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Zdzislaw Szymanski, holidays in Drzewicz, 1994



The Dancing Socrates

Zdzisław Szymański Remembered

It seemed that we had always known each other and the way we had come to physics had run parallel. We both graduated from the Technical University in ŁódŸ with an MS in engineering and then we continued at Warsaw University, where we received our master's and doctor's degrees in physics. At that time we would come across each other only occasionally as, in ŁódŸ, I studied electrotechnology and he mechanics. Later on, in Warsaw, our fields of scientific interests were rather different: he was involved in studying theoretical physics and I was occupied with experiments. We would only meet from time to time, also in our professional life in the Institute of Nuclear Research, where I started working when the Institute was set up and Zdzisław one or two years later.

It was not till the late sixties that we came to know each other better. This was when I started to organise the annual Summer Schools in Nuclear Physics, which were always held in Masuria, and Zdzisław participated in those symposia very frequently. They soon started to gain international renown and to attract many prominent scientists from all over the world. Zdzisław contributed greatly to this success. He was one of the most devoted participants of our Masurian Schools, taking part in almost half of them (in 12 or 13 !) and delivering many brilliant lectures on nuclear rotations and shapes of atomic nuclei. He was an expert known world-wide in these issues and, at the same time, a gifted teacher, so his lectures enjoyed great popularity. We all held him in high esteem, also as a skilful and fluent debater and a spirited fencer in scientific encounters and discussions.

Zdzisław displayed his vivid temperament and energy not only in such activities as lectures, seminars and discussions, which made up the scientific programme of our Masurian Schools, but also in the social and sports activities organised there. They were extremely diversified and chequered, especially as regards sailing. There was a very good reason for our schools having throughout the world the nickname of "the schools under sail". Every afternoon, when the lectures were over, our yachts would leave the harbour, carrying on board lovers of strong winds and adventures. One of the most fervent and zealous of them was Zdzisław - a steadfast participant of the regattas which always took place at the end of every school. I don't remember whether he won any laurels in those yacht races, but I am sure that he stood out among all those sailors with his youthful enthusiasm for sailing and his appearance of an old sea-dog (due to his characteristic beard). No doubt Zdzisław was indeed a most picturesque figure at the School. And a most uncommon man. With his gentle, warm and friendly nature, with his wit and great sense of humour, and unusual talent for making contact with others, Zdzisław contributed a great deal to the free and unconstrained atmosphere that was so characteristic of our Masurian Schools. He was surely amongst the most active and ingenious participants of the wine parties at the campfire, of the fancy-dress balls and other forms of entertainment that made up the rich social programme of the School.

Today, I can still see Zdzisław taking a rest, in a moment of light-hearted fun, in the conference cafeteria after an evening-seminar session. He was sitting at the table with a glass of wine in hand, in a jolly circle of young people (the Old Master and his disciples... ), laughing aloud, joking, disputing about science and about life. This picture reminds me of a beautiful poem by Julian Tuwim "The Dancing Socrates" *:

I roast in the sun, old wretch...
I lie, and yawn, I stretch.
Old am I, but full of pep:
When I take a slug from the cup
I sing.
My ancient bones bask in the sun's glow,
And my curly, wise, grey head.
In that wise head, like woods in spring
Hums and hums a wiser wine.
Eternal thoughts flow and flow,
Like time.

Although I believe that Zdzisław, just like that great philosopher, knew how to combine the probing, persistent mind of a sage with the passion for life, I also believe that his zest for living was subordinated to his passion for work.

* Translated by A.Gilloe

Zdzisław Wilhelmi


Warsaw, November 15, 2000



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