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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Jean Bacher’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Jean Dow Bacher was born in 1907, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married fellow Ann Arbor native and leading Manhattan Project scientist Robert Bacher in 1930. Jean was a “computer” at Los Alamos during the Project. In this interview, she describes the friendship her and her husband shared with the Oppenheimers, and their interactions with other scientists and their families at Los Alamos. Bacher recalls how observers who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “appalled and stunned” at the destruction there, and explains how J. Robert Oppenheimer and others at Los Alamos tried to come to terms with their work on the bomb. She recounts Oppenheimer’s anxiety about being under surveillance in the lead up to his security hearing. She also recalls Edward Teller’s habit of playing the piano late at night, and shares her impressions of Kitty Oppenheimer.

Date of Interview:
March 29, 1983
Location of the Interview:


Jean Bacher: Ruth Valentine said, “I shall take Ruth [Tolman]’s desk.” She always saved letters. She had marvelous long letters from Robert, you know, especially at the time of the hearings. I knew they were just terribly close and shared a great deal. On the drawer of the desk, she’d said, “Destroy these.”

Martin Sherwin: You saw it happen? 

Bacher: I didn’t see her burn it, because at that time we still burned and they just threw them out in the burner in the back yard.

Sherwin: This is Ruth. Which one is it? 

Bacher: That was Ruth Valentine.

Sherwin: Is she still alive?

Bacher: No. She died a long time ago.

Sherwin: Long time ago.

Bacher: She died after Ruth by about three or four years, I guess. 

Sherwin: Well, that is–

Bacher: So that was what happened to that treasure trove.

Sherwin: Yes. What letters, a treasure trove.

Bacher: But I would like to see those at the Library of Congress. I would really love to see those. I didn’t realize until Alice [Kimball Smith] told me that that’s where they were.

Sherwin: Well, there is some stuff there. It’s not anything in terms of the rich, personal information that Ms. Tolman had. Is there any Richard Tolman stuff?

Bacher: Well, Judy [Tolman Tyrell, the Tolmans’ daughter] has a lot of that. I gave her lots of that. In fact, I think I gave her all I had. It was quite a lot because Ruth Tolman left this house, which was their house, so I had really a good many things that mostly I gave to Judy. 

Sherwin: When did you do that? Because I was out here years ago. Would it be five years ago, or ten years?

Bacher: Three or four.

Sherwin: Oh. No wonder I had not seen them.

Bacher: They were up stored up on a shelf. I don’t know where they are now.

Sherwin: And there is nothing else?

Bacher: There were lots of pictures of Robert [Oppenheimer], and I’m sure I gave all of those to Judy.

Sherwin: Let me start from the beginning, then, and simply ask you when you first met Robert.

Bacher: Well, I was just thinking back to when it was. It was in 1930 because we had just gotten married. Bob’s family had a cottage out near the lake west of Ann Arbor. That’s where they were having summer seminars. Robert came for the seminars that summer. He was there maybe two or three weeks. He came out to the cottage two different Sunday afternoons and swam and stayed for supper. We used to have everybody just come out and served them salad. [Enrico] Fermi was there that summer, and [Paul] Ehrenfest was there, and a number of the really marvelous old people that just aren’t alive anymore. [John] Van Vleck and Phil Morse from MIT.

And [Samuel] Goudsmit and [George] Uhlenbeck. Goudsmit is dead, but you should see Uhlenbeck. Now, he was one of the great friends of Robert’s. He and his wife spent one summer at the ranch in New Mexico.

Sherwin: I have been there.

Bacher: Were you surprised that’s what it looks like? I was when I first saw it. I didn’t see it until after the war.

Sherwin: I have seen pictures of it, and had heard that it was rustic. The physical beauty was even more astonishing than I had expected. The house itself was more rustic than I had expected it to be at this point in time.

Bacher: Oh, it is.

Sherwin: I rode that on horseback. I did the whole Oppenheimer thing.

Bacher: Did you? Where did you ride from?

