Thanks for the May 16 cover story on Oswald Veblen. The article’s focus on mathematician Veblen obscures the broad array of scholarly and artistic benefits exported by Hitler’s madness — math was a small part. An unfortunate omission is the story of the network of individuals and the ingenious human mechanics empowering the rescuers.
Readers need to know about heroes like Varian Fry and U.S. Vice Consul Hiram Bingham IV in Marseille and about New York’s Emergency Committee, sponsored by the Institute of International Education. IIE created the EC, with Veblen on the executive committee, in 1933. IIE was founded in 1919 by Stephen Duggan, the globally involved university scholar-educator, with Carnegie and Rockefeller backing. Duggan chaired the EC but left the work to new hire Edward R. Murrow, a tireless workaholic, at age 22. Without Murrow, the EC could have done little.
Veblen’s story reminds us that one man — working in two of a dozen fields, supported by universities, colleges (none more than Princeton), the New York internationalists, and the new Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton — could mesh his work with an informal “team” to allay a human catastrophe and turn it into a massive benefit to humankind by helping Americans overcome legislative and racist obstacles and to rescue thousands of Europe’s intellectuals imperiled by Nazi anti-Semitism.
Again, my appreciation to PAW for these insights into the rise of the great research university we know. The rescuers acted for humane reasons, yet they knew they were adding precious fuel to the U.S. ascent to world leadership — and responsibility — through higher education, research, and the arts. We owe them much.