Audio of Bio of Joseph Rotblat read by Cathy Eaton
Joseph Rotblat, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born on November 4, 1904, in Warsaw (then part of the Soviet Union) to an Orthodox Jewish family. During World War I, he and his family fearing for their lives lived in a basement and subsisted on potatoes as a mainstay of their diet. His family spiraled from affluence to extreme poverty.
Joseph Rotblat played a pivotal role in the Pugwash Conferences and was a significant participant in the 1957 conference held here in Pugwash. He returned to Thinkers Lodge numerous times.
By 1916, there was no money so his family wanted him to do practical studies that would quickly provide him with a career. He studied electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and basic arithmetic. At 14 he became an apprentice to an electrician, a job that he hated. However, he was grateful he could help support his parents. Then he enrolled in the Free University of Warsaw, which was one of the few that admitted Jewish students.
Since he was a Jew, he could not be officially admitted to Warsaw University, but he earned his degree there unofficially. At 30, he studied in Liverpool with James Chadwick, a Nobel Prize recipient in Physics. Chadwick proved the existence of neutrons. Rotblat returned to Poland to bring back his wife, who sadly due to appendicitis surgery was unable to leave with him. Rotblat escaped Poland two days before Hitler invaded his country, and tragically his wife was a victim of their reign of terror, one of over six million Jews murdered.
In 1939 nuclear fission in uranium was discovered. Rotblat worked on fission first in Warsaw and next in Liverpool. In 1944 he moved to the United States and became a key scientist in Los Alamos working on the Atomic Bomb. Although concerned about the morality of the weapon, he agreed to help develop the bomb believing that the Germans were close to building one that they could unleash on Europe. He learned that the Germans did not have the scientific knowledge to build the bomb. Then he discovered that the United Stated intended to continue its work on the bomb believing that having this deadly technology would subdue the Soviet Union and be a deterrent to the Soviet Union’s future position as a world leader. At the time the Soviet Union and the United States were allies. Rotblat quit the Manhattan project and was accused of being a traitor. When he departed, all his luggage disappeared, which contained photos and mementoes of his beloved wife.
After the war, he became a British citizen. In 1955, he was one of eleven scientists who signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Ten them were awarded Nobel Prizes in a variety of disciplines. Joseph Rotblat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the Pugwash Conferences in 1995. His medal is proudly displayed at Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Rotblat made significant contributions through the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, some of which were hosted and funded by the Pugwash born industrialist, Cyrus Eaton. The first one was held in 1957 at Pugwash, a safe and neutral spot where individuals could speak their beliefs and write declarations without fearing retribution from their countries.
“Most significant was the understanding that participants attended as individuals, not as representatives of governments, though observers from such organizations as the UN or the UN's educational scientific and cultural organization Unesco were welcome. Scientists from both sides of the iron curtain could talk freely and informally but could, of course, report back to their governments.
You might ask if these conferences have made a difference. This is a good question.
A number of treaties and agreements have been influenced by these conferences.
“The Arms Race and Disarmament (1982), mentions several instances where Pugwash discussions had clearly contributed to subsequent international agreements.” The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Salt) led to the 1972 and 1979 agreements between the Soviet Union and the United States. The goal was to restrain the arms race in strategic ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. The Treaty on Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) and the Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons were both signed by President Nixon and General Secretariat of Soviet Community Party, Brezhnev in 1972. Congress approved the SALT II Agreement in a joint resolution. Renewed negotiations in 1982 took the name of Strategic Arms Reduction Talks or START.
In July of 2017 the General Assembly decided to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference “to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. It resulted in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On July 7, 60 years after the initial Pugwash Conference in 1957, this new international agreement places nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been outlawed.” 122 countries approved the treaty. It is worrisome and hugely disappointing that all Nuclear States and NATO did not sign. Canada did not participate in negotiations.
“Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: (a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; (b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly; (c) Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly; (d) Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. These are only a few if the resolutions.
For the first time in the seven-decade effort to avert a nuclear war, a global treaty has been negotiated that proponents say would, if successful, lead to the destruction of all nuclear weapons and forever prohibit their use. Negotiators representing two-thirds of the 192-member United Nations finalized the ten-page treaty after months of talks.
The document, called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, was formally adopted on Friday at United Nations headquarters in New York during the final session of the negotiation conference.
It will be open for signature by any member state starting on Sept. 20, 2017 during the annual General Assembly. If 50 countries ratify it, it would enter into legal force 90 days later.
So you can see Joseph Rotblat’s life-long peace efforts continue to make a difference on eliminating nuclear weapons.
He was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, launched in 1958, and was briefly on its executive committee.
After the war, Rotblat turned his attention to medical physics research. Between 1947 and 1950, he organized the Atom train Exhibit, to educate the public about the peaceful and military application of nuclear energy. The exhibit toured throughout Europe.
From 1950-1976 he was chief physicist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College at the University of London.
“Rotblat was secretary-general of Pugwash from 1957 until 1973, chairman of British Pugwash from 1978 to 1988 and from 1988 to 1997 president of Pugwash worldwide. Its annals, many edited by him with various collaborators, have provided continuing and wide-ranging analyses into current problems of disarmament and world security.”
In 1992, Joseph Rotblat and Hans Bethe were jointly awarded the esteemed Einstein peace prize. In1995, he was elected to the Royal Society. The accolade that he most appreciated was when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev stated that Pugwash papers and conferences had helped to guide the foreign policy that had led to the thaw in the Cold War.
Rotblat wrote or edited dozens of books and f papers His 1995 Nobel lecture articulated the continuing danger to the world of the existence of nuclear weapons. He urged the “nuclear powers to abandon cold-war thinking, to his fellow scientists to remember their responsibility to humanity, quoting the last passage of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: "We appeal, as human beings to human beings. Remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open for a new paradise; if you cannot there lies before you the risk of universal death."
Joseph Rotblat was knighted in 1998.
Rotblat continued to work into his 90s with undiminished energy, lecturing in many cities in Britain and abroad - including Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” He died on September 2, 2005 at 97.