Moscow. They allowed him to write letters from there, so that occasionally we received letters — in truth, very rarely. In one letter he advised me to read The Charmed Soul by Roman Rolland. From this I understood that all my hopes that there had been some sort of misunderstanding that this would all end soon — all of this was in vain and I must prepare for a long wait, for a long and difficult life. At that time he began to develop an eye disease — evidently connected with avitaminosis, because it later went away — and he complained to us in his letters that he had a black grid in front of his eyes that made it difficult to read even that rare literature that sometimes came his way from the prison library.
Later he transferred to some camp, if I am not mistaken.
Yes, after his confinement in prison his sentence was commuted to be served in the corrective labor camps, and he ended up in a camp near Noril’sk and near Turukhanskii, more precisely on the Dudinka, where he became acquainted with the son of the poet Gumilev, Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev. They worked there together, and they had a whole series of interesting camp acquaintances. There he began to live much better. He worked not on general work but as a geophysicist on a qeodesic survey.
So at least he was somehow able to pursue science.
Yes –- well, this was not science, but at least it was work that allowed him to think and pursue his investigations in his free time.
How many years was he in prison, and how many years was he in the camp?
His transfer to the camp coincided approximately without return to Leningrad. That is to say, we were exiled in 1937. That means he was in prison for some two years and in 1939 or 1940 was transferred to the camp. And in the camp he was given and additional sentence for some camp crime that he supposedly was responsible for…
From what I know that happened often back then.
Yes, that happened repeatedly at that time. It seems it was also for ten years, so that he was to be released not at all soon, but… Foreseeing your next question, I am already beginning to answer it…
Please, please… It seems that Academician Shain…
Yes, Academician Shain played a very positive role. He helped my brother very much. He was able to get an audience in some high government circles and — they even say it was with Molotov, although I don’t know precisely. Speaking simply, after his intervention, my brother was summoned to Moscow, and I would say there was even some kind of friendship… Well, you really can’t call it friendship, but, there were some good relations with the investigator who was handling his case. Because their acquaintanceship continued even after my brother had been released and had come to Leningrad. He received an apartment in Leningrad on Vasilevskii Island next to the building. In truth it wasn’t an apartment then. It was two rooms in a communal apartment next to the Academy of Sciences on the banks of the Neva. Well, my brother told me how this investigator would come to Leningrad and would come to see him, and they would discuss philosophical and astronomical topics. The investigator was rather cultured. Well, right after his release my brother received an allowance from Academician Vavilov, who was then the president of the Academy of Sciences, in the sum of ten thousand to organize his life. In general, he was restored to work at Pulkovo Observatory and began to concern himself more with physical than with astronomical problems right up to 1956, when I returned to Leningrad. By that time my brother lived in a separate apartment on Moskovskii Prospekt in a building that belonged to the Academy of Sciences. His son Aleksandr Nikolaevich Kozyrev lives in that apartment now.
I thought that after your brother was released he worked at first in the Crimea at the Simeis Observatory with Academician Shain.
Yes. You know, he worked in the Crimea in the sense that the Crimean Observatory paid his salary, but all the principal observations were carried out at Pulkovo. But Severny sent — it seems that Severny was then the director of the Simeis Observatory and that Shain helped him… wasn’t it Severny? Yes… And, strictly speaking, my brother received his salary through the mail. I simply know that they sent it by postal money order from the Crimea and that he only went there in the summer so as to carry out observations and, well, relax.
I understand. Did you know that Academician Shain tried to help quite a few people at that time? I know, for example, that towards the end of the 1940s Gerasimovich’s wife worked at Pulkovo Observatory — actually at Simeis — as the librarian.
As the librarian.
Oh, the librarian. I somehow didn’t know about that, but I simply heard so many good things from my brother about Grigorii Abramovich and about his wife that… There are very many examples of the remarkable role he played in helping astronomers. I know that he even wanted to give his home that belonged to him personally, to the government so that a retirement home for old [astronomers] could be organized… so that they could live well.
Thank you very much for everything — this hasn’t been so easy [for you] — for all this valuable information. I am very, very grateful.