December 10, 2018




The Nobel Prize for Physics was presented on this day in 1903.  It was divided, one half awarded to Antoine Henri Becquerel "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity", the other half jointly to Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, née Sklodowska "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".  (Note:  Marie Curie was born in Poland and became a naturalized French citizen. She is renown for her work in chemistry and physics, and conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.  Curie always identified herself as Marie Skłodowska Curie, preferring to use both surnames. She never abandoned her Polish roots. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland.  She named the first chemical element that she discovered in 1898 "polonium" after her beloved native country.


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Henryk Sienkiewicz "because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer"   He is best remembered for his historical novels, especially for his internationally known best-seller Quo Vadis (1896).  Sienkiewicz was born into an impoverished Polish noble family in Russian-ruled Congress Poland. In the late 1860s he began publishing journalistic and literary pieces. In the late 1870s he traveled to the United States, sending back travel essays that increased his popularity among Polish readers. In the 1880s he began serializing novels that further increased his popularity and soon became one of the most popular Polish writers of the 19th - 20th centuries, achieving international renown.


The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Madame Curie,  "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element." (see also December 10, 1903)


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Wladyslaw Reymont "for his great national epic, The Peasants" Reymont's last book, Bunt (Revolt), published in 1924, describes a revolt by animals which take over their farm in order to introduce "equality". The revolt quickly degenerates into abuse and bloody terror.  The story was a metaphor for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and was banned in communist Poland from 1945 to 1989, along with George Orwell's similar novella, Animal Farm (published in Britain in 1945). It is unknown whether Orwell knew of Reymont's Revolt thaat was published  two decades earlier.


Polish Government Reported the Holocaust to the world:  A report was published by the Polish Government In Exile to its allies, entitled, " The mass extermination of Jews in German occupied Poland ".  This was the first official government-documented alert about the Holocaust and genocide of Poles addressed to the governments of the United Nations. This report was made possible by Jan Karski, a Polish underground resistance fighter, who witnessed first-hand the Nazi German atrocities against his Polish-Jewish compatriots. In 1942 Karski was appointed  by Cyryl Ratajski, the Polish Government Delegate's Office in Poland, to carry out a secret mission. Karski was to contact Sikorski as well as various other Polish politicians and inform them about Nazi German atrocities being committed in occupied Poland.   To gather evidence, Karski was smuggled by Jewish underground leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto to witness what was happening to the Jews. On another mission, Karski was disguised as an Estonian camp guard, probably at Bełżec death camp. During an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995, Karski said about the failure to rescue most of the Jews from mass murder. The following is an excerpt:  "........It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The Allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn't do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, every government and church says, "We tried to help the Jews", because they are ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn't help, because six million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches they survived. No one did enough....."


The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created and ratified on December 10, 1948, listing 30 Articles which specify basic, fundamental rights of human beings around the world. Article 1 stipulates that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." It forms the basic framework around which all the other Articles are built.  Though it was not a treaty, it established a fundamental basis of human rights, which were elaborated in subsequent international treaties, constitutions and other laws. It officially came into force in 1976. Some legal experts have surmised that invoking the UDHR for more than 50 years, has made it binding according to customary international law. However, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, concluded that the UDHR "does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law." Other national courts agree that th UDHR is not a part of domestic law. 48 countries voted in favor of the declaration, while 8 countries abstained (Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Soviet Union, Ukrainian SSR, Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia, Union of South Africa.)


The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Tadeusz Reichstein, Edward Calvin Kendall, and Philip Showalter Hench  "for their discoveries relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects" In 1933, Reichstein succeeded in synthesizing vitamin C  in what is now called the Reichstein process.


The Nobel Prize for Physiology was awarded to Dr. Andrzej Viktor "Andrew" Schally and Roger Guillemin "for their discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain"  In September 1939, when Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Schally escaped along with Poland's President Ignacy Mościcki, Prime Minister and the whole cabinet to then neutral Romania, where they were interned. Schally was born in Wilno, Second Polish Republic (since 1945 Vilnius, Lithuania). He was the son of Gen. Brigadier Kazimierz Schally, who was Chief of the Cabinet of President Ignacy Mościcki of Poland, and Maria (Łącka).


