The Brilliance of Hayman Rickover

Little Haimke, who at the age of eight, heard English spoken for the first time, later achieved an exceptionally high standard in all his studies, due no doubt to his sharp mind and his tremendous knowledge, especially in mathematics. He graduated from Columbia University as a highly qualified Electrical Engineer, and joined the Navy with the rank of Captain, which equaled the army rank of 'Colonel.'

It is not an easy task to enter the Navy especially for the son of a tailor-because the men in the Navy consider themselves to be above those in the Army, and usually only the sons of the Upper Class were admitted into the Navy. It is easier for a Jewish officer to become a General than to become an Admiral.

There is only one such Admiral, the son of a Jewish tailor, in the North American Navy, and he is Hayman Rickover, small of stature, rather thin-the Navy officer who, by his own iron will, independent and unflinching overcame all difficulties, jealousies and opponents who stood in his way.

The brilliant Hayman Rickover with his restless soul, was not satisfied with his routine task of Naval officer, and searched for new inventions for his skill; he came up with the idea of using atomic energy in submarines, thus replacing the use of oil. When Hayman Rickover put forward his plan to his superiors, they laughed off the idea, which was something not unusual with new inventions in other spheres. Many such 'cranks' become weary and give up their battle, but the forceful character of Hayman Rickover was not daunted.

He did not give up the fight and constantly kept knocking on his Admirals' doors, until he got to Admiral Chester Nimitz, the "Chief Naval Officer" who heard out Rickover's brilliant idea and even wrote a letter pointing out that an "Atomic-powered submarine is a blessed undertaking from the military point of view."

But this recognition was not yet sufficient. He also needed the agreement of the Atomic Energy Commission, which controls everything to do with Atomic Power. Rickover won his case with the Commission and he had the entire apparatus needed to build the first Atomic powered submarine placed at his disposal. A budget of 40 million dollars was put aside for this project, and when work was begun on the submarine, which was to be called "Nautilus," President Truman was present. When the work was finished, the Secretary for the Navy declared: "Captain Rickover's achievement is the most importantnt in the history of the American Navy."

It is also worthy of mention that Rickover had a hand in the production of the first Atomic bomb. A later achievement of his was that, under his auspices a factory was opened which produced electricity by splitting atoms – an atomic electricity plant, the first of its kind in the world.

Becoming an Admiral

As early as 1951-52 the Navy did not want to nominate Rickover for a 'Vice-Admiralty' which, according to regulations, was due to him. He was given the excuse that such a rank required all-round knowledge by the Naval officer, whereby he, Rickover, was 'only' an expert on Atomic power… and had Rickover stayed on as Captain, he would have had to retire in 1959.

This envy of the brilliant accomplishment of an ordinary captain was not so much motivated by anti-Jewishness, rather by upper-class feeling towards the son of a poor Jewish Tailor, who somehow manager to infiltrate their aristocratic "family"…

But they were unsuccessful, because Hayman Rickover was a man who was not easily broken. According to Naval custom, an officer, no matter what rank, must retire from active naval duty upon reaching the age of 62. Admiral Rickover put himself against the Naval circles of the Defense Department which were undermining him, and for six years, he energetically withstood the pressures put on him to retire from active duty, because he felt that he still had enough strength to loyally serve the American army with his knowledge.

Admiral Rickover eliminated the bureaucratic red tape, and, during the term of President Johnson, the Navy Secretary, of his own free will, presented a recommendation to the President, that Hayman Rickover remain on active duty until the age of 69. This was the first time that this American Naval tradition had ever been broken.

That is the history of our countryman Haimke Rickover, to whom a neighboring town of my hometown Proshnitz lays claim. The reason for this is that a short while before leaving for America, Haimke's father, Abraham Rickover moved to the neighboring town of Macow and consequently it seeks to "capture" him for itself.

Were these two Jewish towns still existing today, this would be a very grim battle, not unlike the once-bitter rifts concerning a Rabbi, Cantor or Shochet… but, today, this is no longer possible; all the descendants of those who lived in the two towns bask in the glory of the son of a poor Jewish tailor, the American Admiral Rickover, whose Jewish identity is not so well-known in public.

Admiral Rickover being welcomed aboard

Admiral Rickover being welcomed aboard by the Captain
of the Nautilus after her return from a voyage.

Admiral Hayman Rickover

Admiral Hayman Rickover with President Johnson.

Admiral Hayman Rickover with President Johnson
The township in which I was born, Proshnitz, had nothing in particular to make it famous in the Jewish world, since it had not produced any personality, by virtue of which it could equal the glory of the surrounding towns.

Proshnitz was in the vicinity of four Jewish towns, each of which had something to be proud of: aristocratic Mlawa, with its well known Jewish author, Joseph Opatoshu; Tchechanow, with the famous "Tchechanow Rabin" whom even Christians came to consult; Macow -with its eminent Zionist leader and prolific journalist, Nachum Sokolow, who married a girl from Macow; and even the small town of Chorzel had the talented Hebrew writer, Fishl Liachover.

Indeed Proshnitz was embarrassed, its only claim to fame being its artistic, historical Synagogue, where foreign artists had taken three years to paint the ceiling. From here as well as from other Jewish townships the young people strived to explore the world outside, and when, in the last century, the mass emigration to North America began, my town was not missed, and tens of families from Proshnitz also went in search of a secure future for themselves and their children.

After Eight Years in America

Among the migrants there was also a family by the name of Rickover. This was one of the three inter-related Rickover families of Proshnitz. Two of these families were very well to do, owning several well-stocked department stores, which boasted the most exclusive clientele in the whole of the surrounding area -Russian officers and their wives, civil officials and lords-also after Poland became independent. The self-same Rickover families existed until the outbreak of the war in 1939, at which time the Jews were driven from there to the same bitter end that awaited the Jews from many other town and cities. However, Abraham Rickover, the tailor, did not wait for the end, which so cruelly came to his brothers. At the beginning of the twentieth century he and his wife Rachel migrated with their family to America. Among them was Abraham's eight-year-old son Haimke. The father of the family made his living by his original trade tailoring.

Abraham Rickover worked very hard, as did all the Jewish immigrants of the time. He settled in Washington, where his wife cooked super for Jewish workers. Little Haimke was sent to study so that he would not forget his Judaism and become a stranger to his own people. His name, Hayman Rickover, unchanged to this day, bears witness to the fact that, despite his fame, he preferred to be classed as "greenhorn."

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