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Gerry Brown


The betrayal by Klaus Fuchs
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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Fuchs came to the house several times while I was there, and he was always a welcome guest and he was very, very nice. I mean we all felt very fond of him. He was very gracious guest and he was a lonely fellow. He was at Harwell at that time running the theoretical division, and he liked to come to Birmingham and he and Peierls, of course, had been old colleagues. So they were very close, and he loved the Peierls children. He was very good with the children, altogether just a sort of a friendly uncle type of person. And so we enjoyed it when he came, and Genia liked him too, so he was one of our favourite guests. And then, of course, I don't remember exactly the date at which Fuchs was arrested, whether I was still in Birmingham or not. Yes, I mean it was in January... It was January, yes. So it happened while I was there. Anyway, that was a terrible shock of course, and suddenly it turned out he was not only just a spy, but the spy, I mean he was the number one spy, and for Peierls personally it was a terrible betrayal. I mean Peierls had been responsible for bringing him to Los Alamos in the first place so it meant that sort of England had become untrustworthy, not just Fuchs, and that was for Peierls a terrible blow, which I think in a way was more of a blow for him than the Oppenheimer affair was for Oppenheimer. I mean I always thought Oppenheimer never really - I don't think Oppenheimer really was suffering from the public disgrace as much as Peierls did. Anyhow, that's my impression. But it was certainly a disaster for Peierls in many ways. For both of them. And Genia took it very hard too. I mean Genia was absolutely vitriolic that a man could do that to his friends. She always said, 'In Russia we know how to suffer. We don't betray our friends.' Anyway, that was very hard. And Peierls went to visit Fuchs from time to time, but Genia absolutely refused to have anything to do with him.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, Birmingham, Los Alamos, UK, Klaus Fuchs, Rudolf Peierls, J Robert Oppenheimer

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008