Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feynman wasn't joking

Angular correlation data at three energy ranges in Rustad-Ruby experiment. Feynman questions the validity of the curve-fitting to the predicted tensor (T) values.
I managed to get seriously ill two weeks ago and had to set aside the blogging project right at the crucial moment of my discovery of Allan Franklin's writings on the Rustad-Ruby experiment. Now I can pick up the story again, but without any pretense of it unfolding in real time. The following will be my best attempt at reconstructing the revelation of information about this incident beginning the morning following my return home by Amtrak from a visit to Twyla in Los Angeles. 

For starters, I have my own bookshelves, including a generous selection of my father's science library. Some is in his specialized field of physics and I select titles by Hans Frauenfelder and Harry J. Lipkin. Also, The Story of Spin by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, which Joanne reminded me that Stan was reading in the last week of his life.

Tomonaga was among a number of physicists who were involved in one way or another in the history of weak force unification, and which might be relevant to the Rustad-Ruby matter. Here we have Leon Lederman's The God Particle, Freeman Dyson's From Eros to Gaia, The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg, and What Is the World Made Of? by Gerald Feinberg.

Some of these are more popular treatments for general audiences, none more so than Richard Feynman's classic memoir Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! This volume gives an immediate playback in a full chapter, "The 7 Percent Solution," covering Feynman's involvement in events following the discovery of parity non-conservation. Here, he references the Rustad-Ruby He-6 recoil experiment and reflects on the possibility of scientific errors.
I went to Professor Bacher and told him about our success, and he said, "Yes, you come out and say that the neutron-proton coupling is V instead of T. Everybody used to think it was T. Where is the fundamental experiment that says it's T? Why don't you look at the early experiments and find out what was wrong with them?" 
I went out and found the original article on the experiment that said neutron-proton coupling is T, and I was shocked by someting. I remembered reading that article once before (back in the days when I read every article in the Physical Review—it was small enough). And I remembered, when I saw this article again, looking at the curve and thinking, "That doesn't prove anything!" 
You see, it depended on one or two points at the very edge of the range of the data, and there's a principle that a point on the edge of the range of the data—the last point—isn't very good, because if it was they'd have another point further along. And I had realized that the whole idea that neutron-proton coupling is T was based on the last point, which wasn't very good, and therefore it's not proved. I remember noticing that! 
And when I became interested in beta decay, directly, I read all these reports by the "beta-decay experts," which said it's T. I never looked at the original data; I only read those reports, like a dope. Had I been a good physicist, when I thought of the original idea back at the Rochester Conference I would have immediately looked up "how strong do we know it's T?"—that would have been the sensible thing to do. I would have recognized right away that I had already noticed it wasn't satisfactorily proved. 
Since then, I never pay any attention to anything by "experts." I calculate everything myself. When people said the quark theory was preetty good, I go two Ph.D.s Finn Ravndal and Mark Kislinger, to go through the whole works with me, just so I could check that the thing was really giving results that fit fairly well and that it was a significantly good theory. I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

RIP Robert Felenstein

Bob Felenstein, our dear cousin, passed away on Thanksgiving Day several weeks after learning that his cancer had returned and spread to his brain. Several family members, most especially Walter and Marsha, reached out to comfort him and his widow Jane during his last days. Cousin Janis Brenner was able to attend the memorial service held on December 2, 2012. Here is her report.
Dear All, 
As Walter and Marsha already know, I went to the intimate gathering that Jane had this afternoon for Robert, in Baldwin, LI at the small Silver Lake Park. About 20-25 people were there. I brought along a print-out of the photo Leslie happened to have sent the night before, of all the cousins. Jane asked me to say a few words---I was the only family member there. We all stood outside, around a bench, she had brought Robert's guitar, and a photo of him playing and her singing, a pretty wooden box with his name on it, and a cassette deck. A Rabbi said a few things. I held up the photo and said that many of us live so far away and were there in spirit. Jane mentioned Walter wanting to be there, but having the flu. I said how the cousins and families were so close when we were all young; how I recall Robert bringing his guitar to our house and he and I playing songs together on our 2 guitars. One other long-time male friend spoke. 
Jane then put on the music deck and she sang the Beatles "In My Life." It all lasted about 20 minutes or so. Very simple, very touching. I thought very Robert and Jane. 
Love to all, Janis
Thank you, Janis. Here is to the memory of Bob in the fullness of life. And here is to Jane, who has been remarkably strong and courageous throughout.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Allan Franklin's oeuvre

Before I move on to the details of Stan's academic career, I realize that I overlooked mentioning the rest of my literature search for information about Stan's work at Brookhaven.

First of all, Franklin's 2008 paper that we have discussed is far from his first treatment of the subject. (That's Franklin at left.) His 1990 book Experiment, Right or Wrong covers the Rustad-Ruby experiment in detail. His 1998 encyclopedia essay on Experiment in Physics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) includes Rustad-Ruby as one case study, and the article's Appendix 8 is his best summary of the matter in a publicly assessable location. I urge you to read that one. Then, as we have seen, he revisits the entire matter in his 2008 "Inevitability" paper, this time in the context of the academic debate between scientific social constructionists and rationalists.

Nor is Franklin the only historian or memoirist to cite the significance of the Rustad-Ruby episode. Many of the scientists who played a role in the wider story of beta decay and development of the weak nuclear force had opportunities to reflect on the events in later years; or  were the subject of historical articles.

The first ones I discovered were two 2009 tributes to George Sudarshan, covering the questions raised about Rustad-Ruby by one of the key theorists involved in proposing the V-A theory. Another of the theorists, Richard Feynman, appears to reference it in his popular book "Surely You are Joking, Mr. Feynman" (more on that later). T.D. Lee .... Maurice Goldhaber, the head of the physics group at Brookhaven National Lab and later its lab director, talks about it in a retrospective 2002 talk on the roots of neutrino research.

And there is more. I don't have all the references handy. But the point is that the Rustad-Ruby experiment, so little known about in our family, is very widely known and discussed in the literature of physics history. This is due in part to the dogged efforts of one historian who has made it one of the touchstones of his academic narrative, but also to science's natural process of documenting its history both in the moment and in retrospect.

So the reality is that, despite the successes of his later work in the Mössbauer effect and related subjects, Stan Ruby will be most remembered for an experiment that went wrong. We will want to understand just exactly what the error was, and how and why it came to pass.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The legend of Wu

It is time to look more closely at the famous Chien-Shiung Wu. How does a Chinese woman born in 1912 become America's foremost experimental physicist (of any origin or gender)? How do the events of our story fit in the arc of her career development?

We'll start with the basic biography. Raised in a village near Shanghai, educated at women's primary and secondary schools, studied physics at North Central University in Nanking from 1930-34, continuing graduate work until 1936, when she and a young female chemist gained admittance to U.S. universities and set off to America.

Wu settled in at U.C. Berkeley, worked directly under Ernest Lawrence, and earned her Ph.D. in 1940. She stayed there as a lecturer and researcher for several years, marrying another Chinese-American physicist Luke Yuan. She then followed academic opportunities to Smith College and Princeton, but returned to laboratory work at Columbia in 1944, where she played a key role in developing instrumentation for the gaseous diffusion process for uranium separation, an important component of the secret Manhattan Project.

She stayed at Columbia after the war and until her retirement as research associate (1946-52), associate professor (1952-57), professor of physics (1958-72), and Michael I. Pupin Professor of Physics (1972-81). We are already familiar with her most famous achievement, the 1957 confirmation of parity violation. That capped her years of work on beta decay and led to further successes in the unification of the electroweak force in the 1960s. Her text Beta Decay (1965) remains the standard reference in the field.

She won just about every honor except the Nobel Prize, among them the Comstock Award, National Medal of Science and Wolf Prize in Physics. She holds many firsts, including first female recipient of a Princeton honorary doctorate (1958), first Chinese-American member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, first female president of the American Physical Society (1974); and the first recipient of the Wolf Prize (1978).

