In speaking about my parents I shall first say something about my mother, Elisabeth Entel (3). She had pitch black hair and pale skin. Except for her straight nose, inherited from the Stenger family through generations, she resembled her mother very much. However, she was very beautiful while her mother was not.
My mother did not have any higher education since there was no school for girls beyond elementary school in the small city in which she grew up. So she went to the top grade three times. She learned some French there, but not much else beyond elementary material; she was however eager to learn.
As I have found out only recently, my mother has written many articles and small stories for newspapers. She certainly took a great interest in what was going on in the world. In 1918 she was deeply affected by the collapse of the Hohenzollern Empire. Still she took a great interest in the new ideas that then were developed. In fact, she read the work on women, written by the socialist leader Bebel.
Altogether my mother was a wonderful person, so much so that I do not feel able to tell more about her in detail.
My father, Karl, was a sturdy person and a very hard worker. As I have mentioned earlier, one may say that he was born to be a German university professor; but unfortunately, that did not come about. While he was a practicing lawyer in Kiel, he wrote two books. The second one, on police law, was highly acclaimed. As a practicing lawyer he was not satisfied with handling cases in a routine way; he often dug out an old rule of law which was valid but not used any more, to the annoyance of the judge and the opposing lawyer. In one such case my father had done something for his client which the opposing lawyer claimed to be unethical. That led to lawsuits, which went to the highest court in Germany. He was acquitted because of lack of proof. Still his law practice went down and also his chances for a university career. This happened in 1901, somewhat before I was born.
My father then took a position as a counselor for an industrial firm in Dortmund, a large city at the eastern end of the Ruhr area in northwestern Germany. But he did not have enough to do in this position; so he continued his writing there. The boss did not like that. So my father left and opened a law practice with another lawyer. During that time, 1905, my brother Wolfgang was born; my sister Asta was then seven years old and I was four years old.
In 1906 my father did something that worked out very well. To describe this I must make a few remarks about the court system in Germany.
There was one highest court, an appeals court, in Germany, corresponding more or less to the American Supreme Court. Below that were a number of appeals courts, I call them “higher courts” for convenience. In Prussia, there was one such court for each province. The “higher court” for the Rhineland, in Cologne, was over-burdened at that time; so a new “higher court” was to be established in Düsseldorf, a large city on the Rhine north of Cologne. My father moved to Düsseldorf to be a lawyer at the new court. (In Germany a lawyer was associated with only one court.) For my father it was easier and more natural to handle cases at a higher court than those at a lower court. The advantage of the move was that he would be new at the new court just as any other lawyer there. Even so it took my father more than two years before he was firmly settled there.
My father had rented an apartment on a busy street near the railroad station. I suffered very much from being cooped up in that apartment. However, every Sunday - if possible - the family made an excursion to the zoo, to some parks, to a large hill outside the city with garden restaurants, or a boat trip on the Rhine river to an old Roman city, or what I liked best, we took a short train ride three stations distant to a village called Hochdahl, from which we walked through woods and meadows down to another village called Neanderthal, or we took the train to Neanderthal and walked up to Hochdahl. In later years our father often made even larger excursions with us and our mother. (For many years here in New Rochelle, we adopted a similar system.) I was very happy about the readiness of my father to make such excursions.
There were some aspects of my father’s character, such as his liberal ideas, which meant very much to me; but, there were other aspects. He had very original ideas about how one should behave under certain circumstances. If everybody had understood these ideas, it would have been fine; but, nobody except I understood them. At times he was quite unreasonable. That made it often rather difficult for Asta and Wolfgang, and hence also for my mother, but hardly for me. Since I understood him, I could take it; but, anyway, I was rarely involved.
There are other positive aspects. We all, in particular Asta and I, learned very much from his great store of knowledge. In fact, I got my first inklings of mathematics from him.
In 1908 my father bought a house, I suppose with the help of my mother’s inheritance. It was on a quiet street near parks, with a rather peculiar backyard. There were large and small trees, a covered arbor, a pond with goldfish at a rock structure with a waterfall. The walk to school took me 12 minutes; for Asta it took a little longer to her school
I remember quite well the start of the First World War (1914). The people were extremely excited and firmly believed that France, Russia and England were going after Germany. I myself - I was almost 13 years old - did not participate in their excitement. I thought that after some time there would be a stalemate and long negotiations with the result that everything would be as before. However, I was very enthusiastic at one times namely, when we heard of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points about self-determination of all people - I expressed my enthusiasm in a composition we had to write at that time. The teacher accepted that although he felt differently. In fact, in our school we had a number of very good teachers, with whom one could speak openly.
During the war years, in particular during the winter of 1916, our bread and butter rations were extremely small. We mostly lived on turnips in that year. I was always hungry, before and after meals. My stay on Rügen, and also three weeks in Holland, were vital and so I survived.
My interest in mathematics started in my fourth school year or earlier. (It is true that I could rarely do long division correctly in the third year, but that is no contradiction,) In my fourth year, my mathematical ability was evident. In later years, although we had good teachers, I had to send quite some time to explain to my fellow students what they had not understood. On the other hand, I had (and still have) trouble writing compositions and letters.
From spring 1920 on, I went to various universities; in spring 1922 I went to the University of Göttingen. The mathematics group here was sometimes called the center of mathematics in the world.
After being here a month or two, I received a letter from my father saying that he had resigned from his lawyership at the higher court in Düsseldorf.
As my mother told me later, my father got involved with a secretary. Apparently he did not know how to handle such a situation. The final result was his resignation. He then took a position as a law counsel for the government of a small city, Ilmenau, in central Germany.
The resignation of my father came at a time when both Asta and Karl-Wolfgang were not very happy about their studies and ware not certain about their final goal in life, as I was. They decided to quit studying and took jobs. This made it easier for my father to keep supporting me. I am very grateful for that. If I had to give up my studies of mathematics, I would have been desperate.
After my father had gone to Ilmenau, my mother was willing to follow him. (Photo on 70 Birthday) But first she sold our house. A part of the proceeds were her inheritance, about 30,000 marks before inflation. My mother wanted to invest the proceeds in industrial stocks, which were the safest investment at that time because of the prevailing great inflation. She, and we children, understood inflation, but my father did not. He transferred the money on savings accounts or something like that. Two years later, in the superinflation, it was gone.
Thus the dowry that Carl Baenisch had received in 1804 from his father-in-law, J. Gottfried Hoppe, of which the principal probably had not changed much, was annihilated in a short time after 120 years.
About five years after my father had gone to Ilmenau, he gave up his position at that city and worked independently. He wrote many articles for law journals and did some consulting. From this he had a good income; it even enabled him to have a nice house built in Ilmenau.
I am now at the end of my story. I shall add only a few remarks about later times. My brother Wolfgang had a very good, significant position as translator for English at the main bank in Germany (West). Unfortunately, he died in 1978. He and his wife, Eva, had two children, Irene and Michael. They in turn are married and have children, Tilo and Felix, and Martin (and after this was written Barbara -MNF). My sister Asta has had a varied life, as a teacher, diplomatic code cracker, dietitian, and housekeeper for a large institution. She died in 1981. I myself have attained in my life by far more than I ever could have expected. My greatest achievement, of course, was to have discovered my wife, Nellie, and to have produced five wonderful children. (Last phrase was hand written addition by Mom - MNF)