Hans & Rose Bethe

Hans & Rose Bethe

Master Cottage Number One in 1942

Hans & Rose Bethe

Hans Bethe and Enrico Fermi with Nick King and Paul Teller at Los Alamos

No to Spinach

Hans Bethe. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.

Los Alamos's Conscience

  • Hans & Rose Bethe

    Hans and Rose Bethe

    Hans and Rose Bethe lived in Master Cottage Number One for part of the Manhattan Project. Rose describes the home and the social gatherings they would host.

    Narrator: Both Rose and Hans Bethe fled Nazi Germany before World War II began. Recruited by Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe became head of the Theoretical Division at the laboratory. Among the Bethes’ close friends were other refugees, including Victor Weisskopf from Austria and Enrico Fermi from Italy.

    Rose Bethe: There is now a house in Los Alamos called the Bethe House. We lived in it for the last three months of our time there.

    That was one of the old school ranch houses. It had a big living room and a fireplace and a number of bedrooms, which I have now forgotten. Then it had a kitchen, and that was an interesting point because the kitchen was more elaborate than the new kitchens.

    The company we enjoyed most Sundays were the Weisskopfs [Victor and Ellen], the Flanders [Donald], possibly Fermi, and occasionally other people would join in. This was great fun. Conversation was always on a good level, never about work unless the men were separating themselves.

  • No to Spinach

    No to Spinach

    Rose Bethe recounts her son Henry’s battle over spinach with his babysitter, Genia Peierls.

    Narrator: Even during the war, Hans Bethe insisted on a two-week summer vacation with his wife Rose. The Bethes' young son Henry was left in the care of Genia Peierls, wife of physicist Rudolf Peierls.

    Rose Bethe: The most amusing story is that we had a friend who had a very vigorous approach to life and quite a loud voice. She was a Russian. When I was going on vacation with Hans without the child, Genia Peierls took over looking after Henry.

    Henry moved into her house, and she had full charge of him for two weeks. Now, Genia is a very forceful person and very opinionated. One of the things she thinks is that children should accept.

    She began to feed Henry spinach. Henry, of course, knocked it out of her hand first. She wrapped him in a diaper with his arms confined, then started to feed him. He spit it at her. Every time he did one of these things, she would say strongly, “No!”

    When I got back and Henry returned to me, and Genia came two days later to see whether I was undoing all the good she had done for Henry, Henry gave one look at her and it was his first word. “No!” he said.

    We visited the Peierls later in Birmingham when they had returned to England, and it was no better relation. Henry knew how to behave by then, but he surely didn't like her.


  • Los Alamos's Conscience

    Los Alamos's Conscience

    Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan explains why Hans Bethe remains a beloved figure in Los Alamos. In a 1982 interview, Bethe discussed the threat of nuclear war.

    Narrator: Hans Bethe remains a beloved figure in Los Alamos for his contributions to science, which earned him the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics, and for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Later in his life, he spoke out against the further development of nuclear weapons.

    Heather McClenahan: Hans became really a conscience for Los Alamos. He was a man who said, “If we’re going to be building these weapons, we need to have a say in how they’re used and where they’re used,” and those sorts of things.

    For many years, he would come back to Los Alamos. He worked extensively on the Cold War on the hydrogen bomb and subsequent weapons that were developed over time.

    Because of his greatness as a scientist, his greatness as a teacher, his greatness as that conscience of Los Alamos, we have called this the Hans Bethe House to honor him.

    Narrator: In a 1982 interview with Oppenheimer biographer Martin Sherwin, Bethe expounded on the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War.

    Hans Bethe: If nuclear war were started, it threatens us at least as much as the Russians. And so it is no longer a useful threat against the Soviets.

    Also, it is no longer true that the Russians have great dominance in conventional weapons. Of course, they have enormous manpower. Of course, they have very large numbers of tanks. Of course, they have been building up their conventional strength quite strongly in recent times.

    However, their allies are not dependable. I think our allies are dependable—as long as they are not afraid of being destroyed by our trying to save them.

Quick Fact:
Physicist Hans Bethe was the head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He would go on to win the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics. He and his wife Rose moved into Master Cottage Number One with their son Henry after the McMillans had moved out.