Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact

Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact

Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact

Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact

Excerpt

In November 1934, Richard Courant, a German mathematician driven out of Göttingen and now living in New York City, commented on his long-time friend Wolfgang Sternberg's book project with the following words:

An extensive manuscript by Sternberg on the calculus of probability is already
at the printing-house of Vieweg's and should have appeared a long time ago.
However, in spite of an existing contract, the publisher Vieweg decided to stop
the printing at the last moment, pointing to problems of publishing a book by
a non-Aryan author at this time. I believe, that for that reason the mathematical
public has lost a useful and valuable work.

This incident encapsulates the political background and various events to be described in this book.

This book shows the prominent role played by Courant—former organizer of the mathematical institute in Göttingen—as an emigrant in the United States, in particular his efforts in reinstalling German mathematicians who had been dismissed from academic positions. The present publication also deals with the fate of the victims who, like Sternberg, never regained a position commensurate with their abilities, or who, as the Prague mathematician Berwald, the addressee of Courant's letter, were murdered by the Nazis. The incident with Sternberg's manuscript says something indirectly about the specificity of the various waves of purges, since Berwald, being in Prague, was, in 1934, still safe. The book also considers the more general sociological consequences of Nazi rule for science and mathematics. In fact, the censorship and the dismissal of the Jewish author Sternberg exemplify the losses for German mathematics due to Nazi interference.

Courant to Ludwig Berwald, CPP (T), November 10, 1934.

In an interview with the Sources of History of Quantum Physics in 1962, Courant
describes the promising beginnings of Sternberg's career in Breslau (Kuhn et al. 1967), tran
script of interview with Courant, May 9, 1962, p. 3. The Sternberg files in the Oswald Ve
blen Papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC give a deeply distressing picture
of Sternberg's miserable living conditions after his immigration to the United States in 1939.

Prague was occupied by Germany in 1939. For Austria, however, one also has to con
sider the years between 1933 and 1938 as causing forced emigration, because of the various
pre-Fascist regimes at the time. This led for example to the gradual emigration of the mem
bers of the Vienna Circle of neopositivist philosophy and to the assassination of its leader,
Moritz Schlick, in 1936.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.