Alfred Israel Pringsheim (2 September 1850 – 25 June 1941) was a German mathematician and patron of the arts. He was born in Ohlau, Prussian Silesia (now Oława, Poland) and died in Zürich, Switzerland.
Alfred Pringsheim came from an extremely wealthy Silesian merchant family with Jewish roots. He was the first-born child and only son of the Upper Silesian railway entrepreneur and coal mine owner Rudolf Pringsheim (1821–1901) and his wife Paula, née Deutschmann (1827–1909). He had a younger sister, Martha.
Pringsheim attended the Maria Magdalena Gymnasium in Breslau, where he excelled in music and mathematics. Starting in 1868 he studied mathematics and physics in Berlin and at the Ruprecht Karl University in Heidelberg. In 1872 he was awarded a doctorate in mathematics, studying under Leo Königsberger. In 1875 he moved from Berlin, where his parents lived, to Munich to earn his habilitation. Two years later he became a lecturer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.
In 1886 he was appointed associate professor of mathematics there, and in 1901 full professor He retired as emeritus professor in 1922. He was elected a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in 1898, a position he held until 1938, and was a corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. He was also awarded membership in the Leopoldina, Germany’s oldest academy of natural sciences.
Pringsheim considered himself to be a German citizen who no longer followed the "Mosaic belief" (meaning conservative or orthodox Judaism), but he repeatedly declined to have himself baptized.
In 1878 he married the Berlin actress Gertrude Hedwig Anna Dohm (1855–1942), whose mother was the famous Berlin advocate of women’s rights Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919). They had five children: Erik (* 1879), Peter (*1881), Heinz (*1882) and twins born in 1883, Klaus and Katharina, known as Katia. His first-born son, Erik, was exiled to Argentina because of his dissolute life and gambling debts and died there at an early age. His sons Peter and Klaus followed him in pursuing academic careers, obtaining professorships in physics and composition. Heinz became an archaeologist with a doctorate in that field. His daughter Katia was the first females in Munich to earn the qualifications for university admission and was one of the first active women students at Munich University. She later became the wife of the author and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann.
In 1889 he and his family moved into a Neo-Renaissance villa at Arcisstrasse 12 designed by the Berlin architects Kayser & von Großheim with interior furnishings provided by Joh. Wachter and the court furniture manufacturer O. Fritsche of Munich. On major social nights the Munich elite was hosted here in what was known as the Pringsheim Palace.
Besides mathematics, ever since his youth Pringsheim was also intensively occupied with music, and adapted various compositions of Richard Wagner for the piano. Later he became interested in the theory and history of art, building up important collections of majolica earthenware and paintings.
In his novel Königliche Hoheit, Thomas Mann portrayed his father-in-law as the character Samuel Spoelman.
In mathematical analysis, Pringsheim studied real and complex functions, following the power-series-approach of the Weierstrass school. Pringsheim published numerous works on the subject of complex analysis, with a focus on the summability theory of infinite series and the boundary behavior of analytic functions.
Pringsheim's theorem concerns the convergence of a power series with non-negative real coefficients. However, Pringsheim's original proof had a flaw (related to uniform convergence), and a correct proof was provided by Ralph P. Boas. Pringsheim's theorem is used in analytic combinatorics and the Perron Frobenius theory of positive operators on ordered vector spaces.
Besides his research in analysis, Pringsheim also wrote articles for the Encyclopedia of Mathematical Sciences on the fundamentals of arithmetic and on number theory. He published papers in the Annals of Mathematics. As an officer of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, he recorded the minutes of its scientific meetings.
Acquaintance with the Wagner family
Pringsheim had a deep, early interest in music and was especially fascinated by the works of Richard Wagner. He corresponded with Wagner personally, whose letters he took with him when he went into exile to Switzerland. His musical inclinations led to the publication of several arrangements of Wagner’s work, and he also wrote on subjects in the field of music.
His association with Wagner was so intense that Pringsheim supported him financially to a significant extent, and also backed the Bayreuth music festival. In gratitude he received a certificate designating him as a patron, which guaranteed him a seat at certain performances. In her memoires about this acquaintance with Wagner his granddaughter, Erika Mann, wrote that Prof. Pringsheim was even once involved in a duel because someone had insulted Wagner.
Financial situation and Nazi persecution
His family’s fortune left Pringsheim a wealthy man. He also had a sizeable monthly income as a full professor at the university. After the death of the family patriarch in 1913 he had at his disposal assets amounting to 13 million marks and an annual income of 800,000 marks, which is today equivalent to 10.5 million euro and 646,000 euro, respectively.
His financial decline began with World War I. As a “German patriot” he subscribed to war loans which lost their nominal value after the war, which meant the loss of a major part of his capital. The disastrous inflation of 1923 and 1924 resulted in additional high losses.
As a result he had to sell part of his art collection, which probably included a mural by Hans Thoma. His ironic comment, “I live from wall to mouth”. Primarily because of his age (he was in his mid-70s) he did not want to go abroad, as did most of his family, and remained in Germany. When the persecution and expropriation of the Jewish population began, he was forced to travel the bitter path of humiliation and deprivation of rights which the Nazi regime had planned for citizens of Jewish descent. At first he was not allowed to leave the country. Winifred Wagner was not able to help the elderly Wagner devotee. Through the intervention of the then rector of Munich University (LMU), his former neighbor Karl Haushofer, who was a friend of Rudolf Hess, and the professor of mathematics Dr. Oskar Perron, one of Alfred Pringsheim’s former students, as well as through the initiative of a courageous member of the SS who arranged for passports at the last minute, he and his wife were able to leave for Zurich, Switzerland on 31 October 1939 after suffering further grave humiliations. With the proceeds remaining after the Nazi-initiated forced auction at short notice of his majolica collection he was even able to pay the so-called “desertion tax” (Reichsfluchtsteuer).
His house had to be sold to the Nazi party. It was torn down and replaced by a party administration building. The files of all German Nazi party members were stored there until 1945. Today it houses the Institute of Art History of Munich University (LMU) and the offices of the Munich State Collection of Antiquities, among others entities.
Alfred Pringsheim died on 25 June 1941 in Zurich. His wife then apparently burned all of the personal effects which had been brought to Switzerland, including the letters from Richard Wagner. She died one year later.
* Daniel Bernoulli - Versuch einer neuen Theorie der Wertbestimmung von Glücksfällen, 1896
* Ernst Klee, Das Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich, Frankfurt/Main 2007
* Inge und Walter Jens: Auf der Suche nach dem verlorenen Sohn - Die Südamerika-Reise der Hedwig Pringsheim 1907/8. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek, 2006, ISBN 3-498-05304-3
* Frau Thomas Mann, film script and director: Birgit Kienzle, first broadcast: ARD, 9 August 2005
* Dohm-Mann family tree
1. ^ Krantz, Steven; Harold R., Parks (2002). A Primer of Real Analytic Functions (Second ed.). Birkhäuser. ISBN 0-8176-4264-1, 3-7643-4264-1
* O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Alfred Pringsheim", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews, http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Pringsheim.html .