Sherwin: From Katherine Page’s ranch.

Bacher: We went there for two weeks one summer after the war and had an awfully good time.

Sherwin: To the Oppenheimer place?

Bacher: No, to Katherine’s.

Sherwin: Katherine’s?

Bacher: Yeah, and then spent a lot of time going over to Robert’s.

Sherwin: Yeah, that’s what we did.

Bacher: I remember riding thirty miles one day.

Sherwin: Yeah, I had ridden before and my daughter had, but my wife and my son had never been on a horse. It was a marvelous experience, because it provided me the insight into how the horse became such an easy and important means of entry into the wilderness. The horseback riding I had done. You needed a great deal of skill in order to do it. I could never understand how Oppenheimer would just jump on a horse and go somewhere, or get these physicists who had never seen a horse or been on one to get on a horse and go. But I had never ridden a trail horse before.

Bacher: Yeah, there is nothing very uppity about a trail horse. It’s not too comfortable either.

Sherwin: Yeah. 

Bacher: I mean the gaits are pretty terrible. Robert used to have some pretty good horses. Did you talk to Frank [Oppenheimer] yet?

Sherwin: I talked to Jackie [Oppenheimer], too, before she died. I guess I have interviewed forty different people.

Bacher: So how long have you been doing it?

Sherwin: Several years. I will probably do it for a few more years. I have a contract and all of that, but I am more interested in doing it right.

Bacher: Doing it the way it ought to be done.

Sherwin: Fortunately, I’m an academic and I don’t have to make a living doing a book a year or anything like that. I want it to be the kind of book that hasn’t been done yet: a real biography that is deep and goes into the early years as well. That deals with the things that are not so exciting, but are just as important in many ways. That’s what I want to hear about. Letters like that being burned.

Bacher: Oh, I know, it’s terrible. I know. Alice was sick about it. So would I have been when it happened, but there wasn’t anything to do. Certainly, if you had known Ruth Valentine, you wouldn’t have dreamed of objecting. What she said was going to be done was going to be done.

Sherwin: Did she know Robert at all?

Bacher: Oh, very, very well. They used to be part of the Santa Fe picture and ranch life and so on. They used to go there and stay and ride.

She was a psychologist and lived just around the corner, as a matter of fact. Yes, and had known both Richard and Ruth. There was a kind of a magic aura about all of those people at that time.

Then the crowd at Berkeley with Ernest Lawrence and the Brodes. You should talk to, or maybe you have already, to Bernice Brode?

Sherwin: I haven’t.

Bacher: Well, she’d be good because she really likes to talk about that.

Sherwin: Where is she?

Bacher: She is up at Berkeley. She and Bob Brode have retired. You know, he’s one of the people that was at Los Alamos and so was Bernice. They lived, as a matter of fact, just next door to Cyril and Alice Smith. Did you ever seen any pictures of the place at Los Alamos?

Sherwin: I have been to Los Alamos. I know the Smiths.

Bacher: These tenements with four apartments where you could hear absolutely everything. One of the hardest things about living there was, in the first place, mixing up foreigners and Americans who had really different cultures and habits. Putting their children to bed or not to bed. I mean, it was very hard.

Sherwin: Can you give me an example of that?

Bacher: Well, I was just thinking, for instance, the Smiths lived over the Tellers. Edward just wouldn’t think of anybody else. Whatever he wanted to do, he would go ahead and do. That usually included something quite nice that you really wouldn’t want to object to, such as the playing the Archduke Trio until early in the morning. He played the piano. [Donald] Moll Flanders was my boss. I was a computer. He would play the viola. I have forgotten who would play the violin, which is a wonderful thing. But just the same, at two or three in the morning, you would resent it. So there would be pretty bitter feelings.

Sherwin: With children, what was the thing with children?

Bacher: Well, you know, the children were always brought up differently with different demands on them. Alice’s son, Stewie Smith – all of us were really delighted with all of these stories. My children are the same age as the Smiths. We were living just across the street there. 

