September 30, 1913–January 30, 1998
BY HYMAN BASS, HENRI CARTAN, PETER FREYD, ALEX HELLER, AND SAUNDERS MAC LANE
SAMUEL EILENBERG DIED IN New York, January 30, 1998, after a two-year illness brought on by a stroke. He left no surviving family, except for his wide family of friends, students, and colleagues, and the rich legacy of his life’s work, in both mathematics and as an art collector.
“Sammy”, as he has long been called by all who had the good fortune to know him, was one of the great architects of twentieth-century mathematics and definitively reshaped the ways we think about topology. The ideas that accomplished this were so fundamental and supple that they took on a life of their own, giving birth first to homological algebra and in turn to category theory, structures that now permeate much of contemporary mathematics.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Sammy studied in the Polish school of topology. At his father’s urging, he fled Europe in 1939. On his arrival in Princeton, Oswald Veblen and Solomon Lefschetz helped him (as they had helped other refugees) find a position at the University of Michigan, where Ray Wilder was building up a group in topology. Wilder made Michigan a center of topology, bringing in such figures as
The text of this memoir is reprinted with permission from Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 45, No. 10, November 1998.