Untitled Page

Tributes to Dr. Martin M. Kaplan

An Appreciation

Sir Joseph Rotblat
1995 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Martin was a remarkable man; a wonderfully unique man. In this increasingly selfish world of ours, he stood out as a beacon of friendship, generosity and, simply, goodness.

I had the great privilege of knowing him and working with him for half-a-century. I’ll never forget a morning in the early 1950s when, unexpectedly, he walked into my office in London and said: “I am Martin Kaplan. I have heard what you and doing and I’ve come to offer my help in whatever form you may need.” And he meant this literally. From that day onwards he never refused any request for help, and, believe me, there were many of them. He helped me enormously in the setting up of the Pugwash Movement, in which he later became one of the chief leaders, as Director-General and later Secretary-General, as well as being the Director of the Geneva Office. We made full use of his extensive knowledge and epidemiological data about the biological effects of exposure to radiation in assessing the risks of nuclear testing and the dangers of biological warfare.

But the realm of his concern was much broader. It embraced the whole of humankind which he knew was imperilled in this nuclear age.

In the course of time our collaboration turned into a close friendship with him and his family. It gave me much happiness that I was able to offer advice in the professional careers of his sons Peter and Jeff, and to be considered a member of the family. In caring for humanity he did not neglect his nearest: he was a devoted husband and father. His passing away has deeply saddened his many friends all over the world. But more than that, it is a real loss to humanity.

Article in The Guardian Obituaries about Martin Kaplan

Martin Kaplan

Public health researcher and a prime mover in the Pugwash group

Joseph Rotblat
Wednesday November 24, 2004
The Guardian

Martin Kaplan, who has died aged 89, was a pioneering researcher in public health whose concerns about the environmental implications of chemical and biological weapons led him to become secretary-general of the Nobel peace prize-winning Pugwash conferences, while holding a top post with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Martin, whose work was mainly in the field of rabies, influenza and tropical diseases, was trained in veterinary science. He worked on and off for more than 50 years for WHO, and was its director of science and technology.

He was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of eight children whose parents emigrated from Russia in the 1880s. From childhood he had a passion for music: at the age of 11 he joined Hoxie's Harmonica Band, and won the Philadelphia championship for harmonica excellence. He pursued this interest for the rest of his life in a string quartet - he played the cello - which used to meet weekly at his home in Geneva.

After college, and training as a veterinarian, Martin ran an animal practice in Philadelphia. During the second world war, he joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). On VE Day he sailed from Greece, on a Swedish freighter escorting six prize bulls donated by the Brethren Society of Pennsylvania for the purpose of restocking the cattle population of Greece.

He then set about establishing new laboratories and refurbishing old ones, producing much needed animal vaccine, as well as teaching new methods to the local professionals. This involved travelling to Cyprus and Lebanon to purchase Arab stallions and mules. When UNRRA closed down, he joined the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), doing similar work in several European countries, particularly Poland.

On returning home to the US, he was, for a brief period, dean of the school of veterinary medicine at what later became Brandeis University, Maryland. He was chosen for this post at the behest of Albert Einstein, who had the vision of creating an institution for learning in medical sciences, to countervail the practice of numerus clausus . This limited the access of Jewish students to universities in Europe and, from the 1920s, was a practice followed, unofficially, by some prestigious colleges in north-east America.

In 1949, Martin joined the nascent WHO in Geneva, where he set up a veterinary division. In collaboration with scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, he carried out early investigations on the flu virus in animals and birds.

At WHO he became director of science and technology, and, later, head of the office of research and development. He worked at WHO in various capacities, mainly as adviser to the director-general, until his retirement.

Martin's decision to remain in Europe, and not to return permanently to the US, was to a large extent influenced by the dismal happenings in the US during the McCarthy period. Several of his friends fell victim to the McCarthyite witch-hunt.

Martin's fate would have been similar since he would not have been willing to denounce to the House Un-American Activities Committee colleagues suspected of communist leanings. He lived until the end of his life on the shore of Lac Léman, in the Bellerive suburb of Geneva.

One of his neighbours there was Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (obituary, May 15 2003). Martin became friendly with him and collaborated in a number of colloquia held by the prince on the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and environmental pollution.

My links with Martin go back to 1955, to the proclamation of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto which gave rise to the Pugwash movement.

A few days after the proclamation he unexpectedly walked into my office in London saying: "I have heard about the new organisation of scientists you are setting up, and I have come to offer my help in whatever form you may need." And he meant this literally. From that day onwards, he never refused any request for help - and there were plenty of them.

