This I Believe

Pregel, Boris


  • Boris Pregel, President of Canadian Radium and Uranium Corporation, relates some of his experiences in Europe up to World War II to explain why charity, altruism and selflessness areso vital to his personal beliefs and adds that it is also important to live by ones beliefs to maintain dignity.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Boris Pregel is a pioneer in the field of peacetime uses of atomic energy. An engineer, physical scientist, inventor, he has worked on agricultural, industrial and medical uses of radioactive substances. He has also served as expert consultant to the U.S. Chiefs of Staff. He is president of the Canadian Radium and Uranium Corporation and the Cold Spring Tungsten Corporation. Here now, the personal beliefs of Boris Pregel.
When I was little boy, a great disaster overcame a community a considerable distance away from the one in which our family lived. At that time, my father’s business—he owned a vegetable oil factory—was very poor, and I saw him working from early morning until late in the night, always looking tired and preoccupied.
One day, three men, representing a committee which had been formed of several prominent citizens, came to visit my father to request a contribution to the Rescue Fund, which was set up for the distressed people. That afternoon, my father, my mother, and I were sitting in our living room, and I overheard their conversation.
My father was telling my mother about the visit he had that day and quoted the rather large amount he had pledged to the committee. My mother, a very charitable and generous woman, nevertheless, showed astonishment on her face, as my father’s business was at its lowest level. She did not say a word. But my father, understanding her astonishment, added to his explanation the following words: “Of course, we will have to cut down on a lot of necessary things. But the need is great, and help has to come from somewhere. Life is not worth living if we cannot help the needy, whoever and wherever they might be, even if it means a great sacrifice on our part.”
Years went by, bringing with them their joys and their deceptions. I tried to follow the example of my father on many different occasions, but I never understood the full meaning of his thought until a personal experience made it definitely clear.
It was in June of 1940, while fleeing Hitler’s invasion of France, I became a part of a throng of authoritative people, composed of Americans, English, French, Poles, Russians, and representatives of many other nationalities, which stood at the Spanish–Portuguese border awaiting permission to enter Portugal. After several days of traveling through impoverished Spain and having difficulty finding food—even for money, which most of those people didn’t possess—we were in a very tragic situation.
While waiting at the border, itself, there was no food at all, and even no water. The children were suffering especially. Nobody knew when the formalities would be accomplished, as the authorities were totally unprepared for such an influx of people. Then we saw several cars advancing from the Portuguese side. It was a committee formed by British residents of a small community near the border, who had collected among themselves the necessary means and had brought food and milk to all of us. This human gesture was the last stroke necessary to embed, forever, my belief in lending a helping hand to all the needy, whoever and wherever they are.
There is also another important principle in which I believe. Our generation lives in a very dangerous world, full of contradictions, fights, and major disasters. In order to survive and live in dignity, the maintenance of one’s self-respect is of the greatest importance. We all, everywhere, live under definite pressures, and many people succumb to the facility of adaptation even at the cost of renouncing their basic beliefs. There is no greater tragedy for the human soul than that.
It is my conception that the human being has to stand up, even at the cost of the supreme sacrifice, for what he believes in his heart to be just, equitable, and true. The slightest deviation from this principle destroys self-respect, which I believe is the basic principle of a dignified human life.
Those were the beliefs of Boris Pregel, specialist in atomic energy development.