LÉO RAMOSOn December 2, 2013 the São Paulo City Council awarded Professor Ernst Wolfgang Hamburger the title of Citizen of São Paulo. It was about time. The Jewish boy who arrived at the port of Santos in 1936 at the age of 3, part of a family fleeing from the Nazi horror that would sweep Europe in subsequent years, has been contributing to the production of knowledge, education and dissemination of science in Brazil for over 50 years, steadfastly in the city that became his home. So much so that he no longer remembers his early years in Germany.
A physicist who has performed important research in nuclear physics, especially in nuclear spectroscopy, Professor Hamburger “was instrumental in changing the direction of the University of São Paulo Institute of Physics (IP-USP) towards concerning itself with education and disseminating information obtained through scientific research to society,” said Professor José Goldemberg, another physicist active in Brazilian scientific policy, in the remarks addressed to his colleague during the ceremony at City Hall. And that was when he showed himself to be “a courageous person,” able to face the resistance and “vested interests” that any attempt at transformation encounters.
Although a scientist, Professor Hamburger also employed sensitivity to work towards overcoming the persistent gap between scientific knowledge and that produced in the humanities, according to Professor Celso Lafer, president of FAPESP, who also spoke of him during the ceremony at City Hall, recalling the topic of the talk entitled “The Two Cultures” given by the physicist and English novelist Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980) in Cambridge, UK, in 1959. The work of Professor Hamburger at the Science Station (Estação Ciência) Museum and in relation to other science museums, Lafer observed, was precisely an attempt to bridge a gap in the development of human society.
|Nuclear physics and science education|
|University of São Paulo (bachelor’s) 1954
University of Pittsburgh: PhD (1959) and post-doctoral research (1967)
|Institute of Physics, USP|
|35 papers published in indexed journals, 10 books published and 7 PhD students advised|
In his emotional speech after receiving his most recent honor, Professor Hamburger insisted that we are still far from what Brazil needs in the field of education and in the dissemination of science. And he remarked with grace: “I am 80 years old, and over the next 20 years I still have lots of work to do.” Below are the highlights of his interview with Pesquisa FAPESP about three months before becoming a citizen of the city of São Paulo.
Professor, to begin with, which of your physics publications were the most important, in your view?
I wrote several papers that I really liked, but nothing exceptionally important, unlike some colleagues. I studied nuclear structure. I wanted to know what atomic nuclei are made of. I wanted to understand the relationship between successive nuclei in the periodic table of elements, or how the subatomic particles combine to form elements. Beryllium, for example, is a lithium atom plus a proton. That is what we call nuclear spectroscopy. I began my work, while still an undergraduate, as an intern during the assembly of the Van der Graaff accelerator, here at USP in the late 1950s. I had a grant, or at least I was supposed to have one. I was in the first group of students in the CNPq undergraduate research program, and since the system was still being set up, the grant money arrived 18 months later.
You waited a year and a half for your wages?Working for free?
Gaining a lot of experience. The laboratory was run by Professor Oscar Sala, the work was very interesting and the groups were very small then. Ours, which graduated in 1954, had 12 people. The first group was in 1938, the same year that Mário Schemberg (a famous USP physics professor) graduated from the Polytechnic School. In the room in which we met, by the way, are Schemberg’s archives: texts in some boxes, photographs in others. I am continuing the work that Amelia was doing, which is organizing both the archives of the Institute of Physics, before Schemberg arrived—at that time it was the Department of Physics of the School of Philosophy—and his collection, which his family entrusted to her care here at the institute.
How did you get the internship?
Back then there were only a few of us, everyone knew everyone else—it was a family atmosphere. In the first year, I met a student who was graduating, a family friend, and he told me that Sala was starting a laboratory and maybe I could get a job there. There was nothing yet on the Butantan campus. The laboratory was on Avenida Brigadeiro Luiz Antonio, downtown. But in 1951 or 1952 they began building the Van der Graaff accelerator and we moved to the Butantã campus, where we are now. There had already been a laboratory here, belonging to Professor Marcello Damy de Souza Santos, that housed the Betatron accelerator.
When you graduated, you went to the United States?
There was a major crisis here and, when Jânio Quadros was elected governor, wages fell and many people left the universities. In 1956, I went to the United States to study for a PhD in Pittsburgh, which is not a great university, but it was among the top 20 in nuclear physics. This was thanks to an American professor who had worked here at the invitation of Sala and then returned to Pittsburgh. He got scholarships for Amelia and me so we could go there. We married in 1956 and went together. We had already been dating for a year. We were classmates in the physics program at the School of Philosophy.
