Returns: Science and Struggle, Berkeley and Italy (1946–1950):
Smell of Hydrogen Sulfide, Acque Albule
Così con legge alterna
L'animo si governa
(Thus with an alternate law
The mind rules itself)
Giuseppe Parini, "La educazione"
The ending of the war posed me serious personal problems. I could have remained at Los Alamos, but I considered my work there an interlude required by the war. I had long ago chosen an academic career as my lifelong vocation, and I wanted to return to a good university position where I could do physics without worrying about a career and in scientifically favorable surroundings. This should have been easy, but my particular situation and my past relations with Berkeley made it difficult and unpleasant.
Many colleagues of my age had academic bases to which they could return: Bethe and Rossi at Cornell University, Staub at Stanford, Alvarez and McMillan at Berkeley. Fermi was about to move from Columbia to new institutes that the University of Chicago was creating. I did not have any certain perspective.
Berkeley was, to say the least, ambiguous, and I did not have any firm offer from other universities. People in similar situations did not even know what to ask and what reasonably to expect, so much so that to remedy this lack of information we started confidentially letting each
other know about offers received, establishing a sort of stock market for physicists.
Ambassador Alberto Tarchiani (1885–1964), the first postwar Italian representative at Washington, in an official letter dated April 7, 1945, offered me reintegration into the Italian university system and return to my old Palermo chair. I answered declining the offer because by then I was established in the United States. I couched my answer in friendly, appreciative terms, as the spirit of the offer deserved. Ambassador Tarchiani also asked me for a description of the Italian contribution to the Manhattan Project, and I sent it to him within the limits of the then-prevailing secrecy rules.
I spoke to Fermi about my situation, but initially he did not propose me for a job at Chicago, probably because he loathed even the appearance of nepotism and of favoring Italians. On the other hand, he mentioned me to Professor Joyce C. Stearns, who was moving from Chicago to Washington University at St. Louis, Missouri. A. H. Compton was about to become chancellor of Washington University. Compton wanted to revitalize the sciences, and especially nuclear science. He had hired my old friend J. W. Kennedy, A. C. Wahl, and several other chemists as part of that program, and he had similar plans for physics.
In the meantime, Berkeley had shown some signs of life in the shape of a letter from Raymond Birge offering me the position of assistant professor, without tenure and with a salary suitable for a beginner. I found the offer insulting. Birge was out of touch with the realities of the situation. My only possible answer was not to answer and sit tight waiting for events to mature.
This caused me considerable annoyance. In his "History of the Physics Department," Birge remarks that part of the correspondence is missing from my personal file. This missing correspondence did not show too much acumen on the side of the university. In any case, it was clear to me that unless I had some good offer from elsewhere, Berkeley would not move on its own initiative. This type of deplorable behavior is caused, I believe, by the lack of self-confidence on the part of administrators and decision makers who do not trust their own
judgment. Furthermore, they want to be smart and save money for their institution by paying the faculty as little as possible, mostly with counterproductive results.
From Birge's "History," it seems that the head of the Physics Department at Washington University, A. L. Hughes, had asked for information about me already in March 1945. Finally, in August 1945, Washington University made a firm offer of an associate professorship at $5,000 a year. This offer became my baseline. Washington University was a good university, and even if it did not have Berkeley's accelerators, it was a place where one could work. R. L. Thornton, a close friend of mine, had been there before the war and had built an excellent 42-inch cyclotron; now he had been offered an important position, somewhat parallel to that of Kennedy. All told, the place was attractive. However, I thought that in the long run Berkeley would have superior facilities, and I wrote to Birge to find out whether he would improve on the St. Louis offer.
By coincidence, my letter was mailed on August 8, immediately after the explosion of the Hiroshima bomb. Birge must then have realized that speed was needed. However, he started by writing a long delaying answer dated August 11. There were also some underground maneuvers I did not suspect. Oppenheimer wrote an ambiguous letter on my behalf. Lawrence too seemed to be wavering between me and others who later did not have particularly distinguished careers.
However, after the ice was broken by the St. Louis offer, Chicago came along. I went there on September 20, 1945, to inspect the situation on the spot. I had not yet answered Birge's last delaying letter, because after the first offer of an assistant professorship and Berkeley's present obvious eagerness, I believed it was better for me to let them stew in their own juice. It was also a way to let them realize the inappropriateness of their first offer. Ultimately, Chicago considerably bettered the St. Louis offer, and this put me in a quandary.
I was strongly attracted to Chicago by Fermi's presence; on the other hand there were drawbacks. Fortunately, the problem was to choose the best of two good offers. Ultimately, in order to come to a decision, I went to Berkeley to speak with the principals and to appraise the
situation on the spot. I believe, however, that I always had a subconscious preference for Berkeley.
