Pictures from Seven Visits to the USSR


Russia and the Soviet Union have loomed, often ominously large throughout my life. Konrad Gross, a brother of my grandfather and botanist had emigrated to St. Petersburg in the 1890s. In my German childhood we occasionally received letters and photos from him and his Russian family. In 1943 Konrad disappeared without a trace in Stalin's purges.

During World War II my image of Russia became colored by fear and propaganda, until, by the end of the war, we were overrun by the Soviet army in our home town in Silesia. My father was rounded up before my eyes. He survived, because the Russians, before shipping him to Siberia, released him with typhoid fever, which they feared. To feed my family I had to work for a Russian car repair shop, until we were deported to Western Germany in 1946.

However, these traumatic experiences from the end of the war, I was 14 in 1946, when we were expelled from Silesia, did not leave any bitterness or paranoia, only a deep curiosity about the Soviet Union. Adventure-lust took me to America, where I finished my PhD and married Barbara, and fate brought it that in my job in the American defense industry—once again the Soviet Union assumed superhuman proportions.

An invitation by the Soviet Academy in 1969 to present a research paper in Moscow opened a singular opportunity for me to explore the USSR. Captivated by the people I met, this first invitation was followed by six more visits over 20 years, during which the Soviet Union slowly disintegrated. A unique opportunity.

I soon made made a number of true friends among the physicists, helped by my strictly avoiding political discussions. I was interested in the quasi-religious mentality of the Russians, their “System” was their choice and not up to my judgement. The hospitality and generosity of my friends took me to many places around Moscow, where I found the “old” Russia alive.

All of this was only made possible through the USSR Academy of Sciences and Prof. N. G. Basov, who became my mentor and provided a protective umbrella for the scientist, who was more interested in Rusian churches than physics. In the 1970s I was able to reciprocate by inviting Soviet scientists to a laser conference, of which I had become an organizer. That opened up a 2-months exchange fellowship, during which I was able to visit institutes in the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Georgia, Tashkent, and Leningrad and make many new friends, among them Merab Djibladze in Tbilisi, Georgia.

In 1980 Merab managed to get me ivited to teach a seminar at Tbilisi University, and Barbara and Cornelius were invited too. The two months in Georgia became one of our great adventures. And Sagdulla Bakhramov invited Cornelius an me to Tashkent in May 1989 at the very moment the USSR was falling apart, a historical 3 weeks.

I present here the visual impressions I took home from these intense encounters