Home Page of Stefan Banach

Home Page of Stefan Banach

"Stefan Banach Jr. About His Father"
An interview with Stefan Banach Jr. conducted by Piotr Hajłasz
and translated by John J. Greczek
[Published in: Emilia Jakimowicz and Adam Miranowicz (ed.),
"Stefan Banach - Remarkable life, Brilliant mathematics",
Gdańsk University Press and Adam Mickiewicz University Press, 2007]
(posted on this web-site with the written permission of the Translator and Publishers)
Stefan Banach Jr. is a doctor of medicine and a neurosurgeon. In connection with the centennial of his father's birth we asked him to grant "Delta" an interview.
PH: When reading various biographies of your father one can find certain inconsistencies.
SBJ: The majority of the biographical data concerning my father, wherever it may be found, has come from me. However, before it was committed to writing, someone would frequently change something and/or add something with the result that the written information is incorrect. For example, my father was born in 1982, on 30 March, not on 20 March, as has been stated numerous times. Where did this mistake come from? It was provided in error by Steinhaus during a speech he gave honoring my father, and then it was repeated by others. Steinhaus also stated that after he was born my father was given up to be raised by a laundrywoman by the name of Banach, and supposedly because of gratitude to her he adopted her surname. That is quite false. The laundrywoman to whom he was given to be raised was Maria Płowa, whereas Banach was his mother's surname.
PH: You said that you are writing your own recollections of your father. Would you be able to provide some details?
SBJ: The writing of these recollections is only now in progress, and they will be published sometime, God willing.
It is a known fact that as a child your father spoke French fluently. Steinhaus writes that it is not known when he learned it.
But it is known. As I already mentioned, my father was placed with Maria Płowa to be raised by her. Her daughter, Banach's adoptive sister, 15 years older than him, had a friend, Ludwig Mien, who was a photographer in Kraków. He was French and spoke French with my father. That is where his fluent French came from. Incidentally, Ludwig Mien specialized in children's photographs and almost all of the surviving photographs of my father from his childhood were taken by him.
PH: What were your father's circumstances like during his childhood?
SBJ: To help his adoptive mother be began to tutor, initially in all subjects but then only mathematics and, finally, he tutored only students who were preparing for their high school diploma ("matura") examinations. In time his adoptive mother and sister-both were laundrywomen-prospered and were able to open their own laundry, which employed 15 to 20 workers. Naturally, my father's circumstances improved after that.
On another occasion you mentioned that when he was a student your father was a dancer in an opera.
When he was a student he danced the "Mazurek", in the second couple in the opera "Halka", for which he earned 20 halers. In another opera he was one of six porters who had to carry a bull on the stage.
PH: Was he interested in sports?
SBJ: As a boy he was a dedicated football player. He played in the "Błonie" park in Kraków. During his student days he was very good and keen on billiards. But billiards then was different than today's. It was called "karambol", and sometimes "karambolka". Only three balls were involved. Now American billiards is fashionable. That is something quite different. He was a very good tennis player. And as he was left-handed this caused additional difficulties for an opponent. It's more difficult to play against a left-hander because he plays a little differently from what we are used to. I learned to play tennis from him. Incidentally, although he was left-handed he wrote with his right hand-in those days schools required each student to use his right hand when writing. He wrote with his right but when he threw a stone he used his left-you can always tell a left-hander that way.
PH: Was he interested in politics? What were his views?
SBJ: Yes, he was. However, any short answer to your second question would cause you to misunderstand his views. In those days the political situation was so complex that it's simply not possible to give a short answer to this question. One thing I can say. He was absolutely not a communist.
PH: Did he fit the common perception of what a university professor should be like?
SBJ: I remember when once he came to the high school for a conference. My school friends were surprised that he did not have a long beard and was not a shaky old man. That was the expectation then of what a university professor should be like. To the contrary, he was a young man and did not conform to the various accepted norms. In the 1930s it was unheard of for someone to walk around with his shirt unbuttoned at the neck with the collar opened wide. You had to have your shirt buttoned up and wear a tie that was tightly tied. You had to wear a waistcoat under your jacket. You also had to have gloves that, if you were not actually wearing them, had to be held in your hand. Father broke that mode. I remember, for instance, when one time he went out wearing what was at that time an unfashionable short-sleeved shirt and sporting a walking stick. These de rigueur dress codes began later to change slowly.
PH: How did you spend your vacations?
SBJ: My school breaks lasted two months. I would spend July in Boy Scout Camp and August with my parents in the East Carpathian Mountains.
PH: Was your father involved with mathematics during the WWII occupation?
SBJ: He was involved with mathematics every day, for all practical purposes without a break, until the end of his life. Likewise during the occupation. He was very good at multi-tasking. He was able to work under any circumstances. He was quite happy working amid the noise and bustle of a coffeehouse.
PH: Did he talk much about mathematics at home?
SBJ: No, he did not. Once my mother and I retired for the day, and the house was quiet, he would begin to work and continued until quite late into the night till about 3 a.m. I would like to state, however, that he always had plenty of time for me. Sundays belonged to me. Every second Sunday we went to see football matches that were played by "Pogonia", a Lvov team. On alternate Sundays, when the team was playing away, we would go to the cinema to see cowboy films.
PH: Did he try to persuade you to take up mathematics?
SBJ: Yes, he tried, but I was more interested in humanities and the natural sciences. In any case, the more I learned and understood mathematics in high school the more I came to realize that I could never attain my father's level. And so, quite early on, a desire crystallized in me to study medicine, and my father did not try to stop me. He believed that everyone should earn a living through his hobby.
PH: During the current year your father received another prize...
SBJ: This year, during the ceremonies to commemorate the bicentennial of the University of the Andes (UNIVERSIDAD de LOS ANDES) in Venezuela, Professor A. Pełczyński, who attended as a representative from Poland, accepted a Honoris Causa Doctorate awarded posthumously to Stefan Banach, together with a gold covered medal. This degree was presented in the form of a 40 cm by 30 cm hand-made paper with the conjoined crests of the University and Republic of Venezuela impressed on a hard canvass frame with the University crest on it. A special etui containing this decorative document and the medal was presented to me by Professor Pełczyński. In turn, I am offering it to the S. Banach International Center in Warsaw.
PH: Thank you for the interview.
In conversation with Piotr Hajłasz, Warsaw, 1992.


We deeply thank Prof. dr. hab. med. Alina Filipowicz-Banach and the whole of family of Stefan Banach for their permission to post all the works of Stefan Banach on this website. We also thank John J. Greczek for this English translation.
Emilia Jakimowicz and Adam Miranowicz

Questions or comments about this page can be sent to Emilia Jakimowicz or Adam Miranowicz. We would also appreciate every link from your pages to our Home Page of Stefan Banach.

File translated from TEX by TTHgold, version 4.00.
On 04 Jan 2012, 18:50.