I arrived in the Bay Area by train on the night of October 1, and I remember I slept on a bench at the station because there was no way of finding a room or transportation to Berkeley. Next day I started my exploration by speaking at length with Birge, as head of the physics department, with Lawrence as director of the Radiation Laboratory, and with F. A. Jenkins as a trusted friend, conversant with the local situation. Clearly a favorable wind was blowing, and within the day I succeeded in raising Berkeley's offer to a full professorship at $6,500 a year, which I believe was the top of the regular scale.
At this point I decided to accept the offer, which fulfilled my desires and expectations. However, I somewhat delayed my final answer, because I wanted to repay Berkeley's previous dillydallying. Lawrence wisely admonished some colleagues not to be jealous that I had overtaken them. On the contrary, they should rejoice, because my promotion could only benefit them too in the future. I remembered the lesson.
When I sent my final acceptance, Lawrence wrote to me on November 2, 1945, "Needless to say I am mighty glad that you made the right decision, although I can't understand why it took you so long." I never told him why, because it would not have helped.
My appointment started effective July l, 1945, but I began serving in the spring of 1946. At the time, ideas on relations between the Rad Lab and the university, on financial support for research, and on the possible influence of the military were still confused. I counted here on the political savvy of Lawrence, who certainly would know how to turn the tables to his advantage. I had a solid university basis and financial and instrument support from the Rad Lab. This informal arrangement left me free in my research and at the same time ensured support for my work. Lawrence generously and intelligently was willing to let me enjoy the advantages of the Rad Lab without his having direct authority over me and without paying me; I hoped to repay him by doing good work.
As a research program I wanted first to finish several studies started at Los Alamos, such as my work on spontaneous fission, and some other
aspects of transuranics. Next I wanted to bring to a conclusion the unfinished work, initiated in 1940, on changing the half-life of a radioactive substance. I also wanted to investigate the chemistry of the element astatine, which we had discovered before the war. I started this work immediately with the help of Clyde Wiegand and of a chemist, Dr. R. Leininger, hired with Rad Lab money, and some graduate students I found at Berkeley.
I would have liked to continue my work in nuclear physics with a strong chemical component. I planned my operations on a small scale; four or five people. This was a serious error; I did not understand what competition awaited me. I also preferred to work in university buildings on campus, because although an excellent Maecenas, Lawrence was too demanding a boss. I found it extremely difficult, however, even with Birge's help, to get the university to fix up even a single room as an adequate lab. Buildings and Grounds worked slowly and inefficiently.
Soon I realized that Seaborg had a systematic and tightly knit net for controlling research on transuranics. Through his connections, established at the Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago and elsewhere, he was practically the only person able to secure irradiated materials. Furthermore, he was on the declassification committees and through them could influence what was published. With his great organizing ability, he was about to create within the Rad Lab a very substantial chemistry laboratory, and Lawrence had given him strong support and a free hand. I did not have the impression that Lawrence liked him especially; to tell the truth he seemed at least equally friendly to me, but, wisely, he did not want intralaboratory squabbles, and in the end what counted with him was success and size of the enterprise.
For a while I thought that by sticking to my own specialties, spontaneous fission and radiochemical effects, I would be able to work in peace. But I soon realized that I was headed for trouble. Seaborg wanted the monopoly on transuranics, and he operated on such a large scale that I could not compete with him with a small group. Moreover, his appetites might easily extend further. A collaboration on an equal footing was also precluded. In fact, unless one was willing to accept a position subordinate to Seaborg, which I was naturally unwilling to do,
all nuclear work even remotely connected with chemistry was becoming problematic; nuclear physics actually disappeared from the physics department, being transferred to the chemistry department as "nuclear chemistry."
At the same time, several physicists who had always had a dual interest in nuclear physics and in accelerators emphasized their interest in the development of the latter, which had always been Lawrence's primary interest. The abundant new financial support opened up unexpected possibilities, and an important discovery by Vladimir Veksler and Edwin McMillan, phase stability, made it possible to reach relativistic energies by a sophisticated technique and not exclusively by brute force. Also what had been learned from radar work during the war found important applications to accelerators. Berkeley physicists thus turned to new, higher-energy accelerators, which could give access to particle physics.
Higher energies might not only reveal unexpected novelties, but could also provide the key to important old problems still awaiting solutions, such as the detailed study of the nucleon-nucleon interaction. One might hope to duplicate Rutherford's feat on Coulomb forces and discover the true nuclear forces through the study of nucleon-nucleon collisions. Actually, the problem is much more complicated than we believed. From the point of view of modern "chromodynamics," which gives the forces between quarks, "nuclear forces" are a secondary phenomenon. Looked from the point of view of chromodynamics, they are similar to molecular Van der Waals forces looked at from the point of view of electrodynamics. But in the immediate postwar era, there were theoreticians who believed that observation of so-called "p waves," of angular momentum 1, in nucleon-nucleon scattering would solve all problems, or at least would be a gigantic step forward.
