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The Occupation of France


War; move to Correze and continued education
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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Then the war came. Now why was that expected? My parents, I said, "went to France," like that, cold. But it was actually an extraordinary wrenching operation. Of course my parents wanted to be reunited and my father could not possibly return to Poland, where the Depression was getting worse and worse and conditions were quite intolerable. My mother was then about fifty, she was a doctor, very successful, and by coming to France she was going to become a housewife. She had any number of friends, school friends, family friends, in fact a whole community. By coming to Paris she was going to become quite lonely because she only knew my father and his sister and brother who were in Paris. For her, this move from Warsaw to Paris was an extraordinary sacrifice. Why did they do it? Again, in part to reunite the family, in part because they were afraid that the war was going to bring terrible things. They didn't want my brother and myself to stay in Poland and become, how should I say, more Polish and therefore have more trouble when the war inevitably came. Clearly they didn't expect what happened, but they expected very bad things to happen, nevertheless. So war came. In the meantime, my uncle had become well established and had a country house in the centre of France in a part called Correze, which is way in the hills and a very poor part of the country. We went to Tulle, the capital of Correze to high school and then I finished high school, jumping classes. But I don't remember high school as being classes. I just moved faster and after two years was back with people my age. The professor I remember most was the professor of French when I was in the first grade, which means between sixteen and seventeen. She was a very scholarly person also who decided early on that I wrote French well enough for my grade and that she was going to give me special difficult exercises in class and correct them in terms of the university rather than high school. But history and French were the most important topics involved. In the last year it was mostly mathematics, taught in a very, very tedious and organised fashion. That was the only year I remember as being well organised in high school.

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) discovered his ability to think about mathematics in images while working with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and is famous for his work on fractal geometry - the maths of the shapes found in nature.

Listeners: Daniel Zajdenweber Bernard Sapoval

Daniel Zajdenweber is a Professor at the College of Economics, University of Paris.

Bernard Sapoval is Research Director at C.N.R.S. Since 1983 his work has focused on the physics of fractals and irregular systems and structures and properties in general. The main themes are the fractal structure of diffusion fronts, the concept of percolation in a gradient, random walks in a probability gradient as a method to calculate the threshold of percolation in two dimensions, the concept of intercalation and invasion noise, observed, for example, in the absorbance of a liquid in a porous substance, prediction of the fractal dimension of certain corrosion figures, the possibility of increasing sharpness in fuzzy images by a numerical analysis using the concept of percolation in a gradient, calculation of the way a fractal model will respond to external stimulus and the correspondence between the electrochemical response of an irregular electrode and the absorbance of a membrane of the same geometry.

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008