Henry Schaerf, ca. 1946
Professor Henry Schaerf passed away in Seattle on March 5th, 2006, two weeks before his 99th birthday. He was one of the many scientists who left Europe for the United States because of the crises of the 1930's and 40's. He was on the faculty of the Mathematics Department of Washington University from 1947 to 1975.
Professor Schaerf was born in Rohatyn, a small town near Lwów, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine). Before the Second World War the University in Lwów was an important mathematical center led by Stefan Banach and Hugo Steinhaus. Professor Schaerf studied mathematics there, earning his degree in 1929. To support his family he put aside his mathematical studies and earned his Actuarial Certificate in 1931 from the University of Goettingen. In the 1930's he was Chief Actuary for several life insurance companies in Poland. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Prof. Schaerf settled in Zurich and returned to the study of mathematics. He was a Lecturer and then Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and received a Ph.D. in Mathematics there in 1943.
In 1946 Professor Zygmunt Birnbaum, a mathematician at the University of Washington who had been a colleague of Schaerf's in Lwów, helped him obtain a faculty position at Montana State College. The following year he joined the faculty of Washington University and remained on the faculty until he retired. He also held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Mathematical Research Center in Madison, and McGill University in Montreal.
During his career Professor Schaerf made important contributions to Actuarial Science and to Mathematics. After his retirement from academic life he remained active in civic life. In 2003 he assisted the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims in locating Polish insurance and actuarial records from the 1930's.
Below: Henry Schaerf (left) and Zygmunt Birnbaum, in Lwów ca. 1935.