Stewie Smith was full of devilment and he would take people’s shoes – other children’s shoes – and sort of dispose of them. So the joke was that the Smiths never got to have a new pair of shoes, because their ration had to go to replace whatever Stewie had disposed of. Life was full of gaiety of one sort of another. So it was comic. You had to get a lot of fun out of it.

Sherwin: I take it was not all fun, and that there was a lot of tension then?

Bacher: Oh, sure, but on the other hand, the people were so interesting. One thing about it was instead of being like most scientific evenings that you get used to – the men get off in a corner, and get to talking about what they are interested in – they could not do this, you see, at Los Alamos in all of these dinners that you would sort of get together. Six people, three couples or something like that. You would have some fascinating conversation. You would have a chance to talk about something besides science. You see, they couldn’t mention anything that they were working on. 

Sherwin: Do you remember any particulars on that?

Bacher: Oh, there were lots of really fascinating evenings. There would always be groups doing one thing or another. There was a poker group and square dancing group and music groups of all kinds. It was the most organized place you had ever seen.

Sherwin: Was Oppenheimer part of those kinds of things?

Bacher: Not so much. He and Kitty really didn’t share that much. I mean they had close friends, especially the Weisskopfs. They lived quite close, and also the Serbers. You have talked to Bob Serber?

Sherwin: Yes, I have.

Bacher: And the Wilsons, Bob and Jane Wilson? 

Sherwin: I have talked to them on the phone but not in person.

Bacher: Yeah, and Ed McMillan and Elsie. They lived just next door. But I think you know Robert was more withdrawn. He didn’t really get friendly with many other people. They would when visitors would come, and you would get invited to have cocktails with the General or with some of the special people who came. For instance, Niels Bohr. Everybody thought he was absolutely wonderful. Do you know his son, Aage Bohr?

Sherwin: I know who he is.

Bacher: So you know the richness of the society was really—

Sherwin: It was extraordinary.

Bacher: Extraordinary.

Sherwin: The history of physics, really.

Bacher: Actually, you know I thought I knew how to cook before I went, and sort of make do with all of the scarcities and rations. But that was quite challenging, because with all of the Italians and French and German and Austrians and so on, we had a lot of sharing of various kinds of cooking. That was fun.

Sherwin: Who were the French? 

Bacher: Everyone I think of happened after the war. There were lots of English.

Sherwin: Yes, that’s how [Emilio] Segre was at Los Alamos. I am trying to think of the other ones.

Bacher: Well, the Fermis.

Sherwin: He was in and out a lot.

Bacher: No, he lived there, you see. They came about—

Sherwin: In 1944.

Bacher: Yeah, in ’44. You know, all of those people at the time were living in a real hell of their own, because they suddenly find out that their parents or relatives had been taken by the Nazis and just murdered. This happened to Elfriede Segre’s parents. They were sent to Auschwitz, and Emilio’s also. Then Laura Fermi’s parents— 

Sherwin: Emilio’s parents were sent there?

Bacher: I am not sure about Emilio. I can’t remember, but it was true with Elfriede and Laura Fermi’s parents. When she had first come to this country, she thought that, you know, her parents had such a tremendous position. Her father was an admiral or something very important.

Sherwin: Was he Jewish?

Bacher: Yes, I think he was – it was a part Jewish, about one quarter was Aryan. All of this was going on and was very tragic.

Sherwin: Well, at Los Alamos, you worked, you said, in computer?

Bacher: Yes. Before I went, you know, all the wives were sort of being sorted out. Jane Wilson and a lot of them really decided teaching suited them best, but I really didn’t care for teaching. I never had. So they suggested I work in the computing area. So I reviewed my algebra and so on over the summer, and we were certainly a hard lot for Moll Flanders to undertake. Mici Teller was working with me. We each worked half a day. We would divide up whether we worked in the morning or the afternoon.

Sherwin: You took care of the children in the other half?

Bacher: Yeah, whichever time they were in nursery school. That we would divide up. So you know, it was pretty tough for the people who were teaching us, but we did get along.