She passed away February 16, 1997, in the Upper West Side Manhattan apartment where she had lived for more than 50 years.

There is much more, of course, and I'll want to come back for a deeper look in the future. But this gives context for understanding the crucial events of our story. While Wu's reputation will grow formidably later on, when Stan encounters her in the Columbia physics department in the late 1940s, she is still just a research associate—someone who might have influence in the lab but who is not in position to be his doctoral advisor.

This brings us to the subject of Stan's academic career. What do we know of his progress through undergraduate and graduate school after he got back from the war? Quite a lot, actually, which I will review in a coming post.

Monday, December 10, 2012

No, that's not why dad left Brookhaven

By the time my train arrived at Oakland's Jack London station well past midnight, late due to delayed bus connections in Bakersfield, the main outlines of the story of the reversed experiment had become clear. But a big question loomed: Should this new information change our understanding of Stan's reasons for leaving the nest at Brookhaven and Columbia, as he did sometime in 1953 or '54, to work for industrial labs at IBM and Westinghouse?

The next day I spoke to Walter and Joanne to compare notes on the chronology. I was born on Long Island December 12, 1952. Stan submitted his paper with Rustad on December 31. Stan and Helga moved to Vestal near Binghamton when Stan went to work for IBM after that, some time before Joanne was born there in October 1954. Walter reminded me that they then returned to Long Island for a time following that, living in Massapequa before making the move to Pittsburgh in 1957.

I recalled something about a big storm impacting the move to Vestal. Walter knew right away I was referring to Hurricane Hazel, a Category 4 storm that swept through the lower tier of New York State on October 15, 1954, four days after Joanne's birth on October 11. There were sustained winds of 72 mph in Binghamton.

Okay, but that doesn't get us closer to knowing when they moved to Binghamton, or to a bigger question, why. Was it closer to my birth date or Joanne's? Certainly they wouldn't have moved immediately prior to Joanne's birth, so they must have been settled in Vestal no later than, say, June of 1954, but it could have been any time after January 1953. Still some work to do here.

Nevertheless, I fairly quickly came to see that the timing of the move from Brookhaven could not have been related to possible problems with the experiment. Following Franklin's chronology, which I had confirmed by now by downloading all the relevant scientific papers, the Rustad-Ruby experiment is considered golden at least until 1956. The first suggestion that it might be problematic doesn't come until after the hubbub over parity violation in January 1957. Wu's critical re-examination is in April 1958.

Unless time and effect can run backwards, as relativistic physics allows, then there is no way that something that happens in 1957 and '58 can cause an event four years earlier. No, Stan decided to move on from his post-graduate position at Brookhaven and embark on his career at industrial laboratories for reasons other than a discredited experiment.

Very likely, the reason that we have always understood for the move still applies. With a wife and two sons, and another child on the way, he needed a real salary and future prospects more than he needed the prestige of working on fundamental physics in a world class lab. He was freshly minted grad ready to go out and make his own way in the world of applied physics.

That said, his relationship with Madame Wu bears more study. It is said she was a task-master. Possibly she was immune to dad's charm, and went hard on him. Walter's first email reaction to the revelations was to write, "Screw Wu," but I'm not ready to go there yet. For one thing, we don't yet have access to her critical reexamination, which is held privately at Columbia. Franklin's paper gives us the technical gist of it, but it would be helpful to see the full document to see what else can be gleaned from it.

That to-do goes on my list for pursuing the investigation.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

What we learn from Franklin's Inevitability paper

We pick up with the Amtrak San Joaquin pulling north out of Fresno and me struggling to absorb the dense information in Allan Franklin's paper "Are the Laws of Physics Inevitable?" Fortunately Franklin avoids heavy mathematics in the paper and I am able to follow most of it—at least for a while. As he mentions names and concepts, I flip to Wikipedia in my iPad browser for quick refreshers. So here is the thread of Franklin's narrative with some added historical context.

Beta decay had been known and studied since Becquerel had discovered radioactivity in uranium in 1896. In 1934, still in Rome before emigrating to America, Fermi theorized that beta decay occurs when an atomic nucleus transitions from one element to another while simultaneously releasing a combination of electrons and neutrinos (or their antiparticles) as beta radiation. Others picked up on the idea and sought to improve on it. One group in particular modified the mathematics in order to better fit the existing experimental data. Their work met with wide acceptance but was later shown to be wrong. That's the first of Franklin's comedy of errors.

Another pair of famous names, George Gamow and Edward Teller, are next in the story, freshly emigrated to George Washington University from Russia and Hungary. They offer a more generalized version of the equations that allow for spin and angular momentum in the particle interactions. The mathematics to account these quantities becomes rather abstract, resulting in a set of five "couplings"—vector, scalar, tensor, axial vector and pseudoscalar—that can applied in combinations to describe nuclear interactions. The debate for the next dozen years or so becomes which combination of those couplings best describes the beta decay interaction.

For this first time through the material, I am going to keep it really simple and tell you that the scientific consensus by the end of the decade was that the correct solution must be some combination of scalar, tensor and pseudoscalar (S, T, P) or a combination of vector and axial vector (V, A). Meanwhile, a new experimental technique had been developed by various groups that allowed for measurement of nuclear spin and momentum. Such angular correlation experiments were designed to "calculate the angle between the direction of emission of the decay electron and that of the emitted neutrino," summarizes Franklin.

One of the researchers best known for experimental work on beta decay was the aforementioned C.S. Wu, who had come to the U.S. in 1936, studied under E.O. Lawrence at Berkeley, worked on uranium separation for the Manhattan Project, and was now a lecturer in the high-powered physics department at Columbia University, where Stan returned in 1946 to resume his war-interrupted studies.

In 1952, Stan and collaborator Brice Rustad are working in Wu's lab at Brookhaven Labs when they design an apparatus for an angular correlation experiment on an isotope of radioactive helium. Helium gas produced in a reactor is pumped into a semicylindrical volume while two detectors count the emitted particles and direction of nuclear recoil. Thus they can calculate electron-recoil angle for each event and plot a graph of angle to coincidence rate.

Franklin's Fig. 7 shows two graphs Rustad and Ruby published in their February 1955 report in Physical Review, showing the data fit to the predicted tensor values. Franklin summarizes Rustad-Ruby's conclusion: "The theoretical curves predicted on the basis of the various forms of the β-decay interaction clearly show that the tensor (T) interaction is favored."

Here I find myself wondering how it is that this first-time publication by a fairly green postgraduate achieved such attention to begin with. By now I have figured out how to log in to the journal database of the American Physical Society and can see a list of all papers by S.L. Ruby, including a list of papers to reference each of those papers. By navigating citations, you can get a pretty quick idea of how any historical paper impacted future work.

Rustad and Ruby published twice, first in a short report in February 1953 titled "Correlation between Electron and Recoil Nucleus in He6 Decay" and then in a full paper in February 1955 titled "Gamow-Teller Interaction in the Decay of He6." I see that the first has been cited 28 and the second 60 times, and that some of those citations are by names like Feynman, Goldhaber, Frauenfelder, Marshak, Wu—all names I am becoming familiar with.

So why does the experiment get such notice? Franklin doesn't say so here, but it must be because of its association with Madame Wu. Rustad had published with her previously, but this is Ruby's debut publication in the Physical Review. Also, Franklin implies that the result was easy to accept because it supported the prevailing theoretical supposition at the time.

Things changed in a hurry by the end of 1956. Research in particle interactions from cosmic radiation had identified a whole category of new middleweight particles, bigger than electrons but smaller than nucleons, called mesons—and there was a profusion of variants with names like pion, muon and others. It had turned out that mesons exhibited decay transitions very similar to radioactive beta decay, and theorists now sought to find a single explanation for both phenomena.

A particular puzzle for meson researchers at the time was whether two identified mesons, the so-called tau and theta, were two separate particles or two forms of the same particle. One way they seemed different was that they had opposite direction of spin and parity, referring to a long-held principle that spacial reflection (parity) is conserved in force interactions. It was said that nature does not prefer left- or right-handedness—you shouldn't be able to tell the difference if you are looking directly at an event or at it through a mirror.

