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Samuel Dickstein

Samuel Dickstein
Born: 12 May 1851 in Warsaw, Russian Empire (now Poland)
Died: 29 Sept 1939 in Warsaw, Poland

Samuel Dickstein was brought up during difficult years for Poles, most
of whom aspired to see the country of Poland re-established. Poland
did not formally exist at the time of Dickstein's birth and much of
the pattern of his life was dominated by the aim of Poles to restore
their country.

Poland had been partitioned in 1772 with the south was called Galicia
and under Austrian control while Russia and Prussia controlled the
rest of the country. In 1846, three years before Dickstein was born,
there was an attempted revolution by Polish nationalists. The Prussian
police had discovered their plans to start an uprising and they put a
stop to it in their area. However the uprising spread to Galicia but
there it was soon defeated by Austrian troops. During the following
years when Dickstein was a young child Poles sought independence but
were kept down by armed force.

The Crimean War which ended in 1856 had a great influence within the
Russian Empire. Some reforms were put in place in the Russian areas of
Poland (which included Warsaw where Dickstein lived) but these only
seemed to invoke anger among young patriotic Poles. There were
political demonstrations and, towards the end of 1862, riots broke out
in Warsaw. On 22 January 1863 there was a move to force young Poles
into the Russian army and a widespread rebellion took place. For a
year Dickstein, a youth aged 12, saw the Polish uprising being
crushed. The victorious Russian occupiers then carried out executions,
confiscations, and deportations, and one can only imagine how a young
man like Dickstein might have felt knowing that Poles could not hope
to rule their own country again in the foreseeable future.

In a policy implemented between 1869 and 1874, all secondary schooling
was in the Russian language. There was no Polish university for
Dickstein to attend so, in 1866, he entered one of the only higher
education establishments in Warsaw, the teacher's college. He studied
there until 1869, the year in which it was converted into the Russian
University of Warsaw . From 1870 to 1876 Dickstein attended this
Russian university in Warsaw specialising in mathematics. He graduated
with a Master's degree in 1876 but all the time he spent at university
he held positions in secondary schools teaching mathematics to provide
the means to support his studies.

With the education system controlled by the Russian rulers, Dickstein
decided to do what he could to promote a Polish education and he
directed his own private school for ten years beginning in 1878.
However during this period he began other ventures to promote Polish

Dickstein was one of the main instigators of publishing mathematical
journals in Poland. In 1884 he was one of the two founders of a series
of mathematics and physics textbooks which were written in Polish. A
few years later he was one of three scientists who set up the journal
Mathematical and Physical Papers editing the journal from 1888. From
1897 he edited Mathematical News another publication which he was
involved in setting up. He also continued publication of Circle of
Polish Mathematicians which had begun publishing in St Petersburg in
1880. Kuratowski, thinking about the development of Polish
mathematics, notes in [2] the importance of the publications:-

The establishment of "Mathematical and Physical Papers" and
"Mathematical News" made possible for Polish mathematicians to publish
the results of their research in Poland, and thus it favoured the
increase of mathematical activity in our country ...

It was not only with his role in publishing that Dickstein made a
major contribution to Polish mathematics. In 1903 Dickstein was a
founder of the Warsaw Scientific Society and he was important in the
development of the Polish Mathematical Society. These played a vital
role in the development of Polish mathematics and we have described
above the political situation out of which the Warsaw Scientific
Society was born.

The first meeting of a group trying to set up a Polish institution in
Warsaw took place on 21 December 1903. Dickstein was one of two
mathematicians in this founding group of fourteen, and was elected as
secretary of the group. The work of the Warsaw Scientific Society
started properly in November 1907. A Mathematical Study was set up
with Dickstein donating a fine library of mathematical texts.

World War I brought major changes in Poland. In August 1915 the
Russian forces which had held Poland for many years withdrew from
Warsaw. Germany and Austria-Hungary took control of most of the
country and a German governor general was installed in Warsaw. One of
the first moves after the Russian withdrawal was the refounding of the
University of Warsaw and it began operating as a Polish university in
November 1915. Dickstein taught in the newly established university,
giving the first year lectures on algebra. He became a professor of
mathematics at the University of Warsaw in 1919 when the university
became properly constituted after the end of the war.

Dickstein's work was mostly in algebra and the history of mathematics.
In particular he had written an important monograph on Wronski in

Kuratowski writes in [2] that Dickstein:-

... was not a scholar of outstanding creative achievements, and
certainly his lectures presented a somewhat outdated algebra; they
were, however, excellently shaped lectures by an enthusiast for
mathematics, who infected young adepts in mathematics with his own
ardour; this was by no means unimportant for the new staff of
renascent Polish Science.

Ulam, at age 23, met Dickstein, who was then in his eighties, at the
International Mathematical Congress in Zurich in 1932. He writes that
Dickstein was:-

... wandering around looking for his contemporaries. Dickstein's
teacher had been a student of Cauchy in the early nineteenth century,
and he still considered Poincaré, who died in 1912, a bright young
man. To me this was like going into the prehistory of mathematics and
it filled me with a kind of philosophical awe.

Dickstein died in the Nazi bombing of Warsaw in 1939 and all his
family died during the German occupation of Poland.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson