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Abraham Pais

  • Dutch scientist
  • Born May 19, 1918
  • Died August 4, 2000

Abraham Pais (; May 19, 1918 – July 28, 2000) was a Dutch-American physicist and science historian. Pais earned his Ph.D. from University of Utrecht just prior to a Nazi ban on Jewish participation in Dutch universities during World War II. When the Nazis began the forced relocation of Dutch Jews, he went into hiding, but was later arrested and saved only by the end of the war. He then served as an assistant to Niels Bohr in Denmark and was later a colleague of Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.


The rule of the game was never assume that anybody, however honorable, would be able to stand up under torture. If Mr. X, who knew where I was, was caught for some reason, I should move.




One of the things I learned, one of the strangest things, is how to think. There was nothing else to do. I couldn't see people, or go for a walk in the forest. All I had was my head and my books, and I thought a lot.




Once I even took the train to Utrecht, forty miles from Amsterdam, with my yellow star, this star which I still have. Why did I go? I just wanted to visit some friends. I was a little bit crazy, a little bit insane.




Of course, relative citation frequencies are no measure of relative importance. Who has not aspired to write a paper so fundamental that very soon it is known to everyone and cited by no one?




One of the absolute rules I learned in the war was, don't know anything you don't need to know, because if you ever get caught they will get it out of you.




I spent every night until four in the morning on my dissertation, until I came to the point when I could not write another word, not even the next letter. I went to bed. Eight o'clock the next morning I was up writing again.



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