Rafael Georg Artzy


Born: 23 July 1912 in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia)
Died: 22 August 2006 in Haifa, Israel

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Rafael Artzy's parents were Eduard Deutschländer and Ida Freudenheim. Eduard Deutschlander, the son of Moses and Angelika Deutschländer, was born in Hamburg on 27 August 1880 while Ida Freudenheim, the daughter of Julius and Fanny Freudenheim, was born in Königsberg on 5 October 1878. They were married in Königsberg on 3 March 1901. 'Artzy' is a name which Rafael took later in life, for he was given his father's name of Deutschländer and so while growing up he was known by the name Rafael Deutschländer. Let us refer to him, however, as Artzy throughout this biography.

Artzy attended schools in Königsberg, graduating in 1930. Later that year, before the age of eighteen, he began his studies at the University of Königsberg. Among the staff at Königsberg were two professors, Kurt Reidemeister, appointed to the chair at Königsberg in 1925, and Gábor Szegö, appointed in 1926 to succeed Konrad Knopp. Also lecturing at the University of Königsberg at this time were Richard Brauer and Werner Rogosinski. Before relating the events which followed we need to point out that Artzy came from a Jewish family and he was a strong believer in Zionist ideology.

Artzy wrote (see [1]):-

During my sixth semester, namely in 1932, Reidemeister informed me it was a good idea to give me a topic for a doctoral dissertation because "nobody knows what could happen to the Jews". Thus I began to work on the topic of webs. Then immediately after Hitler's seizure of power, Reidemeister was dismissed. Since I had been very active in the Zionist movement a while back, I had decided to go to Palestine as soon as possible anyway; I also had a good knowledge of Hebrew.
Let us look a little more at the details concerning these events. In January 1933, shortly before Hitler came to power, National Socialist students at Königsberg organised a disturbance directed against the rector of the university. Reidemeister devoted a whole mathematics lecture to explaining to his students why the behaviour of these students was totally unacceptable and not compatible with rational thinking. He only learnt that he had been dismissed when he read it in the local newspaper. On 30 January 1933 Hitler came to power and on 7 April 1933 the Civil Service Law provided the means of removing Jewish teachers from the universities, and of course removing those of Jewish descent from other roles. All civil servants who were not of Aryan descent (having one grandparent of the Jewish religion made someone non-Aryan) were to be retired. Reidemeister had been dismissed by the Nazis in 1933 because he was considered "politically unsound", and in fact he was dismissed even before Jewish colleagues. Although he was preparing to leave, Artzy still had to get permission to emigrate to Palestine (see [1]):-
I was fortunate to have a cousin in Jerusalem who acted as guarantor. So I only had to wait for the immigration "certificate", which arrived already towards the end of the summer semester of 1933. At the same time I received a questionnaire from the university about my race, I scribbled "Jew" on it with big letters and threw it on the table in the Rector's office.
Artzy married Elly Iwiansky (23 April 1915 - 17 November 2010) on 12 October 1933. They had three children: Ehud Artzy born 1 August 1939, Michal Artzy born 28 July 1943, and Barak Artzy born 5 October 1949.

After arriving in Jerusalem, Artzy began studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts in 1934. Three factors, however, made his subsequent research towards his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University difficult. His first problem was that he had to write his (see [1]):-

... dissertation without any guidance because there was no geometer in Jerusalem.
His second difficulty was that he had to earn a living to support himself and he did this by becoming a school teacher. He taught mathematics at various high schools in Palestine (which became Israel after the State of Israel was declared in 1948) beginning in 1935 and continuing until 1951. The third difficulty was that he became very active in the Haganah movement which occupied much of his time. The Haganah movement was a Jewish paramilitary organisation which, by the time Artzy arrived in Jerusalem, had begun to acquire foreign arms and also to create their own in workshops. During the revolt by the Arabs in Palestine in 1936-39, Haganah unofficially supported the efforts of the British to end the revolt. Despite these hindrances to Artzy's research efforts, he was awarded his doctorate in 1945 from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for his thesis Minimum nets in abstract webs written in Hebrew with an English summary. The topic was the one suggested by Reidemeister in 1932 while he was in Königsberg but his official advisor at the Hebrew University had been Theodore Motzkin. Peter Scherk, reviewing Artzy's English summary of his thesis, put the work in context:-
According to Blaschke, an abstract n-web consists of two sets of elements, "points" and "curves." The set of the curves is subdivided into n families so that each curve belongs to exactly one of them. An "incidence" between the points and the curves satisfies the following axioms. Each point lies on exactly one curve of each family. Two curves of different families have exactly one point in common [cf. Blaschke and Bol, 'Geometrie der Gewebe' (1938)]. Given two different points on the same curve of an n-web, a "minimum n-web" is the intersection of all the sub-n-webs that contain the two points; a "minimum net" is the set of the points of a minimum n-web. The purpose of this thesis is "the construction and investigation of minimal nets in some of the most important types of webs." A (concrete) "parallel n-web" consists of n families of parallel straight lines in a plane and their intersections (n ≥ 3). It is "hexagonal," i.e., all the "Brianchon hexagons" formed by any sub-3-web are closed [cf. Blaschke and Bol]. On the other hand, all the hexagonal n-webs, with one exception, can be mapped topologically on parallel n-webs [cf. Blaschke and Bol]. The author seems to study some kind of abstractly defined parallel n-webs. In the case n = 3, "the minimum net is a lattice. Its points are in correspondence to all pairs of integers. To secure all incidences, the closure of Brianchon's hexagon suffices." This sounds like an abstract analogue of the special case n = 3 of the quoted theorem. Similar results seem to have been obtained for n > 3. A 4-web consisting of a parallel 3-web and a pencil of straight lines is also discussed. "All these results are obtained by means of a suitable algebraization which leads to isomorphisms with nets in corresponding webs of straight lines in a plane. By adding axioms of continuity, we may show these isomorphisms to be, in a sense, topological representations."
The award of his doctorate did not lead to Artzy getting a university position and for several years he continued teaching at High Schools, now as a Principal Teacher of Mathematics. In 1951 Artzy was appointed to an assistantship at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. We note that up to 1955 his papers are written in Hebrew (except one in German) but from then on all his paper were written in English except a couple in German.