The first major assignment was to organise, in 1959, in the Pugwash village of Nova Scotia, a conference on biological and chemical warfare. This was the first time that eminent scientists, experts in the field, from both sides of the Iron Curtain, met to assess the dangers posed by the use of weapons of mass destruction, and to seek means to prevent such use.

One outcome of this conference was to set up a Pugwash study group on chemical warfare, whose main task was to facilitate the drafting of the Chemical Weapons Convention. When the CWC came into force, in 1993, the study group took up the task of its implementation. Most of the workshops were held in Geneva, and Martin was responsible for their organisation. As secretary-general of Pugwash, he set up and ran a study group on nuclear forces, which frequently met in Geneva between 1980 and 1997.

In total, Martin organised 52 Pugwash workshops. Much of the credit for the achievements of Pugwash, recognised by the award to it of the 1995 Nobel peace prize, must go to him.

Martin was a unique person; and in this increasingly selfish world of ours, he stood out as a beacon of friendship, generosity and, simply, goodness.

He is survived by Lenna, his wife of 60 years, a daughter and two sons.

· Martin Kaplan, public health researcher, administrator and peace campaigner, born June 23 1915; died October 16 2004

Article in the New York Times Obituaries about Martin Kaplan

Martin Kaplan, 89, Health Official Who Fought the Spread of Disease, Dies

Published: November 21, 2004

Martin M. Kaplan, a virologist, international public health official and humanitarian who spent his early career researching the spread of viral diseases and his later career working to fight the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, died on Oct. 16 in Geneva. He was 89 and lived in Collonge-Bellerive, Switzerland.

The cause was cancer, his son Jeffrey said.

Trained as a veterinarian, Dr. Kaplan was an authority on the role of animals in the transmission of certain human diseases, among them rabies and influenza. For many years an official of the World Health Organization, he also helped develop a safer rabies vaccine.

More recently, Dr. Kaplan was an officer of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which works for disarmament. He was also, variously, a horse trader, globetrotting amateur cellist and willing human guinea pig.

Martin Mark Kaplan was born in Philadelphia on June 23, 1915. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Temple University, he earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, and a master's in public health degree there two years later. From 1942 to 1944, he taught veterinary medicine at Middlesex University (now Brandeis University), in Waltham, Mass.

In 1944, Dr. Kaplan married the former Lenna Bouchal. She survives him, as do a daughter, Alexa Intrator of Ferney-Voltaire, France; two sons, Peter and Jeffrey, both doctors in Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

After World War II, Dr. Kaplan joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Much of Europe's livestock had been devastated by the war, and on V-E Day he set sail for Greece in the company of six prize bulls, donated to help restock the cattle population there. On his arrival, he set about procuring more stock, traveling to Cyprus and Lebanon to buy mules and Arabian stallions.

In 1949, Dr. Kaplan joined WHO, where he was chief of veterinary public health and later chief of medical research, promotion and development. He continued doing research, and was part of a team at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia that in the 1960's and 70's developed new rabies vaccines for humans and animals. The human vaccine was considered safer, and required many fewer injections, than the one developed by Louis Pasteur in the late 1800's. (Pasteur's vaccine entailed at least 14 painful shots in the abdomen and had potentially fatal side effects.)

Dr. Kaplan was more than willing to take his own medicine. As reported in "Who Goes First?" (1987), by Lawrence K. Altman, the medical correspondent of The New York Times, he traveled to Kenya in 1955 to teach a course on rabies prevention. There, Dr. Kaplan and a colleague, Hilary Koprowski, demonstrated how to make a vaccine for humans, using chick embryos to culture a seed virus Dr. Koprowski had developed.

Ten days after injecting the embryos, Dr. Altman writes, "they cracked the eggs, ground up the chick embryos in blenders and filtered the material that included the rabies virus." From this they made a primitive vaccine, which contained, among other ingredients, macerated beaks and feathers. The two men rolled up their sleeves and injected themselves, with little ill effect.

In the late 1950's, Dr. Kaplan joined the Pugwash movement. Named for the Nova Scotia village that was the site of the first conference in 1957, Pugwash, along with its founder, Joseph Rotblat, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. As the organization's secretary general from 1976 to 1988, Dr. Kaplan worked for nuclear, chemical and biological disarmament.

