September 14th, 2020
Josh 1908My grandfather invented the bomb. I hate leading with that but, unfortunately it's the the thing about which he is remembered second most. Luckily, those that knew him, or of him, can testify to the most unfathomable depths of kindness he possessed and his believe in peace was the strongest message with which we are left. Joesph Rotblat was born in Warasaw, on November 4th 1908, one hundred and twelve years ago. Notable Events of the Year Shackleton set sail from New Zealand on the Nimrod. Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell was published. Inter Milan are founded. The world's first flight with a passenger London Olympics The first fully animated film The model T is produced Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are supposedly killed The day after he was born there was an election in America, Taft. Growing up I knew Józef (pronounced Yosef) at Josh (pronounced Yosh), a very old, very kindly man, my father's godfather. I knew of his more prominent accomplishments, and was very proud of being slightly related to him, if not by blood. When he died in 2005, at the age of ninety something I was very sad, but didn't fully understand the implications of who the world was losing. A film was made about his life: The Strangest Dream, the premiere of which I attended with my family when I was only a young teen. It was an odd experience, to have a lot of the top scientists out there coming up to you and saying 'so you knew him?' It felt like a cheat to say 'yes he was a lovely old man,' but that's honestly all I knew. He was the kindest, most gentle and gracious man I have ever met, and that is how I will remember him. We went to visit him in the hospital in his last days. It was quite spooky. He held my hand very tightly and said 'do you remember me?' 'Yes.' 'Do you remember me?' 'Yes. Yes, I remember you.' As if I could ever forget. Over a decade later, 2018. Home from college and Dad sits us down, Ryan and I. 'So. Before your grandma died,' That was in February of the same year, she was a completely remarkable woman in her own right who I will most definitely be coming to later. 'It was hard, towards the end, as you know, to understand exactly what she said,' she suffered a series of strokes in the 80s which left her completely immobilised. 'But essentially, Josh was my dad.' Shock, surprise, oh wow types things. Let me explain the family tree. On my mum's side there's Mavis, another extremely kind soul who Ryan, Charlie, and I grew up with being around quite a bit. Mum's dad was a man called Walter, who I never knew, met, or have even seen a picture of. He left the family and died in Bulgaria having had a sporting, lascivious life which I'm sure was full of fun and irresponsibility. Mum had one sister, Anne-Marie, who had one partner, Peter, and one son, Charlie. On dad's side there was Patricia who I've already mentioned, an incredible mind trapped in a failing body, hugely tragic considering some of her favourite pastimes had included riding horses, driving cars, and flying planes. Patricia's husband was Mick (Gerald) who had died the year before my older brother was born, cancer. Dad had one sister, Patricia (Jr), who had two partners (Alan and Wayne), and one daughter (Lara, by Alan). Pretty simple all round. As far as I was aware I belonged to a normal, English country/urban mix from Kent and London. Christmas was usually seven of us, and my idea of 'family' only extended to about ten, maybe eleven. So this revelation was a bit mind-blowing. I had a grandfather, one who I had met and hugged and loved, and who had loved me, and my brother, his secret grandsons. When he lay dying he asked his grandson if he remembered him, because one day he knew I would be told that he was my grandfather, and I would learn of a great sweeping world that was part of me. My grandfather's wife and most of his family were killed in the holocaust, generations of Polish Jews that ended in the luckiest nuclear physicist alive, who left Warsaw the same year the war began, and despite his best efforts, could not help his family escape. Had Tola left with him, perhaps I would not be here today. Josh may have returned to Poland after the war, or stayed in Liverpool, in America, or anywhere other that St Barts, where his work in Radiology brought him into contact with a young, extremely bright woman who would secretly become the mother of his son. How much of this did Mick know? Or dad? I don't know. My mum once said of Mick and Josh that 'your grandma was lucky to have two men in her life that she loved, and that loved her very much.' Sounds pretty cool doesn't it? Definitely movie material. Act 1: Warsaw Young Jozef growing up, his father's horse-based business collapsing due to the first world war. Diploma in electrical engineering, works in Warsaw as an electrician, studies at the Free University of Poland, University of Warsaw, becoming a nuclear physicist Act 2: London Chadwick, Bohr, the start of the war, things going to shit. Act 3: America Los Alamos, creating the bomb, leaving the Manhattan Project, Hiroshima and Nagasaki Act 4: London Peace work etc. Moral arc of redemption The moment the bombs dropped in Japan must have been heart-wrenching. In an interview he talks about those that stayed in Los Alamos, how some remained for the pursuit of science, and how others believed in the nature of the deterrent. There's a story that at a dinner party a US army high-up type talked about how the bomb was for Russia not Germany, and the Cold War seems to make that stand.
©2007-2022 Benedict Esdale