Facing a new international configuration after WW1
The example of contacts between Czechoslovakian and French mathematical communities
THIS IS A VERY PRELIMINARY VERSION! Please do not pay too much attention
to the bibliography. Nobody has to be offended not to be quoted (or to be quoted. . . )! Ofcourse, we welcome every observation, complement or comment.
In this paper, we are concerned with the renewal of international relations between the Frenchmathematical community and foreign countries after the end of WW1. More precisely, we con-centrate on the example of exchanges between France and the newly appeared Czechoslovakia. The case of Czechoslovakia appears to us as singular, at the same time representative of Frenchpolicy towards Eastern Europe, and exceptional in the sense that France probably wanted to makean emblem from this relationship. Our aim here is to infer a general picture of the exchangesamong mathematicians, with their hopes and delusions, through several examples of personaltrajectories of mathematicians who were involved in them.
Very soon in the French official rhetoric appeared a comparison between Czechoslovakia and
Alsace, rescued from the jaws of German imperialism. This idea had an influence on all thedomains of economical and cultural life, in particular academic life. To begin with, let us re-mind what was the situation of Alsace. Situated on the border of the country, the region, thoughFrench for three hundred years, had always cultivated its cultural particularism inheritated fromGermanic roots. Moreover, after having seized the region in 1870, the German Government hadsoon decided to regermanized the country (an emblematic example was the compulsory use ofGerman in schools), so that in 1918, when Alsace came back to France, a large fraction of thepopulation had been entirely educated in the German cultural sphere : two generations of Alsa-cians spoke German and no more French, they were used to German laws and administrations,and those who had gone to secondary schools and universities had German degrees and titles. A fracture obviously appeared soon between the dreams of Paris of an instantaneous transfor-mation of Alsace in an ordinary French province, and the reality in the field. Politics appointedfrom Paris to organize this transformation soon sent letters to the Government to mention how itwas dangerous and counter-productive to cut corners. The local population, though devoted toFrance, was not at all ready to give up all the particularities it was used to.
Almost immediately after the end of the war, the reconquest of the university of Strasbourg,
and its reconstruction along French standards appeared as an urgent task to the French Govern-ment. An interesting sign is given in Lavisse’s speech (Lavisse was the Director of the Ecole
1Laboratoire de Probabilit´es et Mod`eles al´eatoires & Institut de Math´ematiques (Histoire des Sciences
Math´ematiques), Universit´e Paris VI, France. [email protected]
2Katedra matematiky Pˇr´ırodovˇedeck´e fakulty Masarykovy univerzity,
Normale) to the students for the opening of Academic Year 1919-1920 at the Ecole NormaleSup´erieure in Paris : You will be soldiers again, and you will serve with honour in the Frenchintellectual army, whose center is in Paris, and avanced guard in Strasbourg.
Strasbourg University was conceived as a laboratory to experiment new methods. Several
successes derived from this attitude. The most well-known is the Ecole des Annales foundedby Bloch and F`ebvre. Another interesting experience is the common lectures by Fr´echet andHalbwachs about the application of statistical techniques to social studies. The fact that the latterhappened to be settled in Strasbourg is not by chance : during the German period, Straßburguniversity was a very active research center for statistics.
One of the sores of our academic lives is the lack of circulation between differentuniversities. Regular migrations of students and even young professors are a strengthof Germany. In France, the student stays clinched to the city where he began hisstudies, as a parasit [sic !], unless he comes to increase Paris congestion. [. . . ] Ayoung Japanese zoologist coming to Europe for the first time told me that Germanyseems to be the new world in the old. (M.Caulley, L’´evolution de notre enseignementsup´erieur scientifique, Revue du Mois, 1907)
We propose to keep what is good in the German system : encouragement for re-searches and their organisation. We shall not try to induce unsufficiently preparedstudents to follow this track, but we shall require that no student should exit fromUniversity without having realized a more or less important personal work. It seemsto us that it is the only way to raise up vocations, and that a student should face notonly the acquired knowledge but also the science in progress. (M.Fr´echet, Discours
`a la Soci´et´e Franco-Ecossaise, beginning of 1920)
As soon as December 1918, a first contingent of professors in all kind of subjects were ap-
pointed and they arrived in Strasbourg in January 1919. Some of them were still in the Army, aswas the case for Frchet about whom we shall speak later on. These professors were often youngand taken among the rising stars (in 1914) of the French University. Darmois, Valiron, Villat,Esclangon and Maurice Fr´echet (1878-1973) were the mathematicians appointed in 1919. Theywere given an assignment : to transform the University of Strasbourg in a display of the Frenchintellectual successes. They were specially encouraged to establish contacts with universitiesabroad, in particular with the new independent countries of Central Europe which had just get ridof the German political domination.
Let us immediately observe that the fact that Strasbourg had strong links with German culture
was not an obvious advantage in the eyes of foreign students from former lands of the centralEmpires, as the French authorities had first thought. A French diplomat in Transylvania (thepart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire given to Rumania) who also tried to attract students toStrasbourg writes to the Dean of Strasbourg university in June 1920:
For many people here, and among the most francophiles, the Alsacian remains anhybrid person, German as much as French, and who, condemned to live on one of
the two sides, finally prefers France where his life is more comfortable. [The localacademic responsibles] fear that in Strasbourg one cannot breath an absolutely pureFrench air. You certainly recognize therein the effect of the Fritz propaganda on themind of these brave Transylvanians.
Nevertheless, the French academic responsibles lived in hopes of attracting a lot of foreign
students from eastern Europe to Strasbourg.
The Czechoslovak scientific situation and the Franco Czechoslo-vak relationship
The history of mathematics and its teaching in Czech lands started in 1348, when the PragueUniversity was established. In 1848, the Faculty of Arts started to prepare the future teachersof mathematics and the number of professors of mathematics increased. Two professors wereat German and two at the Czech University from 1882. The year 1848 brought possibility tohabilitate and to have lectures at university. Docents lectured on special branches of mathematics. Existence of three technical universities brought six more professorship of mathematics. A veryimportant moment was the beginning of teaching of descriptive geometry at Technical universitiesand at secondary schools (realka , Realschule). A lot of mathematicians worked in geometry andwe can speak about a ‘Czech school of Geometry’. All branches of geometry were consideredand the number of geometrical works was greater than the number of works in any other partsof mathematics. The changes at Prague Faculty of Arts brought the establishment of the Czechmathematical society in 1860’s. It started as a students’ circle in 1862 and was transformedinto a real society ten years later. In 1872, it created the Journal for Cultivation of Mathematicsand Physics, which was concentrated on the help to teachers of secondary schools in the firstdecades. The Journal was transformed to a research journal only in the 20th century. The Czechmathematical society did not organize the research in mathematics, but offered an opportunity topublish works in their journal and organized publishing of many Czech mathematical books.