In this long period, I was torn between physics, which I understood, and the compelling necessity of attending to business problems for which I had no inclination, and that perturbed me emotionally. My brothers, each for a different reason, made this even more painful. Angelo wrote almost daily letters that posed problems and upset me.
Marco behaved in a way that evoked mistrust and fostered serious worry.
Since the end of the war, I had felt a need to visit Italy to reestablish contact with the survivors and look after business interests. This had been impossible in 1946. Not only was the U.S. government reluctant to give a passport to someone who had worked on the atomic bomb, but transportation difficulties and the devastation of Italy added further obstacles.
In the summer of 1947, I decided to go alone, leaving my family in Berkeley. This was the first of innumerable transatlantic flights. I left Berkeley on June 20 by train and stopped at Chicago to visit Fermi, at Schenectady to do some consulting for General Electric, and in New York City to visit my brother Angelo. At Chicago we talked physics, and I invited Fermi to come to Berkeley, where we needed a top theoretician, but as often occurs in these dealings, the plan came to naught. At General Electric, I found Bethe, Placzek, and Pontecorvo. In New York I saw Angelo for the first time in a long while.
He was in a mistrustful mood, and I tried to persuade him that I had no intention of taking advantage of him, but that I wanted only to come to a clear and fair settlement of our inheritance. "Angelo seems in a very nervous and sentimental state; he spent the morning vomiting as a result of the emotions of recent days," I wrote to Elfriede. Alluding to the invention of the atomic bomb, Angelo aptly said that the state of the world was as if, in ancient times, cats had by chance discovered fire.
On June 25, I boarded a DC-3 for Italy. A Catholic prelate in clerical garb was one of the passengers. He was obviously an important character, because Cardinal Spellman and several bishops came to pay their respects to him. On the plane there was also a priestling from Texas who spoke only Spanish and was terribly scared of flying. He turned to me with a demure air and said: "Mañana, Deo volente, estaremos en Madrid." Then, seeing all the bishops, he started counting: "Un obispo, dos obispos, tres obispos!" He too did not know who the dignitary was. We stopped in Newfoundland, where more obispos
showed up. Later, in the middle of the night, we landed in Lisbon. I was looking at the sky when the prelate turned to me and said, I believe in English, "Are you looking at the stars? When I was a young man I traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem by mule, at night, and I learned then to recognize the constellations." And he started pointing them out to me. Once the ice was broken, the conversation took a surprising turn. First he enquired about myself; I told him that I was a physicist who had worked at Los Alamos, and he started speaking of things atomic, of the Russians' progress and how far advanced they were. He obviously knew what he was talking about, and when I asked him in astonishment how he had learned all this, his answer was: "There are people willing to risk their lives for the love of God." With this, the conversation ended. Who could His Eminence the cardinal be? I wondered (guessing his rank from a careful examination of his attire, including the color of his socks). The answer came on our arrival at Rome, when a solicitous customs officer shouted: "Make way, Diplomatic Passport, Eugene Cardinal Tisserand," and bore him off. So I learned that my fellow traveler was no less than the dean of the College of Cardinals. His conversation left me very perplexed as to what to do. I went to see the U.S. ambassador, but could not speak to him; instead, I met the first counsellor, Mr. Llewellyn Thompson. We had a long conversation, and he impressed me as an extremely intelligent and well-informed gentleman. (He later became ambassador to Moscow.) The information supplied by the cardinal was reported to Washington.
In Rome, I went to stay at the old family apartment at Corso Vittorio 229, where I found Ada Rimini; it was physically unchanged from the home I had left nine years earlier, but it had lost its soul, my parents. From the survivors' tales, I learned that when the Nazis and Fascists had started their manhunt in the fall of 1943, many of my Jewish relatives and friends had gone into hiding. Unfortunately, my mother was not quick enough, and she was caught by the Nazis. My father escaped, as did Ada, who lived in the same apartment. My father and some others were hidden in a papal palace under the protection of a high-ranking prelate, Monsignore Carinci. My brother Marco went into the hills
behind Tivoli. A German policeman promised my father to arrange the escape of my mother after her capture and accepted a fee for doing so. When he did not succeed, he returned the check, with a psychology not too different from that of the professional assassin Sparafucile in Verdi's Rigoletto .
I scattered a small sample of technetium on my father's tomb at the Verano Cemetery in Rome, my tribute of love and respect as a son and a physicist. The radioactivity was minuscule, but its half-life of hundreds of thousands of years will last longer than any other monument I could offer.
