COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY RECORD September 3, 1993 Vol. 19 No. 1
BORIS MOISHEZON, MATHEMATICIAN, 55
Boris G. Moishezon, a world-renowned authority on algebraic
geometry at Columbia and a prominent Soviet dissident in the
1970's, died Aug. 25 in Leonia, N.J. He was 55.
Moishezon suffered a heart attack while jogging and was pronounced
dead at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., said Natalia
Moishezon, his wife.
A professor of mathematics at the University for 16 years, he was
a founder and leader in the field of algebraic geometry, Columbia
mathematics professor Hyman Bass said. His early studies in the
Soviet Union on algebraic spaces dealt with geometric objects that
arise in complex analytic geometry. Later, at Tel-Aviv University
and at Columbia, he studied complex algebraic surfaces and
introduced methods of differential topology to the field.
During his studies in Moscow in the mid-60s, his mentor was the
well-known Soviet mathematician Igor Shafarevich at the Steklov
Institute of Mathematics, according to Bass. Moishezon prepared
notes that later appeared as part of Shafarevich's 1965 work
"Algebraic Geometry," still considered the standard in the field.
Moishezon was one of 10 Jewish intellectuals in the Soviet Union
who in the summer of 1972 signed a public statement protesting the
high fees the government charged for exit visas, as much as
$25,000 for holders of candidate degrees, the equivalent of an
American Ph.D. All 10 had begun the complicated procedure for
emigration to Israel.
"Jews wishing to leave are being divided according to their
educational and intellectual level," the dissidents said. "The
higher the level, the more difficult it is to get permission to
get a visa."
After the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes during a terrorist
hostage-taking at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Moishezon organized
a public demonstration to condemn the killings. He was briefly
detained by Soviet authorities after the demonstration and lost
his research position as a result, his wife said.
Later that year, in October, Moishezon was one of six Jewish
scientists who telephoned a statement to Philip Handler, president
of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The
message, an open letter to M.V. Keldysh, president of the Soviet
Academy of Sciences, told of harassment from Soviet authorities,
forced manual labor and isolation from the outside world. The
situation was "getting graver each day," the six scientists said.
Moishezon and his family were finally granted visas to emigrate to
Israel late in 1972. He took the post of professor of mathematics
at Tel-Aviv University and later won the Caplun Prize, awarded by
Hebrew University, in 1975.
In 1977, he came to the United States as a visiting professor at
the University of Utah, and later that year was named professor of
mathematics at Columbia. That year also saw publication of his
"Complex Surfaces and Connected Sums of Complex Projective
Planes," a study of algebraic surfaces.
Boris G. Moishezon was born Oct. 26, 1937, in Odessa, Ukraine,
then part of the Soviet Union. He received the diploma in
mathematics in 1959 from Tadjic State University in Dushanbe and
the candidate degree in physical and mathematical sciences in 1962
from the Mathematics Institute in Moscow's Academy of Sciences.
Moishezon taught mathematics as a senior lecturer at the
Pedagogical Institute of Oceckovo-Zuevo from 1964 to 1967.
In 1967, he was awarded the doctorate of physical and mathematical
sciences from Moscow State University and went on to become a
senior scientist at the Central Institute of Mathematical
Economics in Moscow. He won the Prize of the Moscow Mathematical
Society in 1967 for his work on algebraic spaces.
Moishezon was an advocate for increased instruction in mathematics
and science for American public school students. He compared
decentralized American schools with those in the Soviet Union,
where every sixth-grader studied elementary geometry at a given
hour each day.
"We do not need to go to those extremes, but I think less freedom
in math and science is desirable," Moishezon said in a 1983 "New
York Times" interview. "Here, it is considered absurd and almost
cruel to foist math and science on young children."
Even after he left the Soviet Union, Moishezon continued his human
rights activism, organizing or taking part in several human rights
conferences. He was a member of the organizing committee of a
Rockefeller University conference in 1981 held to observe the 60th
birthday of dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, then being held
in a Soviet prison.
He was well-read in both Hebrew and Russian literature and in 1989
published a book in Russian that examined competing theories on
the execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family. He received a
Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Hanna, of
Tel-Aviv, a son, Tsvi, of Leonia, and a half-brother, Friedrich,
of Yalta, Ukraine. Burial will be in Israel. A New York memorial
service will take place this month.