Arnold Kramish, a physicist for the Manhattan Project

By Emma Brown
Washington Post / July 12, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Arnold Kramish, a physicist, historian, and author who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, died June 15 at George Washington University Hospital of normal pressure hydrocephalus, a neurological disorder. He was 87.

Mr. Kramish participated in the Manhattan Project, the US program to develop the atomic bomb, as a member of the special engineering division at Oak Ridge, Tenn., the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and Los Alamos, N.M.

On Sept. 2, 1944, he was severely burned during an explosion at an experimental uranium enrichment facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. According to Mr. Kramish, who described the accident in an article published in The Washington Post, the result was “perhaps then the largest release in the history of radioactive materials.’’

Two men were killed in the blast, and the cause of their deaths was kept confidential to avoid leaking information about the top-secret bomb project. Years later, Mr. Kramish campaigned for official recognition of their contributions to the war effort.

After the war, Mr. Kramish served with the Atomic Energy Commission and later as a nuclear weapons research strategist at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank that often advised the government.

During the 1970s, he was posted in Paris as a State Department counselor, and he served as nuclear arms control and security adviser to UNESCO and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

He wrote “The Griffin,’’ a biography of Paul Rosbaud, an Austrian spy who during World War II provided the Allies with information about Nazi attempts to build an atomic bomb.

In a Washington Post review of the book, author and historian Gregg Herken wrote, “Despite Kramish’s careful research, which included interviews with approximately 500 of those who knew Rosbaud, it is an ironic tribute to this bookish spy’s mastery of his trade that the Griffin remains a surprisingly shadowy figure, one who continues to defy the effort to capture him.’’

Arnold Kramish was born in Denver on June 6, 1923. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1945 and received a master’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1947.

He moved frequently for his career, settling in Reston, Va., in 1976.

During the Reagan administration, Mr. Kramish directed a White House study on the Strategic Defense Initiative and served as an adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy. He received a Carnegie Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Mr. Kramish taught courses at the University of California at Los Angeles, the London School of Economics, and other institutions.

His books also included “Atomic Energy in the Soviet Union’’ (1959), “The Peaceful Atom in Foreign Policy’’ (1963), and “The Future of Non-Nuclear Nations’’ (1970). He held a patent for a nuclear radiometer.

Mr. Kramish was a member of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation and the Authors Guild.

He leaves his wife of 57 years, Vivian Raker of Reston; two children, Pamela Jones of Hickory, N.C., and Robert Kramish of Berkeley, Calif.; a sister; and four grandchildren.