So you both did PhDs in Pittsburgh?
She did her master’s and I did my PhD. Amelia also worked with nuclear physics. In the end, already pregnant, she worked with the data collected from the accelerator, but no longer went there.
Your doctoral dissertation was connected to this nuclear physics experiment, correct?Was that when you began to work with nucleus transfer reactions?
In practice, yes. I had done a bit here in São Paulo, but during most of my time as a student the accelerator was being built. It began operating in 1955. So, the first full experiments that I did were in Pittsburgh, with a different machine, a cyclotron, which was almost obsolete, but still able to produce interesting, meaningful results. My doctoral dissertation was on deuterium nuclear reactions, or more precisely on deuterons accelerated by a cyclotron, striking lithium targets. Lithium has two stable isotopes, lithium-6 and lithium-7, but we also produced lithium-8, which is unstable, through them. So we were able to better understand how the structure of lithium-7—which is lithium-6 with an extra neutron—is linked to the structure of lithium-6. It spawned a few questions: is there simply one extra neutron there in the nucleus? How does this particle circulate? If you remove this neutron, are you left with a pure lithium-6 isotope, or something else?
So your intention was to identify, specifically, how that extra neutron circulated?
The word circulate comes from the classic model of atoms. In quantum mechanics, it fills all the space, and does not exactly have a trajectory. I wanted to understand the structure of lithium-7, with 7 particles, compared with lithium-6, with 6 particles. I wanted to understand to what extent the additional particle modifies the structure of lithium-6.
And what was your conclusion?
I confirmed the simplest model of nuclear physics for light nuclei, which is the layer model of independent particles. In a very rough description, not exact, you can imagine that each particle of the seven particles in the nucleus is moving because of a force field produced freely by the other six. Some of the time the lithium-7 nucleus has a lithium-6 nucleus inside it in an excited state, rather than in a ground state, and we can quantify that. Then you build the periodic table of nuclei, one after another, comparing one with another. Later, comparing the heavier nuclei, I compared lead-206 and lead-207, lead-207 and lead-208, and lead-208 and lead-209.
Were you still in Pittsburgh?
I had returned to Brazil and then gone back to Pittsburgh. After the 1964 coup, everyone at the School of Philosophy was very discouraged because some founders of the Physics Department were being expelled. We went back to Pittsburgh, I as a visiting assistant professor, while Amelia went to work at Carnegie Mellon and changed areas: she switched to solid state physics, an interesting move.
When you returned, how many children did you have?
Esther was born in 1960, Sonia was born in 1961, Carlos in 1962, and Vera in 1964, one after the other—and don’t forget that Amelia had lots of things to do. The youngest, Fernando, was born in 1970.
You did another study with the magnesium isotope.
Yes, but it was not groundbreaking. Similar work had already been done with lithium, then carbon, then magnesium, based on the interest in the results and the availability of targets. Magnesium has various stable isotopes that can be used as targets, similar to lithium-6 and lithium-7, magnesium-24, -25, -26, lead-207 and lead-208, etc.
You were always interested in the structure of the nucleus.
Combined with what we call the reaction mechanism. We have to understand how the nuclear reaction takes place in order to extract the characteristic information from that nucleus and the information that corresponds to the mode of interaction. All nuclei are excitable, but some are more, some are less. Some have a state that is easily excited, and participates in the reaction, while others do not. So you have to correct for all these factors in order to extract the information that is characteristic of the nucleus, and not of the reaction.
Which physicists outside Brazil were working in this same field?
There were hundreds. The accelerator at Pittsburgh was very active, it was a 15 million electron-volt cyclotron. And there were others. There was one at Princeton, for example, but despite Princeton being a much better university than Pittsburgh, in this specific field they were not that good. There were others in California, Paris, and London. There were 10 to 20 laboratories doing this sort of thing.
And what are the main contributions of these experiments?
The main contribution is nuclear spectroscopy, which is understanding the structure of nuclei in terms of their components. Early models assumed neutrons and protons moved randomly. This was refined and layers of neutrons and protons were found to form. Reactions could be predicted and this information could be used in the theory of star formation and of the elements in a Big Bang type of hypothesis, for example.
You also worked with cosmic rays at one time, right?
Yes, but I didn’t go far. And it was much later, in the 1990s.
Was it at the same time in which Professor Carlos Escobar was going to Unicamp to work with cosmic rays?