Sherwin: Did you see Oppenheimer at all while you were there?

Bacher: Oh yes, I saw him a lot.

Sherwin: What was your impression of his—

Bacher: You mean of Kitty?

Sherwin: Well, his directorship, and also of Kitty and their relationship and just the whole interaction?

Bacher: Well, you know, Kitty was really quite an autocratic kind of a person. She was also devoted to Robert, and really was determined to see that he didn’t get more than he could handle. It’s very hard to say very much about it because Kitty was very hard on her relations with other women. She got along reasonably well with Ellen Weisskopf. You should talk to Ellen really if you want to get a more sympathetic view of Kitty, because I think they were pretty good friends. But she was also very difficult to handle.

For instance, she and Charlotte Serber and the Wilsons all had horses that they would go up and ride to get some relaxation on the weekend. I remember Kitty’s horse – she was devoted to her horse – and Charlotte’s got into some sort of a fight, and Kitty’s was injured pretty severely. That, you know, really broke up the whole friendship between Kitty and Charlotte. I think it did not touch the relationships that Bob Serber had with Robert, but well, it was all part of being under tremendous tension and not being able to accommodate yourself to some of the things that happened. Kitty was a very attractive person.

Sherwin: Did you see the BBC series?

Bacher: Yes.

Sherwin: What was your judgment about the way they treated her?

Bacher: Well, some of it I think was justified. What did Frank tell you? I think Frank resented it.

Sherwin: Frank was very angry.

Bacher: Yeah.

Sherwin: People I have talked to who knew them, the spectrum of their views went from one, that it was too kind to her, to Frank’s view, which is the most critical and said that it was very unfair. Where would you say it was accurate, and where could it have been more so?

Bacher: I think it is something I would rather not say, because personally I just didn’t like Kitty myself. After a while I wasn’t computing because my brother came with his children and my sister-in-law was quite ill. So I stopped working for a while to try to handle some things there. 

I think what happened at that time was sort of an example, perhaps, because Kitty said, “Well, I will bring Pete [Peter Oppenheimer] over and you can take care of him while I go off skiing.” It was just that sort of thing that would get people angry at her.

I said, “Well, I will take Pete just once.” I did. I just took him once. It is just an example of the kind of her taking advantage of people when she really shouldn’t have, and asking for things that people would feel that they couldn’t refuse. That is just an example of what most people’s reactions stem from.

Sherwin: It is quite clear by the last decade at least, for a lot of them and probably more, that she had a serious alcohol problem. The TV series almost gave you the impression that from the beginning, she was drinking very heavily. Was that true? Do you know?

Bacher: Oh, I don’t think that was really true, not so much that it had seized on her system the way it did afterwards. All of us drank a lot.

Sherwin: At Los Alamos?

Bacher: Yeah, and she certainly wasn’t an alcoholic. She didn’t just stay home and drink. She was a very bright person. When we were in Washington after the war, Bob was on the Atomic Energy Commission, and we went up several times and spent the weekend with them. You know, I could see that Kitty was having the same trouble. She was impatient with some of the things that they felt the wife of the director of the Institute [for Advanced Study] ought to do and the way she ought to behave. Princeton is certainly noted for that kind of demand.

Sherwin: I taught there.

Bacher: Yeah, she wouldn’t take it. She liked to wear jeans and quite rough ranch-like clothes, but they looked very well on her. She would go out to a lunch and then say to Robert, “Well, it’s all right if I wear jeans, isn’t it?”

Of course it was not, as far as Princeton was concerned, but he said, “Sure, go ahead.”

So that’s the kind of approach to life that made things hard for her. It really did.

Sherwin: What you said about Robert. He had a very, it seemed to me, liberated, I suppose is the modern word, attitude towards her. I never heard of any sense that he tried to control her. I mean, even her drinking or if she wanted to wear jeans to lunch where it might be embarrassing to him, or whatever she wanted to do, she could do it.

Bacher: Yeah, right.

