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From: Stanislaw M. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician (Berkeley, U. C. Press, 1991): |
"At twenty-five, I had established some results in measure theory, which soon became well-known [internationally]. these solved certain set theoretical problems attacked earlier by Hausdorff, Banach, Kuratowski, and others . . . . I was also working in topology, group theory and probability theory.
"In 1934, the international situation was becoming ominous. Hitler had come to power in Germany. His influence was felt indirectly in Poland. There were increasing displays of inflamed nationalism, extreme rightist outbreaks and anti-Semitic demonstrations. "I did not consciously recognize these portents of things to come, but felt vaguely that if I was going to earn a living by myself and not continue indefinitely to be supported by my father, I must go abroad . . . .
"Early in 1935, I returned from [a visit to Cambridge, England] to Poland. It was now time to think seriously about a university career, although those were difficult times to find even a modest 'docent' position. A series of accidental letters was to change this; in one of them, from John von Neumann, then a young professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, I received an invitation to visit the United States [to gived a series of lectures]. . . .One of the luckiest accidents of my life happened the day G[eorge] D. Birkhoff came to tea at von Neumann's house while I was visiting there. . . . He seemed to have heard about me from his son Garrett, whom I had met in Warsaw. We talked and, after some discussion of mathematical problems, he turned to me and said, 'There is an organization at Harvard called the Society of Fellows. It has a vacancy. . . .There is about one chance in four that if you were interested and applied, you might receive this appointment.' . . .A month later, in April of 1936, I received an invitation to give a talk there, followed by a dinner at the Society of Fellows. . . .[A few weeks later] I found a letter which gladdened me no end. It was from the Secretary of the Harvard Corporation signed in the English manner 'Your Obedient Servant.' . . .It was a nomination to the position of Junior Fellow to begin the following autumn and to last for three years . . . . The conditions were extremely attractive: fifteen hundred dollars a year plus free board and room . . . . I those days it seemed a royal offer . . . .
"With this in my pocket, I happily began preparations to return to Poland for the summer."
Meanwhile, in Lwów, the family, although happy at this glowing opportunity for their son, the apple of their eye, can hardly bear to let him go off to a strange land far across the ocean. There survive only the family letters to him that he kept and later left to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Those from him were probably kept and read and passed from one family member to another. They were lost in the chaos following the German invasion of Poland and their entry into Lwów in 1941.
The principal family participants in the letters consisted of Stan's father (Józef), mother (Anna, also Hania), sister Stefania (Stefa), younger brother Adam (Adas), his uncle Szymon (Szymon or Szymek) and his cousin Andrzej.
On this site there are pictures of all of these except Stefa, of whom no photos have survived.
Stan's mother died in 1938; the letters written by Józef, Adas and Stefa continue until 1939, when Adam, late in August, left for America with his brother, aboard the M/S Batory, the last ocean liner to leave Poland before the German invasion on September 1.
After that, the letters continue but written by Józef, Stefa and Uncle Szymon. They stop abruptly in 1941.
There is a coda of three letters: two from cousin Julek (Uncle Szymon's son) in 1945, and one, in 2000, from a cousin living in Italy.
The 1939 letters: a coda.In 1963, Adam received a telephone call from Miami, Florida, from a man who identified himself as George Volsky. He had seen one of Adam's books in a bookstore and was calling to ask if he was any relation to a Józef Ulam. Adam replied that his father was named Józef Ulam, whereupon Volsky said that he had spent the winter of 1939 with him and that a letter would follow, telling how that had come about. Shortly afterward, it arrived.
| The last Letters: |
There remain but a few letters, none from the immediate family. A letter from Józef Gruss contains the last (indirect) communication from Józef Ulam to his son. Two letters from Cousin Juliusz (Julek) Ulam confirm the deaths of nearly all the Ulam family. And a much later letter from a cousin living in Italy explains the tragic deaths of Stan and Adam's sister Stefania and her child.
|These letters have been translated and annotated by Dr. Marek J. Chodakiewicz, The Institute of World Politics, Washington, D. C.|