Otto Blumenthal's role at the Mathematische Annalen

In 1933 Otto Blumenthal was dismissed from his position at Aachen because he was Jewish. On 11 November of that year, he wrote from Aachen to David Hilbert about his role as an editor of Mathematische Annalen:

Dear Professor

I need to unburden my heart to you on the subject of the Annalen. But before I begin, please accept my belated confirmation of receipt of your manuscript about the foundations of thought, which will once again be a true gem in the Annalen.

In my opinion, the Annalen is in danger. A small part of this danger I consider is due to my own situation. My name has never been one to attract particular interest. And now, since it has become the name of a dismissed Jewish professor, I doubt even more that it can attract authors. In recent months, I have also noticed a striking decrease in the number of manuscripts submitted directly to me.

But a much greater danger, in my opinion, is the general situation and the condition of the Göttingen mathematical faculty.

Regarding the general situation, I have first of all verified that the editing of the Annalen will not be affected by the law for editors, since it only applies to journals with a political content. Stark's Würzburg speech, however, does show that those in power want to influence scientific journals as well. Recently, binding agreements have also been finalised between the 'Academic Association' and the 'German Publishers and Booksellers Association' to correct certain grievances concerning medical and natural sciences journals (these have been made public in an "announcement"). This mostly concerns the so-called "puffed-up" journals (which have become more and more inflated), that had to agree to reduce their size by applying stricter control of their material. This announcement doesn't directly affect the Annalen either, since we have barely increased our volume during the past 30 years, and I believe our rigour in controlling our material is hardly to be doubted. But Stark's threat and this announcement are clearly aimed at Springer. It is therefore possible that for these reasons the Annalen will be watched much more closely and attempts will be made to impede it. The numerous contributions from abroad and the non-Aryan editor could be used as a pretext for this.

From another direction, the Annalen is threatened by Brouwer's new-founded Compositio Mathematica, which has a large international staff. As Bieberbach and Feigl are members of this staff, clearly we may not hope for any contributions to the Annalen from the Berlin school. Even more alarming is the fact that Heinz Hopf's Zürich, with whom we have always enjoyed great cooperation, has agreed to cooperate with this competing enterprise.

The gravest danger, however, lies in the uncertain fate of Göttingen mathematics. This is the source that feeds us. If Göttingen becomes desolate, or if all positions are filled with professors who don't follow the tradition, then we need to find wholly new sources, or we perish. The fact that Emmy Noether has left has already created a tangible gap. And we can't foresee what will happen to Courant.

I would, therefore, like to ask you to ponder whether you might consider abandoning your previously held position of keeping the editorial team as small as possible, and consider a moderate enlargement. An event that might be beneficial to the Annalen is the death of Lichenstein. This might allow us to link up to the Leipzig school, where good work is being undertaken. My suggestion is to include van der Waerden, who has rendered us a great service over the last years with his speedy and thorough reviewing, in the editorial board. He is unusually versatile, and among his other qualities he is recognised as a master of algebra and topology, two very important fields. Of course, I have not yet corresponded with van der Waerden about this idea, so I don't know what he position on it will be. He simply seems the most suitable and, as far as I know, there don't seem to be any objections against him either from a personal or from a political point of view.

Let me come back to my own role in the Annalen, and I do not want to be misunderstood in what I am writing now. I consider it my obligation to resign from my position should you consider that my ancestry or my uncertain situation as a dismissed university professor or anything else related to my person could damage the reputation or the efficacy of the Annalen. [Here Blumenthal added a handwritten comment in the margin: In rereading this paragraph, I see that despite all my efforts, the possibility of a misunderstanding still exists. You might read into my words an accusation against you or distrust of you. Naturally, I mean nothing of the sort. I know that you will keep me on the staff of the Annalen if it is at all possible. But I ask you to look into whether it is indeed possible.] I consider it to be my obligation to say these things to you, and i will resign without feeling hurt if you think that this is advisable. But please understand me correctly if I add that giving up this work will give me pain since - ignoring the fact that following my retirement my income has been reduced by half, and the income of approximately 100 marks generated by the Annalen is a significant addition to my budget - my reputation in the world of science now rests essentially on my editing activities. I therefore value them highly, but I do not intend to hold onto them: this is what I wanted to tell you and, if you consider it best for the Annalen, I will certainly get on and resign.

But there is another financial matter that I need to tell you about. Up to the present, 4 marks per sheet were deducted from the fee paid by Springer (30 marks per sheet) to be passed on to our local extraordinary Professor Krauss for checking the corrections. Now that my income has been so severely reduced, I have decided, after consulting my friend Krauss, to resume checking the revision myself and to keep the 4 marks per sheet that Springer provides for this. I request permission from the editorial board for doing this.

Finally, a piece of personal and more enjoyable news. Mali [his wife] has improved considerably but still needs to rest. Our new little home is very convenient and we live there in quite idyllic conditions. I am trying to move into new areas of study in the theory of functions of several variables and in ancient Greek mathematics.

I will send a copy of this letter to Hecke. I would like to ask you to answer soon, and comprehensively, since I am very concerned about all these things.

Best wishes from our house to your house.


O Blumenthal.

Last Updated October 2013