Exactly. He worked in collaboration with researchers in Argentina at the Pierre Auger Observatory. It was a much more ambitious, complex experiment. Professor Elly Silva, with whom I worked, proposed doing something that we could manage, a counter to indicate the direction from which cosmic rays came. We built a small counter, but then ended up receiving a second-hand device the Italians no longer used. We set it up on land owned by the USP Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG), in the dome of an ancient optical telescope, but the project did not continue.
Could you comment on an episode in the 1960s that was considered polemical, when you produced a target of tritium gas, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen?At the time the scientific community was a little worried.It was you who insisted that the experiment be done in São Paulo, correct?
The tritium was imported and we stored it with a certain level of security. It is used to cause a reaction that produces 14 million volt neutrons, which are used for other experiments. I began that experiment with Professor Sala shortly before going to the United States. And when I returned, I did not know where the tritium had gone. It disappeared, but nobody got sick as far as we know. Nor was it a lot of material, like that accident in the state of Goiás in 1987, with cesium-137. There are always stories like this in physics—there was the case of a professor in the United States who was always anemic and no one knew why. There was a radioactive source in her drawer that she did not know about. In Pittsburgh, Professor Allen, who was responsible for the cyclotron, lost some of his sight. The cyclotron has a vacuum chamber, about the size of a round table, and the particles are loose in the center of it. Looking through the window in the chamber, you could see that there was a weak little blue light where the particles circulated because the vacuum was not perfect and the neutrons collided with atoms in the gas. Allen would poke a piece of iron in here and there to adjust things. He was being irradiated. He did not become completely blind, but his vision was greatly impaired.
How did your interest in physics begin?And what were your early years like?
I came to Brazil at the age of 3 and I don’t remember anything of the trip or my infancy in Germany before it. I was born in Berlin in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. My father was a civil servant, a judge, and had been wounded in the First World War. He had fought in the German army and had been hit by a grenade. One arm was amputated and the other was mangled. Despite this, he managed to finish his law degree. Unlike other Jews, he was not immediately dismissed because he was war hero. He ended up losing his job in September 1935, and decided to leave Germany. The Olympic Games were in Berlin in 1936 and my father calculated that, at that stage, the Germans would still be trying to show a civilized face to other nations. He sought work in other countries, but, since he was crippled, it was very difficult. The United States, for example, did not accept him. When he was a student, my father had joined a law school fraternity, one of the few that accepted Jews, and one of his fraternity brothers later immigrated to Brazil and married a Brazilian woman. Since it was easier for those abroad to get uncensored news, his friend could see clearly that we needed to leave. So we went to England, where my aunt had already gone, and from there we took a ship to Santos. We arrived in October 1936.
So all of your family managed to escape the massacre of the Jews under Hitler?
The closest family, yes. One of my father’s cousins, who had converted to Christianity, was a Protestant pastor, yet he was arrested and killed.
So your family settled in São Paulo?
It settled in with the help of Luis Lorch, who was this doctor friend of my father. And he also helped establish the São Paulo Israelite Congregation (CIP). My father was given a job as executive secretary of the CIP. Lorch was president. My mother, Lotte, was a housewife, but very active, and with another lady, Ida Hoffman, founded a Children’s Home in the Bom Retiro neighborhood to help German immigrants who were arriving in large numbers, had to work and had no one with whom to leave their children. My mother was the director, but since she was a housewife she was not there all the time and an employee slept in the Home. She talked to Ida about each of the 60 children at the Home every night via telephone. Many people who are important today spent time at the Home when they were children. In the beginning, all the children were Jewish, but later children from the neighborhood were also admitted. Today, almost none of the children are Jewish, but the Home still exists. It is in the Alto da Boa Vista neighborhood.
Where did you study in your early years in São Paulo?
My parents wanted a more European education. My siblings and I went to the English school. I went to the British School for primary school and the Anglo-Paulistano school for middle school, when it was still in the Jardim Paulistano neighborhood. There were four of us, three boys and a girl. I was the youngest. My oldest brother, Hugo Hamburger, was an engineer. He graduated from the USP Polytechnic School. He worked in an engineering firm and then founded his own. My sister, Adelaide, studied at the USP School of Sociology and Politics and was a sociologist. She immigrated to the United States, married, had children there and has already passed away. My second oldest brother, Stefan, is still alive, but already retired.
How did you become interested in physics?
