CACM_TACCESS_one-third_page_vertical:Layout 1 6/9/09 1:04 PM Page 1
1945 everybody knew the war was lost,
and German soldiers surrendered en
masse in a disciplined manner.
When the war was over I attended
Latvian high schools, first in the English occupation zone, then in the American zone. Travel was very difficult.
There were bombed-out bridges where
trains had passed over valleys; trains
now stopped on one side and you carried your luggage down the valley and
up the other side where another train
was supposed to be waiting.
During the summer I went to the
University of Kansas City. They gave me
a credit of 128 units for my five semesters in Marburg, and decided that I had
the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.
They also gave me a scholarship and admitted me as a graduate student, which
surprised me since I had studied in
Marburg for only two-and-a-half years.
Caltech was first-class. It just bub-
bled with creativity, with scientific
work. Nobel Prize winners were run-
ning all around: Linus Pauling, Carl An-
derson of cosmic rays, Millikan of the
every time allied bombers approached
there were air raid alerts, and everybody
had to proceed to air raid shelters. By
I was delighted to be accepted as a
graduate student, but there was a prob-
lem: there was no graduate program in
physics. There was a graduate program
in mathematics, so they said, “You will
be completely happy studying math-
ematics.” And I was.
Germany at that time was really a
sad place and life in general was difficult. But the schoolteachers were
superb. They were highly educated
and motivated, and often were professors from the Latvian university. I was
inspired to continue my education.
I studied physics for two-and-a-half
years at the University in Marburg, and
enjoyed it immensely.
My mother and I lived with and
worked for a very famous physician. I
was a butler and served dinner every
day. I washed his two cars: the 12-cyl-
inder Lincoln and the 8-cylinder Cadillac. I drove his wife’s old mother to
church every Sunday. Things like that.
These were hard times, sad times.
Just about every institute was stripped
of much of its equipment during the
wartime. But there is a certain advantage to have to improvise and overcome
difficulties. I did not possess any physics textbooks—they were very hard to
find, and anyway I would not have had
the money to buy them—so I compensated by taking very detailed notes in
lectures. I got good grades and strong
recommendations from the professors.
I was a straight-A student. The University of Kansas City at that time was
in no sense an elite university, but it
had a respectable mathematics department and it was a good place to study
and improve my English.
After I received my master’s degree
at the University of Kansas City I applied to several universities, among
them Cal Tech.
This quarterly publication is a
quarterly journal that publishes
refereed articles addressing issues
of computing as it impacts the
lives of people with disabilities.
The journal will be of particular
interest to SIGACCESS members
and delegates to its affiliated
conference (i.e., ASSETS), as well
as other international accessibility
Going to the United States
Though I felt quite comfortable with
the language and enjoyed my studies,
Germany wasn’t our country. Not only
that, the outlook for a successful career and life in Germany did not look
very promising. Among Latvians in
Germany, the top preference was to
emigrate to America or Canada. My
mother had friends from Latvia who
had arrived in the states earlier and
lived in Independence, Missouri, so
that’s where we went.
I was told that Caltech really was an
elite school, one of the best schools
in physics and mathematics. Not only
that, Caltech gave me $90 to get there,
and offered a teaching assistant’s job.
They read my situation very well. So
my mother and I left Kansas City and
drove my first car across the country
After our arrival in Independence I
worked for Gleaner Harvester Company, which built agricultural combines.
When production was cut back and the
new hires were let go, I went to work for
Sheffield Steel in Kansas City as a steel
worker. I even became a union member. It was interesting.
Caltech admitted me not really
knowing what I wanted to do, after having first done physics in Germany and
then mathematics in Kansas City. They
said “You look like an applied mathematician. We do not have an applied
mathematics track, but we believe you
will be perfectly happy doing mathematics.” Since I’d never had a course
in applied mathematics I said “Okay,”
and my fate was decided.