lively interests and a truly noble soul that we rarely come across even in great people.

THE EARLY YEARS, 1914-1947

Wassily was born in Mustamäki, Finland (Gorkovskoye, Russia since 1940), although his place of birth is registered as St. Petersburg on his birth certificate. His parents had traveled from their home in Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin) to spend the summer in Mustamäki. In his autobiographical article (1982, p. 100) Wassily provided some family history.


My father, whose parents were Danish, was an economist and a disciple of Peter Struve, the Russian social scientist and public figure. An uncle of my father’s was Harald Hoeffding,2 the philosopher. My mother, née Wedensky, had studied medicine. Both grandfathers had been engineers.


His younger brother, Oleg,3 became a military historian in the United States, and Oleg’s life interleaved in interesting ways with Wassily’s, as we shall see.

In 1918 the family left Tsarskoye Selo for the Ukraine and, after traveling through scenes of civil war, finally left Russia for Denmark in 1920, where Wassily entered school.


In 1924 the family settled in Berlin. In high school, an Oberrealschule which put emphasis on natural sciences and modern languages, I liked mathematics and biology and disliked physics. When I finished high school in 1933, I had no definite career in mind. I thought I would become an economist like my father and entered the Handelschochschule … in Berlin. But I soon found that economics was too vague a science for me. Chance phenomena and their laws captured my interest. I performed series of random tossings and recorded their outcomes before I knew much about probability theory. One of the few books on chance phenomena that I found in the library of the Hochschule was Die Analyse des Zufalls by H. E. Timerding, and it fascinated me. In 1934 I entered Berlin University to study mathematics …

The meager fare in mathematical statistics that I was fed in my lectures in Berlin, I tried to supplement by reading journals. But somehow I did not



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