As a relief from the business problems with which I was immediately confronted, I went whenever possible to swim in the sulfur baths of Acque Albule, not far from Tivoli. The sulfur of the waters eased both my physical and my psychic skin.
To make my story more understandable I shall separate the business part from the rest, starting with a summary account of family affairs, irrespective of chronological order. I hope to make it possible to follow the events that ended with the abandonment of an enterprise that had brought prosperity to the family and well-deserved credit to my father's name.
Before I went to university, I had never attended to any business. Nevertheless, I had heard daily conversations about it, mostly at meals, and I was not ignorant of what was happening around me, of the paper mill, of investments, of commercial, industrial, personnel, and legal problems. I had, however, no responsibilities in the matter; my father did everything. When I came of age, he appointed me to the board of directors of his company. I remember Father preparing the minutes of one of its board meetings and giving me a blank sheet to sign. When I said that I would like to know what he was going to write above my signature, he answered, more or less, that it was none of my business. I signed as a member of the Comintern would have done on Stalin's command (with all due respect to my father). Anyway, he owned all the shares of the company and had every legal and moral right to do as he pleased with respect to it. He had created and financed the
business entirely by his efforts and had made it prosper. Nobody could complain.
After the war I was confronted by a new situation, with two brothers and partners who disagreed, made problems, and mistrusted each other. Angelo sometimes had keen perceptions and occasionally farsighted intuitions, but was mentally highly changeable, although the extent of his instability revealed itself only gradually and is clearer to me now than at that time. Marco, though intelligent, had such serious and manifest character flaws as to render him untrustworthy. Of course, this too emerged only gradually, and I understand it better now than then.
I knew that my father's intention had been to divide his estate into three equal parts, one for each child. This intent had been confirmed to me by my cousins Artom and Ravenna, both lawyers, who had visited my father during the war. It had also been confirmed to me both orally and in writing by our intimate friend Silvestro Simili (1893–1968), who was deeply involved in all our postwar affairs. He came from a distinguished Sicilian family and was a brilliant business consultant and a professor of banking at the University of Catania, where my brother Angelo had taught economic history. In due course, the two became close friends, and when Angelo left Italy, he gave to Simili a general power of attorney. During the difficult and dangerous period of racial persecution, Simili proved to be unusually imaginative and resourceful and a true and courageous friend, thus gaining the trust and friendship of my father. Simili was most amusing as a person, keenly interested in the human comedy, gifted with a very rapid and shrewd mind, and personally captivating. He ended by having an important role in the Segrè affairs.
The immediate problem facing us was to settle my father's estate according to his intention of dividing it into three parts of equal value, even if formed by different assets. My father had expressed this intention to me before I went to America in a conversation that, although without legal weight, was a clear expression of his wishes at the time. My understanding was that Father wanted to leave the mills to Marco, who was working there, real estate holdings to Angelo, who, in my father's opinion, needed a safe investment that was easy to administer,
and securities to me, since I was more likely to emigrate and to be in need of liquidity.
There was a will dated May 22, 1942, during the height of the persecutions, which left everything to Marco. We all knew, however, that it did not reflect Father's real wishes. It necessarily took into account both the law requiring that shares in a corporation be registered in the name of the owner and the fact that Angelo and I were in the United States, a country at war with Italy, at the time. On May 7, 1944, when it was clear that liberation from the Fascists and Nazis was not far away, my father had made a new holographic will and entrusted it to a friend who was a well-known Roman lawyer. In it he simply stated that he wanted his estate divided according to what Italian law prescribed if he died without a will. This called for a division into equal parts among his children. I do not know exactly when Marco learned of this new will, but the lawyer who had possession of it affirmed that he had communicated it to him immediately after our father's death on October 8, 1944.
On October 16, 1944, however, Marco deposited as the legal will of my father the old one, dated 1942. He did not communicate the existence of the 1944 will either to Angelo, to me, or to Simili, Angelo's representative. The lawyer who had the 1944 will limited himself to notifying Marco of it and did not deposit it. This is most strange, but it is confirmed in writing by a letter from Angelo's lawyer.
As the racial laws in Italy were abrogated with the fall of Fascism, Marco recovered the shares of my father's paper company, the Società cartiera tiburtina, or SCT, from the various friends to whom they had been assigned for safekeeping and had them all assigned to himself. The friends to whom the shares had been assigned all proved worthy of my father's trust, and indeed had rendered a signal service.
