Forgotten master

He was some kind of Steve Jobs mechanical age. In the concentration camp he constructed the world’s smallest counting machine for Hitler to make him an Aryan. In fact, the Viennese engineer signed a pact with the devil. After the war profits from his invention were taken by others.

His fate seemed already sealed. In 1943, engineer Curt Herzstark was thrown by the Nazis into the concentration camp in Buchenwald. Later, however, the son of a Jewish factory opened unexpectedly to the possibility of becoming an Aryan.

“Listen, Mr. Herzstark,” said the camp commander one day. “We know you’re working on a calculating machine. Let us make sketches and if it turns out that this invention will be worth something, after the final victory we will give it to the Führer. But surely he will make Mr. Aryan. ”

In fact, the engineer signed a pact with the devil. Since then every night after the forced labor of the camp every day, he worked out detailed construction plans for the smallest calculating machine in the world. As a motivational addition he received special food rations and in fact managed to survive the concentration camp. The final victory, however, did not come, and Hitler did not have time to enjoy his device.

At the end of the war, the life of Curt Herzstark was supposed to turn into a circle of fame and wealth, the Vienna handyman who was a kind of Steve Jobs mechanical age. His invention was a real revolution – at a time when bureaucrats and trade office owners had to fight monstrous orders of numbers by weighing many kilograms of office machines or just a pencil, he surprised the world of professionals with a small, elegant camera that could perform four basic arithmetic operations and Fits into every pocket.

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In fact, however, this talented man was one of the three greatest unlucky people in technology history. At present, Herbert Bruderer, an expert in the history of computer science at the ETH (Zurich Technical University), decided to bring out the brilliant inventor from the darkness of oblivion. Historian during his research work deepened in the trains of “this sad life”.

And everything promised so great. Herzstark arrived where many others failed before him: he solved the mystery as in a tiny enclosure to accommodate the different mechanisms responsible for particular mathematical activities. He dealt with radical simplification. He succeeded in creating a structure in which, for example, a roller to be added after the lever was shifted he could also subtract.

In 1938 the inventor patented his mechanical calculator, which looked like a combination of a peppermint and a hand grenade mill.

At this point the story of success could start, but a few months after Herzstark’s visit to the patent office in Austria, the Nazis marched and annexed the Alpine republic. Inventors were allowed to keep his company based in Vienna only because his mother was a Catholic. However, the company had to work on precision tools for German tanks. The mini-calculator remained theoretical for the time being.

Then the engineer entered into a quarrel with a senior Gestapo officer who ordered two of his employees to be arrested for alleged espionage. This resulted in the fact that Curt Herzstark was sent to a concentration camp. And precisely in the inhumane conditions of the Buchenwald camp, his mechanical calculator began to take on a more specific shape since 1943. But liberation from the Nazi dictatorship – which the cruel prisoners dreamed of – has also put an end to this effort.

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After the war and the return to Vienna, the inventor noticed that in his absence, his brother Ernst took over command in his family’s factory. The same, who in the thirties was known mainly from the shooting and collection of representative cars.

“He did not know anything at all,” Herzstark said, assessing his younger brother. That is why a talented engineer did not want to share his valuable patent with him. However, when choosing the future business partners, it turned out that there is no happy hand. In 1948, the smallest mechanical calculator entered under the name of “Curta” for serial production – for the inventor, however, was no reason to celebrate.

Businessmen who cooperated with the prince’s house in Liechtenstein deceived all the rules of the thief’s art of trust and, at that time, greatly weakened by tuberculosis of Herzstern. Instead of becoming an equal co-owner of a factory producing minicalkers, after some time, he had no right to interfere in the production process.

After the destructive positional battles, the inventor in 1952 had to settle for a ridiculously low sum. The pocket machine counting his opus magnum remaining, another equally great feat failed him until his death in 1988.

Patsy Freeman

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