Appropriateness of dedicating my thesis to a Jewish mathematician who died in a concentration camp

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I am a Muslim student in a non-Arab country. Would it be unwanted/inappropriate for me to dedicate my thesis on Tauber theory to Alfred Tauber, and more generally to all those Jewish mathematicians who died in Nazi concentration camps during WW2? I thought it would form a nice opportunity for some remembrance of the fact that so many people whose work we value today were affected. I was greatly saddened to learn about the fate of A. Tauber and wanted to do something with that. On the other hand, a mathematics thesis might not be the place to "confront" like this.

Ibrahim

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 521

2

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– ff524 – 2017-10-16T16:19:12.370

Answers

211

Aeismail’s answer is spot on: who you choose to dedicate it to is entirely up to you (modulo political expedience). I've read theses dedicated to martyrs and I've read theses dedicated to cats. Do what you feel moved to do. See answers here for some discussion.

As for how it would be received by the Jewish community and Jewish mathematicians, I am confident that the answer is "extremely well," based on my experiences and conversations about similar tributes. On a personal level, as a Jewish mathematician and descendant of survivors I would find this incredibly meaningful to come across and quite likely be moved to tears by a well-written dedication along these lines.

A tip about writing the dedication: one common mistake that people writing about the Holocaust make is to paint it as “unimaginable” or “unprecedented.” Although it is by far the single largest genocide in terms of total number of people killed (6M Jews, 5M others includes Poles, the disabled, and homosexuals) that usually rubs me the wrong way. The Holocaust is without a doubt the most socially prominent, but definitely not only, example of persecutions of Jews or of genocide as a whole. It’s also not the most recent or “last” (I see people use this term) genocide, nor has Nazism gone away. Today there is genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya people and in Iraq against the Yazidi. Today neo-Nazis openly march in Virginia, USA while targeting Jews in their chants and waving the swastika. These facts are things people tend to be unaware of, and so people can sometimes accidentally take away from their tributes through inaccurate or dismissive words.

I think a dedication to Tauber and the others who were murdered would be lovely, but caution you to think carefully about the wording lest you accidentally minimize or dismiss the aforementioned facts.

A couple of people seem to have missed the fact that there’s a direct connection between Tauber and your work. To explicitly state that for anyone who is reading this: the field that is the topic of the dissertation is known as “Tauber Theory” and (presumably) Tauber’s work was foundational and central to the field and the dissertation.

Stella Biderman

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 6 344

1

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– ff524 – 2017-10-17T13:45:39.790

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Note that the uniqueness of the Holocaust is a somewhat sensitive topic; you'll probably piss off some people claiming that it was just one of the large genocides, and piss off others by saying it is unique. (Although probably none of those people read math theses.)

– Tgr – 2017-10-21T06:09:05.053

Wauw 193. "Selected" for sure ;) – mathreadler – 2017-10-21T18:11:41.133

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It may be worth noting that many of the mathematicians who perished in the holocaust did not die in concentration camps, Felix Hausdorff being the most prominent example.

– Mathmo123 – 2017-10-22T10:27:59.937

@Mathmo123, yes, Hausdorff anticipated being sent to a "camp", and committed suicide instead. Maybe it would be better to say more directly "killed by Nazis" as an accurate umbrella. – paul garrett – 2017-10-27T21:33:16.430

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Who you choose to recognize in your acknowledgments is up to you. If you would like to dedicate it to the memory of someone, that's entirely your choice. If you are worried about the political backlash, you could submit the thesis to the reviewer without the dedication and acknowledgments and then add those at the end.

aeismail

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 135 590

40

a mathematics thesis might not be the place to "confront" like this.

No, I disagree. There are few ways in academia to draw attention to this crime more powerful than the acknowledgements section of your thesis. I hope you choose to do so!

Also, to speak to another part of your comment . . .

I am a Muslim student in a non-Arab country. Would it be unwanted/inappropriate for me . . . .

That you are Muslim does not detract from this in any way. Politically, to the Jewish communities, that you are Muslim would only add more power to your acknowledgement.

Andrei Rotenstein

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 509

5Do you genuinely think that the Holocaust needs more attention? It's not some unknown part of history. – Davor – 2017-10-16T15:28:36.677

24Given recent events, such as the treatment of the Kurdish, Rohingya, and Yazidi peoples, I think that raising awareness of horrible events like the Holocaust that can occur when people fail to take notice of what is happening around them can only be a good thing, particularly in an age of relative desensitisation to current affairs. – Sam – 2017-10-16T15:32:49.130

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54% of people in the world have heard about the holocaust, and 32% of people think it's a myth or greatly exaggerated. Amongst people age 18-34 these numbers are 48% and 39% respectively. So yes, I think the Holocaust needs more attention. http://global100.adl.org/info/holocaust_info

