Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mathematicians under the Nazis

Mathematicians under the Nazis

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 558
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mathematicians under the Nazis
    Book Description:

    Contrary to popular belief--and despite the expulsion, emigration, or death of many German mathematicians--substantial mathematics was produced in Germany during 1933-1945. In this landmark social history of the mathematics community in Nazi Germany, Sanford Segal examines how the Nazi years affected the personal and academic lives of those German mathematicians who continued to work in Germany.

    The effects of the Nazi regime on the lives of mathematicians ranged from limitations on foreign contact to power struggles that rattled entire institutions, from changed work patterns to military draft, deportation, and death. Based on extensive archival research, Mathematicians under the Nazis shows how these mathematicians, variously motivated, reacted to the period's intense political pressures. It details the consequences of their actions on their colleagues and on the practice and organs of German mathematics, including its curricula, institutions, and journals. Throughout, Segal's focus is on the biographies of individuals, including mathematicians who resisted the injection of ideology into their profession, some who worked in concentration camps, and others (such as Ludwig Bieberbach) who used the "Aryanization" of their profession to further their own agendas. Some of the figures are no longer well known; others still tower over the field. All lived lives complicated by Nazi power.

    Presenting a wealth of previously unavailable information, this book is a large contribution to the history of mathematics--as well as a unique view of what it was like to live and work in Nazi Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6538-3
    Subjects: Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Why Mathematics?
    (pp. 1-13)

    Mathematics under the Nazi regime in Germany? This seems at first glance a matter of no real interest. What could the abstract language of science have to say to the ideology that oppressed Germany and pillaged Europe for twelve long years? At most, perhaps, unseemly (or seemly) anecdotes about who behaved badly (or well) might be offered. While such biographical material, when properly evaluated to sift out gossip and rumor, is of interest—history is made by human beings, and their actions affect others and signify attitudes—there is much more to mathematics and how it was affected under Nazi...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Crisis in Mathematics
    (pp. 14-41)

    The spiritual crisis in German society prior to the First World War, which, subsequent to it, became translated into political terms, has been the subject of considerable study.¹ However, in mathematics as a subject matter, there was a contemporaneous crisis—or rather, crises—as alluded to earlier, in which Germans played a prominent role.

    The term “crisis in mathematics” as used, for example, by Hermann Weyl² is usually taken to refer to the logical and foundational dispute aroused by the set-theoretic antinomies and Zermelo’s pinpointing of the so-called Axiom of Choice, to be discussed below. However, while these questions still...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The German Academic Crisis
    (pp. 42-84)

    Germany in the Weimar period was notable for a remarkable efflorescence of arts, of letters, of the sciences. Peter Gay’s small book on Weimar culture provides a survey of art and literature, while consciously and regrettably neglecting science.¹ Paul Forman has provided an insightful and suggestive essay concerning the possible relationship between the philosophical ideas current in Weimar and the physical and mathematical ones.² Kurt Mendelssohn’s biography of Walther Nernst³ describes the work of its hero and related science with passing mention of the social context. Mendelssohn does suggest⁴ that times of great political and social turmoil are times of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Three Mathematical Case Studies
    (pp. 85-167)

    As is well known, the Nazi regime did not at all fit the romantic notion of a monolithic totalitarian state in which orders are passed efficiently down a smoothly organized hierarchical system, to be carried out by successive layers of underlings. Despite theFührerprinzip(or “leadership principle”) that articulated such a system, the Nazi government fostered competing bureaucracies that struggled with one another for control, often in the name of being the true ideological standard-bearer. The reason for and possible purposiveness of this situation is still being debated.¹ Needless to say, this conflict of bureaucracies also opened the way for...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Academic Mathematical Life
    (pp. 168-228)

    Although the Nazi regime was oppressive politically and ideologically, insisting on strict control of public expression relating in any way to governance or policy, it might be thought that work activity, so long as it was consonant with state objectives, would not be particularly affected. This might seem especially true for academics, who, as discussed in chapter 3, had a long tradition of adherence to whatever state might be, as an exchange forLehr-und Lernfreiheit(freedom in teaching and learning) within academic and professional subject matters. Of course, some subject matters, such as history, anthropology, biology, and German letters and...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER SIX Mathematical Institutions
    (pp. 229-333)

    The lifeblood of any mathematical or scientific enterprise is communication, which is why some historians of science have devoted so much attention to citation analyses and “invisible colleges.” To sift out chaff, scientific communication has come to mean by publication, and in this way the science is verified by colleagues. This is still true today, and was even more true sixty or seventy years ago, before the advent of xerography, “preprints,” electronic mail, and the like. It is natural to ask how mathematical journals were affected by the political pressures of Nazi Germany and how they responded. The three leading...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Ludwig Bieberbach and “Deutsche Mathematik”
    (pp. 334-418)

    The figure of Ludwig Bieberbach has already appeared frequently in the preceding pages.¹ He was a mathematician of high repute who, in 1915, when he was twenty-eight, was described by Georg Frobenius, one of the leading figures of the preceding generation of mathematicians as someone who attacked with his unusual mathematical acuity always the deepest and most difficult problems, and might be the most sharp-witted and penetrating thinker of his generation.² He was also, among mathematicians, a leading proponent of Nazi ideology. Yet, somewhat earlier, he had had a reputation as an academic who was politically of a relatively liberal...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Germans and Jews
    (pp. 419-492)

    The preceding chapters have shown that mathematics as a subject matter was in a difficult position when Hitler came to power.¹ Not only was the Nazi ideology centered on nonrational process as ideal, not only was it involved in a biologistic reductionism of all learning to a fundament of “racial genetics,” but the general lay opinion of mathematics at the time was none too favorable. The mathematicians had formed an organization (theMathematische Reichsverband) to encourage better public understanding of their discipline, but whatever headway it had been making was slow. Given its purpose, it is not surprising how quickly...

    (pp. 493-508)
    (pp. 509-522)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 523-530)