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
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
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
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
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
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
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
PH: Was your father involved with mathematics during the WWII
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
File translated from
On 04 Jan 2012, 18:50.