An important innovation in Czechoslovak scientific life was the opening of the new universi-
ties of Brno and Bratislava just after the end of the war. The establishment of Masaryk Universitywas the result of a long process. From 16th century there had been in Moravia university in Olo-mouc, the old maintown. The Olomouc University was established in 1573 as a Jesuit Universitywith a faculty of arts, a faculty of justice, a faculty of medicine, and a faculty of theology. In1782, the university was transformed to a mere lyceum, but in 1827 it obtained the status of uni-versity again. In the middle of 19th century (1851) the university in Olomouc was suppressed andonly one university remained in the Czech lands. The Charles-Ferdinand’s University in Praguewas divided into Czech and German University in 1882. From 1806 there was also a technicaluniversity in Prague, which was also divided into two parts in 1869. Finally, in 1849, a technicalcollege had been established in Brno, and in 1873, it was transformed into technical university. The education there was in German, and Czech lectures never started.
The increasing number of secondaries school, till 1860s only German, brought increasing
number of Moravian students at universities in Prague and Vienna. During the 1870s some people
began to work for the establishment of a the second university in the Czech lands, precisely inMoravia. The main questions were the following:
1) Where ?2) Restore university in Olomouc or build the new university in another place ?3) Czech or German University ?The new centre of Moravia was Brno with large German minority, and a minority with political
power. The Germans in Brno rejected Czech university and called for German university in Brnoand Czech University elsewhere, namely in a small town with mere Czech inhabitants. Thenegotiations were difficult and complicated. The Czechs required new university in Brno, Czechuniversity. Masaryk and other important persons of the general public took part in negotiations. Since 1890, Masaryk had been member of the Austrian Parliament and he was aware of theimportance of the second Czech university. He explained that the second Czech university wasimportant also for Prague university, because it allowed a profitable competition and new placesfor young scholars. In Prague University were organized commissions, which advertised ideasof new university and prepared appointment of future professors. Otakar Hostinsk´y, BohuslavHostinsk´y’s father, was a member of one commission. Unfortunately, we were not able to finddetails about the names proposed to become professors of mathematics and physics in the archiveof ministry of education. At the turn of century the establishment of the second university wasleft and in Brno was established the Czech Technical University. Next negotiations were closedin 1914, when the Great War started. In January of 1919 the Masaryk University in Brno wasestablished, closinga fifty-year long controversy.
The Czechoslovak state, created after WWI, had considerable economic problems in the early
stages of its development. This crisis was only overcome after 1924, but e.g. the level of industrialproduction of 1913 was only exceeded in 1927. The short period of economic stability wasfollowed by a deep economic crisis in the years 1929-33. The creation of a new state, however,does not mean much for the structure of the scientific base of the society. Scientific work inall fields was concentrate nearly exclusively at universities. Scientific association, corporations,and academies only created further possibilities for the advancement of scientific work mostlyby providing means of publications, representing science to the outside world and developinginternational contacts, providing scholarships and sometimes also popularizing scientific results.
Before the war, the scientific academies in the Czech and Slovak lands were the Czech
Academy of Science and Arts, the Royal Bohemian Society of Science, the Slovak society (Mat-ica slovensk´a), The Gesellschaft zur F¨orderung der deutschen Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur.
The Masaryk Academy of Labour, founded in 1920, in its foreign contacts, concentrated
mostly on the study of American industry and economics. From its own funds, it financed sixtrips per year, on the average between 1922 and 1931.
A new central institution which was supposed to represent the country in the field of sci-
ence abroad and also co-ordination of research activity in Czechoslovakia was the Czechoslo-vak National Research Council, founded at the beginning of 1924. However, its influence inCzechoslovak science increased towards the end of the period, when the government establishedin association with it Masaryk’s fund for supporting scientific research of young researches andDenis’s fund for supporting study trips abroad. The Czechoslovak National Research Councilprovided contributions to 10-15 trips per year. On the whole the Denis fund contributed to 48trips with a average amount of 7 448 Kˇc over the period 1936 to 1939. Of the other bodies, Royal
Society had the most modest means and, therefore, only one contribution is recorded to its creditin respect of a trip abroad during the years 1918-1939 (the trip of J. Sotornik to Russia in 1927,the amount 3000 Kˇc .)
Czech Academy was able to operate in these fields much more freely; apart from state subsi-
dies it also had at its disposal a large number of funds and foundations. It made use of them in theyears 1921 to 1938 by financing 108 study trips abroad, for the purpose of which it made available285 000 Kˇc . Thus, the Academy and Denis’s fund provided the most means of the contemporarycorporations towards studies abroad. The geographic orientation of these trips was to Yugoslavia(27 trips), France (26), Germany (15), Italy (13), England (7), Sweden (6), Switzerland (5), etc.
If we speak about Franco Czechoslovak relations around the year 1918, we must mention the
name of Ernest Denis, who was at the end of 19th century and in the first two decades of 20thcentury, the most known ‘Czechophile’ in France. We find his name in all works devoted to thecontacts between Czech lands and France.
Ernest Denis was born on January 3rd, 1849 in Nmes. During the years 1872-75, after fin-
ishing his study in Paris, he studied Bohemian history in Prague under Palack´y. In 1878 he wasappointed Professor at University of Bordeaux. From 1881 to 1896 he worked in Grenoble and in1896 he was appointed Professor at Sorbonne in Paris. We can say, that Denis was (at the end of19th century) the most important expert on Czech history of 15th century - he published Huss etla guerre des Hussites (his thesis 1878), Fin de l’ind´ependence bohˆeme (1890), La Bohme depuisla Montagne-Blanche (1903).
Denis had permanent contacts with the Czech lands. The Czech students in Paris visited
his house very often, he was interested in their study and gave advices to them. During theGreat War he founded the journal La nation tch`eque (1915) and in his book La guerre (1915)he presented his idea of the independent state of Czechs and Slovaks. We must say, that it wasnew idea, because at the beginning of the war even Masaryk did not speak about an independentstate. It was Denis who introduced Masaryk to the French officials during the war. In 1920Denis visited Prague and had a lot of ideas about the development of new Czechoslovak-Frenchcontacts. Unfortunately he died on January 4th, 1921 in Paris, too early to concretize them. Thereis a Denis garden in Brno, but surely few people knows his name any more!
In the second half of 19th century there were only very little Czech students in France. They
were students mostly of French language, French literature, French history, and of course studentsof arts. They went to France with scholarship of Vienna government or Bohemian provincialgovernment, and many of them financed their stay in Paris themselves - that is to say with helpfrom their parents. A very nice example of such student is Hanuˇs Jel´ınek, who visited Parisfor the first time in winter term of academic year 1897/98 with help from his uncle and in theacademic year 1898/99 with scholarship of Ministry of Education. In these years, the ministerdecided, that students of Austro-Hungarian faculties of arts could study one or two terms abroad. Jel´ınek’s Memories are a great material for the study of connections between France and Czechlands, because Jel´ınek was an important character of these connections in the first half of 20thcentury. Unfortunately he only mentions the artists and writers he met and in his Memories thereare no information about scientists or engineers.
From reading Jel´ınek’s Memories, we get an interesting insight into Franco-Czech relations
Only here and there some painter, leaving out near Munich with its beerhouses, took courage
to stay in Paris for a longer period. The students who decided to do it could be almost countedon fingers. Going for studies to Paris was, in the eyes of a great majority of petty bourgeoisie,some kind of arrogant provocativeness and careless adventure, full of moral dangers.
The small number of Czech students at French universities did not correspond to the sympa-
thies the Czechs had for France. The French consul in Prague Paul Claudel wrote to the ministerof Foreign Affairs Pichon in March 1910, that he held France responsible for it. He recom-mended sending booklets to Bohemia with information about universities in Paris, Grenoble andNancy, information about hotels, living costs etc. He wrote, that it was necessary to inform Czechstudents in the same way as Germany did it.
As said before, Czech students of faculties of arts could study one or two terms abroad. Most
students from these faculties were future secondary school teachers and their studies lasted fouryears. Among them were students of mathematics. Five years ago a large database of mathemati-cians who worked at Czech lands was prepared. Maybe other people than those in our databasewere in France. It contains however about 800 names and we can see it as a representative sam-ple. It contains in fact all professors and docents of Czech and German Universities in CzechLands and many of the assistants and secondary school teachers.
In this list, we can see that all those Czech students who were in France were in fact in
Paris. Observe that Sucharda and Machovec visited Straßburg. We don’t know how Josef ˇSetlkmanaged to be at the end of 1850s in Paris at the Ecole Polytechnique and in Belgium. He wasa econdary school teacher of descriptive geometry and drawing at Realschule in Klagenfurt, anddied in 1860. He could not finish his textbook of mechanics.
During the years 1873-74, Eduard Weyr studied in Paris with state scholarship. One year
before he was in G¨ottingen and prepared his doctoral thesis. In Paris, he attended lectures ofHermite and Serret and when he returned to Prague, he habilitated in 1874. In 1876, he wasappointed Professor at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Eduard Weyr (as his brotherEmil) arranged contacts with French mathematicians; he was member of Paris mathematicalsociety and kept contact with Hermite until Hermite’s death.
Josef Sylvester Vanˇeˇcek studied in Paris in 1878-79, but he never taught at universities. Two
German mathematicians from Czech lands visited Paris in 1880s. Later we did not find any Bo-hemian German mathematician in France. Some new ministerialinstructions about study abroaddid not cause any reaction among students of mathematics. Nachtikal and Pexider were graduatedin 1898 and Sucharda was 45 years old in 1899, and during his stay in Paris he was nominatedProfessor at the Czech Technical University in Brno.
During the years 1907-1910 there are five Czech mathematicians all future professors at Czech
universities., all appointed after 1918 (Hostinsk´y and Posejpal as professors of physics). Afterthe Great War, the number of Czech mathematicians in France did not increased. Only five namesof future Professors of Mathematics at the Czech Universities (Hor´ak was professor of physics). About them we shall speak later.
Eight from these nineteen mathematicians studied in fact also in German Universities. A lot
of them went to Straßburg, where they studied with Geometer Rey. Only two German mathe-maticians from Bohemia studied in France.
The situation at the beginning of 1920s was described in two large reports of Tille, the first
for Ministry of Education and the second for the First Congress of the Czechoslovak UniversityProfessors. He presented eight points for these exchanges.
1- Professors exchangeThe French government offered to send to Czechoslovakia several Professors in the year
1920/21 to short lecture stay at Czech Universities. Short stay meant one semester or the wholeacademic year. The Czech minister of Education asked ten Czech faculties to name Frenchscholars and the specialities they were interested in. There were positive reactions in the PragueFaculty of Arts in Prague (that claimed for Ernest Denis), the Brno and Prague Faculties of Law,and from some faculties at the Czech Technical University in Prague. The rector of the Brno Col-lege of Veterinary Surgeons, established in 1918, wrote to the minister that the school is new andonly few students are able to follow French lectures. He suggested to establish common lecturesfor the students from all universities.
We did not find out whether the lectures of French Professors were in fact organized in Czech
universities. We know that the Czech minister of Education thought also about sending CzechProfessors to French universities and started to prepare a list of Professors who were able to teachin France in 1921. In June 1921 only five Professors were known. Unfortunately, we have noadditional information.
2- Czech secondary school pupils at French lyceumsA very interesting project, which was realized in 1920 and still exists, is the study of young
Czech secondary school pupils in several French lyc´ees. The idea arose in 1920 at the same timein France (Denis) and in Czechoslovakia (Sp´ıˇsek, officer of the Ministry). In 1920 the first 19pupils (among 160 interested persons) started their study at Lyc´ee Carnot in Dijon. 14 pupilswere supported by scholarship and five students financed their study themselves. 4 scholarshipwere provided by Czech ministry, 2 by French government, 1 by French military mission inCzechoslovakia, 4 by the ˇSkoda factory in Plzeˇn, 2 by the Prague Credit Bank and 1 by theMining and metallurgical company.
During the years 1920-1931, 136 pupils started their studies in Dijon and 93 finished their
studies successfully before 1931. Among them, only 19 financed their studies themselves.
In 1922, the Czech pupils from Dijon visited Nˆımes, where Ernst Denis was born and in 1923
the town Nˆımes decided to support 5 pupils at Nˆımes lyc´ee (where by he way Gaston Darbouxhad been student in the 19th century). The others 5 pupils were supported by the d´epartement ofGard. In 1924, the first 12 student started their studies in Nˆımes. During the years 1923-1931, 61Czech girls also started to study at he lyc´ee in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
In France existed also special sections for pupils from Sweden (Le Havre), Norway (Rouen),
Poland (Nancy), and from other countries in 1920s. In Czechoslovakia there were discussionsabout purpose of long studies of young pupils in foreign countries. Although the majority saidthat it was not good idea, the Czech sections in Dijon and Nimes exist up to the present day. Theywere nevertheless interrupted during the years 1939-1945, 1948-1966, 1973-1990.
In the 1920s, pupils at lyc´ee could choose among four sections and only a very small number
of Czech pupils decided to study mathematic and physical subjects. Most of them studied thelanguage, French literature, history or philosophy in the first place.
3- Teaching of French in CzechoslovakiaFrom 1872, French was taught at Realgymnasiums and later at commercial secondary schools
as a compulsory subject in Austro-Hungarian monarchy. As a noncompulsory subject French wastaught at Gymnasium (grammar school). About 60 percent of Czech secondary pupils learnedFrench as much as German language. In 1904, there were about 300 teachers of French in Prague.
In the academic year 1919/20, ten French teachers of French were in Czechoslovakia at secondaryschools. In the next year the number increased to 12.
There were also French teachers at Prague University before 1914. Frederic Mohl (1866-
1905), lecturer in French at Prague University, habilitated for Roman philology in 1899 and in1902 he was appointed as an extraordinary Professor. He died soon in 1906. In the academicyear 1920/21, there were in Czech universities six French lecturers of French (4 in Prague and 2in Brno). At the Prague University was founded the chair of French literature and its titular (till1925 Andr´e Tibal) was paid by the French government.
4- Teaching of Czech in FranceAt the Ecole des Langues Orientales Vivantes in Paris, Czech lectures started after the WWI.
In 1920/21 the Chair of Czech language was founded and shortly afterwards Adde was appointed. he was paid by Czech government. Adde was a scholarship holder of Czech government at PragueUniversity.
5- Institute for Slavic studies, Chair Ernest Denis at the SorbonneThe Institute for Slavonic studies in Paris was founded in 1918 and festively opened in 1923,
when Masaryk visited Paris. According to Denis, Institute should have been the new centre ofSlavonic studies as had been the institutes in Vienna, Berlin, and Leipzig before the war. At thebeginning of 1920s the Ernest Denis Chair for Slavonic history was founded. After Denis’s death,Louis Eisenman was appointed Professor of this Chair.
6- French Institute in PragueThe French Institute in Prague was founded in 1920. The model for it was the French Institute
in St. Petersburg (founded in 1912). During the years 1920-25, Andr´e Tibal was its director. In 1922, the journal La Revue francaise de Prague was created. Lectures devoted to Frenchliterature, history, law, and so on were hold at the Institute. During the 1930’s, lectures were inparticular devoted to physics (de Broglie, Auguste Picard etc.). The Institute supported youngmen during their short stays in France.
7- Ecole Franc¸aise in PragueThe Ecole Francaise in Prague was founded in the academic year 1919/20 especially for the
children of the members of the French military mission in Czechoslovakia. The school had threeclasses and in the first year of its existence, it had about 70 pupils with three French teachers. The school existed after the French military mission stopped and French pupils were in fact onlya minority. In 1939, the school was closed by the Germans. In 1945, it was reopened and after1948 disappeared again.
8- Books exchangesThe French government sent a lot of French books to universities in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava,
and the Czech government sent books to Strasbourg, Lyon, and the Ecole des langues Orientalesvivantes.
But it is of course the exchange of students which mostly concerns us. Ernest Denis de-
clared after the war: Send many students here. Thus an exchange of cultures will happen. TheFrench government supported students exchange for an amount of 125 000 franc since 1920. This amount was divided among 25 students which means that every student obtained 5 000 F. 300 F were used for the journey to France and the students obtained 470 F per month. On theother hand, the Czechoslovak government supported ten French students in Czechoslovakia foran amount of 120 000 Kˇc .
Moreover, the students were supported not only by the government. But the role of state was
the most important. In 1920, Denis fund was founded and the state put in this fund 1, 200 000crowns during two years. It is however very late, only in 1936, when the fund had collected 6million crowns, that the fund started to support some studies abroad. During the years 1936-38,about 270 000 crowns were paid out and 38 students were supported. About 75 percent of themwere students of science and technology.
During the years from 1921 to 1938, the Czech Academy of Science and Art financed 108
study trips abroad, and provided 285 000 Kˇc for that purpose . Thus, the Academy and Denis’sfund provided the major means of the contemporary corporations for studies abroad. The geo-graphic orientation of these trips were to Yugoslavia (27 trips), France (26), Germany (15), Italy(13), England (7), Sweden (6), Switzerland (5), etc.
In 1922, the first congress of Czechoslovak University Professors was held, and the question
of studies abroad was discussed there. The congress adopted five resolutions.
1) the graduated students had to be supported especially,2) the courses for students going abroad had to be founded at universities,3) several offices or student centres had to be founded abroad,4) information about stay in foreign countries had to be claimed,5) the organization of foreign studies had to be coordinated by the Ministry, the universities,
An nformation office for students going abroad was indeed founded in 1920. This office
cooperated with other offices in many countries.
The minister of Education stated in a public note about the scholarship proposals of the French
Government that according to the wish of a French Government representative, the first studentsto be considered will be candidates for the French professorship, but at the same time studentsof other categories will not be forgotten. It will be decided on a basis of professional skill, talentand ability, and candidates without means will be given priority in the same conditions.
The first competitions were advertised on February of 1920 and in spring the first 25 students
departed to France. Among the first 25 students were 9 students of French, 6 students of com-mercial and legal science, 3 physicians, 2 engineers, etc. There were not any student of ‘pure’science. In the next academic year the situation was similar. In 1920/21, Frantisek Behounek,graduated student of mathematics and physics, studied in Paris in the institute of Marie Curie. Behounek became later Professor of radiology at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Inthe following year, Vincenc Nechvile, student of astronomy, was the only Czech scientific studentin France.
In 1920, almost all the Czech students were in Paris. Only one student studied at Dijon
University, where he was warden of the Czech pupils at Dijon lyc´ee at the same time. In theacademic year 1921/22, there were Czech students in Paris, Strasbourg, Dijon, Nancy, Lille,Lyon, Mulhouse and Grenoble.
We know that every Czech student obtained 5 000 F and students had to study in France for
ten months. They had 470 F for one month and it was not sufficient for living in Paris. OnFebruary 4th, 1921, Richard Weiner, the correspondent of the newspaper Lidove noviny, wrote ashort article about joyless life of Czech students in Paris. Weiner wrote that for a French studentin Paris it was necessary to have a minimum of 650F. And a Czech student had only 470F. Weinersuggested to devide money to a smaller number of students in the future years. He was reluctant
on the idea that students must be supported by their parents.
The main problem at the beginning of 1920s was the exchange rate of Czech crown. 5 000 F
were more then 25 000 crowns in 1920. As a comparison, the salary of assistants at universitieswas about 5 600 crowns per year in 1921. Of course, the salaries of assistants were small, butwe can infer that the economical situation of young Czech students in France was very difficult,because they could not expect money from their parents. There are petitions of Czech studentsfrom March 1921, where the students asked for 700 F a month. The minister decided in fact thatthe students’ stay in France will be reduced to 9 months, and then the students obtained 600 F inthe last three months. Of course, this way of solving the problem was only a short-term one, andon December of the same year, a new group of Czech students wrote to the minister again. Theyinformed that living costs in Paris increased, and that they asked again for 600 F. They mentionedthat students from Poland obtained 10 000 F a year, those from Hungary 800 F per month, andeven students from Yugoslavia were better supported better. The minister decided to reduce theirstay again, and provided 15 250 F extra, which means that during the last months they obtained660 F per month.