Conservation of parity was well proven in electromagnetism and for the strong nuclear force. In 1956, two Chinese-American physicists, C.N. Yang from Princeton and T.D. Lee from Columbia, asked if it was possible that parity is not conserved in weak interactions? They examined the literature and found to their surprise that it had never been explicitly tested. They wrote a paper that pointed out the lack of proof and proposed several experiments that could settle the question.

At first, few theorists thought there could be anything to it. Richard Feynman bet $50 that parity would be upheld; Freeman Dyson remembers thinking, "This is interesting," but he didn't pay it anymore attention. Nor did many experimenters rush to do the test, except the redoubtable Madame Wu, Lee's Columbia colleague who cancels a long-planned visit to China to do the experiment as quickly as possible.

It is a complex apparatus that requires the cryogenic expertise of a lab at the National Bureau of Standards, where by December Wu and colleagues have demonstrated that beta electrons emitted from a single layer of aligned radioactive cobalt nuclei preferred a specific direction of emission relative to the nuclear spin. Thus, there was a preferred handedness. No, the law of conservation of parity does not hold in the case of beta decays.

This was big news and before it was announced a second group of Columbia physicists obtained an independent confirmation in a test of meson decays in a cyclotron. Columbia pulled out all the stops when it made the announcement of the two confirming experiments, getting a full page of coverage in the New York Times on Jan. 16, 1957. It was all anyone was talking about at the American Physical Society annual meeting a month later, and again at the important Rochester High-Energy Physics meeting in April. Yang and Lee walked off with the Nobel Prize in October, quite possibly the fastest recognition in Nobel history.

All of that is very exciting and you might expect Stan as a Columbia man to share in the good feelings. Except for one thing. To account for parity violation, Lee and Yang now proposed a new "two-component" theory of the neutrino that predicted a muon interaction that could not be S-T-P. It had to be V–A. Here's Franklin:
By the end of the summer of 1957 parity nonconservation had been conclusively demonstrated and there was strong experimental support for the two-component theory of the neutrino. That ... led to the conclusion that the weak interaction responsible for the decay of the muon had to be a doublet VA combination. Although most of the evidence for β decay was consistent with such a doublet VA interaction, Rustad and Ruby's angular-correlation experiment on He6 provided seeming conclusive evidence that the β-decay interaction was tensor (T). 
In January 1958, Physical Review published papers by Sudarshan and Marshak and by Feynman and Gell-Mann independently proposing a Universal Fermi Interaction with a combination of vector and axial vector (V–A) terms. Both papers directly cited the Rustad-Ruby paper as contradictory evidence that needed to be reconfirmed. Feynman and Gell-Mann went further and said the experiment was likely "wrong."

Franklin's next section is called "The Removal of Experimental Anomalies," and Rustad-Ruby is exhibit one. None other than C.S. Wu, with Arthur Schwarzchild, another Columbia physicist, undertake a "critical review" of the Rustad-Ruby experiment.

Franklin writes that Wu and Schwarzschild raised several questions concerning the apparatus design—a possible variation in the size of the source volume and not considering the effects of the angle of detection—that might have led to an incorrect result. They built a ten-times larger scale model of the apparatus to test the suggestion that the source volume of gas was effectively enlarged by the pressure of gas in the chimney below it. To get the picture, here is the original schematic from the 1953 paper.

Adding together the several corrections that Wu and Schwarzchild calculated to account for artifacts of the apparatus design led them to an overall corrected result that is "more in favor of axial vector (A) than tensor (T), contradictory to the original conclusion." 

Franklin next adds:
Their [Wu and Schwarzchild's] work cast doubt on Rustad and Ruby's original conclusion, and in a postdeadline paper that Rustad and Ruby presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society in January 1958, they agreed with that assessment.*
The asterisk leads to a further comment that "There are no abstracts of postdeadline papers. Ruby remembers, however, that the tone of their paper was mea culpa; private communication, 1989."

I also check Franklin's citation for the Wu-Schwarzchild information and see that it was published in an internal Columbia University Report, April 1958 titled "A Critical Examination of the He6 Recoil Experiment of Rustad and Ruby." (It will sure be interesting to read that full report, I think to myself.)

Finally, Franklin wraps up the section by reporting that one other group at the University of Illinois redid the He6 experiment and concluded that the axial-vector interaction is dominant in beta decay. "One of the experimental anomalies for the V–A theory had been removed," writes Franklin. One more for his comedy of errors.

Whew, this post has gone on way too long. There is still much to come, but for now we end with the train heading through the Sacramento Delta and Allan Franklin restating his inevitability thesis.
The history of the development and articulation of the theory of β decay from its inception in 1934 to the proposal and acceptance of the V–A theory in the late 1950s is an example of what I mean by the inevitability of the laws of physics.... This was not a history of an unbroken string of successes.... Physicists can overcome errors.  
Would it have been possible for some physicist or physicists to propose an alternative explanation of β decay? Logically, of course, the answer is yes. But, as we have seen, theoretical principles and calculations and experimental results—Nature—introduced constraints, so that the development of the V–A theory of the weak interaction seems to have been almost inevitable. 

A surprising but inevitable discovery

Allan Franklin is a physics historian and philosopher of science from the University of Colorado who specializes in the interdependency of theory and experiment in the advancement of scientific knowledge. It was his paper, "Are the Laws of Physics Inevitable?" (Perspectives in Physics, 2008), that I stumbled upon on my recent return trip from Los Angeles.

The excerpts were more than intriguing:
In 1953 Brice Rustad and Stanley Ruby carried out the most important of these angular correlation experiments on the β decay of He6
Although most of the evidence from β decay was consistent with a doublet VA [vector and axial] interaction, Rustad and Ruby's angular-correlation experiment on He6 provided seemingly conclusive evidence that the β decay was tensor (T).
Sudarshan and Marshak noted that four experiments stood in opposition to the V–A theory, as follows: (1) Rustad and Ruby's electron-neutrino angular-correlation experiments on  He6 ; (2) .... The first two cases were regarded as significant problems, whereas the second two had less evidential weight .... Sudarshan and Marshak suggested that "All of these experiments should be redone...."
Feynman and Gell-Mann went even further in regard to the experimental anomalies. "These theoretical arguments seem to the authors to be strong enough to suggest that the disagreement with the He6 recoil experiment and with some other less accurate experiments indicates that these experiments are wrong [emphasis added by Franklin.
Rustad and Ruby themselves, and [Chien-Shiung] Wu and Arthur Schwarzchild critically reexamined the Rustad-Ruby experiment.
Wu and Schwarzchild then constructed a scale model ten times larger than the Rustad-Ruby apparatus, making the inner walls of the source volume and collimating chimney highly reflecting.
They concluded, finally, that the corrected results "are more in favor of axial vector than tensor contradictory to the original conclusion." Their work thus cast doubt on Rustad and Ruby's original conclusion, and in a postdeadline paper that Rustad and Ruby presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society in January 1958, they agreed with that assessment.*
* There are no abstracts of postdeadline papers. Ruby remembers, however that the tone of their paper was mea culpa; private communication, 1989. 
Wow! I thought I knew a little bit about my father's career in physics but most of this information was coming as a complete surprise. Wu rang a bell. I remembered Stan, or maybe Helga, speaking of a kind of dragon lady Chinese physicist who Stan had worked with. (My earliest memories date to about 1957-8, when we were living in Pittsburgh and Stan was at Westinghouse Labs.) Feynman and Gell-Mann, of course, are both famous names and future Nobelists. Marshak sounded familiar too, but none of those in a way directly connected to Stan.

I was able to login to the UCLA proxy server on the train, and soon downloaded Franklin's paper as a pdf to my iPad. I ravenously read from the 30-page paper, starting with its intriguing opening opening line, "Are the laws of nature discovered or invented?" The introduction goes on to set up the scholarly distinction between social constructionists who believe that theory drives the scientific dialog and rationalists like Franklin to whom experiment is crucial.