In 1956 he went to the United States to take up an appointment as a research associate and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Artzy sailed from Haifa on 2 August 1956 on the ship 'Israel' arriving in New York on 16 August. His wife and family did not travel with him but they (Elly and their sons Michal and Barak) sailed from Haifa in January 1957 on the 'Israel' arriving in New York on 1 February. Their eldest son Ehud was seventeen years old at the time and remained in Israel. They lived at 2237 Commonwealth Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin, USA, and were still in residence there in 1958. In September 1958, on their return to Israel, the family spent two weeks in England, sailing from New York to Plymouth on the 'Flandre', arriving on 8 September. They give their address in England as 39 Engel Park, Mill Hill, London.

Artzy returned to his position at Technion but in 1960 he left and took up an assistant professorship in the United States (see [1]):-

In 1960 I accepted an assistant professorship at the University of North Carolina. Why? Somehow the provincialism at that time in Haifa, in Israel in general, had become too boring to me, and I felt an urge to travel, also with regard to mathematics.
Artzy flew on an El Al flight on 8 September 1960 together with his son Michal. He gave his permanent address in Israel as 82 Hatikhon, Haifa, Israel and his new address in the United States as 603 Airport Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His wife followed by ship with their son Barak, sailing from Haifa on the 'Israel' arriving in New York on 10 October 1960. Artzy only held the position at the University of North Carolina for a year before moving to Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey where he was appointed as a full professor holding that position from 1961 to 1965. During this period, he spent the semester September 1964 to December 1964 at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from 1965 to 1967. He moved again, this time to Temple University, Philadelphia, where he worked for the years 1967-1973. In 1973 he returned to Israel. Joseph Zaks writes [9]:-
[Artzy] came to the University of Haifa in 1973. His arrival here was one of the main reasons that a Department of Mathematics started to function here in 1972. Professor Artzy was the department's second chairman, and later became a dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. After his retirement he served as the Students' Ombudsman. ... In the early 1970's, Professor Artzy organized the first International Geometry Conference in Haifa, and kept the tradition of holding a conference once every four years, until the late 1990's, a task which he taught me how to efficiently organize, sometimes in a rather unconventional way. All of our conferences had a usual feature: we started by welcoming the participants in the airport, and at the end we were looking at the bus of the participants leaving for the airport, cheerfully waving their hands. In each one of these conferences we had a day for sightseeing, that usually included a lunch in Kibbutz Amiad ...
The 1979 conference Geometry and Differential Geometry was held at the University of Haifa, Israel, 18-23 March, 1979 and the Proceeding published in the following year. Artzy, as well as an organiser of the conference, was an editor of the Proceedings along with Izu Vaisman. The Preface begins:-
Geometry, under its various aspects, has been a fascinating intellectual activity during the whole history of civilised mankind. It is an old and always new science which undoubtedly, has provided us with an important part of knowledge about the world and with many applications. The present volume included the text of most of the lectures presented at a Conference on Geometry and Differential Geometry, which was held at the University of Haifa, Israel, on March 18-23, 1979. The Conference was attended by some 70 mathematicians from all over the world. The subject matters covered a broad range, and many aspects of modern research in the field were discussed. This is why we decided to publish the Proceedings of the Conference and it is our hope that they will be of interest to the mathematical community.
Artzy wrote two important books, namely Linear Geometry (1965) and Geometry. An algebraic approach (1992). For extracts from reviews of these two books see THIS LINK.

Artzy was buried in Amiad cemetery near Safed, Israel, where his sons Ehud and Barak had been buried earlier having both predeceased their father. Ehud had been a member of the Amiad Kibbutz and had been an author of several papers while affiliated with the University of Buffalo, including Note on the uniquely colorable graphs (1973), Display of three-dimensional information in computed tomography (1979), and The Theory, Design, Implementation and Evaluation of a Three-Dimensional Surface Detection Algorithm (1980). Barak had died in June 1975 as the following newspaper report from the Jewish Post of Indianapolis of 20 June 1975 states:-

Barak Artzy returned in 1971 to Israel where he had been born, to serve in the army, but escaped unharmed despite the fact that he was in the thick of the fighting in the Yom Kippur war. Two weeks ago he was thrown from a horse here and when he was taken to Abington Memorial Hospital was pronounced dead.
Elly Artzy died in 2010.

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


List of References (9 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Reviews of Rafael Artzy's books

Other Web sites
  1. Google books
  2. Mathematical Genealogy Project
  3. MathSciNet Author profile
  4. zbMATH entry

Main Index Biographies index

JOC/EFR May 2018
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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