Home Page of Stefan Banach

Home Page of Stefan Banach

"A Family Secret"
by Maria Sowińska
(translated by John J. Greczek)
[Published in: Emilia Jakimowicz and Adam Miranowicz (ed.),
"Stefan Banach. Niezwykłe życie i genialna matematyka"
(Stefan Banach - Remarkable life, Brilliant mathematics.),
2nd edition, Oficyna Wydawnicza "Impuls", Kraków 2009.]
(posted on this web-site with the written permission of the Author, Translator and Publishers)
I first heard about Stefan Banach in 1948 when I came to live with my grandmother Maria Puchalska. I was then 6 years old. Grandmother and my parents always spoke about Stefek (1). At that time I understood only that he was someone very closely connected with my family and someone very important. During their conversations I also heard the word "Mikrus", but I did not know what it meant. However, before long that became clear. That happened about 1949 when, returning with my mother on a cold Sunday evening after visiting my aunt, we met a gentleman in the vicinity of the railway viaduct in Grzegorzski (2) who greeted us very warmly. Mother said to me, "Marysia (3), this is Stefan Banach." I was convinced I had finally met the Stefek I had heard so much about. However, some time later I found out that Stefan was no longer alive and that we had met his son whose name was also Stefan, and whom my family referred to as "Mikrus" to distinguish him from his father.
Over the years, from family conversations that I heard in our house, I formed the impression that Stefek was an ideal. Not only was he a man of genius but he also had an outstanding character and great charm that no one could resist. My mother, who I thought was the most objective, also attested to that. She met Stefek in the 1930s, when engaged to my father, and she too fell under his charm.
The older I got the more convinced I became that my grandmother was very fond of Stefek, quite simply that she loved him. I often wondered whether my father might be envious, but probably not since I never sensed any trace of envy in his comments. Quite the opposite, Stefek was for him an indisputable authority and like an older brother. He helped my father with his schoolwork, especially in science, went on hikes and played draughts and chess with him. He also challenged him with ever more difficult problems and puzzles that would sometimes take my father weeks to solve. He would then give my father prizes for the right solutions. In this way, thanks to Stefek, my father was able to attain an unusually high level of logical reasoning. In later life Father was a humanitarian and moved in the world of the arts but he also became a chess master and often gave simultaneous 25-board exhibitions in which he almost always prevailed on all of the boards. That was the result of Banach's early influence.
How much Stefek was loved and almost worshipped by our family is well exemplified by a chair. In our home there was a chair on which I often sat. Each time my mother would tell me, "Marysia, be careful. Stefek sat in that chair. It was his favourite." That chair is still in my house. It is treated with great respect as the only memento of Stefek. I must admit that in those early days I did not know why it was that Banach was considered a genius and what it was he had accomplished that was so important, and I was somewhat sceptical.
I already knew when I was just a few years old that my grandmother had lost her parents early in her life, and that she was then brought up in the home of her aunt Frania (4). I knew that Stefek also lived there at that time but I did not know why. I discerned some kind of mystery connected with his origins which Grandmother kept even from me. In the 1950s Grandmother and I visited Stefan Greczek in Ostrowsko, near Nowy Targ, while we were vacationing there at the same time as he was. She never mentioned any connection between him, his family, and Stefek. However, I began to suspect that Stefan Greczek was Stefek's father, but I did not know who his mother was. I have to admit this was a strange situation. Grandmother resolutely kept the mystery of Stefek's origins until her death. It was only in 1968, after her death, that my father told me about Stefan Banach's mother. According to him Katarzyna Banach came to aunt Frania's house about 1890-91. She came to work in the laundry that my aunt owned. When it became apparent that she was pregnant my aunt wanted to send her home but Katarzyna insisted that in her condition, or later with a child, she dare not show herself in her village. She also revealed who the child's father was. After a baby son was born she left him in the care of aunt Frania. She herself went back to her village and shortly thereafter married a railway worker. She never had any further contact with her son. On the other hand, Stefan Greczek was a frequent visitor in aunt Frania's and my grandmother's home. My mother related to me that they had all known each other before the child was born. That was the secret that my grandmother kept.
Stefek treated aunt Frania's and later my grandmother's home as his own and reciprocated our feelings for him. These strong bonds between him and my family existed throughout his whole life. In 1913 Grandmother visited him in Lvov. Whenever he was in Krakow he would always come to see Grandmother, first by himself and later on with his son. I know that when he was in Krakow, either before or after the war, Stefan Jr stayed for a time with Grandmother. I came to know him better during the 1980s and 1990s when he was often in Krakow trying to arrange for his father's remains to be transferred to the vault reserved for famous Poles in St. Stanislaus Church in Krakow. During our meetings he would always stress that I am a part of his closest family. These were for me pleasant words even if spoken perhaps only out of respect.
I must add, for the sake of truthfulness, that there was one flaw in our relations with Stefek's family. This concerned the relation between my grandmother and his wife. I would describe it as cool. I do not think she ever visited Grandmother in her home.
I regret that I no longer remember more and that I did not write down all of Grandmother's and Father's stories about our beloved Stefek.
Maria Sowinska
Granddaughter of Maria Puchalska
Krakow, November 2007.
1. Stefek-pet name for Stefan (Stephen/Steven).
2. Grzekorzki-a district in Krakow.
3. Marysia-a pet name for Maria (Mary).
4. Frania-a pet name for Franciszka (Frances) Plowa.


We sincerely thank Maria Sowinska for her kind permission to publish his article on this website and 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, 18:51.