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Haakon Maurice Chevalier (September 10, 1901 — July 4, 1985) was an author, translator, and professor of French literature at the University of California, Berkeley best known for his friendship with physicist Robert Oppenheimer, whom he met at Berkeley, California in 1937.


Early life

Chevalier was born September 10, 1901 in Lakewood, New Jersey to French and Norwegian parents.


In 1945, he served as a translator for the Nuremberg Trials.

He translated many works by Salvador Dalí, André Malraux, Louis Aragon, and Victor Vasarely into English.

Relationship with Oppenheimer

Chevalier met Oppenheimer in 1927 at Berkeley while he was an associate professor of Romance languages. Together, Chevalier and Oppenheimer, would found the Berkeley branch of a teachers' union, which sponsored benefits for leftist causes.[1]

Chevalier was accused of approaching Oppenheimer in 1942 and seeking information about nuclear power for the Soviet Union on behalf of George Eltenton. This encounter would later become one of the key issues in Oppenheimer's security hearings in front of the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities in 1947 which resulted in the revocation of his security clearance. The June 29, 1954 decision of the United States Atomic Energy Commission decision states:[2]

As to "character"

(1) Dr. Oppenheimer has now admitted under oath that while in charge of the Los Alamos Laboratory and working on the most secret weapon development for the Government, he told Colonel Pash a fabrication of lies. Colonel Pash was an officer of Military Intelligence charged with the duty of protecting the atomic-weapons project against spies. Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Pash in circumstantial detail of an attempt by a Soviet agent to obtain from him information about the work on the atom bomb. This was the Haakon Chevalier incident. In the hearings recently concluded, Dr. Oppenheimer under oath swears that the story he told Colonel Pash was a "whole fabrication and tissue of lies" (Tr., p. 149).

It is not clear today whether the account Dr. Oppenheimer gave to Colonel Pash in 1943 concerning the Chevalier incident or the story he told the Gray Board last month is the true version.

If Dr. Oppenheimer lied in 1943, as he now says he did, he committed the crime of knowingly making false and material statements to a Federal officer. If he lied to the Board, be committed perjury in 1954.


Dr. Oppenheimer's persistent and willful disregard for the obligations of security is evidenced by his obstruction of inquiries by security officials. In the Chevalier incident, Dr. Oppenheimer was questioned in 1943 by Colonel Pash, Colonel John Lansdale, and General Groves about the attempt to obtain information from him on the atomic bomb project in the interest of the Soviet Government. He had waited 8 months before mentioning the occurrence to the proper authorities. Thereafter for almost 4 months Dr. Oppenheimer refused to name the individual who had approached him. Under oath he now admits that his refusal to name the individual impeded the Government's investigation of espionage. The record shows other instances where Dr. Oppenheimer has refused to answer inquiries of Federal officials on security matters or has been deliberately misleading.


However, Dr. Oppenheimer's early Communist associations are not in themselves a controlling reason for our decision.

They take on importance in the context of his persistent and continuing association with Communists, including his admitted meetings with Haakon Chevalier in Paris as recently as last December-the same individual who had been intermediary for the Soviet Consulate in 1943.

On February 25, 1950, Dr. Oppenheimer wrote a letter to Chevalier attempting "to clear the record with regard to your alleged involvement in the atom business." Chevalier used this letter in connection with his application to the State Department for a United States passport. Later that year Chevalier came and stayed with Dr. Oppenheimer for several days at the latter's home. In December 1953, Dr. Oppenheimer visited with Chevalier privately on two occasions in Paris, and lent his name to Chevalier's dealings with the United States Embassy in Paris on a problem which, according to Dr. Oppenheimer, involved Chevalier's clearance. Dr. Oppenheimer admitted that today he has only a "strong guess" that Chevalier is not active in Communist Party affairs.

These episodes separately and together present a serious picture. It is clear that for one who has had access for so long to the most vital defense secrets of the Government and who would retain such access if his clearance were continued, Dr. Oppenheimer has defaulted not once but many times upon the obligations that should and must be willingly borne by citizens in the national service.

Concern for the defense and security of the United States requires that Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance should not be reinstated.

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer is hereby denied access to restricted data.
—United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1954

The dissenting opinion of Henry DeWolf Smyth attached to the decision states:[3]

Chevalier incident.-The most disturbing incidents of his past are those connected with Haakon Chevalier. In late 1942 or early 1943, Chevalier was asked by George Eltenton to approach Dr. Oppenheimer to see whether he would be willing to make technical information available for the Soviet Union. When Chevalier spoke to Dr. Oppenheimer he was answered by a flat refusal. The incident came to light when Dr. Oppenheimer, of his own accord, reported it to Colonel Pash in August 1943. He did not at that time give Chevalier's name and said that there had been 3 approaches rather than 1. Shortly thereafter, in early September, Dr. Oppenheimer told General Groves that, if ordered, he would reveal the name. Not until December 1943, did General Groves direct him to give the name. It is his testimony that he then told General Groves that the earlier story concerning three approaches had been a "cock and bull story." Not until 1946 were Eltenton, Chevalier, and Dr. Oppenheimer himself interviewed by security officers in this matter. When interviewed by the FBI in 1946, Dr. Oppenheimer recounted the same story of the incident which he has consistently maintained ever since. He stated explicitly in 1946 that the story told to Colonel Pash in 1943 had been a fabrication. In the present hearings before the Gray Board he testified, before the recording of the Pash interview was produced, that the story told to Colonel Pash was a fabrication to protect his friend Chevalier. The letter which he wrote Chevalier in February 1950, concerning Chevalier's role in the 1943 incident, stated only what Dr. Oppenheimer has consistently maintained to the FBI and to the Gray board concerning Chevalier's lack of awareness of the significance of what he was doing.

