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Kurt August Hirsch

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12 Jan 1906

Berlin, Germany

4 Nov 1986

London, England

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Kurt Hirsch studied at the University of Berlin where he was taught by Bieberbach , von Mises , Schmidt and Schur . Although most influenced by Schur , his doctoral dissertation was on the philosophy of mathematics. The thesis examines the 1920s dispute between Hilbert and Brouwer on the foundations of mathematics. Completed and examined in 1930 ( Bieberbach was an examiner), it was not until 1933 that Kurt could afford to get it printed, so he did not receive the degree until 1933.

Kurt became a journalist, writing a scientific column. However he kept up his mathematics attending a study group where he studied Emmy Noether 's work and read Schreier 's paper on the Jordan - Hölder theorem. Influenced by these ideas he decided to study soluble groups with the maximum condition on subgroups .

Kurt's wife, who he married in 1928, was Jewish and he adopted the faith for her sake. He had little choice but to leave for England (where he had distant relatives). On arriving in England in 1934 he was met by Bernhard Neumann and Hanna von Caemmerer (later to become Hanna Neumann who was visiting Bernhard ). He had known Bernhard as a fellow student in Berlin. Kurt was introduced to Hall and he was encouraged to pursue his intention of working on soluble groups with the maximum condition on subgroups.

Despite having a doctorate, Hirsch completed a second one at Cambridge in 1937 on polycyclic groups under Hall 's supervision. Appointed to Leicester in 1938 he was interned as "an enemy alien" in 1940 in a POW camp on the Isle of Man. He worked there as a cook (and retained an interest in recipes all his life) but was soon released and returned to Leicester. That he had interests outside mathematics is illustrated by the fact that he was Leicester County Chess Champion in 1945-46.

In 1948 Hirsch moved to King's College, Newcastle (founded in 1937 as a part of the University of Durham and becoming the University of Newcastle in 1963). While at Newcastle he began translating Kurosh 's The theory of groups into English, a project he was to work on for a number of years. He was a leading reformer of the mathematics syllabus at Newcastle where again he found time to win the County Chess Championship in 1950.

Then in 1951 Hirsch was appointed to Queen Mary College of the University of London where he remained building up a strong algebra school. He sought Hall 's advice in appointments of algebraists and attracted many research students to make a thriving group theory school. In Gruenberg writes:

Hirsch was a shrewd judge of people and managed to create at Queen Mary College an unusually friendly environment for students as well as staff. Everyone felt encouraged to be cooperative. Younger members of staff found him easy to work with and knew they could count on his help and protection. He gave them generously of his time with sound advice on teaching, on examining and on supervising research students.

All Hirsch's publications were in group theory, in addition to the work on polycyclic groups he published on locally nilpotent groups and automorphism groups of torsion free abelian groups .

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland