Did you know that the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ was accused of being a Nazi sympathiser?
Christopher Nolan's most recent release, the biographical thriller Oppenheimer, has been running to packed houses across the world. The film, which is based on the life of Julius Robert Oppenheimer, who is hailed as the ‘father of the atomic bomb’, has sparked new interest and curiosity about him.
While a lot has been written about Oppenheimer and his work, not many may know about the scandals and secrets that shed new light on his journey and legacy.
After searching through their archives of over 19 billion online digitised historical records, research by the global family history site MyHeritage has unearthed some details about Oppenheimer that are not widely known. Let's take a look...
The security scandal
In 1947, after the Second World War, Oppenheimer moved from California to the US East Coast to become the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In California, he was a university professor at Berkeley.
A 1950 U.S. Census records him as living in Princeton with his wife Katherine and their children, Peter and Katherine. In the records, Oppenheimer is listed as the Director of Advanced Study, and he declared that he worked 50 hours the previous week.
Shortly before the scandal broke out, Oppenheimer had made a trip to Brazil. MyHeritage.com found his immigration card in the Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900–1965 collection.
It is unclear whether he applied for the card as part of his plan to attend the Solvay Conference and didn’t get to go, or if he took a separate trip that required him to pass through Brazil.
A Nazi sympathiser?
In 1953, Oppenheimer faced accusations of being a communist sympathiser. He was even called before a tribunal for the same. After declaring that he had communist sympathies, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) declared him a security risk.
There were several questions raised about not just Oppenheimer’s top-secret security clearance but also his communist ties, with flags being raised that he may be a Soviet spy.
All this went on for months, and on December 21, 1953, AEC chief Lewis Strauss summoned Oppenheimer to tell him that his security clearance was suspended. He also asked the scientist to resign.