The Chevalier incident involved temporary concealment of an espionage attempt and admitted lying, and is inexcusable. But that was 11 years ago; there is no subsequent act even faintly similar; Dr. Oppenheimer has repeatedly expressed his shame and regret and has stated flatly that he would never again so act. My conclusion is that of Mr. Hartley Rowe, who testified, "I think a man of Dr. Oppenheimer's character is not going to make the same mistake twice."

Dr. Oppenheimer states that he still considers Chevalier his friend, although be sees him rarely. In 1950 just before Chevalier left this country to take up residence in France, he visited Dr. Oppenheimer for 2 days in Princeton; in December 1953, Dr. Oppenheimer visited with the Chevaliers in Paris at their invitation. These isolated visits may have been unwise, but there is no evidence that they had any security significance. Chevalier was not sought out by Dr. Oppenheimer in Paris but, rather, the meeting was proposed by the Chevaliers in a letter to Mrs. Oppenheimer. The contact consisted of a dinner and, on the following day, driving with Chevalier to meet Andre Malraux, the famous French literary figure for whom Chevalier was a translator. Malraux in the later years of his political life has been an active anti-Communist adviser to General deGaulle. These short visits were followed 2 months later by Chevalier's use of Dr. Oppenheimer's name in connection with clearance for employment by UNESCO. Dr. Oppenheimer's action in this matter seems quite correct. When Chevalier mentioned the problem, Dr. Oppenheimer suggested that the proper place for advice was the American Embassy and that Dr. Geoffrey Wyman, the scientific attaché might be in a position to give the advice. Before seeing Chevalier, Dr. Oppenheimer had lunched at the Embassy with Dr. Wyman, a former classmate, but it is clear from Dr. Wyman's affidavit in the record that Dr. Oppenheimer did not at that time or later mention or endorse Chevalier.
—Henry DeWolf Smyth, 1954

According to Chevalier's letters from the 1960s, both he and Oppenheimer joined a secret unit of the American Communist Party composed of Berkeley professors . In one letter from July 1964, Chevalier informs Oppenheimer that he was planning to write about their membership in the same unit of the Communist Party from 1938 to 1942 in his upcoming memoir, promising to "do his best" to respect Oppenheimer's wishes if he objects. Oppenheimer did in a letter to Chevalier, which denied his membership, and a few weeks later Chevalier wrote that he had decided not to reveal Oppenheimer's membership in a letter to Lou Goldblatt, another member of the unit. In March 1965, according to the Oppenheimer papers at the Library of Congress, Oppenheimer talked to a lawyer about the possibility of enjoining the publication of the memoir.[4]

Chevalier is interviewed in The Day After Trinity (1981), an Oscar-nominated documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb.

Later life and death

After the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities hearing, Chevalier lost his job at Berkeley in 1950 and was unable to find another professorship in the United States and thus moved to France, where he continued to work as a translator.

Chevalier returned to the United States briefly in July 1965 to attend his daughter's wedding in San Francisco.[5]

Chevalier died in 1985 in Paris at the age of 83. The cause of death was not reported.[6]

Chevalier's letters, discovered after his death, form the basis for several books about Oppenheimer.


  • 1932. The ironic temper;: Anatole France and his time. Oxford University Press. ASIN B00085MTLU
  • 1934. AndreÌ Malraux and "Man's fate": An essay. H. Smith and R. Haas. ASIN B00089VCSC
  • 1949. For Us The Living. New York: Alfred A. Knopp. ISBN 1-4179-8987-4
  • 1959. The Man Who Would Be God. Putnam; [1st American ed.]. ASIN B0006AW3DG
  • 1965. Oppenheimer: The Story of a Friendship. New York: George Braziller, Inc. ASIN B0006BN686
  • 1970. The last voyage of the schooner Rosamond. Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-96247-6


  • Malraux, André. 1961. Man's Fate. Random House Modern Library. ASIN B000BI694M
  • Aragon, Louis. 1961. Holy Week. G. P. Putnam's Sons. ASIN B000EWMJ3A
  • Dali, Salvador. 1986. The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. Dasa Edicions, S.A. ISBN 84-85814-12-6
  • Maurois, Andrei. 1962. Seven faces of love. Doubleday. ASIN B0007H6IX4
  • Michaux, Henri. 1963. Light Through Darkness. Orion Press. ASIN B0007E4GJ0
  • Vasarely, Victor. 1965. Plastic Arts of the Twentieth Century, Volume 1. Editions du Griffon. ASIN B000FH4NZG
  • Fanon, Frantz, A Dying Colonialism 1965


  • Broad, William J. September 8, 2002. Father of A-bomb was Communist, book claims. New York Times. A7.
  • Gray, Gordon. 1954. In the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: transcript of hearing before Personnel Security Board. U.S. Govt. Print. Off. p. 4-6.
  • Herken, Gregg. 2002. Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
  • New York Times. July 11, 1985. Haakon Chevalier, 83, Author and Translator. Section B; Page 6, Column 4; National Desk.
  • Washington Post. July 11, 1985. 'Metro; Deaths Elsewhere. C7.


  1. ^ Broad, 2002.
  2. ^ Strauss, Lewis L., Zuckert, Eugene M., and Campbell, Joseph. 1954, June 29. "Decision and Opinions of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer ". Avalon Project At Yale Law School.
  3. ^ De Wolf Smyth, Henry. 1954, June 29. "Decision and Opinions of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer ". Avalon Project At Yale Law School.
  4. ^ Herken, 2000, p. 29-32.
  5. ^ Federal Bureau of Invesitgation. FOIA Index for Haakon Chevalier.
  6. ^ Washington Post. July 11, 1985.

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