– Stella Biderman – 2017-10-16T15:52:47.063

I don't understand the first bit you say. First you disagree that thesis is not a place to do this, then you say there are other ways more powerful do draw attention than the thesis. I assume that you miss the word "but", is this correct? – Ooker – 2017-10-17T09:31:33.513

Also, it is indeed that there are other methods to draw other's attention to a problem, but it also needs appropriate contexts. OP might not be an activist, they might not be suitable for doing politics. And if OP's main "targets" are mathematicians, then where is the fittest place to "protest", if not in papers? – Ooker – 2017-10-17T09:37:31.893

5@Ooker Possibly you just misread, but in case this is a language thing: If you say "there are few foods I like more than ice cream", it essentially means "I like ice cream a lot". This is a bit of a quirk of the language, since if you say "there are a few foods I like more than ice cream" that has a meaning similar to your interpretation, more like: "ice cream is good, but we can do better". – Ben Aaronson – 2017-10-17T17:44:05.890

That's right. @Ooker, I was just saying that your acknowledgement section is a really, really good way to tell people about what crime happened to this wonderful mathematician. I was also saying that your religious identity is definitely not a problem. – Andrei Rotenstein – 2017-10-19T21:31:26.757

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A lot of people don't seem to realize that acknowledgments are most often inserted into the thesis after the committee has read and signed off on it. On the one hand this is justified because they are not part of the intellectual content of the thesis, and indeed the committee should not be swayed by the acknowledgments in either way. On the other hand, this makes good practical sense because acknowledgments most commonly contain thanks and praise for the thesis advisor, and it's best if the thesis advisor doesn't see this until after she has read and approved the thesis. In light of this I fervently disagree that the OP is accruing any non-negligible risk that placing this acknowledgment will jeopardize the outcome of his thesis submission or defense.

But more than this I fervently disagree with the idea that the OP would necessarily be wrong to incur any non-negligible risk to his academic career by speaking out on something that he believes in. Shame on everyone who suggested or implied that the OP may not know where the Holocaust deniers / anti-semites / anti-Israeli leftists may lie and therefore should behave as though anyone could potentially be such a person. That is exactly wrong.

I have led my professional life in open support of those who have feeling for their fellow human beings, even / especially those who come from different backgrounds than their own. This has worked well for me, but if it had worked out badly then it would have been even more important.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

I encourage the OP to be a pico-Gandhi by having the courage to honor the people he wants to honor in his own thesis acknowledgments. Maybe this will serve as an example in particular to those who have advised against this here.

Pete L. Clark

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 106 564

3Gandhi was assassinated... – PatrickT – 2017-10-19T17:46:04.827

3@PatrickT it sounds like you've completely missed the point of this answer. – arboviral – 2017-10-24T10:45:55.083

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I would argue that such a dedication is appropriate - it serves to memorialize a great person who moved mathematical study forwards significantly, and was killed by an oppressive regime due to his ethnic background. This would be akin to a computer science publication being dedicated to Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, who was oppressed for being gay in 1940s England. It is not an exceptionally controversial dedication so much as one that recognizes our field's past and humanity's advancement in the face of adversity. I would not hesitate to dedicate a published document to a significant historical figure who influenced the entire field behind my work, no matter their religious or ethnic background. This is your thesis, however, so it is ultimately your judgment call.

moz206

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 201

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A thesis is, among other goodies, a piece of literature. I would include historical remarks into it, too - for the purpose of educating the reader. In the historical section, I would elaborate on the fates of the involved mathematicians. This would make the thesis interesting to read even for non-mathematicians. In particular, I would speak about Alfred Tauber there as much or as little as I wish - and make this section captivating. Yes, I would definitely mention his death circumstances. A dedication to Mr. Tauber may or may not be inlcuded according to your wish, but if you include it, it will certainly raise the literary quality of your writing.

The fact that you are a Muslim in a non-Arab country is irrelevant. Being a Muslim is about your own, personal beliefs and your own, very personal way of thinking, behaving, and living, and has nothing to do with mathematics and the history of Holocaust, in particular, of Mr. Tauber. Mr. Tauber's death in a concentration camp, the worldwide sufferings of the Jewish diaspora, and, finally, the Holocaust are disgraceful, horrible pages of the history of mankind that are written with blood. The world should be aware of them, and it's everyone's duty to know about them and learn from them. Germany has already learnt, and the time will come when the other countries will also have to learn. "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls …" But, regardless of this shame on us, Mr. Tauber's personal life, in its core, is not directly related to your thesis, to you personally, or to your religion.

user80454

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation:

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As a Jewish researcher in the Jewish state, I was profoundly touched by your post. I agree with previous answers that you can make this acknowledgment. But at the same time, it may indeed potentially damage you, as Arthur Tarasov said. Probably you can make some more general dedication to all innocently killed or repressed mathematicians (or scientists, in general). At the end, it might not be that different whether a scientist (or any person at all) died in Hitler's concentration camp, executed by Stalin's regime (as for example, Matvei Bronstein or was prosecuted because of his homosexuality as Alan Turing.