As Dr. Altman's book recounts, Dr. Kaplan had one enduring reminder of his self-administered rabies shot: an inch-long scar on his forearm at the injection site. But the shot did nothing to impair his ability to play the cello, which he even carried on his Kenya trip.

Matthew Meselson
Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard University, winner of the 2004 Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science. The prize honors a lifetime of solving fundamental biological problems and of helping to curtail the spread of biological and chemical weapons.


Jeanne Guillemin
Professor of Sociology at Boston College and also a Senior Fellow at the MIT Security Studies Program. Her latest book, Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak (University of California Press, 1999) chronicles the scientific inquiry into the source of the 1979 anthrax outbreak in the closed Soviet city of Sverdlovsk.

Looking back, it was always Martin who was there for almost half a century, indefatigably inspiring and rallying his amazing network of
friends and of allies in high places, privately and through Pugwash conferences and workshops, to seek effective international action against
nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and against war itself. And it was Martin whose commitment and scientific insight at the World Health Organization, starting in 1949, provided world leadership in veterinary public health -- emphasizing the crucial role of animal reservoirs in various human diseases and organizing a landmark cooperative international survey of animal sera that demonstrated and clarified the role of animal reservoirs in influenza. And it was always Martin and Lenna, whose warm friendship and humane culture continues to enrich us all.

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
Nobel Peace Prize 1995
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary General
Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director

A Tribute to Martin Kaplan

On behalf of the Pugwash Council and the entire Pugwash community, we would like to express our deepest admiration and esteem for Martin Kaplan. To Lenna and all the members of Martin’s family, our thoughts and best wishes are with you.

Martin not only served as Secretary General of the Pugwash Conferences from 1976 to 1988, but was involved with Pugwash from its very earliest days, having attended the 3rd Pugwash Conference held in Kitzbühel, Austria in September 1958.

For more than 40 years, then, Martin was a central presence in Pugwash, contributing both insights about the human condition and the warmth of his personality to the Pugwash goal of creating a more peaceful and equitable world.

We will remember Martin for his steady guidance of Pugwash during his tenure as Secretary General, which spanned both the darkest days of the Cold War as well as the promising early years of the Gorbachev era. Through it all, Martin always reminded us of the primary need for open lines of communication and mutual respect, no matter what the differences between us. Because of him, Pugwash was able to weather many a storm – such as the Warsaw Conference in 1982 – that could have seriously undermined the long-term viability of Pugwash.

Mostly, we will remember Martin for his openness, candor, and friendship. It was these qualities above all that served him so well during his years as Secretary General. Pugwash was indeed fortunate to have such a friend, and we will miss him.

Delivered at a Memorial Service by Pierre Canonne
22 October 2004, Geneva, Switzerland

Robert Rigg

Wherever you look into the early resolutions and documents of WHO, the presence of Martin Kaplan can be felt, and not just in the early resolutions embracing disarmament with an innocence which WHO would today be incapable of. He was a quiet warrior for peace. He was probably the last of a generation of scientists such as Oppenheimer, Einstein, and Teller who, in their very different ways, were willing and able to play a determining role in public and political life.

Francesco Calogero
Former Secretary-General
Pugwash Conferences
Martin Kaplan

Pugwash, and the world at large, owe much to Martin Kaplan. He devoted a fair portion of his life to Pugwash. His long stewardship as Secretary General witnessed a significant growth of Pugwash’s activities. It ran — from 1976 to 1988 — through the years of the Cold War up to the beginning of its end. To the extent Pugwash contributed to this evolution — as I do believe it did — much of the credit must go to him. It was subsequently my privilege — by serving as his successor through the years from 1989 to 1997 — to ripe the fruits of this development, the end of the Cold War.

The transition from his tenure to mine was extremely smooth, thanks to the human qualities of Martin. Indeed, thanks to his generously collaborative spirit, he had me involved in the running of Pugwash as soon as it was apparent that I was going to serve as his successor, well before I took formally charge of it. I can remember no circumstance in which we clashed, much as our professional backgrounds and styles differed somewhat, and sometimes also our political judgements were not quite in unison. But we both always believed that the main strength of Pugwash is to provide room for a frank exchange of views among individuals coming from differing geopolitical and cultural backgrounds and entertaining, in good faith, diverging opinions.

Now Martin is gone, after as full a life as anybody could wish. I hope and expect that there will be appropriate opportunities for others and for me to remember his achievements and the many facets of his personality more completely than I can now, when the sad news of his death reaches me as I travel in China; and that eventually — when a history of Pugwash will be written — his contributions to Pugwash and to conflict resolution, arms control and disarmament will be detailed as they deserved to be.

