Remembering Ram Nahum
I came across this pamphlet from 1942 recently - and the story attached to it is so striking, I'm going to share it.
Ram Nahum, the man on the cover, was a communist and clearly a brilliant physicist who was killed in July 1942 when a stray bomb was dropped on Cambridge by a German plane returning east. He was 24. This pamphlet was published a few months later by the (clearly Communist-minded) University Labour Federation.
I imagined at first that Ram Nahum was an Indian student. Ram is a very Indian name - and Nahum or Nahoum is a surname of a prominent Calcutta Jewish family. That's not right. Though it's not entirely wrong.
Effraim Nahum was born into a Jewish family in Manchester. He went to Clifton College and on to Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was a very active part of a flourishing Communist movement at Cambridge in the late 1930s, the Popular Front period which was the zenith of the party's appeal to both the young and intellectuals. Eric Hobsbawm mentioned him as part of a formidable coterie of Pembroke leftists. In his autobiography, Interesting Times, Hobsbawm describes Nahum as:
a squat, dark natural scientist with a big nose, radiating physical strength, energy and authority. He was the son of a prosperous Sephardic textile merchant from Manchester and, by general consent, was the ablest of all communist student leaders of my generation. As a graduate physicist, he stayed in Cambridge during the war , and was killed ... by the only German bomb to fall on the city.
The 'ablest' of that remarkable cohort of student communists - quite a compliment from someone as able and discerning as Eric Hobsbawm.
Hobsbawm also related how he and Nahum were asked by the party HQ to attend meetings of a party "Jewish group". Both went alaong a few times but concluded that it had little relevance to their own political activity.
Nahum's parents set up a physics fellowship at Cambridge in their son's memory. A few years ago, an album which his parent's collated of cuttings and obituary letters was presented to Pembroke, and one of the college archivists, Jayne Ringrose, wrote a wonderfully researched account of Nahum's life and death which you can find in the Clifton College magazine, towards the end of the issue you can access through this link.
And the India connection? Well, the pamphlet I came across explains how strongly Ram Nahum felt about the India issue and how closely he worked with Indian students at Cambridge to challenge imperialism and work for India's independence.
The photograph below, by the way, apparently was taken at a 1938 demo against the British government's refusal to countenance intervention in the Spanish Civil War.
Great to read about Ephraim and it was I who gave the papers to the library at Pembroke College where my daughter is now a junior research fellow. The Indian Nahoum in Calcutta had a famous biscuit shop but no heirs so I suspect that the name and the biscuit business will die out in India. Best wishes, Gillian Nahum
Nahoum’s of Calcutta still exists as a landmark shop in Calcutta’s Newmarket. However as you suspect, it may fold up for lack of heirs willing to run it. I too like Mr Whitehead, had till now been under the impression that ‘Ram’
Wonderful to see this - a big thank you. My uncle (sadly I never knew him as I was born 1949) was probably the reason why I became a physicist (I work with radiation therapy for cancer). I have been to the biscuit shop in Calcutta and seen the family name. All the best Alan
Marie Nahun Wastlund
This is is truly heart warming, I feel very proud to be his great niece. Thank you for writing this blog Andrew.
Marie Nahum Wastlund
Ram died with my mother, Freddie Vickers, who lost her legs, and very nearly her life, in the same bomb that killed him. He was the last person she actively remembered before she finally succumbed to Alzheimer's. The pamphlet mentioned her, which she kept by her bed in the nursing home, disappeared when she died and my father, understandably didn't enquire about it. if I can have a copy I would be so grateful. I would also like to make contact with any of the Nahum family. ram was the love of my mother's life
I am the grandson of Jeanne de Picciotto who was Ram's aunt. My mother Yvonne Leon was Ruth Nahum's best friend.
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