Sherwin: He never tried to control her behavior?

Bacher: It’s true, he really didn’t.

Sherwin: Was that surprising?

Bacher: Because she could be very elegant, and, you know, spend a tremendous amount of money. But if she didn’t want to, that was it.

Sherwin: Well, going back again to the 1930s. You said Robert came out to the house a couple of times. Do you remember anything special about the one or two times he was out there?

Bacher: You know, everybody thought he was fascinating. He was a marvelous, charming person, perfectly wonderful. I guess it was the first time I saw him. A friend of mine had just had a baby. She had brought it out. The baby was sort of dumped on a couch. We were all doing things and so on. I remember Robert said, “Well, is this yours?”

I was horrified. I said, “I should say not.”

He laughed and he said, “Well, she is very cunning anyway.” That was the sort of person he was. He was full of charm.

Sherwin: Your husband remembered that one of these times he came, he got stung by a bee. 

Bacher: Oh, I had forgotten that. Yeah.

Sherwin: Do you remember that incident in any detail?

Bacher: I didn’t know Robert was stung by a bee. Because my husband has an allergy and swells up all over if he gets a bee sting. Did Robert do that? I didn’t remember. I had forgotten. But he had a hard time. It was pretty rough-and-tumble swimming and boating.

Sherwin: Did you do much sailing?

Bacher: Oh, it was too small a lake. They had just little canoe sailboats and so on. Mostly you just swam, and there were these sort of middle Western rafts that they put out you could swim to and so on and play around.

Sherwin: We would do that in the East, too.

Bacher: Yeah.

Sherwin: Did you see Robert Oppenheimer after that?

Bacher: Well, let’s see. That was in 1930. I think the next time that I remember seeing him was in New York when Bob had a job at Columbia. That was at the time of the Depression, and we had a very hard time for a year. We stayed in Ann Arbor, and Bob got a lot of work done. It was fine, but we didn’t have a job. We just saved some money and so on.

The first job that we had was this Columbia job. We were there, and I remember Bob came home and said Robert had called him up. He was there for Christmas vacation with his father. They had invited us down for cocktails. His father lived on Park Avenue in one of those wonderful old buildings. So we were quite thrilled. The Rabis were invited also. We went down and I had never met his father before. He just had that really courtly charm of a very cultivated Jewish gentleman.

Sherwin: Was this after Robert Oppenheimer’s mother had died?

Bacher: I was thinking about that. I think it must have been because Frank was there. He came in. I hadn’t met Frank before either.

Sherwin: Was Frank already at Caltech?

Bacher: I don’t know. He was there also for Christmas vacation. The whole family was just so nice. They all knew I was particularly interested in painting and so on. I guess I was doing some work at the Art Students League then. The Oppenheimers, you know, had these marvelous things. They had wonderful Van Gogh’s right there in the apartment. So you know, I was just spellbound. Frank said, “You just ought to have one up in this awful apartment you live in.” They let us use, for several months, one of the Picasso drawings that he had. So it was one of these incredibly generous kinds of things that they both did. I can’t imagine why I ever let them do it, but it was just done. So you wouldn’t refuse.

Sherwin: Can you sort of close your eyes and try to think back to how you would describe that apartment and what it was like?

Bacher: The rooms weren’t very large.

Sherwin: Did you walk in? Was it on the first floor?

Bacher: I don’t remember that. I think it must have been. I don’t think it was on the first floor. I don’t really know. You can get this from [Isidor] Rabi, because he and Helen used to have a continuing acquaintance with them. 

I was terribly naïve, goodness. My idea of what their life must have been was just not at all what I’m sure it was. Yeah, I think his mother must have died, because I remember feeling a great deal of grief about the place.

Sherwin: When did you get the job at Columbia?

Bacher: Oh, Bob. Well, that was in 1934.

Sherwin: ’34, so this was a year or two after? How long was that?

Bacher: I’m trying to think. We were just there a year.

Sherwin: One year, so it had to be Christmas ’34.