To illustrate his argument, Franklin then devotes the rest of the paper recounting the 25-year history of theory and experiment leading to the acceptance of a unified theory of the weak nuclear force, from Enrico Fermi's first theoretical paper on beta decay in 1934 to the successful generalization in 1958 by two independent groups of a Unified Fermi Interaction with V–A coupling that was applicable to meson particle decays as well as beta decays.

Summarizing his argument, Franklin writes:
This history is not one of an unbroken string of successes, but rather one that includes incorrect experimental results, incorrect experiment-theory comparisons, and faulty theoretical analyses. Nevertheless, at the end of the story the proposal of the V–A theory will seem to be an almost inevitable outcome.
A regular comedy of errors, it seems. Then begins a fairly deep dive into nuclear physics as it was understood in the mid-1930s, shortly after the discovery of the neutron and the proposal of a more mysterious particle, the neutrino. I settle back for a challenging read for the next leg of the train trip through Merced, Fresno and Stockton. More in the next post.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A new chapter: Stanley Ruby, physicist

So far on this blog we have covered many aspects our family history: our father's family roots in the Russian Pale, the life of the illustrious Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, Jewish life in Harlem and the Bronx, the rise of the American liquor industry in the 1930s, our mother's exodus from Germany and flight to America, the implementation of economic Aryanization in occupied France in the 1940s, and much more. It has been amazing to learn in some depth about these historical periods and events and how our family members' lives, and ours, were shaped by them.

We will now turn our attention to another rich subject that shaped our family and our times, nuclear physics in the postwar period, courtesy of our father Stanley Ruby, who returned home from WWII at age 22 to finish his education and start a career in that burgeoning field less than a year after the first atomic bombs had been exploded at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I will warn you that, unlike the histories that we have covered to date, this one will take us into some fairly difficult scientific terrain. I will do my best to make the material understandable to curious readers without dumbing it down entirely. As with the past episodes, we will see how our family member played a role in important historical events and how that involvement impacted his and our lives.

This story begins with a recent trip I made to visit Twyla and Zach at UCLA, where they are both pursuing graduate studies. Twyla's field of science history is near and dear to my own interests, and she graciously allowed me to sit in on several lectures in the class for which she is a teaching assistant this semester, an undergraduate survey of science history from the French Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union. The professor is Theodore Porter, an expert on the development of statistics and the social sciences in the 19th century. His approach is to understand the cultural, social and political contexts of science history.

I had been reading along with the syllabus since the beginning of the term and scheduled my visit to hear his lectures about science under National Socialism, both in life science (eugenics) and the physical sciences (the Nazi atomic project and V2 rocketry). Among the readings for the week was the play Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, in which a 1941 meeting between two physics greats, Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, forms the central focus. (I had seen the play together with Stan, Helga, Walter and Joanne when it ran in San Francisco in 2002.)  Twyla and I spent a good deal of time during my visit discussing interpretations of the play.

I could go on at length on this subject, but the important thing is that my visit left me thinking about the resurrection of German physics after the war. On my return train trip through California's central valley, I recalled that a number of my father's physics colleagues were German. The field that he worked in, exploring the so-called Mössbauer effect, was named for Rudolph Mössbauer, a physicist from Munich who discovered a form of nuclear resonance in 1958 and won the Nobel Prize in 1961.

Taking advantage of Amtrak's on-board Wifi service, I googled to find out if Mössbauer had been the first postwar German Nobel recipient. He was not—Walter Bothe, a participant in the German Uranium Club that became the Nazi atomic bomb project, and the developer of Germany's first cyclotron, won it in 1954, awarded together with Max Born, a Jewish physicist who had fled Germany before the war. After that, Mössbauer was the first.

This rumination led to more searches of various scientists I remembered from Stan's days at Westinghouse (Pittsburgh), Soreq (Israel) and Argonne (Chicago). Mike Kalvius was one who had visited our family a number of times, and I remembered he was also from Munich. I discovered that earlier this year he had co-edited a volume of historical papers celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mössbauer Nobel.

There are quite a few mentions of Stan in the The Rudolf Mössbauer Story, including in a chapter by Gopal Shenoy, another frequent guest in our home, where he credits Stan for the important suggestion that synchrotron radiation could be a useful replacement for nuclear sources in Mössbauer spectroscopy. That insight, delivered in a paper at the 1974 Mössbauer Conference in Paris, is thought to be Stan's most significant career accomplishment, since synchrotron sources were later shown to be practical and are now commonly used for Mössbauer studies in various fields. (We have previously posted a copy of Gopal's obituary of Stan in Hyperfine Interactions, in which wrote that "Stan will be best remembered for his proposal in 1974 to excite the 14.4 keV Mössbauer resonance in Fe57 using synchrotron radiation rather than a radioactive source to populate the nuclear excited state.")

As I was enjoying this trip down memory lane, I soon received a shock when I began to see references to earlier work by Stan that I had known nothing about. It involved an experiment he had performed at Brookhaven as a graduate student, and it seems something had gone wrong along the way. I'll explain more in the next post.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Biney's mission to Perpignan

Biney requests permission to track Liebman assets in the free zone

Here we see mounting frustration from Clerc provisional administrator Biney as in July 1941 he seeks permission to travel to the free French zone to track down assets that Joseph Liebman has evidently left on deposit in a bank in Perpignan. Getting permits to pass between the occupied and free zones was not an easy matter, even though Biney writes that he sees people passing through zones "on the flimsiest grounds." This is Biney's second request to the authorities at the CGQJ to facilitate his request. 

The letter is also important because it is our first introduction to M. Vincent, who Biney describes as "the director of the house" who has given "statements" about the deposits of 2.2 million francs in Perpignan. Biney proposes that Vincent will join him on the mission to recover these assets. 

We hope to learn much more about M. Vincent's role in the story, we believe as some form of "straw man" for Joe Liebman, representing his interests at home while Joe was forced to flee the country. Here is my translation attempt:
Sir, I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of June 19 and if taken good note of your recommendations. 
As I explained in my report on the case CLERC & Bourguignon, 4, place de l'Opera, the Jew LIEBMAN won in June 1940 a large batch of jewelry which he kept some in his flight to America . 
But, after the statements of Mr. Vincent, Director of the house, he remained another important part to rise to 2.2 million francs in a box at Discount Bank of Perpignan. 
It is essential to recover that part of the asset and I asked last May 13 at the Prefecture of the Seine, a pass for me and Mr. Vincent, to go to PERPIGNAN to seek to repatriate the mechandise. 
Probably due to the lack of attention given, I was sent the attached printed form by mistake. 
Yet I see every day people go in zone free on the flimsiest grounds. 
I have therefore ask you, Mr. Director, kindly support our request by the Prefecture of the Seine which was the complete file May 13, noting the importance of (TWO MILLION TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND FRANCS) and emergency this mission ...

The Neuilly mansion is sold

Biney reports sale of Neuilly mansion
On May 12, 1943, Clerc provisional administrator Armand Biney reports to the Directorate of Aryanization at the CGQJ (headed by Boué) that a sale has been concluded for the property in Neuilly-sur-Seine, pending authorization and approval. Here is my imperfect translation:
Sir, As the provisional adminstrator of the Société Anonyme C. CLERC & BOIURGUIGNON, jewelry, 4 place de l'Opera, functions which I have been appointed by ministerial decree of May 6, 1941 published in the Official Gazette of May 19, 1941, page 2112. 
In conformity with the mandate I was given to pursue the sale of the business covered by said Society, according xx received by Barillot and Ms. M. Prudhomme, notaries at Paris, dated October 30, 1941, said rendering definitive December 29, 1942 deed said Notaries additional passes. 
The notice of approval of November 13, 1942 given by the Commissioner of Jewish Affairs, Section 8, file 264 was supplemented by an order to liquidate and dissolve the assets of Societe Anonyme, C. Clerc & Bourguignon and proceed with the sale of the mansion belonging to the company. 
The sale of this Hotel located 31 boulevard de la Saussaye sur Seine Neuilly has occurred following the minutes of the auction [?] Estate section, 1, rue de la Banque, in favor of Mr. Bellonat in Paris dated 12 February 1943 for the price of 1,301,900 francs. This sale is under execution for authorization and approval. 
In execution of the order that I was given in accordance with legal provisions on the Societies and ... [page 2 of document not available]
A couple of points: In a prior post, I said the sale happened simultaneously with the rental of the property to Mme. Kleinknecht. That was wrong, as this letter is written a year later and reports the sale is concluded in February 1943.

