Home Page of Stefan Banach
Home Page of Stefan Banach
"On some details of Stefan Banach's life"
(Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków)
ZESZYTY NAUKOWE AKADEMII GÓRNICZO-HUTNICZEJ IM. S. STASZICA
Opuscula Mathematica 1522 (13) p. 71-74 (Kraków 1993)
(posted on this web-site with the written permission of the Author and
In this volume there is presented a paper "On some facts
connected with Stefan Banach". That paper perhaps will be
interesting first of all for Polish readers. However, the editor
of the volume assumed that some parts of it could interest also
non-Polish speaking readers and thus suggested the author to
present this information in English more widely than simply in the
In this paper we present the results of the investigations made by
the author. Different sources mention different dates of Banach's
birth and different information about schools he attended. Here we
definitely answer these questions on the base of historical
documents. Also, some other details of Banach's childhood are
given. In addition we present here also other information, perhaps
less known to non-Polish readers.
We do not consider here the problems connected with the Scottish
Cafe and the Scottish Book and their present state. Many facts
about the famous Scottish Cafe, the Scottish Book and the cemetery
where Banach was buried can be found in the articles written by S.
Ulam and M. Kac in English edition of the Scottish Book (edited by
R. D. Mauldin) and two articles by the author published in The
Mathematical Intelligencer (vol.10).
Banach was born on 30th March, 1892. However, many authorities
give the date 20th March. To mention the most important of them,
the date 20th March is given in the famous article by Hugo
Steinhaus published in "Wiadomości Matematyczne" in 1961 and the
Great Encyclopedia of Polish Scientific Publishers. Nevertheless,
many important sources publish the date 30th March. In particular,
these are Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Soviet mathematical
encyclopaedia and the mathematical calendar of "The Mathematical
Intelligencer". Also, this date can be found on Banach's grave.
How to make sure that just this date is correct?
After a long investigation the author managed to find the parish
register with Banach's birth and christening recorded. This was a
difficult task, as in the end of XIX century there were many
parishes in Kraków. It turned out that Banach was born in the'St.
Lazarus' Hospital, under the St. Philip's parish. It was on 1892,
March 30. He was baptised on 3rd April. In the parish register
there is noted only one name, i.e. Stefan. We find there also the
name of Banach's mother. Banach was a son of Katarzyna Banach. It
is an important note, as some authors give another information.
Let us recall here that Banach's parents were not married. Stefan
Greczek was the father of Stefan Banach. Banach did not know his
mother at all. He was brought up by a washer-woman, Mrs. Płowa
(and her daughter) since his very early childhood. Some sources
give the information that Banach was not the surname of Stefan's
mother, but the surname of just this washer-woman. According to
the parish register we make sure that this version is false.
By the way, in the St. Philip's parish there is no parish register
of that time. The earliest one preserved in the parish archives
dates from 1895. However, the copy of the register from 1892 is
kept in the City Register's Office. Note that it is almost
impossible to get any information from there as the clerks give
information only to the closest family of a particular person. We
write "almost impossible", not "impossible" because, as one
can see, the author succeeded to get the required information.
It is interesting how the mistake about the date of birth of
Banach could have been made. Probably - but this is only the
hypothesis of the author - the mistake appeared first in the
Steinhaus' article (it could even be a misprint in the proof).
Perhaps in no earlier source the date 20 March is given. The
article by Steinhaus is cited in many papers and notes and thus
the mistake from this article is repeated.
As was mentioned above, Banach's early childhood was rather
untypical. There is not much known about his early years.
Nevertheless, there are some papers about that, especially written
by some persons who knew Banach as a young boy. Let us mention
here one problem: different authorities give different information
about what school Banach attended. Some authors write about the
Secondary School Nr. I (the oldest such school in Poland, founded
in 1588, then named St. Anna's School), some write about School
Nr.IV, some write about the School Nr. IV as a branch of the
School Nr. I.
We are not going to present here this problem in details as it
would be interesting rather for Polish readers, first of all the
citizens of Kraków. Note only that after the precise investigation
it became clear that Banach attended the School Nr. IV. The
mistake was probably made because in the building where the pupils
of this school had lessons (so called "Götz House") there was
really a branch of the School Nr. I. However, in 1901 the new
school numbered IV was created. To this school there were settled
mainly the pupils from the School Nr.I who learned just in the
Götz House. Also, the Götz House became the seat of the new
school. Nevertheless, the event took place one year before Banach
started attending secondary school.
A very serious mistake can be found in the XVth edition of
Encyclopaedia Britannica. The note about Banach starts as follows:
,,Banach, Stefan (b. March 30, 1892, Kraków,
Austria-Hungary - d. Aug. 31, 1945, Lvov, Ukrainian S.S.R), Soviet
mathematician who founded modern functional analysis and..."