After leaving the Anglo-Paulistano school, I studied at President Roosevelt High School, a public school. I was great friends with Moysés Nussenzveig. We studied physics together and we became interested in physics together. He did not take the USP entrance exam because he won a scholarship to study in France. Later, he returned and was admitted to USP to study physics. I stayed here and went directly into physics at USP.
What did you envision doing with physics?
We tended to not become excited about nuclear physics because of the bomb. But the area was at the peak of its importance in human society, so it was not strange that we went into this area. Moysés went into theoretical physics, and I preferred experimental physics.
When you returned from the United States for the second time, in 1967, did you get a job at the Institute of Physics?
It wasn’t yet called the Institute of Physics and was still part of the School of Philosophy. I did my PhD in the United States and in 1962 I was promoted to associate professor, which is the next step at USP. In 1967 I applied to become a full professor and I was the only candidate in the department so I was promoted. I was only 34.
So you joined the department as an experimental physics professor?
Yes, Marcello Damy had retired, and the opening was for a professor of general and experimental physics. That included nuclear physics and many other areas of physics. And the experimental physics area was responsible for all physics classes for all physics, chemistry, math and biology majors. It was the most important position because of its teaching obligations. There was an agreement that all professors at the institute, from different departments, could teach classes in other departments. That was one of the differentials in the Institute of Physics. What we tried to do then was improve the physics laboratories, because the experimental and theoretical aspects were very independent. The student did not know that the experiment he was doing was linked to a theory. I really encouraged demonstration experiments, in which professors demonstrate an effect or phenomenon in class rather than having the student perform an experiment in a lab. This makes the lessons more interesting and enriches the students’ experience.
At that time, in the 1970s and 1980s, you were teaching and doing research.Meanwhile, what was Amelia doing?
She was also doing experiments. That was also when we were creating a graduate program. The physics program had two options: a Bachelor’s degree focusing on research and a Bachelor’s degree with a teaching certificate for those who would teach science in secondary schools. There was no graduate degree for the students who chose the latter. They could continue on at the School of Education, but with very little physics content, because they emphasized pedagogy. In 1969, before the reform, I proposed a graduate program in teaching physics. Later, it was expanded to science education more generally and became the joint responsibility of the School of Education and the Institutes of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I worked with Professor Claudio Z. Did, in Physics, and Professors Carolina Bori and Maria Inês Rocha e Silva.
And that was the start of a large project that you worked on with Amelia, on teaching physics, and then later expanded into the dissemination of science.Tell me a bit about that.
I had a previous experience in the early 1960s when, through Ibec [Brazilian Institute of Education, Science and Culture], I organized a series of classes on nuclear physics for the public. We did a series of experiments on radioactivity there and they were very successful and influential. We filled the auditorium. That was my first experience in scientific dissemination and it must have been in 1962 or 1963. And why did this strong movement arise in relation to teaching? At that time, the salaries of secondary school teachers were not as bad as they are now, so many who graduated from the Institute of Physics went into teaching. Bachelor’s degrees with teaching certificates were more sought after than without. The intention of the bachelor’s degree without the certificate was to train researchers in physics and university professors. However, there were not many universities then. Those without the teaching certificate didn’t always find a job after graduation in the 1970s. Then, in 1969, we established a graduate program in teaching, together with Professor Carolina Bori. Today there are hundreds of master’s and PhD students in the physics education graduate program. Our course initially granted only master’s degrees. It began granting PhDs only 10 to 15 years ago.
But with the falling teaching salaries in primary and secondary education, the teachers teaching in middle and high schools moved to the universities…
They stayed in the high schools for some time, but when vacancies opened at the universities they applied.
Elementary and middle schools lack good science teachers…
Without a doubt. Especially in physics. It’s the problem of our time. Both at the School of Philosophy and later at the Institute of Physics, many physics majors dropped out, and continue to drop out. It has decreased slightly, but continues. Only a third of freshmen used to graduate, and now half do. But still, half of the vacancies are wasted. Making the curriculum extremely interesting in the first year may help students overcome that challenge. Most students leave at the end of the first year and in the second year.
Was this why you paid a lot of attention to the first-year students who excelled, making them co-authors on your articles and encouraging them to do undergraduate research? Was that one way to convince good students to stay?
It was not exactly to keep the good students. I thought that the best way to let students get the most out of the program from the pedagogical point of view was to engage them in research. Physics is very poorly taught when taught as a collection of formulas that you have to apply. I remember that, at my public high school, we had a math teacher named Antônio Alves Cruz. He gave us mathematical formulas and assigned each a number. He would call a student to solve a problem on the blackboard and would say: “Formula number 23.” You had to memorize the formula and its number. He was very demanding. The five classes in the first year were whittled away to one in the second year. He flunked 4/5 of the students. It was horrible. The students who survived him entered university. The school produced some very qualified people, but it was very bad for the 80% he flunked.
