Issai Schur (January 10, 1875 – January 10, 1941) was a Russian mathematician who worked in Germany for most of his life. He studied at the University of Berlin. He obtained his doctorate in 1901, became lecturer in 1903 and, after a stay at the University of Bonn, professor in 1919.
As a student of Ferdinand Georg Frobenius, he worked on group representations (the subject with which he is most closely associated), but also in combinatorics and number theory and even theoretical physics. He is perhaps best known today for his result on the existence of the Schur decomposition and for his work on group representations (Schur's lemma).
Issai Schur was born into a Jewish family, the son of the businessman Moses Schur and his wife Golde Schur (née Landau). He was born in Mogilev on the Dnieper River in what was then the Russian Empire. Schur used the name Schaia (Isaiah as the epitaph on his grave) rather than Issai up in his middle twenties. Schur's father may have been a wholesale merchant.
In 1888, at the age of 13, Schur went to Liepāja (Courland, now in Latvia), where his married sister and his brother lived, 640 km north-west of Mogilev. Kurland was one of the three Baltic governorates of Tsarist Russia, and since the Middle Ages the Baltic Germans were the upper social class. The local Jewish community spoke mostly German and not Yiddish.
In October 1894, Schur attended the University of Berlin, with concentration in mathematics and physics. In 1901, he graduated summa cum laude under Frobenius and Lazarus Immanuel Fuchs with his dissertation On a class of matrices that can be assigned to a given matrix, which contains a general theory of the representation of linear groups. According to Vogt, he began to use the name Issai at this time. Schur thought that his chance of success in the Russian Empire was rather poor, and because he spoke German so perfectly, he remained in Berlin. He graduated in 1903 and was a lecturer at the University of Berlin. Schur held a position as professor at the Berlin University for the ten years from 1903 to 1913.
In 1913 he accepted an appointment as associate professor and successor of Felix Hausdorff at the University of Bonn. In the following years Frobenius tried various ways to get Schur back to Berlin. Among other things, Schur's name was mentioned in a letter dated June 27, 1913 from Frobenius to Robert Gnehm (the School Board President of the ETH) as a possible successor to Carl Friedrich Geiser. Frobenius complained that they had never followed his advice before and then said: "That is why I can't even recommend Prof. J. Schur (now in Bonn) to you. He's too good for Zurich, and should be my successor in Berlin". Hermann Weyl got the job in Zurich. The efforts of Frobenius were finally successful in 1916, when Schur succeeded Johannes Knoblauch as adjunct professor. Frobenius died a year later, on August 3, 1917. Schur and Carathéodory were both named as the frontrunners for his successor. But they chose Constantin Carathéodory in the end. In 1919 Schur finally received a personal professorship, and in 1921 he took over the chair of the retired Friedrich Hermann Schottky. In 1922, he was also added to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
After the takeover by the Nazists and the elimination of the parliamentary opposition, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service on April 7, 1933, prescribed the release of all distinguished public servants that held unpopular political opinions or who were "Jewish" in origin; a subsequent regulation extended this to professors and therefore also to Schur. Schur was suspended and excluded from the university system. His colleague Erhard Schmidt fought for his reinstatement, and since Schur had been a Prussian official before the First World War, he was allowed to participate in certain special lectures on teaching in the winter semester of 1933/1934 again. Schur withdrew his application for leave from the Science Minister and passed up the offer of a visiting professorship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the academic year 1933–34. One element that likely played a role in the rejection of the offer was that Schur no longer felt he could cope with the requirements that would have come with a new beginning in an English-speaking environment.
Already in 1932, Schur's daughter Hilde had married the doctor Chaim Abelin in Bern. As a result, Issai Schur visited his daughter in Bern several times. In Zurich he met often with George Pólya, with whom he was on friendly terms since before the First World War.
On such a trip to Switzerland in the summer of 1935, a letter reached Schur from Ludwig Bieberbach signed on behalf of the Rector's, stating that Schur should urgently seek him out in the University of Berlin. They needed to discuss an important matter with him. It involved Schur's dismissal on September 30, 1935.
Schur remained a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences after his release as a professor, but a little later he lost this last remnant of his official position. Due to an intervention from Bieberbach in the spring of 1938 he was forced to explain his resignation from the commission of the Academy. His membership in the Advisory Board of the Mathematical Journal was ended in early 1939.