Unfortunately we did not find information about French students at Czech Universities. Their
financial conditions were better, because the fund of 120 000 Kˇc was probably devided only toeight students (1920/21) instead of the ten expected. One student could expect 15 000 Kˇc whichwas a very good amount. We know that the salary of an assistant was about 6 000 Kˇc per yearand the scholarship for French students was greater than the salary of the Czech professors.
The Czech Ministry of Education recommended that for the studies in Czechoslovakia should
be chosen only graduated students, especially students of Czech language, literature, history. Butthe students of Czech economy, engineers or students of commercial science were welcome too. For the Czech Ministry it was necessary that French students study Czech at special courses inParis.
In fact, in the Czechoslovak Universities there were only few French students in the 1920s.
At Charles University this number was between 4 and 9 students per year. This figure is to becompared with 1487 foreign students who studied at the Charles University in the winter termof the academic year 1922/23 (454 from Russia, 453 from Ukraine, 341 from Yugoslavia, 130from Rumania, . . . ) At the Czech Technical University, they were between 1200 and 2180 everyyear in the period1921-1928. Most of the students were from Russia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, andBulgaria. Dozens of students were from Poland and Romania, and small groups of studentswere from Italy, Austria, and Germany. Only scattered individuals were from France, Britain,and the USA. The number of students from Russia and Ukraine decreased during the 1920s, butthe number of foreign students at Czechoslovak universities was very high in the 1920s and the1930s.
During the years of the economical crisis, the idea to restrict the number of foreign students
appeared in Czechoslovakia. The same idea had appeared in Germany after the end of the war. In Germany there were about 7000 foreign students in 1918 (compare with number of foreignstudents in the small Czechoslovakia!), but the restriction arose a fear that the students wouldgo to France. On the other side in Czechoslovakia there were fears that the foreign students(especially from Yugoslavia) would go to Germany.
There were czechoslovak students in a lot of countries (even in China) in the 1920s, but most
of them were in France. A lot of students studied in France for only a short time, many from
them only attended lectures of French during the holidays. The Czech government supported 4students from Yugoslavia and there was only one scholarship for students from Poland, Bulgaria,England, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Italy.
An academic example : Hostinsk´y-Fr´echet relations
When he was mobilized in 1914, Fr´echet had been professor at Poitiers University since 1910,and he was already an established star in the international mathematical community. In 1906,he had defended an outstanding thesis on the topology of functional spaces where he offered atheoretical framework for the use of Volterra’s functions of lines. In a series of paper between1905 and 1917, he introduced a number of fundamental notions using metric structures, such asdifferentials and integrals over abstract spaces. In addition to his mathematical fame, Fr´echethad another asset : he was a polyglott. A singular fact of his life is the energy he devoted to thepromotion of Esperanto : in particular, he wrote several mathematical papers in this language. He had an excellent knowledge of English, at a time when this was not obvious. During the war,he served as interpret for the British army. Also he knew well German, a very useful thing inStrasbourg.
From the very beginning of his presence in Strasbourg, Fr´echet had seriously taken into con-
sideration the question of international relations of the university. He wrote to Prague, on June29th, 1919, the following letter
May I ask you to let me know which are the universities that should remain andwhich should be created on the territory of your new state. Moreover maybe one ofyour students would like to oblige by sending to me the list of professors of math-ematics of the Czechoslovakian universities, as well as the list of Czechoslovakianjournals printing original papers in mathematics written by your fellow countrymenmathematicians. Is there one of these journals publishing in French?
Will you excuse me, my dear colleague, for all these questions. Receive my mostrespectful regards.
It is not known precisely to whom Fr´echet had written, but we know that after several months
the mathematician Sobotka asked K¨ossler to transmit the letter to Hostinsky, who received iton October 19th, 1919. Hostinsky was then the secretary of the National Provisory Comitee ofCzechoslovakian mathematicians (Bru ( [8]), and this may explain why he was put in charge ofanswering to Fr´echet. As he had stayed in Paris for a while, he was also probably known for hisgood knowledge of French.
Bohuslav Hostinsk´y was born on December 5th, 1884 in Prague. He was the son of a very famousmember of the Czech intelligentsia, the musicologist Otakar Hostinsk´y. His studies and profes-sional career are very similar to other Czech mathematicians of the same period. He listened tolectures in Physics and Mathematics at the Czech University in Prague. In 1906, he defended athesis in mathematics whose title was O Lieovˇe kulov´e geometrii (On Lie spherical Geometry).
He began to work as a teacher in the Gymnasium of Nov´y Bydˇzov in 1907 and then in Roud-
nice nad Labem. For the academic year 1908-1909, he obtained a grant from the ministry ofEducation in order to spend one year in Paris. He followed there lectures by Picard, Poincar´eand Darboux. His Parisian stay was a crucial moment for his scientific evolution and allowedalso to him to prepare his habilitation. Back in Prague, Hostinsk´y became again a Gymnasiumteacher in 1909-10 and then, since1910, in the Re´alka (the equivalent of German Realschule)of Prague-Vrˇsovice. This was his first permanent position, an important step for any teacher inlands with the German schooling system. At the same time, he was finishing his habilitation. In January 1911, a referee commission was constituted to examine it. It was composed by hisformer professors at Prague University Petr, Sobotka and Strouhal. In July, it gave a positive ad-vice, and Hostinsk´y defended his work on November 16th under the title On Geometric methodsin the theory of functions. In 1912, Hostinsk´y was called as soukromy docent (the equivalent ofPrivatdozent, which is to say unpaid professor) in Prague University. In parallel with his sec-ondary teaching, he began to give conferences on several themes of higher mathematics (theoryof analytical functions, differential geometry of curves and surfaces, differential equations, geo-metric applications of differential equations . . . ). Some months before his nomination in Brno,during the academic year 1919-1920, the taught Volterra’s theory on integral equations and theirapplication.
Beginning of Hostinsk´y-Fr´echet’s correspondence
Hostinsky anwers to Fr´echet on October 19th, 1919 from Prague where he is still for some weeksbefore going to Brno. He tells Fr´echet about the future opening of universities in Brno andBratislava, and precises that in Brno the faculty of law will soon open, while it will be only in1920 for the scientific disciplines. He mentions that the two most important journals, the ˇ
pro pˇestov´an´ı matematiky a fysiky (Journal for the development of mathematics and physics)and the Vˇestn´ık Kr´alovsk´e ˇcesk´e spoleˇcnosti nauk (Bulletin of the Royal Czech science society)will soon change their language policy and increase the presence of French and English to thedetriment of German. To conclude his letter, Hostinsky does not forget to mention that he hadbeen in Paris during the academic year 1908-09, and that he studied there with the jewel ofFrecnch mathematics (Darboux, Poincar´e, Picard, Humbert, Appell, Hadamard, Borel. . . ). Heproposes to Fr´echet to become his main contact in Czechoslovakia in case of need.
