Friedrich Hirzebruch addresses the 1998 ICM

Karl-Heinz Hoffmann President of the German Mathematical Society proposed Friedrich Hirzebruch as Honorary President of the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Berlin in 1998:-


We are especially grateful to Professor Friedrich Hirzebruch, who, by his reputation and his personal integrity, has helped decisively to restore the position of German mathematicians within the international community. As President of the German Mathematical Society I ask you to elect by acclamation Professor Friedrich Hirzebruch as Honorary President of the ICM'98.

Friedrich Hirzebruch spoke in his reply about the German Mathematical Society and the Nazi years:-


At the closing session in Zurich, I invited the congress to Berlin on behalf of the German Mathematical Society (DMV). ... Its first president was Georg Cantor, the founder of set theory. He was an ardent fighter for the establishment of the International Mathematical Congress. From the founding years of the DMV up to Nazi times, mathematics in Germany was leading internationally. Among the presidents of the Society in this period were Felix Klein, Alexander Wilhelm von Brill, Max Noether, David Hilbert, Alfred Pringsheim, Friedrich Engel, Kurt Hensel, Edmund Landau, Erich Hecke, Otto Blumenthal, and Hermann Weyl. Alfred Pringsheim died in Zurich in 1941 at the age of 90 after having escaped from Germany. Edmund Landau lost his chair in Gottingen in 1934. Otto Blumenthal was deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt, where he died in 1944. Hermann Weyl, president of our society in 1932, emigrated to the United States in 1933. He worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton together with Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel, John von Neumann, who were all members of our society.

David Hilbert died in Gottingen in 1943. Hermann Weyl wrote an obituary published in the middle of the war in Great Britain and the United States. I quote:

Not until many years after the first world war, after Felix Klein had gone and Richard Courant had succeeded him, towards the end of the sadly brief period of the German Republic, did Klein's dream of the Mathematical Institute at Göttingen come true. But soon the Nazi storm broke and those who had laid the plans and who taught there besides Hilbert where scattered over the earth, and the years after 1933 became for Hilbert years of ever deepening tragic loneliness. "To those scattered over the earth" belongs Emmy Noether, the famous Göttingen mathematician, daughter of Max Noether, president of the German Mathematical Society in 1899.

It is not possible for me here to analyse the behaviour of the DMV and its members during the Nazi time, or its reaction to the Nazi time after the war. When we began to prepare the present congress, it was clear for us that we must not forget. My generation should be unable to forget. Many of my age have good friends all over the world where parents or other family members were killed in Auschwitz. We must teach the next generation not to forget. The German Mathematical Society has announced a special activity during this congress to honour the memory of the victims of the Nazi terror. I read from this announcement and ask you to participate:

In 1998, the ICM returns to Germany after an intermission of 94 years. This long interval covers the darkest period in German history. Therefore, the DMV wants to honour the memory of all those who suffered under the Nazi terror. We shall do this in the form of an exhibition presenting the biographies of 53 mathematicians from Berlin who were victims of the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. The fate of this small group illustrates painfully well the personal sufferings and the destruction of scientic and cultural life; it also sheds some light on the instruments of suppression and the mechanism of collaboration.

In addition, there will be a special session entitled "Mathematics in the Third Reich and Racial and Political Persecution" with two talks given by Joel Lebowitz (Rutgers University), "Victims, Oppressors, Activists, and Bystanders: Scientists' Response to Racial and Political Persecution," and Herbert Mehrtens (Technische Hochschule Braunschweig), "Mathematics and Mathematicians in Nazi Germany. History and Memory."

Of the 53 mathematicians from Berlin honoured in the exhibition, three are here with us as guests of the Senate of Berlin and the German Mathematical Society. I greet them with pleasure and thanks. They are:

Michael Golomb, United States,
Walter Ledermann, Great Britain,
Bernhard Neumann, Australia.

The last student of the famous Berlin mathematician Issai Schur is Feodor Theilheimer who lives in the United States. It is a pleasure to welcome his daughter Rachel Theilheimer. Schur and Theilheimer both belong to the 53 mathematicians honoured in the exhibition.

In addition, I welcome Franz Alt, driven away from Vienna, who emigrated to the United States and is with us today as a guest of the DMV.

In 1961 I became president of the DMV as successor of Ott-Heinrich Keller from Halle in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The wall had just been built. The Mathematical Society of the DDR was founded. In 1990 I was president again and had to work for the reintegration of the DDR society into the DMV.

We look hopefully into the future and are happy as the reunited DMV to host the congress. Progress and future of mathematics are represented by the laureates of the Fields medal and the Nevanlinna prize. It will be a great honour and pleasure for me to hand over the Fields medals to the winners


JOC/EFR November 2006

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