Robert Dautray

Memoirs: From the Vel d’Hiv to the H-Bomb Publication date : February 8, 2007

This book recounts the moving life story of the French scientist Robert Dautray, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Although he had to work as a farmhand in occupied France, he went on to graduate after the war from Ecole Polytechnique, where he was first in his class, and from Ecole des Mines.
Robert Dautray played a major role in French history during the second half of the twentieth century. He was the only major French scientist to respond to General de Gaulle’s appeal to provide France with nuclear arms that would raise the country to the rank of a major world power. Why was this choice made, and what were its positive and negative consequences? These are the questions that are answered here.
Dautray came from a family of Russian Jews on his father’s side. His mother’s family had worked in the fur trade in the Ukraine between the wars. During World War II, Dautray and his mother had to change their names and go into hiding in the southern French countryside. His father died in a death camp, as did most of Dautray’s family on both sides.
Dautray’s love for France, where he had found refuge, and his distress at Jewish resignation made him feel that he had to labour to help his country acquire the means to defend its population.
The author does not hide the dangers of civilian and military uses of nuclear energy — he covers such issues as nuclear waste and the dangers of proliferation. But he also describes his dedication throughout his scientific career — and particularly in his capacity as heard of the Atomic Energy Commission — to finding solutions to these dangers.
In this book a great man who spent much of his life in the shadows of power gives us a fascinating first-hand account of how France acquired the means to preserve its rank. He tells us here of the hopes that nuclear energy gave rise to — as well as of the risks inherent to it.

Robert Dautray, a physicist, is a member of the French Academy of Sciences and of the Academy of Technology. He is the father of the French thermonuclear bomb and the author of, most notably, Quelles énergies pour demain?, published by Editions Odile Jacob.