BrainResearcher

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 90

18The point is that the thesis is about Tauber theory, and Alfred Tauber died in a concentration camp. Dedicating the thesis to Alfred Tauber and all other mathematicians who were innocently killed sounds to me like you're trying to avoid mentioning the fact that Hitler's regime killed him because he was Jewish. I would personally find this offensive, and suspect it is more likely to be damaging than the OP's originally proposed dedication. (Although, generally speaking, either dedication would probably have little impact on the OP's career.) – Peter Shor – 2017-10-16T12:04:39.493

1@PeterShor: BrainResearcher is offering a solution if the OP is excessively worried about the reception of a thesis dedicated to a Jewish mathematician in the Arab world. While this shouldn't be an issue, I can certainly attest from personal experience that many older Arabs have strong biases when it comes to Jews. – aeismail – 2017-10-16T14:58:50.273

4The OP lives in a NON-ARAB country. – Dilworth – 2017-10-16T15:06:23.737

3

You should be careful when writing personal statements into public work. These include dedications, acknowledgements, even cover pictures in some cases. This is intended as general advice, without the political implications which other answers already discussed.

You should always ask yourself "What is the message I want to convey?" and "What am I achieving by conveying my message in this particular way?".

It is fine to care about causes or be touched by the fates of people. Most people will agree with your dedication. Few will not. And some, and this is the most important category, will question your intentions behind it, regardless of how they feel towards your statement. (Are you trying to gain favors with the committee? Are you trying to promote your political views through your scientific publication? Are you a provocateur? etc.)

The point is, strong statements in work where science is the focus reap no benefits from the positive effects, but can cause harm if viewed negatively. Your ultimate goal is to have your thesis approved and to graduate. People who are favorably inclined towards your statement won't give you "bonus points" for it, i.e. let you graduate if you would have failed otherwise. But people who are negatively inclined, might be biased enough to cause you trouble. The worst thing here is that probably nobody will voice their disagreement with your dedication directly, but will show their bias in other ways. Thus, you put yourself in a position where you might evaluate every critique whether it is a valid remark on your work or just some psychological reaction to your dedication.

Therefore, I would always advise against strong statements unrelated to the work. Your views are better and more professionally expressed (and bound to reach a broader audience) when included in your monographs or blog posts, for example, as opposed to theses or papers.

user3209815

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 5 443

10This case seems as uncontroversial as it gets. The only people who should be opposed to it are holocaust deniers, and we probably don't mind not pandering to them. – Yuval Filmus – 2017-10-16T14:55:01.500

1@YuvalFilmus you would probably very much mind if such a person was in the position to significantly influence your career. Keep in mind that most holocaust deniers do not publicly advocate their position and so OP would face literal silent bullying, where otherwise no problems would occur. I agree that this is wrong, unethical and much more, but can you say that it is impossible? What is OP's benefit that offsets the potential risk? – user3209815 – 2017-10-16T15:34:05.993

4"Are you trying to promote your political views through your scientific publication? Are you a provocateur?" Because God forbid we advance the Jewish Agenda of recognizing the existence of history. That would be unacceptable. – Stella Biderman – 2017-10-16T15:36:14.653

5"What is OP's benefit that offsets the potential risk?" Doing a good deed, not erasing mass murder, acknowledging the terrible tragic fate that was forced upon the man who founded the OP's field, potentially educating the handful of people who read the thesis...? Do none of those resonate with you? It's seems that something along these lines resonates with the OP. – Stella Biderman – 2017-10-16T15:38:57.573

1@StellaBiderman Everything has its time and place. "Advancing the jewish agenda" is hardly appropriate for a mathematical thesis. – user3209815 – 2017-10-16T15:45:30.087

5You seem to have entirely missed the point of my comment, which is that pretending that acknowledging the holocaust is part of a “Jewish Agenda” is fundamentally wrong and antisemitic. Acknowledging the fact that one third of my people were murdered in 6 years while the rest of the world actively chose to do nothing is the very least you can do, from a moral point of view, to address the horrible tragedy. – Stella Biderman – 2017-10-16T15:50:06.087

1@StellaBiderman I don't deny the tragedy that befell the Jewish people (and indeed many other peoples) during WWII or any earlier pogroms. I'm from Europe, all our ancestors here lived through the carnage of WWII (my great-grandmother was executed in 1943 in the middle of the day by a Nazi patrol, with no trial or incarceration, and she was not Jewish), so I can't really understand that denying it is considered a serious argument. Yet, I stand by my statement about the appropriate contents of a thesis. – user3209815 – 2017-10-16T16:14:07.270

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Is it important for you to concentrate on his death? I (personally) would rather be remembered for what I achieved and and not what was done to me. So rather "He was great mathematician and his research influenced hundreds of mathematicians in the following decades".

