Siegmund-Schultze Proposal of German Monopoly on the Third Reich History; by Alexander Soifer

Should We Accept The German Proposal of Monopoly on The Third Reich History?

A Response to Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze

Alexander Soifer, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, USA


A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.
– Old Chinese Proverb

I have recently ran in The Notices of the American Mathematical Society into a review of my new 2015 book “The Scholar and the State: In Search of van der Waerden,” Springer Birkhäuser, Basel, 2015. The reviewer, Professor Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze (henceforth S-S) states: “Soifer’s writings appeared initially in his own journal Geombinatorics, which was largely protected against professional historical criticism.” In truth, S-S followed my publications in Geombinatorics for a decade, commented on each of them enthusiastically, and contrary to the present review criticized Van der Waerden:

From: Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze []
Sent: Monday, August 16, 2004 1:46 AM
To: Alexander Soifer <>
Subject: Re: Mathematicians un 1920s-1930s

Dear Alexander,

hope your move back to Colorado went smoothly.

I have received the issue of Geombinatorics with your two articles. I found them well written. In particular I agree that VdW’s [Van der Waerden’s] reaction to the appointment in Utrecht was not reasonable and with some prescience on his side (or at least moral uneasiness) he should have accepted it because the offer came from the faculty. So for him was the greater prestige and tighter communication structure of the German university most important and politically he was either stupid or morally objectionable, I tend to the first interpretation.

From: Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze []
Sent: Friday, December 3, 2004 12:30 PM
To: Alexander Soifer <>
Subject: Re: thanks for vdW

Dear Alexander,

I got your vdW part II, thank you very much.

Again well researched and documented, apalling insensitivity on vdWs part (“forced laborer”), and again Corputs interest in mathematics which let him forget all embarrassment he must have felt.

From: Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze []
Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 9:46 AM
To: Alexander Soifer <>
Subject: Re: vdW III

Dear Alexander,

I have now read part III.

I liked particularly your “Epilogue” and the discussion why vdW left Amsterdam. The point that he had a moral obligation also for the people who took so much on themselves for his appointment seems important. The details on Pólya are interesting in themselves, very unjust from Speiser’s side who certainly could not compare with P. Wondering what really happened, maybe anti-semitism as well?

In The Notices review, S-S contradicts his own e-mails quoted above, and repeatedly expresses his displeasure with someone, who hasn’t lived in Germany – me – researching the History of Nazi Germany. By this logic, nobody should research the History of Ancient Greece anymore. Perhaps, the opposite is true: one has to be at a distance to assess the height and shape of a mountain. The Dutch mathematician Nicolas Govert de Bruijn wrote to me on June 1, 2004 just that: “It is hard to be a historian. It is difficult if you have not lived in the time you write about, and if you have, it is even worse.”

Prejudice is another problem with accepting the German monopoly on German History. S-S readily admits, apparently, with pride, his favoritism of the Germans, after I sent him my prepublication review of his book:

From: Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze []
Sent: Sunday, January 2, 2005 4:29 AM
To: Alexander Soifer <>
Subject: Re: Greetings

Dear Alexander,

thanks for the very warm review. I would not mind if you include your criticism on partiality in favour of the Germans. Nobody can really free himself totally from prejudices.

This S-S’s pro-German prejudice, perhaps, explains his grossly insensitive statement in the present review: “After the collapse of the Hitler regime in 1945, embittered émigrés and traumatized Dutch compatriots, mostly politicians and students rather than colleagues, attacked VdW for having stayed in Nazi Germany.” Thus, to the injury of the Jews and non-Jews forced to emigrate, and the Dutch who endured a brutal five-year occupation, S-S adds the insult of dismissing the victims’ views!

S-S is not even original here. He ‘borrows’ quoted in my book old and tired victimization of the victims used by the German Nobels, Heisenberg and von Laue shortly after the World War II (see the exact references in my book). Yes, even the high moral authority of the Nazi years’ Germany, Max von Laue, disrespected Dr. Samuel Goudsmit’s opinion about the physicists serving the Nazi atomic research project when in 1948 he wrote with respect to the Goudsmit’s book Alsos and its review by Professor Philip Morrison of Cornell University as follows:

We do know that Goudsmit lost not only father and mother, but many near relatives as well, in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. We realize fully what unutterable pain the mere word Auschwitz must always evoke in him. But for that very reason one can recognize neither him, nor his reviewer Morrison, as capable of an unbiased judgment of the particular circumstances of the present case.

Earlier Heisenberg also opined that the victims of Nazism, such as Goudsmit, have no right to be arbiters of the Nazi regime:

Goudsmit’s position can be explained only by the fact that he lost his two parents in Auschwitz and naturally is embittered toward Germany. It is at least understandable and pardonable that he finds it difficult in his bitterness to make a distinction between the different people of our country.

Morrison was absolutely correct in his powerful rebuttal of von Laue:

I am of the opinion that it is not Professor Goudsmit who cannot be unbiased, not he, who most surely should feel an unutterable pain when the word Auschwitz is mentioned, but many a famous German physicist in Göttingen today [i.e., Heisenberg], many a man of insight and responsibility, who could live for a decade in the Third Reich, and never once risk his position of comfort and authority in real opposition to the men who could build that infamous place of death.

S-S, who was very critical of VdW in his e-mails to me (see the quotations above) invents excuses for Van der Waerden leaving of Holland: “After returning to Amsterdam in 1948, VdW and his family still had to cope with attacks by compatriots.”

In my 20 years of research, I did not find a shred of evidence to support this unsubstantiated declaration. Just the opposite is true: After returning to Amssterdam in 1948 Van der Waerden received an overwhelming support in Holland. He got a full professorship at the University of Amsterdam, and membership in the prestigious Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, both of which which had to be signed by the Queen. By the departure from his Homeland, Van der Waerden let his Dutch colleagues down. Nicolaas G. de Bruijn, who in 1951 replaced Van der Waerden at Amsterdam, knows best. On June 1, 2004, he writes to me: “I only remember that people like Koksma, Van Dantzig, Schouten confidentially complained that Van der Waerden disappointed them after all the trouble they had taken… The people who all went through this trouble of course felt they lost their face with respect to all those authorities when Van der Waerden unexpectedly left them in the lurch.”

According to S-S, “Deeply disturbing for a German reader is when Soifer unfavorably compares VdW’s wish to be cleared from the suspicion of being Jewish with the alleged behavior of the eighteenth century historical figure Jud Süss.” Isn’t it absurdly presumptuous to speak on behalf of all Germans? I address the novel “Jew Süss” in which the great writer Lion Feuchtwanger portrays Süss as a hero, who lived as a Jew and went to death as a Jew, even after learning of not being Jewish, and thus having an opportunity to save his life. What is the problem, S-S? Are you “disturbed” that a Jew is portrayed as a hero? Or you are “disturbed” when a non-Jewish German prefers to die as a Jew rather than betray his entire Jewish life for the sake of survival?

Of course, there are honorable German historians of mathematics, Herbert Mehrtens, Morris Epple, and some others. On April 23, 2014, I received a communication from Moritz Epple, Professor of History, specializing in the History of Mathematics at Goethe University Frankfurt. I did not communicate with him before Springer Birkhäuser made Professor Epple the official referee of the book that S-S is reviewing here. Epple raises the veil off ‘The Secret Life of the Postwar Germany’:

“I was born in 1960 into a country in which virtually everyone of the older generation was declared free of any serious guilt, except the few obvious villains whose involvement in atrocious and – for me as a young person – completely unfathomable crimes was so obvious that no one could get around it. But all the others, the van der Waerdens, own family members, older teachers and later even some professors: What about them?

… well, to put a long story short: To NOT talk about the moral problems that their earlier lives involved seemed to be the silent agreement that kept (and to some extent still keeps) this society going.

Ever since I understood this (if I really understood – who can be sure) I felt the need to join those who addressed these issues with careful, but sharp judgement, and to break, rather than to prolong, the silent agreement of suspending judgement. Conflicts were the unavoidable consequence for all of us.

After the first few chapters of your book I understood that your challenge to the reader was exactly this: To provoke her or his moral judgement, on the basis of a wealth of relevant information.

The more I read, the more I enjoyed reading your text. You do make a strong case.

I think the need to make such cases about life in Nazi Germany, and in the occupied countries, still is and remains great. Of course at some point in history other aspects of our complicated present and recent past may require similar attention – keeping the borders of the richer countries of our world shut for refugees comes to mind

– but the Nazi past still haunts us in so many ways. And especially us who were born into families who in some non-zero degree were involved in, and responsible for, the reality or at least the possibility of the crimes of this period.”

