It Seems I Am a Jew: A Samizdat Essay

It Seems I Am a Jew: A Samizdat Essay

It Seems I Am a Jew: A Samizdat Essay

It Seems I Am a Jew: A Samizdat Essay

Synopsis

In this essay smuggled out of Russia a renowned Soviet mathematician speaks out against the policies of the Steklov Institute in Moscow, which controls much of mathematical life in the Soviet Union. They control VAK, the certification commission that has the final say in approving doctoral dissertations, and as Dr. Freiman documents, seem to be pursuing a policy that will make all of Russian higher mathematics Judenfrei. "The numbers m and n have the same prime factors. The numbers m-1 and n-1 possess the same property. Are the multiples of this pair of numbers m and n finite or infinite? Explain." This was the special question asked Sasha Navodvorsky during his oral entrance examination for the Mathematical and Mechanical School at Moscow University. He, who had received a perfect score on his written examinations, did so poorly on his oral exam that he was denied entrance. (His brother had recently left for Israel.) Freiman's essay against the corruption of the minds and souls of men was prompted by his own student (identified only as B. in the essay) falling victimto this depraved system. Kafkaesque and Orwellian, the selection process Freiman describes is made possible by a blend of pathological anti-Semitism on the part of key individuals in the Institute and the unique Soviet system of rewards and punishments. The insidious process has proven effective to a remarkable degree. The Soviet Academy of Sciences contains only a single Jewish mathematician and the Steklovka is now Judenfrei.

Excerpt

Mathematics is like vodka. Drink, and you may forget the crude and oppressive world around you. Comrades and commissars, Komsomol meetings and Communist party propaganda, all fade away as you enter the pure and peaceful world of mathematics. Lie groups, algebraic number fields, partial differential equations, and other beautiful mathematical theories can provide a psychological refuge from anti-Semitism and other cruel facts of Soviet politics and culture. This escape into mathematics may be the secret of the extraordinary brilliance of mathematics in the USSR.

Mathematics is the best Soviet science. In all areas of pure and applied mathematics, Soviet scholars have obtained important and impressive results. Foreign observers sometimes claim that the reason for this success is the highly centralized administration of Soviet science, and, in particular, of mathematics. But Soviet mathematical triumphs have come about more in spite of this bureaucratic structure than because of it. Increasingly in the last decade, a vulgar politics has intruded itself into Soviet mathematical life. Jews have contributed disproportionately to Soviet mathematics, but now Soviet universities reject almost all Jewish applicants. Soviet authorities refuse to grant graduate degrees for dissertations by Jews. Editors of many Soviet mathematical journals will not publish research papers by Jews. Only one Jewish mathematician, Leonid Vital'evich Kantorovich, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1975, is a full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Even Izrail' Moiseevich Gel'fand, one of the greatest mathematicians of this century, is only a corresponding member. The central institution in Russian mathematics is the Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences--the Steklovka. The director of the Steklov Institute since its establishment in 1934 is Ivan Matveevich Vinogradov, a distinguished scholar and expert in analytic number theory, but also a passionate anti-Sem-

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