Victor Blok, 58, physicist, teacher, dissident expelled from the USSR

May 31, 2004|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

Victor Blok, a physicist and Soviet dissident who immigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore in 1987, died Wednesday of a brain hemorrhage at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 58, and had been in a coma since 1998, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Dr. Blok was born in Moldova. His father was a colonel in the Russian military, an engineer who built bridges during World War II. Victor Blok grew up in Volgograd, then called Stalingrad. He was a brilliant student, and studied at the prestigious Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

He earned a doctorate in physics and began working at Soviet research institutes around Moscow. According to his longtime friend Valery Price, Dr. Blok was shut out of the best jobs, partly because he was becoming involved in the growing dissident movement and partly because he was Jewish.

In 1982, he helped form the dissident group Trust, which called for the Soviet Union to disarm. In response, the Soviet government's harassment intensified: An attempt was made on his life when a truck driver tried to run down his bicycle, Mr. Price said.

In 1986, Soviet authorities told Dr. Blok to leave the country. After a stop in Italy, he arrived in the United States in 1987, first settling in Boston. Within a few months, he came to Baltimore for a research job at the Johns Hopkins University. When it ended, he taught physics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In 1988, he began having trouble with his right arm. He found he couldn't hold chalk while trying to write at a blackboard. Doctors diagnosed ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative neurological illness that eventually robs victims of the ability to move, speak, eat and breathe.

Realizing that the disease would only worsen, he began to work furiously, doing scientific work as well as writing articles on social and political topics. In the early 1990s, he and Mr. Price started Vestnik, a journal of cultural and political commentary aimed at Russian emigres. Mr. Price described the magazine as a kind of New York Review of Books for Russian emigres.

A group of devoted friends and family members banded together to help him as his health declined. Mr. Price bought the house in Northwest Baltimore where Dr. Blok lived with as many as 10 friends who provided him with constant care.

When he lost the use of his arms and hands, he typed with one finger, working painstakingly. "He would work 14 hours a day all the time," Mr. Price recalled. And when his hands failed, Dr. Blok learned to type using eye movements.

"He just wouldn't quit," said his son Sergey Blok of Austin, Texas.

Mr. Price said his friend had a magical effect on many people, inspiring devotion with his wisdom and his ability to listen and advise. "He was like a saint and a sage in an ordinary man's shoes," he said.

Funeral services were yesterday.

In addition to his son, Dr. Blok is survived by another son, Roman Blok of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His 28-year marriage to the former Natalie Smorodina of Houston, ended in divorce in 2000.

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