Paul Erdős posed and solved problems in number theory and other areas and founded the field of discrete mathematics.


Paul Erdős came from a Jewish family (the original family name being Engländer) although neither of his parents observed the Jewish religion. Paul’s father Lajos and his mother Anna had two daughters, aged three and five, who died of scarlet fever just days before Paul was born. This naturally had the effect making Lajos and Anna extremely protective of Paul. He would be introduced to mathematics by his parents, themselves both teachers of mathematics.

Paul was not much over a year old when World War I broke out. Paul’s father Lajos was captured by the Russian army as it attacked the Austro-Hungarian troops. He spent six years in captivity in Siberia. As soon as Lajos was captured, with Paul’s mother Anna teaching during the day, a German governess was employed to look after Paul. Anna, excessively protective after the loss of her two daughters, kept Paul away from school for much of his early years and a tutor was provided to teach him at home.

The situation in Hungary was chaotic at the end of World War I. After a short while as a democratic republic, a communist Béla Kun took over, and Hungary became a left wing Soviet Republic. Anna was at this time made head teacher of her school but when the Communists called for strike action against Kun’s regime she continued working, not for political reasons but simply because she did not wish to see children’s education suffer.