Let me just end by singling out what, in my recollection, was the most remarkable trait of his personality: his warmth in personal relations, his cultural open mindedness and generosity in listening to the point of view of others, his attention never to be offensive and yet to be firm when needed, entailing the capability to be a good manager as demonstrated throughout his professional life. And I will always remember, as a great lesson in human relations, his explanation of the pleasure he derived from playing with friends as an amateur musician in a privately organized string quartet — a continuing avocation throughout his life — including the delicate balance of amicable yet rigorous relations required to organize such an activity, which can be conducted only if, out of a circle of acquaintances, no less and no more than four individuals are made to convene at the right time, having comparable musical capabilities and the diligence — in the middle of active professional lives — to make in advance the right amount of repetitions required to make the experience enjoyable for the group. It is this mixture of human qualities that were, in my recollection, the most endearing, but also the most formidable, aspect of his personality.

Dr John Walker
Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I was very sorry to hear of Martin's passing. He had devoted a lifetime to improving global public health and combating the threat of biological weapons through his work in Pugwash. His perseverance is an example for those who remain to carry on the struggle.

Jeffrey R. Kaplan

How to explain a life as long, varied and productive as my father’s?

What was he made of that brought him from Philadelphia to Europe after World War II? What made him settle in Geneva?

When I asked him these questions he would say his “career”. It was, of course, more than that. And I would be less satisfied than he was at this answer. But like many things in his life, he would summarize complex ideas with few words, though always the relevant ones.

When Dad was asked what were the major influences in his life, he referred to his parents, especially his mother, Minnie, who spoke to him in Yiddish and provided him with love and support from a young age. I realized how important she was to dad when the only time I saw him wistful was when listening to the background of a Simon and Garfunkel song, which had recordings of Yiddish from an old age home.

I cannot asses the impact of dad&Mac226;s pioneering work in many fields. First with the W.H.O., veterinary & public health, helping develop a rabies
vaccines, and editing books on health hazards of the human environment, as well as publish health responses to chemical and biological weapons.

He also worked on coordinating efforts that established ideas on influenza transmission.

Then, in 1999 he celebrated 50 years of work dedicated to the W.H.O. What I remember most about his work with th e W.H.O. is receiving postcards and souvenirs from the exotic countries he visited.

Concurrent with his work for the WHO, in the late 1950s Dad became a member of the Pugwash conferences on science and world affairs, eventually running the organization for a dozen years. Through hard work he kept the organization vital (it was a shared recipient of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize) and it continues to thrive today.

Dad always said that a major intellectual influence was Albert Einstein, whom he met in the late 1940s. Einstein served as an example, to him, of
physicians who took a stand against injustice in the world and reached across national barriers to search for peaceful solutions to the world’s
conflicts. My father wrote the following in 1971 in his essay “Science and Social Values”:

“And yet we are faced with war, poverty, increasing disorder and social alienation, distorted priorities, declining freedom and individual powerlessness. These are products not of man&Mac226;s inherent evil but of the inexorable grinding of the national machines with their imperatives of growth, profit, and glory.”.

Through his life, whomever worked with dad trusted him implicitly. His quiet honesty and lack of guile were apparent to all who met him. In this understated way, he became a natural leader. He managed to have colleagues of many differing backgrounds and interests work toward common goals. I like to think they did not realize they were being led, though they were.

Few of his colleagues realized how multi-talented Dad was. As a musician who took up the cello in his 40s, he continued playing quartets until well into his 80s. He most proud, however, of his accomplished harmonica playing, having won a prize at age 11. His musicality shone through and he established many friendships through music.

In sports, after an early career as his brother Bernie's sparring partner, he became a very good tennis player. I don&Mac226;t think I won a set from him
until his late 60s. This was where I saw him at his most competitive. And he played until he wore out both his and Fred Ronkin&Mac226;s knees.

In his last week, Dad was at peace. When asked how things were, he would say “alles in ordnung,” a difficultly translated Yiddish/German phrase meaning “all is well”. Of his wife Lenna of almost 60 years, her name was on his lips until his last breaths.

Dad was a warm, sweet, kind, modest, caring and gentle soul. He died surrounded by his adoring family, thanking * them * for all they'd done. Three days before he passed, I asked him: “What one question would you want to ask me?” He answered: “How do you end warfare in the world?”

We shall miss him very, very much.

Untitled Page