In the following sentences of the note the city of Lvov is
mentioned twice as a place where Banach worked, there is no remark
Probably the mistake was pointed out to the editors, because a
small change was made in the next edition. The beginning of the
corrected note is as follows:
,,Banach, Stefan (b. March 30, 1892, Kraków, Pol. - d.
Aug. 31, 1945, Lvov, Ukrainian S.S.R), mathematician who founded
modern functional analysis and..."
The rest of information was not changed. After such information a
reader of Encyclopaedia can find out that Banach was born in a
mysterious country "Pol.", but he was a Soviet mathematician,
because he worked in Lvov, which was, according to the note, a
Note that XVth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica introduces
Albert Einstein as "a German-American physicist", and Alfred
Tarski: "a Polish-born American mathematician" (after the
comparison we guess that Tarski was born in Poland but he became a
mathematician in the USA, which is certainly completely false).
Euler, who spent most of his life in Russia, is introduced as "a
Swiss mathematician and physicist".
Of course we are not going to prove here that Banach was Polish -
it would be useless to prove the obvious things. Nevertheless, let
us recall here some historical events. During the whole 19th
century up to 1918 Polish territory was taken by Russia,
Austria-Hungary and Germany. The life of people was very hard
except from the area taken by Austria-Hungary, which contained
also Kraków and Lwów. For instance, lessons at schools and
lectures at universities were given in Polish language there.
Banach spent his childhood in Kraków, then started studying in the
Lwów Technical University but after the beginning of the First
World War he came back to Kraków. After the war he did not plan to
be a professional mathematician, but was accidentaly
"discovered" by Steinhaus in one of Kraków's park. Steinhaus was
walking in the park and suddenly heard the words "Lebesgue
integral". He was very surprised and started talking to two young
men, which were Stefan Banach and Otto Nikodym. Steinhaus realized
their mathematical knowledge was large and during the talk
communicated them a problem he was just working on. A few days
later Banach came to Steinhaus and showed him a solution.
Steinhaus recognized Banach's great mathematical talent and
arranged a job for him at the Technical University of Lwów. As a
result Banach, who never graduated from any university, became a
university teacher, very quickly got his Ph. D. and became a full
professor. He worked in Lwów, a city which after the war was
joined back to Poland. In 1939 Lwów was gained by the Soviet
Union, in 1941 by Germany and in 1944 by the Soviet Union again.
After the end of the war it turned out that Lwów would be taken by
the Soviet Union definitively, so Banach was going to move to
Kraków where he was offered a Chair at the Jagiellonian
University, but he died on 31st August, 1945. According to this he
spent in the Soviet Union about three years. His language, family
etc. was Polish, he worked and taught in Poland. There is a story
that before the First World War Banach was offered a position in
the USA by an eminent mathematician. He asked about the salary and
then he was shown a cheque with his name and a number '1' written.
"Please, write after this '1' as many '0's as you want" he was
told. "Oh, this is too small price for leaving Poland" he
answered. Note also that before the Second World War the city of
Lwów was never Ukrainian or Soviet.
It is important that in Soviet mathematical encyclopedias Banach
is introduced as a Polish mathematician.
Let us point out here that in these encyclopedias there are other
mistakes. In the Soviet biographical dictionary of mathematicians
"The Great Mathematicians" there is written that Greczek was a
real Banach's surname and that Banach graduated from the Technical
University of Lwów. As was mentioned above, "Greczek" was really
the surname of Banach's father, but Banach never used this surname
and did not have this surname in any document. Also, one of the
most characteristical points of Banach's mathematical career was
that Banach was self-educated and in fact did not study, in
particular he did not graduated from any university.
Let us finish with a not widely known story connected with Banach.
There is many well known stories about Banach, as he had a very
interesting personality. We shall mention here an event which
happened many years after Banach's death. During the International
Congress of Mathematicians in Warsaw in 1983 some mathematicians
(not from Poland) discovered that one of Warsaw's streets is named
after Banach. They wanted very much to see this street, so they
went there. When they came to the destination they realized that
there was a large area without any building. Then they commented:
"This is not Banach street, but Banach space".
Received: 25th Sept. 1992
Reviewed by: dr Zofia Pawlikowska-Brożek
We thank dr. Krzysztof Ciesielski for his kind permission to
post a copy of his paper on this website. We also thank dr.
Jan Sas, the Head Editor of the Academic Publishers of AGH
for his permission to post a copy of this paper published in
"Opusculi Mathematica" No. 13 (1993).
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On 04 Jan 2012, 18:50.