Remembering Dr. Max Schindler (1922-2021), Satellite Communication Technology Pioneer

Technische Universität Wien mourns the loss of Dr. Maximilian J. Schindler. An obituary by Maximilian Schindler’s son, Norbert Schindler.

My father, Dr. Maximilian J. Schindler, died this week at the age of 98 peacefully in his home in Boonton, New Jersey, where I grew up. Max - that’s how my two elder brothers and I called him - was born in the Warnsdorf, in the industrial region of North Bohemia, in 1922. Czechoslovakia was formed only 4 years prior to his birth, as were many other countries in Central Europe in 1918, following President Woodrow Wilson’s initiative of "self-determination." In this new country, about 23 % of the population spoke German and virtually all of those German speakers at the time still felt Austrian (and certainly not "Czechoslovak", a term coined by TomᨠMasaryk and his allies as they struggled to establish a new "nation state" of two different Slavic groups that lasted until 1993). Even today, the town is still called "Varnsdorf" (almost all other towns once inhabited by German-Bohemians now have Czech-sounding names).

After the war, Max’s family - like many others in the region briefly called "the Sudetenland" -was expelled from the homes that they built, in a region that was settled by Germans centuries ago. While the rest of his family moved to Slovakia, my father was taken in by a Polish relative in Vienna, where he was granted Austrian citizenship and studied at the Technical University. While earning his Doctorate in Physics in Vienna, Max met my mother, a young student from Tyrol. With 2 small babies (my elder brothers), my parents moved to the USA in the 1950s at a time when many European scientists were being recruited by the US Military. As my father told me, he was fed up with the Germans, the Czechs, and all the other nationalists who were killing each other and/or making each other’s lives miserable. He loved his new life in America, which was booming in the 1950s. Max had a house in the suburbs, a car, and many other conveniences that most post-war Europeans could only dream of. He felt grateful for the opportunities offered to him in the USA and remained deeply bitter about what happened to his family in Bohemia throughout his life. Because his family lost the land that they settled many generations ago, he reminded me that our good fortune came at the cost of the Native Americans who lost their land to Europeans who arrived long before we did. I grew up knowing that the land I lived and played on was taken from others and I often felt like a foreigner in the country where I was born and raised. After my studies in the US, I followed my family roots back to Europe.

Max registered three patents while leading a design group for hydraulically tuned magnetrons at the RCA Microwave Division in Harrison, NJ. The miniature TWTs (Travelling-Wave Tubes) designed by his team were the first such tubes to be used in satellite communications for RCA’s Relay 1, launched in 1962. This was the first such satellite built by a private company. After he left RCA, he wrote articles and published books about Software Engineering - and once interviewed Bill Gates who was in his early twenties at the time.

Max didn’t talk to me that that much while I was growing up, but when he did it often left a lasting impression on me. When I was a rebellious teenager, he would sometimes poke fun at me and tell me that I was born a decade too late, since the 60s revolution was over. But he never stood in my way and both of my parents gave me all the independence a teenager and young adult could ever hope for. I went to Carnegie-Mellon planning to study Physics, as my father did, but understood quickly that this was not for me. He encouraged me to go to CMU, knowing very well that I would most likely wind up in Computer Science. I interrupted my studies in Pittsburgh to spend one year at the University of Vienna, living in the very same apartment my parents lived in after they got married. After getting my Bachelor of Science at CMU, I returned to Vienna to work at an AI research center that was basically across the street from the place my father worked before he left Vienna. I then got my Master’s (Dipl.-Ing.) in Computer Science and AI at his Alma Mater, TU Vienna. Like my father, I spent many years in Software Engineering and Electronics - before establishing my own consultancy business focused on satellite positioning technology ("GNSS Consulting").

From my father I inherited my love for science, photography, writing, travel, classical music, and a deep appreciation of history and culture. He showed me by example what it meant to be tolerant - and appreciative - of other cultures. I enjoyed growing up in the multi-cultural environment of the Greater New York Area. Despite his horrific experiences in Europe, he and my mother raised me with Central European traditions that I appreciated even more upon moving to Europe. He lived a challenging and rewarding life, and was inspiration to his three sons: Dr. Christian Schindler, MD, Professor at Columbia University, Manfred Schindler, MSECE, IEEE Conferences Chair, and myself.