The buyer is M. Bellonat of Paris and the price is 1.3 million francs. With the surplus of Jewish real estate on the market needing French buyers, that price would be well under the prewar value of the property. I tried to find something on M. Bellonat without success.

The letter is useful in establishing this chronology of events.
• May 6, 1941 Biney appointed PA
• October 30, 1941 Sale of Clerc business announced pending approval
• November 13, 1942 Approval of sale by CGQJ
• November 13, 1942 Supplemental order to proceed with sale of the mansion 
• December 29, 1942 Sale of Clerc business is finalized and announced
• 12 February 1943 Real estate auction, sale pending approval

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rampant corruption in Aryanization

I have revised interpretations on several points in the previous post on the Clerc aryanization report, mainly based on my reading last night of "Bad Faith," by Carmen Callil, an examination of the inglorious career of Louis Darquier de Pellapoix, the chief of the CGQJ and cabinet level minister of Jewish affairs in the Vichy government.

The book describes in detail how economic aryanization worked, which was primarily for the personal enrichment of Darquier and his cronies, provisional administrators, and ordinary French citizens who took advantage of the opportunity to purchase stolen Jewish assets for bargain prices.

Provisional administrators were authorized under Germany's second decree on the Jews of France, enacted October 18, 1940. These administrators were appointed to oversee the aryanization of businesses that had been determined to be Jewish-owned under criteria in the decree. The administrator's job was to account for the value and inventory of the firm and then to arrange for it either to be sold to new Aryan owners or to liquidate its assets.

The proceeds from such sales were theoretically paid into government accounts and held in escrow for the Jewish owners, less the fee charged by the administrator and a 10 percent cut to cover the costs of operating the CGQJ. These escrow amounts were later looted to cover a billion franc fine levied against the Jews of Paris, a reprisal for Jewish support of Resistance activities. The tax policy was devised and implemented by our technocrat Dr. Blanke, who we have met earlier and will come back to.

There was corruption at every level of the Aryanization system. Provisional administrators had the power to set the value of assets to be sold and to select the buyers. Buyers bribed administrators to win the bids.

Administrators were supposedly selected on the basis of business management skills and experience in the industry. In fact, Darquier and his staff awarded positions to friends and as political favors, usually pocketing bribes. Administrators didn't handle just one business. Many were appointed to as many as 20 or more administratorships.

We don't know yet how Armand Biney came to be appointed as the provisional administrator for the Clerc business, whether he was truly a jewelry business specialist or if he held multiple administratorships. But we know that he is on the case by early in 1941 and that he is considering the options for sale and/or liquidation.

Remember that Joe Liebman has taken most of the assets with him when he fled a year earlier. Some may be still in the country in an account in Perpignon, which we will come to later, but the point now is that the value of the business is not in its holdings of jewelry inventory, which could be liquidated at a handsome profit, but primarily in the lease and brand equity of the Clerc stores.

There was more value to be realized through a sale than a liquidation, so Biney went looking for buyers. We may learn more about how he settled on Andre Vigoureux and his partners, and what was Biney's official and unofficial compensation for the choice, but for now we know that Vigoureux and two others formed a new company called Jewelry of the Opera on September 17, 1941. They capitalized the business with 4,000,000 francs. They will need those funds to acquire new merchandise for the store.

Articles of association are notarized and published in the newspapers. On December 7, the legal gazettes ran another notice, that of the proposed sale of Maison C. Clerc & Bourguignon, Joseph Liebman's company, to the new entity.

Following that will be a period in which the sale is pending but not yet approved by the French and German authorities. We have already seen that Paul Clerc's brother raises a legal objection to the sale five months after the sale announcement, in May 1942. We expect to learn more about what happens next in the continuing flow of documents coming from Jean Jacques Richard.

One more point on M. Biney. He decided to sell the business intact, except for one piece that had substantial separate value, the house in Neuilly. In the aryanization file, he reports that it has been rented to Walter Kleinknecht. His wife Laure moves in to the house in May 1942, on her own it turns out as the Kleinknechts are separating, and she begins to host elegant soirees there.

That we learn from the Gilbert Joseph biography of Laure Dissard. Since it takes me a long time to slog through that book in French, I don't know how long she continues to live there. But M. Biney is not interested in collecting rent. He is in the liquidation business. So it is not surprising to find in JJR's files that the same month that Laure Kleinknecht moves in, the property is sold to another buyer. More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paul Clerc objects to the sale

With our new knowledge of the timing of the Clerc sale, we return to the letter posted in a recent item from the lawyer of one of the original Clerc brothers. Earlier we were mainly interested in the name of the letter's recipient, Dr. Blanke, but now let's look at the content of the letter.

It is written May 16, 1942 by the lawyer for one of the two feuding Clerc brothers. The odd thing is he seems to have them confused when he begins by saying "My client, Mr. Charles Clerc" when he seems to be stating the case for the other brother Paul. In the handwritten notations on the page, someone (presumably Blanke) has written a question mark and the word "Paul" above the first mention of Charles Clerc.

Like Blanke and Jean-Jacques Richard, who unearthed this letter among hundreds of pages of Clerc-case documentation in the French National Archives, I am going to interpret this as the lawyer making an error. It makes more sense for Paul, who was the brother shut out of the company succession as the death of their father, to be the one raising these objections. We know all about this already from JJR's reporting on his blog.

The letter requests that the occupation authorities do not approve the sale of the Clerc business, as had been previously publicly announced in the December 7, 1941 edition of the Paris Gazette. In our prior post, Armand Biney's aryanization report, we learned that a sale of the Clerc assets had been proposed to a new company managed by Andre Vigoureux that had been formed just months earlier.

Paul Clerc objected to the sale on the grounds that he should be recognized as a legal heir to the business because of the prior history of the company. The letter notes that after the death of his father, his brother and mother operated the company under the stipulation that the assets would be liquidated and distributed to the brothers following the death of the mother. He has been frustrated that this did not happen after a court failed to uphold the stipulation.

We only see the first page of the letter so we don't know what else it says. We do know that later the authorities will overrule Paul's request, inasmuch as upholding it would delay the pace of aryanization, which is the primary concern of Blanke and the German authorities.

Clerc Aryanization report

Cover letter from Lucien Boué to Dr. Blanke
Jean-Jacques is sending new information at a faster clip than I have been able to absorb. I will return to a discussion of Dr. Blanke and other significant players in the confiscation of Joe Liebman's jewelry business, and how the German and French persecution hierarchies worked together in this and thousands of other cases of economic aryanization.

For now, let's jump directly into one critical document, a summary report on the progress of the aryanization of Clerc. The cover sheet above is a transmittal memo from Lucien Boué, the chief of the "Economic Aryanization" section of the CGQJ. It came with a four-page attached report written by Clerc "provisional administrator" Armand Biney. Those sheets are presented below.

Unfortunately, the source images that I am working from are not clear enough to attempt a full translation. Here is what I have been able to suss out.

The cover sheet is date-stamped September 16, 1943. This is approximately 16 months since Boué had taken command of the section after his sponsor Louis Darquier was appointed as the chief of the overall CGQJ in May 1942, replacing the previous more moderate administration and further centralizing its powers. (You'll learn much more about Blanke, Darquier, Boué and other key figures in upcoming posts.)

