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The last time I applied for a job


Realising I could be blackmailed by the secret police
Jan Klein Scientist
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He invited me to his house. We went to the sea. It was the first time I saw the Atlantic and so on. I didn't ask him, but I realized one thing. When I was there, one day they asked me to babysit. That they need to go somewhere and I said, 'Of course', you know. They had a small baby so I would stay home with him. But I realized that he probably went... left me alone intentionally. That there were somewhere either cameras or something. He was... I still don't know what position in NATO or what he did, and it never really interested me. And as by chance there was a stack like, it looked like some documents or something. Well, I knew if I would tell him what the real situation is that he would have to report it to the NATO. And I'm sure they had somebody already in the NATO who would report it to the Czech authorities. So I was in a quandry.  What to do?  Because if they... if it comes that way I would appear like... well they would want me to be a double spy in the first place, and second in Prague they would learn what happened, that I told him openly or something and that I was not interested in anything. So I would be in more trouble. So I said, 'Okay I'll let you know in some other ways in case there is a camera'. So I took the documents and I was like pretending I was... it didn't mean anything to me. I don't know whether it was anything important or not. But it looked like I was, you know... so that they would... if there was a camera they would know yes, this is the purpose of his visit and that would be it. So I did that and I came back and I said that, 'Look it's going to be very difficult to convince him because...' and that was true, we got into an argument about expulsion or Czech history and Czech-German relationships where we could not agree at all. So we got into a heated argument. I said, 'Well he is certainly not going to help Czech Republic... Czechoslovakia because he is... he feels very bitter about what happened to them and I don't think you have any chance'. He said, 'Okay, okay. So we will see how it develops and you might help us some other time. You... have you heard of Porton?' I said, 'No'. You know Porton?

[Q] Porton Down?

Yeah. Well, he said, 'Well you know there is a nuclear programme and you are a scientist... maybe you will have an access to it?' I said, 'Well I don't. I work in a completely different area. I don't have a...'  Well you know Mary Lyon was working at that time? Mary Lyon was working on T alleles as were we, and we had contact with her. Those bastards knew everything, you know. 'So you might be helpful to us at another time'.

And so... but then came the Prague Spring. Everything began to change and I didn't hear from them. And I thought, okay maybe now it will be different. But after the invasion I realized if I go back, I am in their hands. I am in their hands and they can blackmail me I don't know how. So this was my real reason why I decided so quickly, relatively, that there was no place for me in Czechoslovakia anymore. So it was... the dies were cast and I went to Herzenberg's lab again for a few months. Then Don Shreffler offered me a position.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: NATO, Porton Down, T alleles, Prague Spring, Donald C Shreffler, Leonard Arthur Herzenberg, Mary Lyon

Duration: 4 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008