Bacher: Yeah, right. Do you know when she died?

Sherwin: Well, I do. I mean, I thought I did.

Bacher: I can tell that also because you know, I just thought that we could have a baby finally. Martha was born in December ’35. So it must have been Christmas ’34.

Sherwin: His mother must have died just before that. [Inaudible] That’s probably why they both came back that Christmas, to be with their father.

Bacher: At any rate, it was just not particularly grand furniture. It was just a very comfortable and livable kind of place, with the casual putting of a magnificent Van Gogh just about the way one would be over your head right there.

Sherwin: There was Van Gogh, there was Picasso.

Bacher: Right, there was a little Picasso head that was charming. There was one that Frank took when they inherited things. He sold it. I don’t know why he sold it.

Sherwin: When they were in Colorado?

Bacher: Yeah, yeah, strapped. Yeah, I remember the pictures better than I remember the apartment. That gave such a quality to the place. Then after that, I don’t think I saw Robert again. I can’t think when it would have been. Maybe at a Physical Society meeting, something like that, because they were very gay and relatively small. You could all go to the spring meetings in Washington and see everybody. It was very nice.

Sherwin: Different than it is today.

Bacher: Right. It is too big, heavens.

Sherwin: Did you spend much time with him socially when he was going out with other women before Kitty?

Bacher: No, we didn’t. We didn’t really know him. He came to Ann Arbor. I remember now, after we went back to Ann Arbor. That is right. He came again one summer. As I remember it, I had some little babies. I don’t think I remember seeing him at all.

Sherwin: In terms of his close relations, friends who meant a great deal to him, the Tolmans were obviously very important. Richard in one way and Ruth in another.

Bacher: Yeah, right. They did not have children of their own. Ruth, I remember, said Richard came home once. It must have been in ’34 or ’35, something like that, and said, “Well, somebody new is around and I’m sure you will like him. Just bring him home to dinner.” So that was the start of a very supportive relationship. Actually, Ruth demanded a lot too from Robert, because when Richard died, Robert would come out, and he would help her and spend time with her.

We used to see them a great deal, either have dinner here at our house or at the Mexican restaurant because everybody loved Mexican food. Kitty would call up and Robert would go spend half an hour on the long distance phone with her just reassuring Kitty. I think she was intensely resentful of any other person getting involved with Robert.

Sherwin: Wow.

Bacher: Certainly, there was never any sexual interest in the relationship. It was a very supportive, friendly one.

Sherwin: There are some rumors that there are.

Bacher: I am sure there are not. [Inaudible]

Oh, I was talking about 1950. Let us see. Ruth’s first illness I think was about ’53, and she died in ’57. Or maybe it was ’56. ’57 I think.

Sherwin: Heart condition.

Bacher: Yes. She had two coronaries, very severe ones.

Sherwin: When did he die? Richard?

Bacher: Forty-eight. He died just before we came out here. Actually, one reason that Bob wanted to come was because of Richard. Because he was not exactly a father figure for Bob, but he was a marvelous counselor and wise person. Then another thing I do not think anybody understands completely is just how seriously everybody – mentally and emotionally – was affected by the fact of the work that they had done.

Sherwin: At Los Alamos.

Bacher: At Los Alamos. Different people responded in different ways, but it was just an overwhelming part of their lives. Not that they had achieved something, but what had happened as a result of what they had achieved.

Sherwin: There were some people, like Richard Tolman, whose counsel was—?

Bacher: Well, he was. I remember Bob Wilson telling me that he has never been back and worked at Los Alamos since that time.

Sherwin: Or on anything classified.

Bacher: Yeah, right. At the end of the war, he said, “Richard talked to me a good deal about it and said, ‘You know, my boy, we all have a responsibility for the rest of our lives.’” If you see what I mean by the way he would say, “My boy.”

But this is really something is going to be interesting next week. We are all going back for the fortieth anniversary.

Sherwin: Sure. But I am interested to here you say what you just said, those last few sentences about that sense of responsibility. The men for the most part are not willing to put it just so bluntly and so directly. It gets more complicated.