Simili would have preferred to see the returned shares assigned to the estate or to the brothers and was worried that assignment of them to Marco alone might give him a position of strength with respect to the other brothers in any future negotiation over the division of the estate. In this delicate situation, Simili worked diligently to arrange a division, in equal shares, taking into account the operational needs of
the paper mill. Ultimately, on November 20, 1944, before Simili knew of the existence of my father's 1944 will, he and Marco had an exchange of letters in which Simili acknowledged that it was my father's desire that the paper mill should go to Marco alone and Marco acknowledged that my father wanted his estate divided into parts of equal value. This could be achieved by compensation with other assets.
In 1946, about two years after my father's death, Marco revealed to Simili the existence of my father's will of 1944, which was then deposited, and Marco transferred to his brothers a certain number of shares of SCT, although retaining a controlling majority. The negotiations between Marco and Simili to reassign at least part of the shares to the other heirs were long and laborious and took place while Simili was ignorant of the 1944 will. If he had known of it, he would have had a powerful weapon at his disposal, and things would have been much simpler.
Until the end of 1945, while at Los Alamos, I had no communications with Italy, and even later I knew practically nothing of all this until I went to Italy in 1947. Simili had written to me several letters, but gave little detail. I surmise he wrote them hoping to facilitate a fair division according to my father's wishes, and trying to smooth things over. The main problem was that Marco wanted complete control of the mill and that Angelo did not trust him.
Ultimately, Simili found a compromise formula by creating two classes of shares with different voting rights. Marco obtained the operational control of SCT, but not the right to sell the business or change its capitalization. Profits would be divided into three equal shares. Marco, in addition, would receive a very high salary and a percentage of sales. I was cautioned by a friend that this last condition was objectionable, and that the bonus should be tied to profits and not to sales.
Angelo passed from great love to ferocious hatred for those he was dealing with. In the love phase, he idolized them and endowed them with almost superhuman qualities. In the hatred phase, he gravely insulted the same people. Most of them, after experiencing the love-hate cycle, did not want further dealings with him. Only Simili consistently tolerated Angelo, in part because he relished strange and paradoxical
characters, in a spirit similar to that of the playwright Pirandello, his fellow Sicilian, in part out of his own pride and interest, and last, but not least, out of true friendship.
In retrospect, I believe, I may have been too patient with Angelo. He wrote me more than a thousand letters, and each of them upset my digestion or disturbed my sleep. Elfriede was rightly fed up with him, and I should have followed her advice to stop answering his letters. My patience and tolerance derived in part from a certain regard I felt for Angelo's keen intellect, and in part because in several respects I felt that I to some extent resembled him.
One of the fundamental difficulties in my Italian affairs arose from my inability to find a personal representative of my own, independently of Angelo, although it is true that we had very similar interests and that it was not unreasonable for us to be represented by the same person, namely, Simili. Simili did his utmost to avoid quarrels between the brothers, but this was beyond even his remarkable powers. He was the only person trusted by Angelo, albeit intermittently. During love periods, Simili could control Angelo completely. Simili told me repeatedly that he believed that ultimately the manifest and powerful financial interests of the parties would prevail over unhealthy mental states. He was wrong in this optimistic expectation. He had underestimated the power of uncontrollable passions.
As far as Marco was concerned, we started by offering him extremely favorable terms, leaving the management of SCT to him, with the high remuneration and percentage on sales mentioned earlier. However, no concession satisfied him; he always wanted more and, much more objectionable, he felt the need to take advantage of his partners at every opportunity. Possibly, this was his way of demonstrating his superiority over his brothers to himself.
Marco's performance as chief executive was mediocre. SCT started after the war in a miraculously favorable condition because its plant had suffered only minor damage and there were substantial accumulated reserves. We all knew that it was imperative to renew the plant, and Marco planned a new mill at Ponte Lucano, near Tivoli. He hesitated in the execution of this plan, however, and made savings in construction
that in hindsight proved ill advised. He accused his brothers of obstructing his work; to them it looked as if he had never had a definite plan. He wanted only cash and a free hand. If cornered on the subject, he took offense and said that he would give all information to our representatives, not to us; that he wanted them to evaluate financial statements that were rather hard to understand. He found it undignified to give explanations, and he shrouded his pompous speeches in a smokescreen of self-serving praise. Unfortunately, I found that Marco was often far from candid.
Our trust was not enhanced when we accidentally found that he had speculated in wood pulp, buying it himself and, if the price increased, reselling it at the higher price to the factory; if the price fell, however, he delivered the wood pulp to the factory and let it bear the loss. Similarly, he bought land adjacent to the new plant, which he knew would be needed, in his own name and shortly afterward resold it to the company at considerable profit for himself. Angelo had anticipated this operation and asked Marco explicitly about it, but he got only an evasive reply. Similar deals were concluded by Marco with stock of a subsidiary corporation. I omit serious errors of judgment he made concerning the paper and pulp market; these are risks inherent in the job.
