“Physicists do not live in an ivory tower; they are not spared the ravages of history,” wrote Prof. Peter Freund upon his retirement at the University of Chicago in 2002, following a half-century career in supersymmetry and string theory.
Freund knew. Born into a Romanian Jewish family during a tumultuous era in Europe, he narrowly avoided the Holocaust and later a Communist firing squad before escaping the country. He eventually became a professor at the University of Chicago, studying particle physics. But even as he picked at the fabric holding the universe together, he was thinking about art, beauty and the forces of history.
Freund, who later wrote fiction and nonfiction that explored the themes of morality, fate, beauty, war and oppression that had impacted his life, died March 6. He was 81.
Freund was born in 1936 in Timișoara, Romania to a wealthy Jewish family; his mother was an opera singer, his father a doctor. Even as other Jews were executed or sent to concentration camps during World War II, their community survived by bribing officials. But the Soviet rule that followed proved dangerous too. In 1956, Freund joined a demonstration that ended with him and other students lined up against a wall with Communist tanks pointed at them. Somehow the order to fire never came, and the students escaped.
Shortly after, the family fled to Austria, and Freund got his PhD in physics at the University of Vienna. In 1965, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he would remain for the rest of his career.