My Grandfather: The Math Genius Who Fled the Nazis

Karl Gruenberg was a leading light in algebra, and I wish I knew him better.

Benny Carts
Human Parts


Photo from Wikipedia by Konrad Jacobs: Karl W. Gruenberg (center) with Kurt Hirsch (left) and Richard Bruck in 1960

Two years ago, I visited Vienna for the first time — the city of my ancestral roots and birthplace of my grandfather. But I wasn’t just there to soak in its abundance of culture. I’d gone to acquire Austrian citizenship.

Being British, the Brexit debacle — its attendant deceit, manipulation, and greed — saddened and frustrated me. Among numerous negative consequences, millions were deprived of the freedom to live and work in Europe. However, thanks to a twist of fate, the gates of the continent were opened to me once again.

For most people, it’s not easy to become an Austrian citizen. Naturalization is only possible if you’ve lived in the country for a minimum of five years and can speak serviceable German. What’s more, you have to renounce any other citizenship you hold.

Three years ago, the Austrian parliament amended the Austrian Citizenship Act. This was motivated by the recognition of its historical responsibility towards persons persecuted by the Nazis and their descendants. In the lead-up to the Second World War, the UK implemented the Kindertransport: an organized rescue of over ten thousand predominantly Jewish children from European countries. I’m…