Bacher: But I think it worked on them.

Sherwin: Oh, absolutely. I think you are right. You get a much clearer sense of what was going on, because the wives were better observers of what was happening to their husbands and how their husbands were thinking. Their husbands were involved in so many things at once and so many crosscurrents and complexities.

Bacher: The fact that there was a war going on that was a pretty desperate kind of a war was an excuse. The wonderful thing was that it worked for the scientists involved. The fact that it was a success. I mean that was just terribly important.

Sherwin: The success brought a great deal of concern and anxiety.

Bacher: Yes. But you know what absolutely was devastating to me personally was when I suddenly realized this. That was just after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after the first group of observers had gone. I mean Phil Morrison for instance. They came back to Los Alamos, and they were so appalled and just stunned that people would just gather together in the evenings and just talk about it and try to grasp what had happened. But Phil was the only one who really made me understand it. You have probably heard him because he has quite a wizard tongue and descriptive power. I was just absolutely undone. I went home and I could not go to sleep. I just really shook all night. It was such a shock to me. So I am sure that there were others that had the same experience. But such a very deep experience, it never leaves you. 

Sherwin: This would be what, October of ’45?

Bacher: Yeah, I think so.

Sherwin: Was this before Oppenheimer came back on November 11?

Bacher: Well, there was so much going on. Everybody was suspicious. That is, the scientists. We all decided that one thing we could do was try to spread all the facts and talk about it, and let people understand just how terrible a thing it was also. That is when the Federation of Scientists sort of started up.

Sherwin: I am a member of the council.

Bacher: Oh, are you now.

Sherwin: The only historian. I have been there for three years. [Inaudible] Federation of American Scientists and Jeremy Stone.

Bacher: It has been a marvelous thing to have existing. It really is. Marvelous.

Sherwin: It was kind of a rebirth for Jeremy. I am very proud of that because it is an elected thing. It is something very important. I think they do terrific work.

Bacher: Yes, they do. It is marvelous. Gradually we sort of began to cope with it. We sort of started some things for the Santa Fe radio. We were allowed to have a radio up there I think. At any rate, we tried to. Then various people, Willy Higginbotham especially. You probably know Willy.

Sherwin: Yes. He comes to FAS meetings every so often.

Bacher: Well, he also has quite a gifted, descriptive tongue. They went to Washington. Helen Gahagan Douglas was quite helpful to them and quite a few other people with some money. So that was the way that we reacted was to say, “Maybe this will help. It is one thing we can do.”

Sherwin: In terms of your association with Robert, I suppose the period of greatest intensity was—

Bacher: Well, that was. Well, Robert, you know what happened. I remember he really was overwhelmed with this. Equally, I think Kitty was too. They went up to the ranch together and spent a week up there. Just did not communicate with anybody. But Kitty did come to see me when she came back. We just shared a lot of these things. She was much more open than she usually had been.

Sherwin: What did she say?

Bacher: She said, “Well, you just cannot imagine how terrible it has been for me since that week.” She said Robert was just absolutely beside himself.

Sherwin: This was in the post-Hiroshima period?

Bacher: Yes.

Sherwin: Right after Hiroshima?

Bacher: Right after, yes. The first time that he and Kitty got away for just a break.

Sherwin: What did she say? This is very interesting.

Bacher: I think it is too.

Sherwin: Tell me in as much detail as you can.

Bacher: Most of it I just do not remember. Except being so impressed that she was willing to say how terrible it had been for Robert.

Sherwin: The shock of Hiroshima?

Bacher: No, just the whole bomb. The whole work they had done. The thing that was really so terrible.

Sherwin: Did she say that they had spent that week talking in agony about the whole experience?

Bacher: I would not come down and say that those were the descriptive words, but the words were that she was just afraid for what was going to happen with the terrible reaction that he had. I guess they just were concentrated there together – just the two of them.

Sherwin: She was afraid what was going to happen to him?

