In 1955, Wilhelm Blaschke, a noted German mathematician, threw up his hands in the face of quandary over which he had long puzzled. He deemed the “three-web problem,” which focused on how to straighten a web’s curved lines, “hopeless.”
More than half a century later, the puzzle has been solved. The twist? Blaschke was a Nazi sympathizer, and the professor who recently co-authored the problem’s solution is a Jew.
Vladislav Goldberg, a Russian émigré who now teaches at New Jersey Institute of Technology, published the solution together with Norwegian mathematician Valentin Lychagin this past March.
Goldberg, 70, told the Forward that he had been working on equations related to the three-web problem since the early 1970s but had only found out about Blaschke’s antisemitic views recently, while reading Sanford Segal’s 2003 book “Mathematicians Under the Nazis.”
Though shaken by the discovery, Goldberg maintains a high opinion of his predecessor’s work.
“I did not lose my admiration for Blaschke,” he said. “His politics should be separated from his intellectual achievements.”