FooBar

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 135

12Hopefully you (personally) would not be murdered in a concentration camp due to belonging to the wrong ethnic group. – Yuval Filmus – 2017-10-16T12:27:57.293

3I tried to make it clear that I'm not not caring about it, or want to erase it. I just proposed to remember him for what he has achieved, how he lived his life and how he influenced the next generations and not was somebody else did to him. – FooBar – 2017-10-16T16:01:53.013

1

I think that the idea behind this is excellent and highly laudable.

The only possible issue is that an academic publication should be purely academic and free from any personal political or moral (as opposed to ethical) stance.

With this in mind I think it would perhaps be better to restrict any acknowledgements to those which had a direct influence on your paper, as academic publication is not really the appropriate forum to express your personal opinions, no matter how morally justified.

Having said that I would certainly encourage you to do everything you can to promote the value of science, reason and humanist (in the general sense) discourse above racial, national and religious differences in other forums.

But then again it is hard to see how a personal dedication, which is obviously separate from academic acknowledgements as a preface to the paper would be a bad thing. The key being to be clear that it is separate from the academic work itself.

Chris Johns

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 1 119

-8

You're a Muslim? I'd definitely avoid it. Even if you weren't a Muslim, I'd tell you to avoid it because of how touchy a subject it is unless the person in question was directly related to the work you've been doing, or you personally were directly related to them, but when you add in the ongoing tensions between Israel and much of the rest of the Middle East, there's too big a risk that it might come off as mocking them or gloating about it.

Additionally, even if you manage to avoid falling into that additional pitfall, there's enough antisemitic sentiment among the Left-wing political activist types common on university campuses (e.g. the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement) that I'd recommend against referencing them at all, even in a positive light; you never know if one of the people marking your paper is one of the people that really, really doesn't like Israel.

nick012000

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 890

7I don't see how being a Muslim rather than, say, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or non-religious, makes any difference. – Yuval Filmus – 2017-10-16T13:18:53.917

Because of the ongoing ethnic tensions between their two peoples, and how that can color the interpretation that people might make of things like this. – nick012000 – 2017-10-16T13:23:40.140

6I don't think the Holocaust is a "touchy" subject. It's not "touchy" at all. It is a great tragedy, yes. "Touchy" subjects are subjects who are, e.g., controversial, etc. Would you say that "Hurricane Irma" is a "touchy" subject? Would you oppose dedicating a thesis to gay people who have been murdered in some specific hate crime against gays? – Dilworth – 2017-10-16T14:34:40.797

I do agree about the far-left activists though. – Dilworth – 2017-10-16T14:36:26.290

6"unless the person in question was directly related to the work you've been doing, or you personally were directly related to them." The OP specifically states that the field they work in is named after the man they wish to dedicate the thesis to. And the idea that someone could write about the holocaust and actually accidentally come off as gloating really confuses me. Sure there are more and less tactful or historically accurate ways to write about tragedies, but gloating? Can you give an example of something that could be meant as a tribute but accidentally gloats? – Stella Biderman – 2017-10-16T15:20:32.493

16"You're a Muslim? I'd definitely avoid it." In counseling the OP how to deal with hypothetical people who might possibly discriminate against him because of his views, you are non-hypothetically discriminating against him because of his religion. -1. A really big -1. – Pete L. Clark – 2017-10-16T15:35:09.403

3+1 It's sad to say, but practically speaking, this is the correct answer. Not morally, but pragmatically. Coming off as pro-Israel labels you as a conservative (as absurd as that is), and that is academic career suicide in many modern western universities. This is coming from liberal atheist, incidentally. Being a Muslim will make it worse, unfortunately; firstly because (again, sorry, but realistically) Muslims tend to work with other Muslims, and 2nd the left cares about ethnicity deeply. This is why conservative gays are treated much worse than regular conservatives. But I say do it anyway! – user3658307 – 2017-10-18T18:21:42.863

1Fellow commenters, do please remember that your cultural context is not everyone's cultural context. – owjburnham – 2017-10-19T11:40:37.037

3@user3658307, what does this have to do with Israel? He is talking about the Holocaust. This happened in Europe/Germany. – Dilworth – 2017-10-20T09:42:07.867

-9

If your thesis is on Tauber theory then dedicating it to a man would be appropriate, so long as you do not do it for political reasons. However, it seems that at least in part you are doing it for political reasons. I would remove all that is not mathematics from your dedication statement. A simple sentence would work fine "I dedicate this work to Tauber."

Aksakal

Posted 2017-10-15T14:13:24.370

Reputation: 172

4Where did you get the idea the OP has political motivations? Please explain. – Dilworth – 2017-10-18T18:38:13.353