In 1953, reconstructing events, Angelo came to the conclusion that our father must have left a legal will we did not know about, and that to facilitate his wresting control of SCT, Marco had not produced it at the time of our father's death. I could scarcely believe Angelo's hypothesis, but he insisted, and I wrote to Marco on August 3, 1953, from the Brookhaven National Laboratory, where I was working, demanding a clear yes or no on the subject. Marco replied complaining about his brothers' ingratitude but evading the crucial question, saying: "I know that any consideration or proposal by me in the most favorable hypothesis is received by you with unbelief and suspicion, and thus I abstain from entering into any detail of our relations by letter." He asked, instead, that the three of us meet.
In the meantime, however, Angelo had guessed who had had my father's 1944 last and legally binding will, and the lawyer in question acknowledged having had it and having informed Marco of its contents,
trusting that he would communicate it to us. Marco had, in fact, committed a serious offense, and we gave him the alternatives either of reconstituting total parity as stipulated in Father's will or of facing a criminal complaint. Confronted with this choice, Marco capitulated, and we returned to a division of SCT in equal shares. He thus lost control of the company.
I had told Angelo repeatedly that this would not help unless we had a new chief executive on hand. Angelo was in a phase of love for Simili and insisted stubbornly that he should take over the management of SCT. Simili was most reluctant to accept the job and said that he was not the right person for the day-to-day management of an industry. He insisted that he was a financier, not an industrialist. I had to return to America to my physics work and was in a quandary.
Simili took over, but he was faced with assignments he did not relish and for which he was not suited. He ended by vainly trying to bring Marco back in, hoping that he had learned his lesson, and perhaps that he could reach a modus vivendi with him.
Angelo then turned to other managers. He himself had nothing to do except to brood, but he refused to budge from the vicinity of New York, where he resided, and I ended by being repeatedly forced to rush to Italy despite the fact that I had university duties and experiments in progress at Berkeley. I therefore gave my power of attorney to my cousin Bindo Rimini, who had worked at SCT before the war. He had spent the war years in South America, but on returning to Italy at the end of the war had not resumed his old job with the firm, partly because Marco did not welcome him, and partly because by then he had other interests.
The management of SCT in postwar Italy was not an easy job; witness the fact that several major paper mills ended in bankruptcy. On the other hand, some of the smaller firms prospered. In any case, when Marco was fired in 1953, he had already badly hurt the firm. In the end, it was sold to United Paper Mills, a Finnish group that had an interest in obtaining an Italian subsidiary, which gave it access to the Common Market. The final agreement was signed in December 1959. I had gone to Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize, and I was at
the Grand Hotel putting on the pants that went with my friend Giacomo Ancona's elegant tailcoat to go to the ceremonies when Bindo called demanding that I drop everything and come to Rome to endorse it. There was no need for this, and I did not do so, but it shortened my stay in Sweden, and Elfriede, not without reason, never forgave Bindo for his ill-timed insistence.
The brothers Segrè were left with only a minority interest in SCT, and all three of us subsequently sold our remaining shares to United Paper Mills. The Finns kept the name and external appearance of the old firm. After losing a good deal of money without succeeding in revitalizing SCT, they decided to close the Tivoli mill and concentrate everything at Ponte Lucano, greatly reducing the number of workers. This produced a protracted strike, and the Finns sold out to an Italian firm, cutting their losses. The Tivoli mill never reopened. The strike ended with great losses for everybody, especially for the strikers. The available jobs were inevitably reduced to about one-third of what they had been. In view of the archaeological significance of the Tivoli mill, which occupied an important Roman site, the Italian government exercised the right of eminent domain and seized the premises.
I bitterly regret the time, psychic energy, and effort I devoted to family business after the war. With greater wisdom I could have avoided much unhappiness, financial loss, and bitterness. I wrote to Elfriede nearly every day during this stormy period, and these letters virtually form a diary of my stay in Italy. This part of my story is based on them.
"Here Marco and Family live like wealthy lords as before the war," I wrote on June 28, 1947, immediately after my arrival in Rome. "Ada too lives quite well and it is clear that it would be more appropriate for them to send relief packages to us than vice versa. They have maids, chauffeurs, etc."
Some survivors were eager to tell me their adventures, which were frequently quite harrowing; others would clam up impenetrably. I did not succeed in learning many things I would have liked to know. Sometimes I was given contradictory accounts. It was clear to me that my
friends, relatives, and acquaintances were still in a state of shock. Inanimate objects, on the other hand, spoke dispassionately, but the emotion of returning to the old Tivoli house, of walking once more in the century-old olive groves, and of seeing the Villa d'Este and the paper mill again sorely tried my equanimity.
