Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Lew Kowarski shares his knowledge of Wolfgang Gentner's involvement in World War II.

Oral history audio excerpt

Lew Kowarski shares his knowledge of Wolfgang Gentner's involvement in World War II.

Weart:

I see. This is according to what Joliot said. I see, very interesting. You mentioned Gentner, and that brings me — jumping very far forward — to the question of what went on during the war. You mentioned that you knew something about what Gentner’s role was?

Kowarski:

No. I didn’t know. I pieced things together. Gentner came to Paris as a Kind of Nazi supervisor — well, no, he never was a Nazi, but a supervisor sent by the occupant to Paris. And you know, in agreement with the first policies of occupation, they were very gentle. And sort of, as between you know, Europeans and colleagues and so on. All against the Bolshevisms — you know? And Joliot greeted Gentner as a colleague, and they made this famous agreement, that Joliot will not sabotage anything or will not — provided that the Germans do not use (?) de France lab for wartime effects. And this was known, put in — by other physicists, and so on.

There were two snags about it. In my opinion. Now comes my opinion. First of all, during the war, one shouldn’t make pacts of this sort with the occupant. The Dutch knew better. And second, the Germans didn’t keep their part. Because in Rietzler's book which appeared in 1944, book on nuclear chemistry, nuclear physics, there is a mention of attempts to make plutonium, and they specifically say that the Paris cyclotron was used for that.