How did initiatives to train science teachers evolve?
The School of Philosophy was explicitly founded with two objectives: to train teachers for further education and to train researchers. And it focused its resources on training researchers, which was great, but it was unable to fulfill its other purpose. USP did not accept the challenge of training teachers for the state public school system. In order to do that it would need to be a much larger and more effective school. It specialized in being a cutting-edge school, and not a school for the masses. It needed to be a cutting-edge school for the masses, but that challenge was not attempted. Now they are trying to do this with distance learning. I hope it will work, but it is difficult.
When did your interest in teaching become linked to your scientific dissemination activities?
I started when José Goldemberg was president of USP and the Technology Museum already existed. It was built by Professor Francisco de Paula Machado de Campos, who obtained the funds, built the building, but never managed to open the museum. At least until a CESP (São Paulo Power Company) director decided to develop an exhibition on energy and convinced Machado de Campos to host it there. I was responsible for USP’s part of this great exhibition. We built a series of devices here at the Institute of Physics, we developed explanatory panels, and the exhibition was a great success. With 70,000 visitors at the time, it remained opened for six months. Before that, Halley’s Comet passed near the Earth in 1986, and we prepared a large exhibition on the comet together with Professor Augusto Damineli Neto, of IAG, and Roberto Kishinami, in the Geography and History building. We had 70,000 visitors, we had a line of 10 buses here at USP. After that, it was more or less natural that I be invited to help with the Science Station (Estação Ciência) Museum.
What was your experience at the Science Station Museum like?
It was very interesting. Unfortunately, the Science Station is closed now. I don’t regret my work there. It was interesting, but I was unable to do something more permanent.
It’s closed for renovation, right?
Yes, for renovation, but I don’t know when it might reopen. The staff that was there moved on to other places, so I do not know what will happen.
Brazil has a problem with science museums, don’t you think?The city of Salvador had the first science museum in Brazil in 1978, the Museum of Science and Technology in Pituaçu Park, founded by the Governor at that time, Roberto Santos.Shortly after Antonio Carlos Magalhães returned to office he closed the museum.Here we are having problems with the Science Station. So, from your point of view, what is the problem with science museums in Brazil?
This applies to all museums, not just science museums. Look at the Ipiranga Museum, which had to be closed for renovation. One aspect is our inferiority complex, our lack of pride—I think it was the great playwright Nélson Rodrigues who called it our “mutt complex.” A good museum shows a society’s pride in its past.
But there are recent studies on the dynamics of museums that show that they are still far from people’s reality.And when students in the public schools go it is because the school takes them.At the same time, exhibits like the one on Einstein in 2008, at Oca, had record attendance.Is it a question of class, or a question of new dissemination languages that end up attracting the public?
It is a combination. The Catavento Museum in the city of São Paulo is doing well and is always full, and is run by a bank director. So the question of management may be very important—it was with the Science Station. But even Catavento—the São Paulo State museum with the most visitors—attracts 500,000 visitors annually, while the largest museum in Mexico has two million visitors. We should have four times more visitors. Talking to Sergio Freitas, the director of Catavento, he told me why he thinks other things are more important and does not intend to increase the number of visitors. Space is limited and there is a complex logistics problem. They would need to have more staff and monitors. At the same time, if you had a more modern museology, that would help. But that is not the case. Brazilians are not used to going to museums. Here the schools are so bad that they have priority over museums. They are in a very bad state. A museum could be great, but when funds are being divvied up, it receives very little.
When you were at the Science Station, what difficulties did you face?
I did not face serious difficulties. But, in the case of the Station, its status within USP was not clear. What I missed most was the presence of professors and graduate students doing research, etc. It was a foreign entity, as it was not part of the academic machine. The employees themselves did not feel like they were USP employees because the museum was far from the Butantã campus. It needed to have been absorbed into academic activities. Many of the monitors were undergraduate students. We tried to create a laboratory class so they could receive academic credit. It was approved by the University Council, but never implemented.
What were the highlights of your time managing the Science Station?
There were many things. We had an exhibition on slavery in Brazil, which was very important, in 1995. An anthropology professor curated it. Every year I held a large meeting on teaching science in which each group presented their work, which was to try to motivate schools and didactic material publishers. We had a very active website, which won several awards at the time.