A letter dated July 5, 1947, records that "I went swimming at Acque Albule, with Bindo who brought along a girlfriend, to preserve old traditions, and we had an excellent lunch at a restaurant at Villa Adriana under one of those cool pergolas and with a Castelli wine that we miss so much in America. . . . Many things are very different from what we imagined. I have often spent the evening talking to Ada; going to bed only at midnight. . . . My impression is that here one lives 100 times better than in California and that if we were retired, we should come here at once. On the other hand it is certain that suddenly some big explosion may occur, but people do not worry too much, possibly wisely [given the political situation in Italy at that time, the coalition government could easily have turned into a communist dictatorship]. As to pleasantness of lifestyle there is no comparison with here. The beauty of the place alone would suffice. Furthermore there are here so many people we know, so many familiar faces, that one does not have that feeling of loneliness I, once in a while, mention at Berkeley. As far as work is concerned, however, things here go badly, chiefly because the professors are not paid enough to make a living ($50 per month) and there is a great exodus of the younger generation. Given the prevailing conditions, what they do is admirable, but for Wissenschaft, America is better. In any case I now think that a trip to Italy is preferable even to trout fishing, and that is saying enough."
On July 11, I gave a seminar at the Physics Institute. In talking with the physicists there, "the conclusion was that, with little money, they live here about the same as we do with our salary in America, and with plenty of money one lives 50 times better here. I believe henceforth that when I am mad at Berkeley, the talk shall not be of going to Chicago, but to Rome." On July 14, I reported on a visit with Marco to Tivoli: "The parental house is in bad shape because a bomb exploded in its vicinity. Furthermore many people who have lost their homes are
squatting in it and there is no way of evicting them. I thus do not see any possibility of inhabiting it in the next years. After lunch I saw Uncle Guido [Treyes] who is very well preserved (82 years old) and has not become particularly nicer than he was. At 3 P.M. Count Emo arrived by plane and I talked with him until dinner time."
From a letter dated July 19: "Among other things that popped up, there is a brand-new silver carving set that somebody gave to my parents on their wedding! There are also many books that belonged to Uncle Claudio and to my parents' home. In excavating the cultural layers deposited over almost a century, one understands why I have become a sort of living encyclopaedia, as you say, and one has truly the impression that our children grow up as barbarians. . . ."
From Limonta (near Bellagio, on Lake Como), August 5: "On Friday I saw [Carlo] Perrier at Turin. I had lunch with him and his brother at the Philharmonic Club, in a great 18th century palace with butlers in white stockings and livery, but with average food. Later I gave my talk at [Enrico] Persico's Institute and Saturday morning I left for Milan, all the time in a ferocious heat. At Milan I saw Renzo Ravenna [a cousin, formerly mayor of the city of Ferrara]. Poor fellow; the Germans killed about ten relatives of his. . . ."
From Alassio, on August 10, I wrote: "I came to Laigueglia, where Fausta [Segrè Beltrami] was supposed to be. The junket was a bad idea. Travel was a disaster because the trains are crowded beyond belief; same with the hotels. . . . From Genoa I came to Laigueglia and I have vowed not to return to the Riviera. It is beautiful, but not to my taste. . . . One has the impression of people enjoying life and without sex problems. Also boys and girls about 18 are very beautiful and make me think of 1921, at Forte dei Marmi, with J. They certainly amuse themselves and I would be glad if Claudio and his sisters could have such experiences; they are pleasant and educational even if somewhat perturbing. All told I have lived less idiotically than one would have expected, and I would like it if the children too would enjoy life. . . . I have not seen in America 18-year-old boys and girls looking as if they enjoyed life as much as here. One could say the same, however, of people in general. Here one sees elegance as before the war. . . .
" . . . It is remarkable how complicated the upbringing of a European is, and how many ingredients enter into it, at least in my case. Often I think that Claudio and his sisters are fed such a bland and primitive fare that they will grow up like E.O.L. and not like, God forbid, Oppenheimer who, however, I believe has not digested the food, or vital nourishment, as Dante says. (If you want to see the reference look it up in the rhyme index under 'digesto.')"
August 16, on the train to Florence: "I have rather changed my mind about Italy. . . . For instance it is impossible to send a wire from the Central Railroad Station at Rome. Here everybody behaves like a selfish pig, and they let me work like a dog, while Marco stays at Gressoney [an Alpine resort] and Angelo takes it easy in New York."