The letter is addressed to the Commissioner for "dejudification of the economy" at the military command in France including the Commissioner General for Jewish Questions. This is a bit confusing since the dejudification official at the MBF would be Kurt Blanke, but the "Generalkommissar für Judenfragen" seems to be the translation for the French "Commissariat général aux questions juives," which is the office held by Darquier. The fact that the document is in German suggests that the intended audience for the report are German officials.

The subject line in the memo includes the notation "Russian," presumably a reference to Joe Leibman's ancestry. The memo is a response to a referenced letter (from Blanke to Boué?) of October 17, 1942. Boué writes: "According to the [referenced] letter, I return the enclosed four registration forms completed by the provisional administrator." There are four attached pages.

The attached pages are structured as a formatted report, with headings for General Information, Linearization, Sale, Owners, Staff and several others I can't make out. It also includes a list of 11 attachments, which are not included among the pages I have.

It begins with summary financial information and information about the Provisional Administrator, Mr. Biney (the author of the report), including his fixed remuneration, proposed additional compensation and bank information. There is a bank receipt included among the attachments.

The notation at the top references a period from September 1, 1940 to August 31, 1941, and an amount of 8,995,715.80 francs, including a "loss fund" of 350,000 francs. I'm not sure what those figures refer to. Could that be a figure for the sales revenue of the business for the 12-month period?

Under the heading "General Information," there is more financial information, specifically concerning "the rent of the premises." I presume this refers to the rents paid by the business for its store locations. It says that "for the period from July 1, 1939 through July 1942, rent was 290,000 francs; for the following three years: 300,000 francs."

It is difficult to calculate historical exchange rates and apply them to today's equivalent, but a very rough calculation suggests 100,000 old francs in 1942, the approximate yearly rent for the Clerc & Bourguignon stores, might be equivalent to about 40,000 euros or $50,000 today. The 9 million francs in revenue, if that is what it is, would convert to about $3.5 million euros or more than $4 million. Let me know if you have a better way to calculate a conversion rate.

The next heading of the report is "Arisierung," which translates literally as "linearization" but also means "aryanization." There is no text under this heading, though we will see that the racial makeup of the current ownership is covered later in the report.

Now comes the meat of the report under the heading "Sale." It first establishes that a corporation Société de Bijouterie de l'Opera was founded with capital of 4,000,000 francs on September 17, 1941, notarized and published on October 30. It is represented by Mr. Andre Vigoureux in his capacity as temporary general director. The business operates a business fund for the purposes of trading in gold goods, real and costume jewelry, gems, timepieces and other jewelry products.

The next page has lots of detail about the proposed sale, but unfortunately most is not readable. At the top, it seems to say that the sale price is 650,000 francs, a dramatic devaluation from its founding capital. I know that it was common for Jewish property to be sold to Aryan buyers at a fraction of the real value. Surely Vigoureax and his friends did not take the loss.

Much of this must be explained in the next four paragraphs that I cannot make out. The last two paragraphs under that section state that the purchase agreement is contingent on one or more factors, and the French Comité d'Organisation des Industries et Métiers d'Art has reviewed and approved the sale. The latter organization represents the interests of the crafts industry, which includes the jewelry trade.

I can't read the next section heading, but the content is about a private residence that is among the assets owned by the company. The provisional administrator has decided to lease the house to Mr. Walter Kleinknecht, a German citizen.

The next page, DSC-0170 continues this section with a discussion of the private house in connection to aryanization, noting that the property is now in aryan possession.

Now the report proceeds to the subjects of the racial makeup of the current management and staff.  Under managers, we see that each of three men listed, including Mr. Vigoureux, are noted as being aryan. Under "Personnel" we find that there are 20 employees, 19 aryan and Mrs. Block, a Jewish [cleaning woman?] who is not in contact with the public. She is a widow whose husband was killed in the war.

The last paragraph, both heading and text, are too fuzzy to make out, but it seems to summarize the linearization status of the business. The foreigner who was the previous owner is out of the country, the current shareholders are of aryan descent and are fully independent of the Jewish former owner, and that the status of the private house on the Rue de la Saussaye in Neuilly-sur-Seine has been addressed.

Finally, the last page lists 11 attachments that we don't have. This page is fairly legible and I offer a rough translation of the complete list.

1. The sales contract
2. Letter from the notary, M. Barillot
3. [Document from] the "Comité d'organization"
4. Budgets and businesses accounts for the years 1938-1939-1940 and through April 30 1941
5. Roll of the members of the society "BIJOUTERIE DE L'OPERA"
6. Copies of the Articles of Association published in newspapers
7. Copy of the minutes of the General Meeting of 11 September 1941.
8. Deposit receipt from Barclay's Bank.
9. Compensation proposal
10. [Something about] the Treasury
11. Lease for the private home in NEUILLY.

If anyone can do a better job of deciphering the content of these pages than I did, I would be very happy to hear from you. Here they are in small sizes (click to view in full size). 


Friday, August 17, 2012

Docteur Blanke at Hotel Majestic

One of the interesting documents that we have courtesy of Jean-Jacques Richard is this May 1942 letter  (photographed from a microfilm reader) from the lawyer of Charles Clerc to a Docteur Blanke at the Hotel Majestic regarding a legal proceeding concerning the Société de Bijouterie le l'Opera, the business that Joseph Liebman had been forced to leave behind two years earlier as he fled to America. 

I can't make it out well enough to translate it in full, but it recounts the complicated ownership history of the company following the death of founder Charles Rémy Clerc (in 1915) and before its acquisition (in 1932) by Joseph Liebman. As has been well covered on the JJR blog, Clerc's widow and son Charles took control of the business to the disadvantage of another son Paul Clerc.

Although neither Clerc brother held an ownership interest in the business in 1940, when the German military took command of Paris, both now sought to regain control of the company under the occupier's Aryanization policy, in which Jewish-owned businesses were appropriated and placed under non-Jewish administration. 

To learn more, I googled the name of this letter's addressee: Docteur Blanke at the Hotel Majestic. What popped up was an except from the book "Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War" by Hal Vaughan (Knopf, 2011). 
As promised Vaufredland now contacted his friend, a German official named Prince Ernst Ratibor-Corvey (also a friend of Dincklage). Ratibor-Corvey advised Vaufreland to arrange an appointment for Chanel with Dr. Kurt Blanke, who operated out of the Gestapo offices at the Hotel Majestic where Blanke and his coworkers administered Nazi laws providing for the confiscatiokn of Jewish property. Chanel sought Blanke's help to Aryanize La Societe des Parfums Chanel in her favor. 
With the occupation of France, the forty-year-old Blanke, a German lawyer and Nazi, had been appointed by Berlin to head the Paris office responsible for Entjudung, "the elimination of Jewish influence." Until 1944 he played a key role in seizing Jewish assets—transferring Jewish-owned businesses and property into Aryan hands.
Chanel and Blanke met at the Hotel Majestic sometime in the early winter of 1941-1942. Afer speaking with him, Chanel believed she was one step closer to defeating the Wertheimers and getter full control of the Societe des Parfums Chanel. 
I have since read the full fascinating book, which for the first time tells the complete story of the famous fashion designer's Nazi collaboration during the Occupation years. Chanel's story in many ways parallels on a grander scale the circumstances of Clerc. I hope to come back with more thoughts about the book later, but let's not lose track of Dr. Blanke.

Now with his first name and details of his function in Paris, I google again and find a German Wikipedia page here, from which we learn that Blanke went on to a distinguished career in law and public service, escaping scrutiny for his wartime activities until well after his death in 1997. The article notes that beginning in 2008, research by historian Martin Jungius documented Blanke's central role as the administrator of Nazi policy to eliminate Jewish influence in the French economy.

The Wiki page links to the key paper by Jungius and co-author Wolfgang Seibel, "The Citizen as Perpetrator: Kurt Blanke and Aryanization in France 1940-1944," published in the Winter 2008 edition of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Since it is normally behind an academic paywall but is of high interest to the small general audience of this blog, I make it available for reading here. If Oxford Journals requests, I will take it down.

