JOHN VON NEUMANN (1903-1957)*
Johnny Neumann was born and brought up in the same city as I was--in Budapest. However, he went to a different school--the so-called 'evangelical gymnasium' (maintained by the Lutheran Church), whereas I went to the so-called 'mintagymnasium' (in literal translation--'model-gymnasium').1 So while I often heard of him through mutual friends, we did not actually meet until we were past the school stage and also the university student stage. It was then a fairly general custom for young Hungarians studying abroad to return to Budapest during the long summer vacation. It was in one of such periods that we met at a lunch party and evidently took a liking to each other since we arranged to meet again, and later went on regular walks on the Buda hills.
'Janos', the equivalent of John (or 'Jancsi', the Hungarian equivalent of Johnny), was five years older than I--something that would have counted for a lot in our teens, or possibly in old age, but it did not matter in our twenties. I had of course heard of his reputation as the most brilliant student of mathematics--attested by his teacher the famous Professor Polya (of Budapest University) who declared that he was the most outstanding student he had ever known. Johnny could hardly have heard much about me as I was still a research student at the LSE and had hardly begun to publish. However, we seemed to have plenty of things to talk about, including current ideas on the causes of economic recession (this was before Keynes) and the likely developments following from German and Italian fascism. In retrospect Johnny was more interested in asking questions than in answering them, but he was a very good raconteur and delighted in gossip.
At that time he was 'Privat-Dozent' of the University of Berlin (a distinction awarded to only a few persons each year and it____________________