Fr´echet answers to this letter on November 12th, 1919, lavishing advices on Hostinsky for
collecting in a single journal all the French abstracts of all the Czech publications. One may feelin Fr´echet’s letter a slight touch of paternalism towards new developing communities. Fr´echetwas certainly conscious of the fact, as he cautiously writes that he had thought interesting to let[Hostinsky] know the opinion of a stranger who seeks nothing but good things for Czech scientists
and mathematical science, and that collecting these abstracts would show how large was the partof Czech science among what was usually attributed to the Germans in Austria.
Hostinsky answers on December 7th, 1919. Mathematical considerations appear for the first
time in this long correspondence that lasted until 1950, and already the major subjects fromwhich Hostinsky would receive fame ten years later showed through : Markovian phenomenaand the connected functional equations. Hostinsky indeed firstly mentions to Fr´echer that hehad forgotten Emil Schoenbaum in his list of professors. Hostinsky writes that Schoenbaum hadpublished interesting works whe he deals with general problems of insurances using integro-differential equations.
Secondly, Hostinsky mentions a sentence from Volterra’s book on functions of lines [33] about
which he would like to get more information.
As Volterra’s lectures were composed by P´er`es in 1912, who had just been appointed to Stras-
bourg (where he in fact will stay only very briefly as he was nominated full professor of Rationaland Applied Mechanics in Marseilles in 1921), Hostinsky asks Fr´echet to transmit the questionto P´er`es. Fr´echet’s next letter is dated June 1st, 1920 and is written on a heading paper of theOrganization comitee of the sixth International congress of Mathematicians. Fr´echet joins a littlebrochure called Teaching of mathematics at University of Strasbourg that had been printed inorder to attract students in the Alsace maintown, and asks Hostinsky to obtain its publication ina journal. Fr´echet writes that his university needs to create new currents towards itself and fora while it will be necessary to make some propaganda. Hostinsky answers at the end of June. He writes that he hopes to meet Fr´echet for the first time in Strasbourg, as he will be memberof the Czech delegation to the International Congress. The Czech delegation is very important(11 members, on a total of audience of about 200 persons). In a report made after the congress,Bydˇzovsk´y mentions that
the contact with mathematicians from Strasbourg university, which is our main uni-versitary partner in the West, was particularly cordial. . The interest they showedfor our scientific, educational and social situation seems to warrant that reciprocalexchanges will go on, obviously for the prosperity of our science.
At Strasbourg congress where he indeed meets Fr´echet, Hostinsky reads two talks : one in Dif-
ferential Geometry, the second one in Mechanics. Moreover, during the spring of 1920, Hostinskyhad sent to Emile Picard the translation of his Czech paper, published in 1917 in Rozpravy ˇ
Akademie, and devoted to a new solution of Buffon needle problem. As soon as he receivesit (April 18th, 1920), Picard proposes to include the article into the Miscellaneaous section ofthe Bulletin des Sciences Math´ematiques. This slightly modified version of the 1917 paper waspublished at the end of 1920 and Fr´echet reads it carefully, as himself mentions in the followingletter dated November 7th, 1920 and congratulates Hostinsk´y for having obtained a positive re-sult. This will be the occasion for Fr´echet to write his first paper in probability theory, as well asfor Hostinsky a first step towards his studies on the ergodic principle.
An interseting example of a Czech student in France was Otakar Boruvka, a legend of Brnomathematics in the 20th century. Otakar Boruvka was born on May 10th, 1899 in Uhersk´yOstroh, a small town in Moravia, where his father was the headmaster at the local elementary andcouncil school. He studied at grammar school in Uhersk Hradiˇstˇe. After finishing the sixth year in1916 he completed his secondary studies in the military Realschule in Hranice na Moravˇe. Fromthis school he went on to the Military Technical Academy in Moedling near Vienna. Boruvkastudied at military schools because the pupils of these schools were not enlisted to be soldiers atthe front.
In 1918 he began his university studies at the Czech Technical University in Brno as a stu-
dent of civil engineering (At first Boruvka had decided to study classical philology, but his par-ents could not support him in Prague). There Maty´aˇs Lerch was his teacher of mathematics. When Lerch dicovered Boruvka’s excellent knowledge of mathematics (Boruvka studied manyparts of higher mathematics at the Military Technical Academy, where his teacher was RolandWeitzenb¨ock, later Professor of Mathematics at the German Technical University in Prague andthen at the University of Amsterdam), offered him the position of assistant at the Institute ofMathematics of the faculty of Science in the newly founded Masaryk University. Boruvka stud-ied mathematics and physics at the Faculty of Science during the year 1920-22. In 1923, heobtained his doctorate.
Lerch died in 1922 and his successor Eduard ˇ
Cech introduced Boruvka to differential geome-
try and sent him to Paris in 1926, where Boruvka was student of Elie Cartan. We shall decribe atlength his study stays in Paris.
After his first study in Paris Boruvka received in 1928 a serious offer for a position of Professor
of mathematics from the University in Zagreb. After some hesitation, however, he refused, in thehope of a potential career in Brno. During the years 1929-31, Boruvka studied in Paris and alsoin Hamburg with Blaschke.
In September 1930, the council of the professors of mathematics at the Faculty of Science
in Brno nominated Boruvka Professor of Mathematics in Brno, but Boruvka was not appointedextraordinary Professor before 1934. After World War II, he was appointed full Professor andworked at university until 1970, when he retired. He died on 22 July 1995 at the age of over 96years. Boruvka was for decades one of the leading figures in mathematics of Moravia. 50 yearshe was active at the Faculty of Science of the Masaryk University in Brno. From 1953, he wasa correspondent member of Czechoslovak Academy of Science, and from 1965 an Academician. Since 1969, he also worked at the Brno Institute of Mathematics of the Czechoslovak Academyof Science.
Otakar Boruvka wrote 86 scientific works, including 8 monographs, and 44 popular scien-
tific and biographical publications, and over 200 reviews. In his first works, inspired by histeacher Matyˇs Lerch, he dealt with classical mathematical analysis. During the years 1924-35,he worked in differential geometry. He was the first who studied analytical correspondencesbetween two projective planes and discovered their invariant properties with respect to pairs oftransformations of the projective group. His large work on spherical (two-dimensional) surfacesin 2n-dimensional constant curvature spaces are being widely applied in modern differential ge-ometry. The School of Geometry in Bologna largely followed Boruvka’s original work in analytic
correspondences. Also S. Chern used the name Frenet-Boruvka formulas for some differentialequations.
In the 1930s, Boruvka joined the rapid progresses of algebra and topology. On the mathemat-
ical set basis, he created the notional structure of general algebra, the theory of grupoids, was oneof the first to study mathematical set analysis and to lay the foundations of a theory of scientificclassifications. He founded a school of modern algebra in Brno. Boruvka published a monographZaklady teorie grupoidu a grup (Foundations on the Theory of Groupoids and Groups), whichwas published several times in Czech, in German (1960) and in English (1974).
