About Boris Moiseevich Levitan
FROM: The Minneapolis Star Tribune ~ http://www.startribune.com/stories/466/4716721.html , 89, a world-renowned and winner of the former Soviet Union's highest civilian honor, the Lenin Prize, died April 4 after suffering a stroke at his home in Minneapolis. He was buried Friday in Adath Chesed Shel Emes cemetery in New Hope. Levitan came to the United States in 1992, after many years of teaching and research at Moscow State University, Russia's highest degree-granting institution. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota at age 77 and stayed active until about five years ago, when Parkinson's disease made him unable to work. His stepson, Leonid Glazman, is a physics professor at the University of Minnesota. "Professor Levitan was an absolutely outstanding person," said Grigory Barenblatt, a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "He was my first mentor." Levitan and Vladimir Marchenko were awarded the Lenin Prize in 1961 for "a great work, the inverse scattering problem," Barenblatt said, adding that it is too complicated to explain, but was "very important in various aspects of physics for the next 50 years." Levitan was born in Berdyansk, in southern Ukraine, and became a doctor of science -- a level above an American Ph.D. -- at age 26, "which was absolutely unusual," Barenblatt said. "Simultaneously, he received the title of full professor." Levitan's wife, Polina Naiman, also a mathematician, said earning that level of doctorate usually wasn't achieved before the age of 40. Barenblatt said Levitan was "absolutely charming ... he was loved by everybody and had modesty without limits." That modesty almost got him killed. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Levitan "was summoned to the military commissariat to be drafted," Barenblatt said. "He was asked if he had the title of associate professor. He was so modest he did not say, " 'No, I have the title of full professor.' " His modesty was so great that Naiman only learned of this in a letter from Barenblatt, who heard the story told in Moscow during a 70th birthday celebration for Levitan. As a junior officer, he nearly was shot in a strafing attack so close that he could see the pilot's face. He fought in the Battle of Stalingrad and was removed from combat in 1944 to teach at an artillery academy in Samarkand. After the war, the academy moved to Moscow, but for a Jew to become a professor at the university, "it was almost impossible," Naiman said. Restrictions loosened after Stalin's death, and Levitan was taken onto the faculty in 1961, while still working at the artillery academy part time. "Every, every evening and every free minute was research, research, research," she said. "His life was mathematics." Winning a Lenin Prize in a nation with official and unofficial anti-Semitism also was remarkable, Barenblatt said. But he was among other Jewish recipients whose "work was so strong and important," that giving them the prize "could not be avoided." Levitan's first wife died in 1980, and he and Naiman, widowed in 1968, married in 1983. For about 30 years, Levitan was host of professional seminars on Wednesday and Thursday nights that drew people from across the Soviet Union to talk, make presentations "and see what Levitan will say," Naiman said. He wrote many books, some translated into English. His last was "Inverse Problem of Spectral Analysis of Differential Operators." In addition to Naiman and Glazman, Levitan is survived by a son, Michael of Moscow; a daughter, Janna of Toronto; a stepdaughter, Eva, of Marsailles, France, and four grandchildren. "How lucky I am that I ... not only knew him but had him as my first teacher." Barenblatt said. In America, "I did my best to explain to people that a giant was living among them." But Levitan "didn't have 'sharp elbows.' He didn't shout to everybody, 'I am Levitan!' "