Piet Hein (December 16, 1905–April 17, 1996) was a Danish scientist, mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet, often writing under the Old Norse pseudonym "Kumbel" meaning "tombstone". His short poems, known as gruks or grooks (Danish: Gruk), first started to appear in the daily newspaper "Politiken" shortly after the Nazi Occupation in April 1940 under the pseudonym "Kumbel Kumbell".
He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He studied at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Copenhagen (later to become the Niels Bohr Institute), and Technical University of Denmark. Yale awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1972. He died in his home on Funen, Denmark in 1996.
He was a direct descendant of Piet Pieterszoon Hein, the Dutch naval hero of the 17th century.
Piet Hein, who, in his own words, "played mental ping-pong" with Niels Bohr  in the inter-War period, found himself confronted with a dilemma when the Germans occupied Denmark. He felt that he had three choices: Do nothing, flee to "neutral" Sweden or join the Danish resistance movement. As he explained in 1968, "Sweden was out because I am not Swedish, but Danish. I could not remain at home because, if I had, every knock at the door would have sent shivers up my spine. So, I joined the Resistance."
Taking as his first weapon the instrument with which he was most familiar, the pen, he wrote and had published his first "grook" [gruk in Danish]. It passed the censors who did not grasp its real meaning.
Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
the first one again.
The Danes, however, understood its importance and soon it was found as graffiti all around the country. The deeper meaning of the grook was that even if you lose your freedom ("losing one glove"), do not lose your patriotism and self-respect by collaborating with the Nazis ("throwing away the other"), because that sense of having betrayed your country will be more painful when freedom has been found again someday. Denmark got the message.
Full article ▸