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Isaac Bashevis Singer "for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life".  Singer was a fervent vegetarian.When asked if he became a vegetarian for health reasons, he responded, " I did it for the health of the chickens."


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Czeslaw Milosz "who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts".  Milosz was a Polish poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat. He defected to the West in 1951 and published The Captive Mind (1953) which became a classic of anti-Stalinism.  During World War II, Miłosz remained in Warsaw, under Nazi Germany's "General Government".  He attended underground lectures by Władysław Tatarkiewicz, the Polish philosopher and historian of philosophy and aesthetics. He did not join the Polish Home Army's resistance or participate in the Warsaw Uprising, partly due to his impulse for self-preservation and partly because he saw perceived its leadership as too right-wing. He died on August 14, 2004 at the age of 93.  Miłosz is honoured as one of the "Righteous Among Nations" by Israel's Yad  Vashem.  A poem by Miłosz appears on a Gdańsk memorial to protesting shipyard workers who had been killed by government security forces in 1970.


The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Roald Hoffman, and Kenichi Fukui "for their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions" Hoffman was born in  Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine), to a Jewish family. After the Germans invaded, his father was arrested and imprisoned in a labor camp and later tortured and killed (the Nazi Germans found out he was planning to supply armaments to the camp inmates). Most of his family perished in the Holocaust.


The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Lech Walesa.  "....For he is a victor in the eyes of the ordinary worker or farm labourer; he is a victor in the eyes of the people and their church. And he is one of the great spokesmen in the world today for the longing for freedom that can never be silenced. (He) has made humanity bigger and more inviolable. His ambivalent good fortune is that he has won a victory which is not of this, our political, world. The presentation of the Peace Prize to him today is a homage to the power of victory which abides in one person's belief, in his vision and in his courage to follow his call." Lech Walesa worked as an electrician at the Lenin shipyards and became a trade-union activist. He co-founded and headed Solidarity (Solidarność), the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995


The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Georges Charpak "for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber". In 1959, he had joined the staff of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, where he invented and developed the multiwire proportional chamber. The chamber was patented and that quickly superseded the old bubble chambers, allowing for better data processing. This new creation had been made public during 1968. Charpak  was a Polish-born, French physicist from a Polish Jewish family.


The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Sir Joseph Rotblat KCMG CBE FRS, and to Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms". Rotblat believed that scientists should always be concerned with the ethical consequences of their work. He became one of the most prominent critics of the nuclear arms race.


The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Wisława Szymborska,  "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality".  Like that of other intellectuals in post-war Poland Szymborska adhered to the People's Republic of Poland's (PRL) official ideology early in her career, she gradually became estranged from socialist ideology, and finally left membership in the party in 1966.


During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Alfreda and Bolesław Pietraszek were Polish couple who sheltered several Jewish families.  A total of 18 Jews from five families hid in their attic: the Miedżyńskis, the Solerszes, the Lenders, the Przepiarkas and the Kopytas – a young couple with a baby.  Theyremained in the Pietraszeks’ home for almost two years. After the liberation of Poland,  the Pietrazek' asked them not tell anyone about their part in saving them, for fear of retribution on the part of Polish nationalists. In fact, this fear was well grounded. Just on the mere suspicion that they had helped Jews resulted in a grenade being thrown into the Pietraszeks’ house. Bolesław was wounded, but survived.


The Nobel Prize for Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Leonid "Leo" Hurwicz (with Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson) For Hurwicz, in pioneering the field and for having " introduced some of the key perspectives and concepts in the notion of  incentive compatibility. Hurwicz was educated and grew up in Poland, and became a refugee in the United States after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. In 1941, Hurwicz worked as a research assistant for Paul Samuelson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oskar Lange at the University of Chicago. He was among the first economists to recognize the value of game theory and was a pioneer in its application. He developed models to illustrate the interactions of individuals and institutions, markets and trade.

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