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CHAPTER ONE Family and Childhood: Germany 1918-1933 -Jonah 1:91 ABRAHAM ROBINSON was born early in October 1918 in the small Silesian mining town of Waldenburg (Prussia), now Walbrzych in Poland . By the end of the year the First World War had been won by the Allies at a cost of eight-and-a-half million soldiers killed, another twentyone million wounded, and an estimated seven-and-one-half million taken prisoner or otherwise missing in action. In the aftermath of the war a worldwide influenza epidemic claimed an additional twenty-two million lives. Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, which first appeared in 1918, must have struck contemporary readers as a grim prophecy that, if borne out, would soon lead to a future where the masses would be easily manipulated by dictatorial governments, and human values would be measured solely on cold, rational, materialistic grounds. Prussia, given its authoritarian tradition, was Spengler's choice as the emergent power while the West continued its inevitable decline. Clearly the world into which Abraham Robinson was born offered little to a helpless infant and his recently widowed mother with two sons—especially in a Prussia where Jews were soon to be persecuted with a vengeance unprecedented in modern history. Survival, however, was something Abraham Robinson learned at an early age. As a boy he fled with his mother and brother Saul from Germany to Palestine; shortly thereafter he joined the Haganah (the illegal Jewish civilian militia) to defend his new homeland; a decade later he narrowly escaped from Paris as the Germans invaded France; the rest of the Second World War was spent as a refugee in England where he experienced the harrowing bombing raids on London. After the war he moved first to Canada, then to Israel, and finally the United States. The only threat he was unable to survive was the fatal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer when he was fifty-five. But by then, Robinson was Sterling Professor at Yale University , and a renowned mathematician who had done much to establish mathematical logic as a significant factor in twentieth-century mathematics. Above all, he remains best known for his creation of nonstandard analysis, a rigorous theory of mathematical infinity, including infinitesimals. 'Ivrt anokhi, "I am a Hebrew." 4 — Chapter One Despite his own remarkable talents, there seems to have been no precedent among Robinson's ancestors for genius in mathematics. His forebears , however, had worked assiduously to free themselves from the Eastern European shtetels, with their uncertainties of business and the drudgery of subsistence farming. In this, they succeeded admirably. Both Robinson's father and uncle were part of the growingJewish intelligentsia and professional class; his father, in particular, did all he could to promote the Zionist cause that eventually led to the creation of the state of Israel from the ashes of the Second World War. His father's side of the family, in fact, could trace its roots back to Poland where his great-grandfather was a moderately successful tenant farmer, estate manager, and occasional businessman. THE ROBINSOHN FAMILY: NINETEENTH-CENTURY ROOTS Robinson's father, Abraham Robinsohn,2 was born in 1878 near Dabrotwa, a small town in Galicia where his father, Dawid Robinsohn, farmed a leasehold estate. Abraham was the second son of two, his older brother Isak having been born several years earlier, in Brody (near Lvov, then part of Austria-Hungary but now in the Ukraine), where their mother Sara's family lived. Sara's father, Sender Achtentuch, was a man of the "old" school. Although her marriage to Dawid Robinsohn was arranged by their parents, the evidence of a brief autobiography written by Sara Robinsohn (in German) around 1917 suggests that it was a happy one, even if their lives were not always easy.3 Anti-Semitic feelings forced the Robinsohns to give up their leasehold shortly after Abraham was born.4 For a while the family lived with Dawid Robinsohn's parents in nearby Kamianka, but eventually (through his brother-in-law Feiwel Achtentuch) Dawid Robinsohn succeeded 2 Robinson was named after his father, Abraham, an anomaly according to Jewish custom explained by the fact that his father died before his son was born. Robinson decided to change the spelling of his name from Robinsohn sometime between 1939 and 1941, shortly after he had become a refugee in England. His brother Saul never changed the spelling of his surname. Throughout this chapter, Abraham Robinsohn refers to the father, Robinsohn Senior...


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