Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

By Edward Teller; Judith L. Shoolery | Go to book overview

10
THE FUTURE
BECOMES OBVIOUS
1933

RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE physicists regularly joined our luncheon table at the Stegemühlenweg pension, but we rarely talked about politics; we were much too interested in our own narrow topic, the structure of matter, to discuss the structure of the international community. Yet some of the most disastrous political developments of the century took shape during the years we met for lunch—from 1930 to 1933.

I remember one Russian for a charming error he made. Waxing enthusiastic about our pension, he praised its flüssiges wasser (liquid water). He meant fliessendes wasser (running water). At that time, I had heard much about a communist paradise and a little about its problems. 1 That physicist provided me with a startling picture of Stalin's régime: when Leon Trotsky, one of the founders of the Russian Revolution, was mentioned at the table one day, the Russian was obviously disturbed and maintained a silence that was more expressive than a fifty-minute lecture. 2 A situation where a political difference

____________________
1
However, the following story made the rounds: Two friends disagreed about the glories of the Soviet Union. They decided that the true believer should go to Russia, find out what was happening, and report by letter. To avoid the possibility of censorship, they decided that if the letter was written in black ink, what it said was true; if it was written in red ink, the opposite would be the case. The enthusiast left and was not heard from for several years. Finally, a letter written in black ink arrived: "Everything in the Soviet Union is wonderful. Goods are available in great abundance. There is, however, one peculiar though insignificant exception. Although I have looked diligently for years, I have not been able to find any red ink."
2
In 1928, the conflict between Trotsky and Stalin had resulted in Trotsky's expulsion from the Soviet Union. That persecution of a political rival was the first suggestion that the communist movement under Stalin was undergoing a Robespierrean change into a reign of terror. By

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