In the 1950s, Boruvka focused on the study of differential equations, a discipline largely ne-
glected in the Czechoslovakia of the time, not completely giving up however his previous special-izations, algebra and geometry. He created a qualitative theory of the global character of lineardifferential equations of the second order, with a high level of algebraization and geometrization. These results were surveyed in the monograph Lineare Differentialtransformationen 2. Ordnung,published in German in 1967, and also in English in 1971. In 1965 Boruvka founded the math-ematical journal Archivum mathematicum. Most of the mathematicians working at Moravianand Slovak (Boruvka had a lecture at Bratislava University for more than 10 years after WWII)universities were his students, or students of his students. He was a member of many scientificsocieties in Czechoslovakia and abroad, as well as on organizer of many mathematical workshopsand conferences.
Boruvka visited Paris for the first time in academic year 1926-27. Boruvka was assistant
at Brno University and he obtained paid leave. His duties were substituted (without salary) byJosef Kauck´y(assistant of Hostinsk´y, later Professor at the Brno Technical University) and MiloˇsNeubauer (assistant of Professor Seifert, the second Professor of Mathematics at Faculty). Duringthe second stay in Paris Boruvka obtained paid leave again, but then he must pay himself thestudent Josef Novk who substituted his duties at Faculty.
Assistant salaries in Czechoslovakia (before 1918 too) were very low and a matter of com-
plaint for many years. Boruvka could not finance his stay in Paris with his salary and he couldnot expect money from his parents. He estimated his costs for the journey and stay on 19 000crowns (at this moment the exchange rate was 1,35 crowns for 1 F) and his salary was half of thisamount. He obtained 9000 crowns as a scholarship from the Ministry of Education.
In Archive of the Masaryk University, there are several letters from Boruvka to Hostinsk´y
Cech have disappeared). Hostinsk´y was interested in the
situation in Paris and in Boruvka’s studies there. He used Boruvka’s study stay for his ownpurpose. Boruvka bought books for Hostinsk´y and during the second stay in 1930, he helpedHostinsk´y to organize lectures in Paris. Hostinsk´y was an expert on differential geometry andtherefore Boruvka informed Hostinsk´y about his scientific work in Paris. We know that Hostinsk´ywas in close contact with Zden´ık Hork, student of mathematics and physics form Prague, whowas Hadamard’s student in Paris one year before. It seems that Hostinsk´y was between the warsan important adviser for the Czech students in France.
Shortly after the beginning of lectures, Boruvka visited Professor Cartan. He writes : When
I explained the purpose of my stay to him, he received me very kindly and he promised to payattention to my work, and he even invited me to visit him frequently and to inform him on theprogress of my study. It was the best I could achieve in my situation.
In the letter to Hostinsk´y (17th December of 1926), Boruvka wrote that he visited Cartan
every week on Thursday afternoon. Sometimes they discussed about problems the whole after-noon. Cartan interested in Boruvka’s problems and thought about them during the weeks. Theother young mathematician who visited Cartan regularly at the same time was the Rumanianmathematician Alexandre Pentazi. Several times, Boruvka visited Cartan’s family in Versailles. In his memories he wrote about Cartan: And thus I must say that during frequent contacts withhim, I had grown to deeply respect this man with whom I found all the qualities that should createthe image of an ideal man.
Cartan read lectures devoted to Riemann geometry. His lectures were very difficult and stu-
dents did not have any literature. Boruvka attended lectures of Lebesgue and Goursat too. Duringhis first stay in Paris, Boruvka was a member of seminars of Hadamard and Coolidge. In theCoolidge seminar, the members gave talks about their works and Boruvka offered to Coolidgethree possible topics for his lecture. Coolidge decided without hesitation that Boruvka wouldpresent his article devoted to the algorithmical solution of the problem to find the cheapest elec-trical network. Boruvka formulated this problem as follows: There are n towns which need to beconnected in an electricity network. The distances between every two towns are given. The taskis to find the network which would connect all the towns using the least wire possible (and thusminimizing the cost of building the network).
Today , this problem is a fundamental one of graph theory. The problem is to find the min-
imum spanning tree of undirected weighted graphs. In 1926, the theory of graph did not exist. The first book devoted to graph theory was published ten years later in1936 (by the Hungarianmathematician Denes K¨onig) and the development of this theory started after WW2. Thereforein Boruvka’s article the terms graph, vertex, edge etc. . . are absent. Boruvka’s words were thoseof algebra: matrices, rows, and columns.
Boruvka writes that this topic was very strange in this time, but his lecture in Coolidge seminar
was very successful. Boruvka published two articles about this problem - one with mathematicalrigor and a second popular one. Among his 86 mathematical works, the article about the min-imum spanning tree is the most quoted. Boruvka’s solution with some generalization was pub-lished by Gustav Choquet in the Comptes Rendus in 1936. It was not until 1956 that Boruvka’spaper became widely known outside Czechoslovakia. In 1956 the general problem was solved byKruskal and in 1957 by Prim. At the end of 1950s and in 1960s a lot of mathematicians becameinterested in such graph theoretical problems.
But the main aim of Boruvka’s stay in Paris was the study of analytical correspondences
between two projective planes. Shortly before his departure to Paris, Boruvka published the workSur les correspondences analytiques ente deux plans projectifs. He wrote that in May 1927, hefinished in Paris the second part of this work and the new results were the basis for his habilitationthesis in 1928. Boruvka’s thesis was well known in Italy and in Bologna. It was studied in theseminar of Villa.
Before his departure from Paris, Boruvka asked Cartan for a new topic for research. Car-
tan recommended him to study two dimensional spherical surfaces in 2n-dimensional spaceswith constant curvatures. Boruvka obtained the first results in this direction during the last twomonths in Paris and studied this topic, which found important applications in modern differentialgeometry, during the next years.
It was already mentioned that in 1928, Boruvka rejected a position of Professor of Geometry at
Zagreb University and he stayed in Brno as assistant and Privat docent at the Masaryk University.
Cech recommended Boruvka to use support of the International Edu-
cational Board and to go to Paris again. ˇ
Cech spoke with Cartan on the International Congress
in Bologna in September 1928. Cartan promised to go on giving his assistance to Boruvka, withwhom he felt very pleased (this was written to the IEB by ˇ
The International Educational Board had been established in 1923 and supported a lot of
mathematicians in their research (from 86 mathematicians, 27 were from France and 27 wereifrom Germany). Among them we can find four young Czech mathematicians, three privatedocents from Prague Hlavat´y, Jarnk and Koˇrnek, and Otakar Boruvka. In the academic year1928/29, Vaclav Hlavat´y studied in Italy, France, and England, Vojtˇech Jarn´ık visited G¨ottingen. In 1929/30 Vladimr Koˇrnek studied in Hamburk. Hlavat´y, Jarn´ık, and Koˇrnek were appointedProfessor of mathematics at the Charles University in Prague during the 1930s.
