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Prominent Poles

Stefan Banach, mathematician

Photo of Stefan Banch, mathematician

Born:  March 30, 1892, Ostrowsko, Austro-Hungarian partition of Poland (presently Poland)

Died:  August 31, 1945, Lvov, Soviet Union (previously Lwow, Poland;presently Lviv Ukraine).

Early days. Son of Stefan Greczek a tax official and, possibly, of Katarzyna Banach. Who was in fact his mother remains uncertain. Was brought up in Krakow by Franciszka Plowa and received his early education from a French intellectual, Juliusz Mien who was the guardian of Plowa’s daughter. In 1902 he finished primary school in Krakow and began his secondary education at the Henryk Sienkiewicz Gymnasium No 4 in the same city. According to one of his colleagues Banach was very good in mathematics and natural sciences but was not interested in anything else. He finished the Gymnasium in 1910 without distinction.
Higher education. As he felt that nothing new can be discovered in mathematics he chose to study engineering at the Lwow Polytechnic (1910-1916). His father did not want to support him financially so he supported himself probably by tutoring. During this period he frequently left Lwow to build roads but also attended mathematics lectures at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and taught in local schools. In the spring of 1916 he met in Krakow, by chance, Steinhaus, a mathematician who just got a position at Lwow University. Steinhaus, impressed by young Banach’s talent for mathematics, told him about a problem he couldn’t solve.
First publication. Banach helped Steinhaus, and the ensuing paper they wrote together was published in Krakow in 1918. Since then Banach produced many papers.
Marriage. Also thanks to Steinhaus he met Lucja Braus whom he married in Zakopane , in 1920. In the same year Banach became an assistant to Lomnicki a professor of mathematics at Lwow Polytechnic. Lomnicki served as Banach’s major advisor for his doctoral thesis. In 1922 the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow awarded Banach his habilitation (a degree allowing to teach at the university) for a Docent in Mathematics for his thesis on measure theory.
Professorship. In July 1922 he was appointed Extraordinary Professor. In 1924 he was promoted to Ordinary Professor (Full Professor). He spent the academic year 1924-25 in Paris. In 1929 he started, with Steinhaus, the journal Studia Mathematica. In 1931 he started co-editing, together with Steinhaus, Knaster, Kuratowski, Mazurkiewicz and Sierpinski , a series of Mathematical Monographs. In 1936 Banach gave a plenary address at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Oslo, Norway. From 1927 until 1934 he wrote some joint papers with Kuratowski. He also worked with Ulam and Turowicz. In 1939 Banach was elected President of the Polish Mathematical Society.
Wartime activities. After the Soviets invaded Lwow in 1939, Banach was allowed to continue to hold his chair at the university and he became the Dean of the Faculty of Science, the university being renamed the Ivan Franko University. Famous Soviet mathematicians Sobolev and Aleksandrov visited Banach in Lwow in 1940, while Banach attended conferences in the Soviet Union. He was in Kiev when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and he returned immediately to his family in Lwow. He was arrested but released after few weeks. He also survived the Nazi slaughter of Polish university professors – among them his advisor Lomnicki. From the end of 1941 through the remainder of the Nazi occupation (July 1944) he worked by feeding lice in Prof. Weigel’s Institute in Lwow . After the Soviets reentered Lwow, he contacted his Soviet friend Sobolev, who wrote about this encounter: “…and despite the grave illness that was undercutting his strength, Banach's eyes were still lively. He remained the same sociable, cheerful, and extraordinarily well-meaning and charming Stefan Banach whom I had seen in Lvov before the war. That is how he remains in my memory: with a great sense of humour, an energetic human being, a beautiful soul, and a great talent…”. Banach died of lung cancer in Lwow in 1945.
Achievements. Banach founded the important modern mathematical field of functional analysis and made major contributions to the theory of topological vector spaces. In addition, he contributed to measure theory, integration, the theory of sets, and orthogonal series.

Books about Banach:
R Kaluza, The life of Stefan Banach (Boston, 1996).
S Ulam, Adventures of a mathematician (New York, 1976).

St.Andrews university
Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
GAP is Copyright (C) 1986--1997 by Lehrstuhl D f\"ur Mathematik, RWTH Aachen, Aachen. Germany and Copyright (C) 1997-2001 by School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, UK GAP can be copied and distributed freely for any non-commercial purpose.

Other links:
Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 1970-1990).
Biography in Encyclopaedia Britannica

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