In an upcoming post, I'll summarize what we learn about Blanke from Jungius, and what that tells us about the facts of the Clerc case that is the focus of our interest.

Monday, August 13, 2012

JJR blog posts Neuilly floor plans

There is some notable new information in the latest posting by French blogger Jean-Jacques Richard at Bijoux et Pierres Precieuses. Among the material mined from the archived case files of the Aryanization proceedings involving the House of Clerc are these architectural floor plans for the house at Neuilly. 

Following are JJR's annotations, as Google-translated from the French.
The description of the house said that the field is 19 meters by 40 meters long, that the cement wall on the boulevard, is topped by an iron railing, according to the rules of the road from the town of Paris, a grid "curb cut" has two iron gates topped with a decorative pattern, the text that was prépatré to lease said that the mansion was built in luxury materials. 
In the basement, staff accommodation, garage etc.. On this part of the plan, the basement and first floor.
Upstairs, a large bedroom with bathroom and WC. A terrace in front of the room and the bathroom and another terrace with pergola on the right side of the room.
The second floor, covered terrace with two bedrooms, bathroom, laundry and toilet. The floor of the vestibule is paved with marble "raw shad" with marble baseboards around the perimeter walls.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Call for a Ruby-Felenstein-Brenner Reunion in 2013

Dear Marsha, Janis, Leslie, Dan and others,

Thank you enormously for your kind words about my reportage on the trip with Mel. As I said before, the trip turned out to be no sacrifice at all on my part, but rather a deeply enriching experience that had the wonderfully salutary effect of taking me out of my own problems and issues for a few days and giving me the chance to plunge into another fascinating and inspiring reality. I feel very lucky to have had the chance and emerge from it considerably calmer and saner than I was a week ago

Marsha picked up on my earlier comment that we Ruby kids missed out on a lot of family lore and family connection by the decision of our parents to leave New York when we were very small and move to Pittsburgh, Chicago and points west. (Stan, Helga, wherever you are, I’m not trying to guilt-trip you here, no doubt the decision made a lot of sense for professional reason and God knows, Green Valley Drive in Glenshaw, PA, had a lot of redeeming virtues, including skiing on Hodel’s farm and running wild in Mrs. Lawrence’s woods, etc.) Yes, Marsha, it was sad for all of us, but there’s still time in our lives to pick up lost threads and weave something old and new…

In any case, what I would propose for family reconnection and bonding purposes would be to take a page from Mel’s 87th U.S. Army Division and hold a 2013 Ruby-Felenstein-Brenner reunion in some lovely spot somewhere. Those who can’t make it physically could be streamed in via Skype. All generations should be represented, so members of the younger generation would be coerced by all manner of arm twisting, guilt tripping and/or vague promises of financial reward to show up. This would be Ruby-Felenstein-Brenner families in the broadest sense of the word, encompassing spouses and their families, stepchildren, and anyone else in our extended circles who would like to attend and share stories and memories.

We could have all manner of historical discussions, photo sharing and group therapy sessions, etc. and emerge after a long weekend, uplifted and transformed, and with enough material to keep Danny busy for decades to come on the Ruby Family History blog!

OK, the idea is out there; now I am turning it over to those of you with organizational abilities to bring to fruition…
This picture below from my jaunt to Naragansett Beach is symbolic of Cousin Love and the pheonix-like return of the Ruby-Felenstein-Brenner connection.

Much love to you all,


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Mel's reunion final report

Group portrait of the surviving vets of the 87th, including several members of the WACS
Dear All,

Mel and  Leslie at the reunion
The second and final day of the 87th Infantry Division reunion (actually there were three days, but we missed the first) was even more intellectually enriching and emotionally resonant than the first. I missed the business meeting at which it was decided to hold another meeting next year, despite the dwindling number of living vets (they deal with that tough decision every year and every year decide to continue), so next year in Atlanta...

Mel and Kathleen Coleton, daughter of 
Mel's closest war buddy John Coleton, 
who couldn't make the reunion this 
year  because of ill health. 

Leslie Brenner arrived from her home in Portsmouth in time to attend the Memorial Service with Mel and myself...Various prayers, declarations  and color guards marching through a small room...This year when they read George Washington's Prayer for the Nation, the written version contained a reference to his faith in Jesus Christ, but out of respect for the Jewish soliders, they did not mention Jesus Christ when reading the proclamation out loud. (Mel had spoken to the powers that be on that issue last year and they understood the discomfort that caused the Jewish vets). There was plenty of spirituality though, especially when everyone joined wholeheartedly in a moving rendition of Amazing Grace...

Leslie and Kathleen Coleton
Then there was a session of reminiscing about difficult issues from the battlefront...They spoke about having known men who literal shot themselves in the foot so as to be able to get out of the horror of the fighting, with one guy acknowledging that he and others covered for one guy who shot himself in the foot, saying it was an accident, not intentional...One vet, a taciturn type from the South, spoke candidly about his lifelong struggle against anxiety--how he managed to succeed in his career and build a happy marriage and family despite the demons he was constantly fighting, including the shame he felt about his condition. He did electroshock treatments back in the 50s, which helped some, but he didn't really get relief until Zoloft appeared in the 90s. It was moving that he felt safe to share what had been deep dark secrets in front of all those people.

Military couple from Minnesota
One guy talked about the shock of visiting Buchenwald two days after it was liberated, describing vividly in the first person what we have all seen on faded newsreels and in history books; the smell, the piled up bodies and watching a former prisoner beating S.S. prison guards with a riding crop...Mel, whose unit also liberated a much smaller concentration camp, said until that point, there had been virtually no awareness of the reality of the Holocaust  among the U.S. troops, lncluding the Jewish ones. Mel shared one of the most powerful anecdotes---how he talked some of his comrades out of shooting German soldiers they had captured...He argued that it was morally wrong, would dishonor the company, and if word got out,  it would prevent more Germans from surrendering...At one point he summoned all of his will to hold himself back from shooting in the stomach a teenage Hitler Youth member he had captured who had been firing at him from a house...but sometimes there was no choice but to shoot the Hitler Youth who chopped down trees and did other desperate acts of sabotage to slow the American advance in the final weeks because they resisted to the very end...

Leslie works the crowd
Dear Readers, I must acknowledge missing the end of that session as I rushed off for a delicious swim at Naragansett Beach...Later came the closing banquet, which was memorable for me in part for the chance to have some quality time with Leslie, who shared family memories growing up...How her grandfather Lee Klein used to take them to the races at Saratoga and other wonderful memories of her grandparents Lil and Lee, of Uncle Morty, of her relationship growing up with Wendy, Marsha and Robert...It made me realize how much rich family life Dan, Joanne and I missed out on because our parents moved with us away from New York to Pittsburgh and Chicago as kids...There was an amazing entertainment at the Banquet---an acapella group called Boston Accent who performed songs from the 30s to the 70s with gorgeous harmonies, but also with plenty of fun and sass...utterly charming...and we all had plenty to drink, or at least I did...It seemed appropriate to honor the memory of my late grandfather Walter Ruby and Lee Klein, who also went into the liquor business, with several rum and cokes (as most of you know he famously invited the drink, which he labelled Carioca Cooler)...

In any case, it was a magical two days. I saw humanity at its best on so many levels...Maybe there still is hope that this species can build a decent future...Thanks so much to Mel for giving me the chance to experience all of this and to Leslie for sharing it with us...Hugs to you all,


Naragansett beach

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Report from Mel's WW2 reunion

Dear Friends,

Just wanted to share a little of the reunion of Mel's 87th Infantry Division Legacy Association with you. There are maybe 150 people here at the Reunion at a large hotel in Warwick, RI --34 surviving veterans of World War II and the rest children and grandchildren and assorted relatives of the vets, including some who have continued to be involved even though their fathers are now deceased. They come from every corner of the U.S., though the majority are from the Northeast, and of course Florida, to which so many have retired. This is really Middle America in all of its permutations, but a really kindly, warm and fuzzy face of Middle America. People are here for each other, a wonderful spirit of voluntarism and everyone looking out for each other.