I provided S-S with a copy of my 2009 “The Mathematical Coloring Book,” which on June 22, 2010 was acknowledged by S-S with gratitude. As someone who tried to become a mathematician at Halle, S-S could comprehend this book. S-S must have read many fair and complimentary reviews of “The Mathematical Coloring Book” in major publications (Peter Mihók in the Mathematical Reviews MR2458293, (Arthur T. White in Zentalblatt für Mathematik Zbl 1221.05001, Joseph Malkevitch in Extended Reviews of the American Mathematical Monthly 122(7), Robin J Wilson in LMS Newsletter, John J. Watkins in Historia Mathematica 36, William Gasarch SIGAST News, etc.). Here is a short quote from the Mathematical Reviews:

The beautiful and unique Mathematical coloring book of Alexander Soifer is another case of “good mathematics”… and presenting mathematics as both a science and an art… You will certainly enjoy the book. It is difficult to explain how much beautiful and good mathematics is included and how much wisdom about life is given.

However, in his review, S-S ignores all these reviews and mentions only one malicious review written by the 2006-2008 President of the Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung Günter M. Ziegler that appeared in Germany 6 years (!) after the book’s publication. Ziegler outdid the great sage Confucius, who warned: “The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark roomespecially if there is no cat” (see details in my response [1] to Ziegler). Observe: S-S refers to Ziegler in this review while Ziegler refers back to S-S in his! Is this a conspiracy in an attempt to silence me? This would not be the first attempt. My review of the German book by Frei-Roquette-Lemmermeyer fabricating a hero out of a Nazi, racist and anti-Semite Helmut Hasse, was published by Zentralblatt für Mathematik on June 21, 2014; censored and removed on July 7, 2014; and published again on September 4, 2014 Zbl 1294.01004 (see [2] for details). I have to disappoint my German colleagues: someone who gave up everything for freedom, and traded the Soviet paradise for a refugee status in the United States, cannot be silenced. Moreover, attempts to silence the truth will eventually prove futile: truth like water will find its way out.

You must be wondering – as I am – why do they try so hard to suppress the truth? Two days after the end of the World War II, the classic, Carl Gustav Jung, proposed an answer [3]:

The question of collective guilt, which is so difficult and will remain difficult for the politicians, for a psychologist is a fact, raising no doubts, and one of the most important tasks of the treatment is to force the Germans to admit their guilt.

So, should the world accept this German proposal of monopoly on the Third Reich History? There are numerous countries that have very personal interest in researching the horrific World War II and the Holocaust waged by Germany against humanity. The interest is personal due to the tens of millions of dead bodies of Jews, Russians, Polish, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, Danish, Africans, Americans, and other peoples who demand the truth in the loudest way – the silent way.

S-S discloses his past: “The reviewer, who lived in East Germany until 1989.” Indeed, S-S himself told me about his membership in the Communist Party of East Germany due to which he lost his German professorship at the time of the German reunification, and ever since 1990 never regained it.A wise historian had to join the Communist Party, as it was likely a condition of a professional employment in history – for history is a propaganda discipline in totalitarian countries. Inevitably, such an employment that required trading integrity for employment in profession, included the acceptance of censorship and self-censorship in service to the totalitarian state. S-S’s Communist party membership is a repeat of an old story. In the book under review I observed that most German academics immediately joined the Nazis as soon as the Nazi ascent to power was assured. In my book, I describe the history repeating itself yet again when in 2014 many Russian intellectuals publicly supported their President Putin in his assault on Ukraine. The Old Chinese Proverb puts it best: “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”

Summing-up, should we fulfill S-S’s desire to limit research of the Third Reich’s History to his kind of German historians? The French anti-Fascist Jean Galtier-Boissière reformulated this kind of demand as follows: “Give me your watch and I’ll tell you the time.” Shall we entrust S-S the job of telling us the true time?


  1. Soifer, A., Truth like water will find its way out: My Response to Günter Ziegler and the Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Geombinatorics XXV(2), 2015, 76-86; .
  2. Soifer, A., The Scholar and his Profession; In Search of Moral Compass: An Essay in Five Movements, Congressus Numerantium 124 (2015), 117-134.
  3. Jung, C.G., Werden die Seelen Frieden finden?» Ein Interview mit Prof. C. G. Jung von P.S., Weltwoche, Zurich, 11.5.1945. (“Will the souls find peace?” 1945 interview with Peter Schmid)