Bacher: Well, no.

Sherwin: She was afraid what was going to happen [inaudible]?

Bacher: No, I do not think there is anything that specific. It is just simply a fact that his own realization and reaction was just as acute as anybody else’s.

Sherwin: I see.

Bacher: If not more so. Kitty did not often share her feelings, but she just said she did not know how she would stand it.

Sherwin: Do you think that this was such a significant event in their life, and the pressure from it could have been partly responsible for her drinking?

Bacher: Oh, no. I think that was something else entirely.

Sherwin: Okay. You are good friends with Stewart Harrison, yes?

Bacher: Yes.

Sherwin: Do you have any sense of their marriage? What happened in this whole thing?

Bacher: Well, you know I guess I do, because Kitty has talked to me about it. One of the times when we were up at the ranch with them after the war, we both drank a lot. One of those things that happens in the ranch country. Robert had gone down to pick Ruth up. I think he was getting Ruth and Bob, and he went down together to bring her back.

Kitty and I stayed at the house up there. That is one time I realized how primitive the place was, because we did not have any heat at all but that stove. We loaded up the stove. Robert was bringing the dinner back. He was going to get a good roast beef in Santa Fe and some really nice food. So we got the stove ready, waited for them, and drank whiskey. Then she told me a lot about her marriages and so on. The first time when she really was involved, I would say, was with Joe. The one who died in Spain.

Sherwin: Yes, Joe Dallet.

Bacher: Yes, Joe Dallet. When she had taken up with Stewart, it was really to try to make another life and get settled in America. She said, “It was just an impossible marriage. We never should have gotten married.” There just was not anything for them to make a marriage on, so she was ready to leave him long before she did. But I never told Stewart that.

Sherwin: I have heard that sort of thing before.

Bacher: But in the story, what happened was long after dark, of course, they finally arrived and discovered that the meat that Robert had picked up was frozen solid. We managed to thaw it enough to get a knife through it. But it was not the wonderful dinner that we had been waiting for.

Sherwin: I see. When was this?

Bacher: That was it must have been ’53 or ’54.

Sherwin: Before the hearing.

Bacher: Yes, it was before the hearing. That is one thing that just terrified Robert. He used to come see us in Washington. Before he would do anything else, he would go around the room, lift the pictures, look under them, and try to see where the recording device was.

Sherwin: This is before the hearing?

Bacher: Oh, yes.

Sherwin: He knew he was being followed.

Bacher: Oh, yes, of course. I mean he was just terrified.

Sherwin: I have never heard that before. I mean he did not do it as a joke or anything?

Bacher: Oh, no.

Sherwin: He was sure that your house was bugged?

Bacher: Oh, yes, it probably was. I mean Bob was certainly a vulnerable person. I always knew we were bugged. You just expect it.

Sherwin: Why was that?

Bacher: That was at the time of the McCarthy hearings. It was dreadful. The atmosphere was horrible.

Sherwin: He was on the AEC until 1949, spring of ’49.

Bacher: Yes.

Sherwin: You felt that you were bugged after that too?

Bacher: Out here, you mean?

Sherwin: Did you ever find a bug, a microphone or anything?

Bacher: Robert said he had found it one night, but I do not know that he had.

Sherwin: Robert Oppenheimer?

Bacher: Oppenheimer, yes. I mean we had a picture in the wall like that and he took it down and said, “There it is.” That is the way we lived.

Sherwin: I have a huge collection of FBI files from the Oppenheimer hearings, about 8,000 pages.

Bacher: Yeah, Bob has seen those, yes.

Sherwin: Mostly junk, rewritten reports of rewritten reports of rewritten reports. But it was quite clear that Robert Oppenheimer’s telephone was tapped, and there were periods in which he was followed. But I never had the impression that he was so alive to it and anxious about it.

Bacher: Oh, no. This was just constant.

Copyright 2005 Martin J. Sherwin. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of Martin J. Sherwin. Rights granted to Atomic Heritage Foundation.