Battle flag of the 87th Division 
On one level obviously, the whole thing is a tribute to the unfathomable experiences the members of 87th Divison, living and dead (the youngest, like Mel are about to turn 87, the oldest surviving veteran, Walt Clarke, is 95) went through on the frozen battlefields of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and during their triumphant drive across Germany the following spring, ending near the Czechoslovak border on the last day of the way, May 7, 1945. On a deeper level, there is shared connections of the vets and their loved ones and survivors with each other.

Gen. William McAuliffe said
"Nuts" to the Nazis
To say that death was everywhere around them during those months is an understatement; for example, of the 42 men in Mel's unit at the beginning of the fighting in the fall of 1944, only 7 were still alive at the end of the war. Who died and who survived was completely about grotesque games of chance. One guy spoke about watching his entire unit get decimated while he escaped unharmed a few yards away; Mel was blown into the air by an exploding shell, but came down unharmed. Wiliam Foster of northern  New York State, who remembers Mel from the fighting as "a damn good soldier", remembers diving for cover into a foxhole during a German artillery barrage and finding himself on top of a dead German soldier. He jumped out and ran for another hole, hich he now remembers as a foolish thing to have done. Every night they would dig holes to lie down in their sleeping bags in the tundra like snowy terain; inability to get warm was a constant torture during the Bulge; in the morning they would slither out of the slepping bags to find them frozen to the ground and would have to cut the bags loose with knives...

Mel in conversation at the reumion
The vets speak of returning from that hell to normal lives back home--Mel who was then all of 19 and 20, said he "went back to being a kid." Somehow the miracles of the human brain made it possible to put the war experiences behind them ad lead amazingly normal lives; only many decades later did they feel the need to begin to process the experience together and realize in many cases that they had experienced traumatic stress disorders that had impacted their subsequent lives in ways they still often cant put their fingers on or articulate. But the overwhelming impression is of genial, balanced and good humored men of whom Mel is an Exhibit A (everyone here appreciates his warm and intelligent sense of humor and his wonderful eccenticites like the canes he whittles filled with  birds and whimsical human faces).

Faces in the crowd at the mixer
Last night's 'mixer' was a feast that ended in a sing-along of sons of the era (White Cliffs of Dover, We'll Meet Again and the previous generations (Bicycle Built for Two, This is the Army Mr. Jones)...One veteran got up and sang a less reverential send up of the army life, filled with words like 'shit' and 'asshole' at which all laughed uproriously. People reminsced and socialized and looked at photos and maps and documents chronicling the searing experience of the 87th with a sense of wonderment, sometime reverential and sometimes  irreverant. One is reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's famous throwaway line about the bombing of Dresden and all the other horrors of the era all of these folks lived through. "So It Goes," he wrote.

Walt Clarke, 95. is the oldest
survivor of the 87th. He was
a surgeon during the fighting
So it went and so it still goes in Syria right now and on  other assored battlefields around the world; so it has gone for our own Israeli cousins for all of these decades...and how fortunate most of us have been to have escaped having our own lives seared by these horrors. Without getting too pompous and teary eyed, our luck is due in large part to the sacrifice these guys made on the battlefields of Normandy, the Ardennes and so many other fronts; and the tenacity of our valiant Russian allies; who smashed the Nazi blitzkrieg in the snows of Moscow and Stalingrad and saved all of us not only from having to fight but of complete incineration at the hands of a system that tried to murder every Jew in the world.

To paraphrase the Who, I dig my own generation--we had a vision of a new non-exploitive and egalitarian society and did our best to create it against heavy odds..maybe it was "only the fitful dreanms of some greater awakening" to quote Jackson Browne, but I immensely proud of it and feel honored to have lived it. That said, I'm ready to cede the 'Greatest Generation' moniker to Mel and his comrades. Did they ever earn it!!

Leslie will arrive here shortly anbd more events for the rest of the day. I'll report again tomorrow...Here are a few pix...sorry on the quality...more pix to come with next report


Responses to good news for Robert

Comments poured in from around the cousin-osphere.

Such wonderful news!!!  Bob, I know you rallied the night I saw you last month in the hospital, but with Jane by your side, and that old twinkle in your eye, I had this strong feeling you would pull through.  It is wonderful to see Walter's photos of you guys actually out for dinner.  I did raise a glass for you, and now that I am home, will be talking to Danny about when / how to see you next.  I'm envisioning you, Jane, Dan leading us all in a long night of R&R.....I am just so happy for you.
Love, Joanne 
this is the best news i've heard!!!!!!! i knew he'll get out of very happy for's to many more years of good love to robert....
Mila Illishaev 
Pure Joy to hear the news. Congratulations!!!
Much, much LOVE,
Now this is the kind of news that makes one smile. Fantastic news Rob. All the Klein's have been thinking of you.
Love to all
Go Rob, indeed!!!  I spoke to them earlier and was so happy to hear the news! I knew you would be thrilled too! Let's hope things keep going in this direction and we can both take a deep breath and relax about his health a little!
Have a good weekend and send everyone my love.
Wow, such wonderful news! When I spoke to him by phone during your visit yesterday, I was struck that he seemed pretty much his old self, funny and sheepish, though obviously weaker. I raise my glass to the power of cousin love: l'chaim, it's better than the alternative.
Love to all,

Good News for Robert!

Dear All,

Jane just called to inform me that the results of Robert's CAT scan is that the tumor in his lung has shrunk by half and the related one in his liver is gone completely. The doctor tells her he expects the cancer to go into complete remission...It fels like a new lease on life...Jane says they are looking forward to his hair growing back and him getting back up on stage with his guitar playing Eric Clapton to Jane's Janis Joplin in that kick-ass oldies group known as Petrified Rock...Here is an order for all except the teetotalers: Everyone raise a toast to Robert tonight and over the weekend! Teetotalers can raise glasses of Ginger Ale. Go Rob! Keep Rockin' On...



Thursday, August 02, 2012

Cousin love from Leslie

A review of Cousin Love - The Sequel:
Filled with vivid descriptions of family connections and heartfelt desire to maintain meaningful ties, Walter Ruby has captured what countless families experience as geography and life directions separate them over time. What is powerful about this account is the realization that those involved are, and have always been, quite fond of one another. Cousins in common, yet cousins distanced from one another, for the most part, in their post-youth years. Siblings who have remained closely connected, while feeling that they each have the tiniest of extended families - "compact" as he says.
Looking forward to additional episodes of this engaging story - this reunion of sorts. 
-- Leslie B

Walter, thank you for your recent intentions to keep us aware of and connected to our cousins. The people we have known for oh-so-long, yet have had time pass by in any routine interactions. It doesn't matter how much time has passed, my own memories of my cousins remain the times when we were together as youth (much fewer times with my IL branch, and a little bit more frequent with my NY ones). And then, later on, some wonderful memories of my newer IL cousins (the Kleins). Also way too infrequent. And being in the company of my Uncle Alan (who I always refer to as my truly favorite uncle, and it has meaning anyway, even though he is my only uncle)!! 

I will see Walter on Saturday, as I join him and dad in RI. It is extremely cool that you are accompanying Mel to his WWII 87th Infantry Division Reunion.  I am eager to be a part of the Saturday events and the evening banquet with the veterans. When I accompanied my father a few years ago, to Harrisburg, PA, that event was one of the more emotional features of the reunion for me. Standing and singing the national anthem together, with veterans and their extended families, was incredibly moving. It is not the type of experience we often get to share in our lives. And the fact that the group has dwindled down since then, means that it will have even more significance, me thinks. Amy and Janis both had similar experiences when they accompanied dad on past reunion trips. Thanks, again, Walter, for getting dad there this year. 

Please let us know what Robert's test result outcome is. His ordeal is quite unimaginable. Give him a giant, warm hug from me tomorrow. 

Cousins, love, corresponding, and more.