Schur found himself lonely after the flight of many of his students and the expulsion of renowned scientists from his previous place of work. Only Dr. Helmut Grunsky had been friendly to him, as Schur reported in the late thirties to his expatriate student Max Menachem Schiffer. The Gestapo was everywhere. Since Schur had announced to his wife his intentions to commit suicide in case of a summons to the Gestapo, in the summer of 1938 his wife took his letters, and with them a summons from the Gestapo, sent Issai Schur to a relaxing stay in a home outside of Berlin and went with medical certificate allowing her to meet the Gestapo in place of her husband. There they flatly asked why they were still staying in Germany. But there were economic obstacles to the planned emigration: emigrating Germans had a pre-departure Reich Flight Tax to pay, which was a quarter of their assets. Now Schur's wife had inherited a mortgage on a house in Lithuania, which because of the Lithuanian foreign exchange determination could not be repaid. On the other hand, Schur was forbidden to default or leave the mortgage to the German Reich. Thus the Schurs lacked cash and cash equivalents. Finally, the missing sum of money was somehow supplied, and to this day it does not seem to be clear who were the donors.
Schur was able to leave Germany in early 1939. His health, however, was already severely compromised. He traveled in the company of a nurse to his daughter in Bern, where his wife also followed a few days later. There they remained for several weeks and then emigrated to Palestine. Two years later, on his 66th birthday, on January 10, 1941, he died in Tel Aviv of a heart attack.
Schur continued the work of his teacher Frobenius with many important works for group theory and representation theory. In addition, he published important results and elegant proofs of known results in almost all branches of classical algebra and number theory. His collected works are an impressive proof of this. There, his work on the theory of integral equations and infinite series can be found.Über eine Klasse von Matrizen, die sich einer gegebenen Matrix zuordnen lassen
Schur lived in Berlin as a highly respected member of the academic world, an apolitical scholar. A leading mathematician and outstanding and very successful teacher, he held a prestigious chair at the University of Berlin for 16 years. Until 1933, his research group had an excellent reputation at the University of Berlin in Germany and beyond. With Schur in the center, his faculty worked with representation theory, which was extended by his students in different directions (including solvable groups, combinatorics, matrix theory). Schur made fundamental contributions to algebra and group theory which, according to Hermann Weyl, were comparable in scope and depth to those of Emmy Amalie Noether (1882–1935).
When Schur's lectures were canceled in 1933, there was an outcry among the students and professors who appreciated him and liked him. By the efforts of his colleagues Erhard Schmidt Schur was allowed to continue lecturing until the end of September 1935 for the time being. Schur was the last Jewish professor who lost his job at this time.
In Switzerland, Schur's colleagues Heinz Hopf and George Pólya were informed of the dismissal of Issai Schur in 1935. They tried to help as best they could. On behalf of the Mathematical Seminars chief Michel Plancherel, on December 12, 1935 the school board president Arthur Rohn invited Isay Schur to . At the same time he asked that the formal invitation should come from President Rohn, . George Pólya arranged from this invitation of the Mathematical Seminars the Conference of the Department of Mathematics and Physics on December 16. Meanwhile, on December 14 the official invitation letter from President Rohn had already been dispatched to Issai Schur. Schur was promised for his guest lecture a fee of CHF 500.une série de conférences sur la théorie de la représentation des groupes finiscomme le prof. Schur doit obtenir l'autorisation du ministère compétent de donner ces conférences
Schur did not reply until January 28, 1936, on which day he was first in the possession of the required approval of the local authority. He declared himself willing to accept the invitation. He envisaged beginning the lecture on February 4. Schur spent most of the month of February in Switzerland. Before his return to Germany he visited his daughter in Bern for a few days, and on February 27 he returned via Karlsruhe, where his sister lived, to Berlin. In a letter to Pólya from Berne, he concludes with the words: From Switzerland I take farewell with a heavy heart.
In Berlin, meanwhile, Ludwig Bieberbach, in a letter dated February 20, 1936, informed the Reich Minister for Science, Art, and Education on the journey of Schur, and announced that he wanted to find out what was the content of the lecture in Zurich.
Schur had a total of 26 graduate students, some of whom acquired a mathematical reputation. Among them are
In his commemorative speech, Alfred Brauer (PhD candidate of Schur) spoke about Issai Schur as follows:As a teacher, Schur was excellent. His lectures were very clear, but not always easy and required cooperation – During the winter semester of 1930, the number of students who wanted to attend Schur's theory of numbers lecture, was such that the second largest university lecture hall with about 500 seats was too small. His most human characteristics were probably his great modesty, his helpfulness and his human interest in his students.
Heinz Hopf, who had been in Berlin before his appointment to Zurich at the ETH Privatdozent, held – as is clear from oral statements and also from letters – Issai Schur as a mathematician and greatly appreciated man. Here, this appreciation was based entirely on reciprocity: in a letter of 1930 to George Pólya on the occasion of the re-appointment of Hermann Weyl, Schur says of Hopf: .Hopf is a very excellent teacher, a mathematician of strong temperament and strong effect, a master's discipline, trained excellent in other areas. – If I have to characterize him as a man, it may suffice if I say that I sincerely look forward to each time I meet with him
Schur was, however, known for putting a correct distance in personal affairs. The testimony of Hopf is in accordance with statements of Schur's former students in Berlin, by Walter Ledermann and Bernhard Neumann.