Cech and Bydˇzovsk´y (Professor of Charles Univer-
Cech and Bydˇzovsk´y wrote that Boruvka would be nominated to the post of extraordinary
Professor of mathematics at the Masaryk University. ˇ
vka’s studies again in Paris. He wrote that one year is a too short time for understanding Cartan’smethod. He wrote, that a new sojourn in Paris will have a great influence on the future scientificwork of Dr. Boruvka - and this is the purpose of the fellowship program. ˇ
of Vojtˇech Jarn´ık, who spent a most profitable time at G¨ottingen although - or rather because of -Dr. Jarn´ık’s former studies at G¨ottingen.
Boruvka prepared list of problems, which he would study in Paris. 1. Study of the representation of a n-dimensional projective complex space as a real 2n-
dimensional variety in a space of constant curvature.
2. Study of surfaces in Riemann’s n-dimensional space of constant curvature, while the indi-
catrix of the curvature is a circle.
3. Conditions necessary and sufficient for the given differential form to by the linear element
of a surface in three-dimensional space.
4. Study of surface in three-dimensional space, while ˇ
Cech’s axes form linear congruence.
5 Study of surfaces in three-dimensional space, while canonical straight lines form the normals
in euclidean or non-euclidean metrics.
6. Study of pairs of surfaces in asymptotic correspondence in an n-dimensional space. 7. Continuation of the study of analytical correspondences between two projective plans. Boruvka obtained 120 dollars per month and these money enabled him not only a more conve-
nient stay in Paris, but he had also opportunity to travel in France. He attended lectures by Cartan,Fr´echet, Ker´ekjart´o, Picard, and Julia. He worked with Cartan again and prepared a long paperon spherical (two-dimensional) surfaces in 2n-dimensional constant curvature spaces, which waspublished in the Journal de Liouville. During the holidays of 1930, he went with Cartan familyto the Alps and had very good opportunity not only to discuss mathematical problems with ElieCartan, but to become friend with his son Henri. Boruvka and Henri Cartan were in contact dur-ing the next decades. In 1960, Henri Cartan and Joseph P´er`es invited Boruvka to Paris, where hehad two lectures in the Institut Henri Poincar´e on May 1961. During this Boruvka’s stay in Paris,the Czechoslovak Embassy invited all sixteen professors of mathematics from Paris Universityand the College de France. Boruvka’s attempts to invite Henri Cartan to Brno in 1950s were notsuccessful and the Czechoslovak government enabled him to invite Cartan only in 1969, when hewas awarded the silver medal of Masaryk University.
In the middle of 1930 Boruvka decided to ask Rockefeller Foundations for supporting his
three-months study stay in Rome. He intended to study with Professor Bompiani, but Bompianiwas in USA and Boruvka decided to go to Hamburg. In Hamburg, he stayed nine months andattended lectures and seminars of Wilhelm Blaschke. In Blaschke’s seminar, Boruvka gave talksabout Cartan methods of differential geometry. Boruvka had opportunity to compare French andGerman mathematics. In his memories Boruvka wrote about French mathematics: Perhaps, therewas only one thing that puzzled me before I, at least partly, could understand the French style oflife. Unlike the German very in-depth mathematical thinking, French mathematics contained onlysuperficially formulated problems, which certainly led to independent work but, unfortunately,often resulted in only superficially worked out solutions which may contain mistakes, especiallyin mathematical journals.
This impression could be compared with the following comment. In the Journal of the Czech
mathematical society , there is a short report about Vladimr Koˇrnek’s his stay in Hamburg, read atthe meeting of the Society on 20th November 1930. Koˇrnek informed about his ‘Rockefeller stay’in the academic year 1929-30. It is mentioned that he pointed out the great didactic advance-ment of German universities which can be ranked among the best universities in the Europeancontinent from this point of view, and far outdo for example French universities. He also declaredthat scientific work in Germany [. . . ] can be characterized briefly as a collective creation of sci-ence. It would be certainly a mistake for Czech mathematicians to restrict themselves to Germanmathematics only and not to be interested by the scientific work of other nations, but nevertheless[. . . ] the most useful for young Czech mathematicians who go abroad for studying is to choose agood German University as their first destination.
After the war began a competition between Germany and France to attract students and scholarsfrom foreign countries. As soon as 1918, a German scientist, Rieser, wrote in AkademischeRundschau (V,p.322) that, if the Germans do not do necessary efforts to attract foreign studentsafterwards, Russians and Japanese will go to French schools, which are not worse than theGerman ones, and will go back home and spread the French spirit. He also added that this wouldalso worsen the situation of German prisoners in Russia because there will not be any moredoctor in Russia trained in Germany.
In 1919, the new born Czechoslovakia appeared as an excellent opportunity for the programm
of cultural exchanges that France wanted to organize after the war. Her new main politics (begin-ning by the emblematic Tomas Masaryk and his second Eduard Benes) had kept tight personaland intellectual contacts with France. An extremely active propaganda was organized by theFrench authorities to convince the Czech Government and the local administrations (Universi-ties, Schools, cultural associations) of the importance of cultural and educational contacts. Thetwo universities of Brno and Bratislava, newly created in 1919, were the object of a special atten-tion.
However, it seems that the local answer to the French sollicitude was more reserved than
expected. Of course, the alliance was essential for the Czech, but France was maybe not theonly center of interest for them as the self confident government in Paris seemed to think just
after the war stopped. As soon as July 1920, the French Ambassador in Prague Fernand Cougetwrites to the President of Council Alexandre Millerand : M.Alapetite, representative of the FrenchGovernment in Strasbourg, expressed the desire that slavic students, in particular Czech ones,were sent to Strasbourg university. I can certainly encourage the Czech Government to send moregrant-holders to Strasbourg but it is not clear that the idea would seduce it. The best solutionwould be to create new grants specifically for Strasbourg, but in no way we can expect a financialhelp from the Czechoslovakian Government. Due to the echange rate, it is also irrealistic toexpect free students to come. Quite naturally, the objective of the Czechoslovakian Governmentcould certainly also have been to keep the students at home, not to send them abroad.
If one has a look to the figures about foreign students in Strasbourg between the two World
Wars, it is remarkable that among foreign students coming from the East, there were in fact veryfew Czech students. Until 1938, Czechoslovakia was in fact more stable than the other countriesof Central Europe, and therefore had been more or less able to avoid the vicissitudes happeningto other countries such as authoritarian governments or segregationist laws.
Therefore the examples of Hostinsky or Boruvka that we have described, however deep and
mathematically fruitful they were, appear quite isolated. Despite of many official texts aboutmutual respect and interest, the exchanges between the two scientific communities have certainlynot been as important as Paris had hoped.
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