August 18: "At Florence I have seen Giuliana and Eugenio Artom [my cousin and her husband]. They live in a beautiful villa with a garden in Florentine style. I went afterwards for dinner at Marignolle where there were Marcella and Uncle Guido as well as Silvia and her husband. Marignolle's gardens and the fields are unchanged and I find again and recognize the trees I knew one by one as a child." Uncle Guido showed that he had preserved the pungency of his wit. My brother Marco had been made a cavaliere del lavoro [knight of work], a high decoration conferred by the Italian government on the founders of important industries or businesses. Father had been proposed for it, but his nomination came to naught because of the regime's anti-Semitic policy. After the war, he being dead, the government conferred the order on Marco, who had succeeded him in the management of SCT. "How is the knight of his father's work?" Uncle Guido inquired about Marco with a smile.
"From Florence I took the train for Padova, where I hoped to find Lorenzo [Emo]," the letter continues. "He was not there. With a shrewd move I located a cousin of his and he told me how to get here [Fanzolo], and then I arrived here on a small truck. It is one of the few times in this trip I was glad you and the children were not with me. The Lords of the Manor are not here, but will return today or tomorrow and I have made myself at home while I wait for them. . . .
"The Fanzolo villa is fantastic. Unfortunately it is located in a flat,
rich, and hot countryside, but the villa itself is spectacular. It was built by Palladio around 1550. It has frescoes by Paolo Veronese or pupils, and furniture, rugs, etc., all museum pieces, well kept, clean and alive. Add that it has modern plumbing, central heating and all modern conveniences. The halls, studies, and dining room are furnished with 16th century pieces, with the Emo arms; each could be the center of a modern house. Since I am here alone they serve me in a dining room in a style I knew only from my readings of Lord Fauntleroy, except that a local young girl serves the meals. In my bedroom there are 4 or 5 paintings each of which, I surmise, could provide the finances of a family. As usual, in these surroundings they look quite differently from what they would in a museum. . . . For breakfast, for the first time since I have been in Italy, I have had delicious bread and butter (naturally from the Count's estates), served on a silver tray that possibly weighed 5 kg. It is surprising there is so much stability in the world that it is feasible to accumulate and preserve a property like this one for 5 centuries. Yesterday I spent the evening reading Venetian history in a book on the Emo family; the list of their beautiful names alone is a pleasure. For instance, the brothers Emo about 1350 marry Chiara Querini, Cataruzza di Giorgio Loredan, Ginevra Corner, a daughter of Nicolò Vendramin, etc. Other names: Mabilia Venier, Belella Pisani, Elisabetta Moro, Andrianna di Angelo Badoer, Cornelia di Vincenzo Grimani; it looks like a directory of the Maggior Consiglio. There is a documented family tree up to Pantaleone Emo, who, at the Serrata del Gran Consiglio, was registered among the Venetian nobility with all his descendants. The Capodilista seem to me to be small fry compared with the Emo. All told I think Barbara [Lorenzo's Canadian wife] might be somewhat uneasy. It is a mixing of two different worlds, that might give strange results. In reading these histories it seems that the living element in such a family is the family and not the individual members, while in the modern world the opposite seems to be happening. In any case I believe that such things are easier to understand for an Italian (even a Jewish one) than for an American, the second in the whole Emo genealogy."
When Lorenzo returned, we went to Venice together. I had started
feeling sick even before going to Fanzolo, and in Venice I tried to board a sleeping car train for Rome; but it was full. A one dollar bill given to the conductor made him discover that an Austrian girl had been overbooked, and with polite excuses he threw her out of her compartment and gave it to me. Such was then the power of a dollar.
My emotions in Italy, the heat, and the many bitter pills I had to swallow from Marco and from Angelo and his eccentricities were altogether more than my guts could bear and the conclusion of the journey was that I developed a duodenal ulcer. On my return to Berkeley at the beginning of September, I got the idea that the objective symptoms I had might be due to a stomach cancer. The suspicion was pessimistic, but not entirely foolish, as we unfortunately saw some years later in Fermi's case. I went to my friend Dr. Giacomo Ancona, who tried to reassure me, but nonetheless sent me to a radiologist, a man I knew well from the Rad Lab. He examined me very carefully and said that he could not see anything suspicious except a possible duodenal ulcer. I asked him how many cancers escaped him, to which he answered: "About 20 percent." My thought was then immediately, "And what if I am in the 20 percent?" Ancona then sent me to a well-known gastroenterologist, who, having studied me, concluded by asking, "What is your favorite form of relaxation?" I answered, "Trout fishing in the mountains." He then prescribed trout fishing in the mountains and advised me to forget diets, drugs, and symptoms. I followed his orders in Elfriede's company, and after some months I recovered.
I had found it necessary to organize my research group at Berkeley during my absence in such a way that I could remain informed about what was happening and not halt our work. This became easier as time went on and Chamberlain and Wiegand matured scientifically. Finally, we arranged things so that any one of us could go away for a period of up to about six months without great disruption.