And you left in 2003.Do you continue on the board?
I didn’t accept, because I thought that nine years was enough.
But didn’t you continue on as a sort of consultant?
I visited the museum. Professor Wilson Teixeira, from the Geology Department, took over right after I left. At that time I was still responsible for the project Mão na Massa (Hands On), which was also discontinued. It is difficult to understand how a large and powerful institution like USP can do things that we do not understand.
When you look at your many years of work and multiple activities, which projects do you feel most connected to, emotionally?
All are important, but none of my work had a lasting effect. I contributed in these various areas, but the teaching of physics is still bad and the number of students who graduate with physics degrees remains low. You have to see it all from a historical perspective. The number of physics professors has increased a lot. Not as much as it should have, but it increased. The number of science museums and their activities have increased. I was co-founder of the Brazilian Association of Science Centers and Museums, which did not even exist. The country is progressing in a nonlinear way, and you have to have faith that, despite the zig-zags, it will move in the right direction.
It is curious that, despite both you and Amelia being physicists, your children work in communications.
Yes, all of them. Esther teaches film at the School of Communications and Arts, Sonia is a film producer, at Gullane, Cao is a film director, Vera is a cultural producer and Fernando is a photographer.
What side of you influenced this path?
I don’t know. I had a brother-in-law, Amélia’s brother, the stage designer and artist Flávio Império, who certainly influenced them. Perhaps our conversations at lunch about physics and the university were not always inspiring. Only Esther went into academia and she is doing well. Vera intends to study for a master’s or PhD in communications. She developed a course in art direction that was very successful here and abroad.
Would you say that the trajectories of your children somehow also motivated some of the projects you and Amélia took on?With respect to dissemination, writing, and presenting what scientists do to the world?
It certainly had an influence, but I never thought about it. We always think it is the origin and not the result. An example is the series of Science Minute films my son Carlos (Cao) directed for TV Cultura and the Science Station.
You hosted a gathering last year that brought together family members from different parts of the world …
It was at my house and also in Catuçaba. I live right near USP, in front of the Casa do Bandeirante museum. It was fortunate that we were able to buy the property back in 1967, because today it would be too expensive. But about the gathering: I had two cousins, one was a physicist and the other a chemist. One stayed in England and the other, a little older, was sent to Canada because the English were afraid that some of the immigrants were spies and sent everyone they suspected to Canada. He returned later, enlisted in the English army, fought against the Nazis, and afterwards was an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials. He returned to East Germany, obtained a PhD and became president of the university. His sons still live in Berlin. One of them came to this family gathering. A cousin in the United States suggested the gathering and about 50 people came in all, 25 from Brazil and 25 from Germany, England and the United States. We stayed in a little hotel in Catuçaba, near São Luís do Paratinga. They liked it a lot.
Do scientists predominate in your family?
No, neither in the United States nor in Germany. I have a cousin who is a professor in a biology museum in Berlin. Another cousin is a sociology professor at the University of Potsdam. But the others are not scientists. I come from a line of scientists, though. My grandfather, Hugo Liepman, was an important neurologist. He discovered the relationship between aphasia and apraxia. The family is very old and members tended to write memoirs. My mother wrote the memoirs of her family and of my father’s family. My great-grandfather wrote those of his family. They are interesting. He wrote about his father, who was the son of a peddler in what is now Germany, but at the time was Prussia or Poland, I’m not sure. The peddler sold things, but it was the mother that supported the family, at the end of the eighteenth century. Then the mother died and the family decided that the father could not afford to support him, so he was sent to Berlin to stay with other families. He managed to become an apprentice at a fabric manufacturer. The fabrics came from Manchester, so he was sent there to visit the factory. While he was in England, Napoleon decreed a continental blockade. So David Liepman, my great-great-grandfather, rented a ship, filled it with fabrics, went around Europe, passed Gibraltar and arrived in Turkey, which was not dependent on Napoleon. He unloaded the ship there, formed a caravan and returned by land to central Europe. He passed through Italy, fell ill with the plague, survived, and reached Vienna. Since he sold all the fabrics for a very good price, he founded the family fortune.
Have you already started writing your family’s memoirs?
What are your plans?
I made a list of 20 urgent things.
Which is the most important?
They all are. I have to do some repairs on my home. But the most urgent is to put my papers in order. They include the letters that my grandfather exchanged with a friend. My mother kept them and they are very enlightening and interesting. I asked for a secretary to help me, but there is still a pile of papers for me to sort.