Hermann Weyl's speech at Emmy Noether's funeral
Hermann Weyl's speech
But I consider it a duty at this hour to articulate the feelings of your German colleagues - those who are here, and those in your homeland who have held true to our goals and to you as a person. I find it apt, too, that our native tongue be heard at your graveside - the language of your innermost sentiments and in which you thought your thoughts - and which we hold dear whatever power may reign on German soil. Your final rest will be in foreign soil, in the soil of this great hospitable country that offered you a place to carry on your work after your own country closed its doors on you. We feel the urge at this time to thank America for what it has done in the last two years of hardship for German science, and to thank especially Bryn Mawr, where they were both happy and proud to include you amongst their teachers.
Justifiably proud, for you were a great woman mathematician - I have no reservations in calling you the greatest that history has known. Your work has changed the way we look at algebra, and with your many gothic letters you have left your name written indelibly across its pages. No-one, perhaps, contributed as much as you towards remoulding the axiomatic approach into a powerful research instrument, instead of a mere aid in the logical elucidation of the foundations of mathematics, as it had previously been. Amongst your predecessors in algebra and number theory it was probably Dedekind who came closest.
When, at this hour, I think of what made you what you were, two things immediately come to mind . The first is the original, productive force of your mathematical thinking. Like a too ripe fruit, it seemed to burst through the shell of your humanness. You were at once instrument of and receptacle for the intellectual force that surged forth from within you. You were not of clay, harmoniously shaped by God's artistic hand, but a piece of primordial human rock into which he breathed creative genius.
The force of your genius seemed to transcend the bounds of your sex - and in Göttingen we jokingly, but reverentially, spoke of you in the masculine, as "den Noether". But you were a woman, maternal, and with a childlike warmheartedness. Not only did you give to your students intellectually - fully and without reserve - they gathered round you like chicks under the wings of a mother hen; you loved them, cared for them and lived with them in close community.
The second thing that springs to mind is that your heart knew no malice; you did not believe in evil, indeed it never occurred to you that it could play a role in the affairs of man. This was never brought home to me more clearly than in the last summer we spent together in Göttingen, the stormy summer of 1933. In the midst of the terrible struggle, destruction and upheaval that was going on around us in all factions, in a sea of hate and violence, of fear and desperation and dejection - you went your own way, pondering the challenges of mathematics with the same industriousness as before. When you were not allowed to use the institute's lecture halls you gathered your students in your own home. Even those in their brown shirts were welcome; never for a second did you doubt their integrity. Without regard for your own fate, openhearted and without fear, always conciliatory, you went your own way. Many of us believed that an enmity had been unleashed in which there could be no pardon; but you remained untouched by it all. You were happy to go back to Göttingen last summer, where, as if nothing had happened, you lived and worked with German mathematicians striving for the same goals. You planned on doing the same this summer.
You truly deserve the wreath that the mathematicians in Göttingen have asked me to lay on your grave.
We do not know what death is. But is it not comforting to think that souls will meet again after this life on Earth, and how your father's soul will greet you? Has any father found in his daughter a worthier successor, great in her own right?
You were torn from us in your creative prime; your sudden departure, like the echo of a thunderclap, is still written on our faces. But your work and your disposition will long keep your memory alive, in science and amongst your students, friends and colleagues. Farewell then, Emmy Noether, great mathematician and great woman. Though decay take your mortal remains, we will always cherish the legacy you left us.
JOC/EFR November 2014
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