HUAC: Is your brother a member of the Communist Party?
Robert Oppenheimer: He is not a member of the Communist Party, to the best of my knowledge.
HUAC: Are you speaking as of the present time?
Robert Oppenheimer: I am, sir.
HUAC: Was he a member of the Communist Party in the past?
Robert Oppenheimer: Mr Chairman, I will answer the questions you put to me. I ask you not to press these questions about my brother. If they are important to you, you can ask him. I will answer, if asked, but I beg you not to ask me these questions.
HUAC: I withdraw the question.
Frank Oppenheimer, Robert Oppenheimer's younger brother, had been in the Party. He had been publicly outed as a Communist in 1947, two years earlier, when a Washington newspaper - almost certainly fed the information by the FBI - headlined the allegation: 'US Atom Scientist's Brother Exposed as Communist Who Worked on A-Bomb.' Frank flatly denied it: 'I am not now and I never have been a member of the Communist Party.' The lie was meant to protect his powerful but politically vulnerable brother. Robert had been the scientific director of the Manhattan Project during the war and was then occupied with the poisonous politics of America's postwar nuclear weapons development - politics which brought him down five years later. Robert knew that Frank had lied. Shortly after Frank and his wife joined the Party in 1937, he had told his brother, so when Robert was pressed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949, he had long known that Frank had been in the Party until late 1940, when he let his membership lapse.
LRB 23 September 2010 | PDF Download