Warsaw 1889 - Warsaw 1983


Brief scientific biography

Stefan Straszewicz was one of the Poland's outstanding mathematicians. He was a member of the Warsaw branch of the Polish School of Mathematics (a group belonging to the most important and creative mathematicians of the twentieth century), a propagator of mathematics, and a significant educator.
He was born and grew up during a difficult period in history of Poland: the country was not independent and had been divided up between Austria, Prussia and Russia (1795-1918).
Warsaw was occupied by the Russian, who tried to suppress Polish patriotism by strict injunctions against the use of Polish language. With regards to education, Poles who lived in the part of the country under Russian occupation were taught only in Russian in schools at secondary and university level (the University of Warsaw in the years 1870-1915). The Polish society resisted these methods of domination, and regarded the Polish education of young people as the most important means for preserving the Polish nationality. Support for talented students was organized by establishing private schools and courses at the university level, as well as by giving financial support for their education in leading scientific centers abroad (an idea that was strongly developed by Samuel Dickstein). In 1915, during the First World War, in Warsaw political conditions permitted the founding of the Polish University of Warsaw. In November 1918 Poland regained its independence.
Stefan Straszewicz first entered secondary school in the town Skierniewice, then continued his education in Warsaw, finally finishing the gymnasium in 1906 in the city Bialystok. In the years 1906-1907 he studied mathematics at the Mathematics and Science Faculty of the Society of Scientific Courses in Warsaw, the only school at university level that was founded by Poles (at the initiative of Samuel Dickstein) after the Main School in Warsaw had been closed by Russian occupants (1869). Straszewicz left Warsaw in 1907 to study at the University and at the University of Technology (1907-1911) in Zurich (Switzerland). In 1911 he returned to Warsaw and worked there for the next two years as a mathematics teacher in a secondary school. In 1913 he returned to Switzerland in order to continue his scientific research in Zurich as a student of Ernst Zermelo (1871-1953).
In 1914 Straszewicz published his doctoral thesis, entitled "Beitraege zur Theorie der Convexen Punktmengen" and obtained a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Zurich. He worked at that university until 1919. At the same time he was a mathematics teacher in a secondary school in Zurich.
After his return in Warsaw in 1919, he worked as a teacher of mathematics in a gymnasium and as a lecturer at the Warsaw University of Technology. In 1921 he obtained a scientific position at the University of Warsaw and continued his scientific research. In 1925 Straszewicz published his thesis: "über die Zerschneidung der Ebene durch abgeschlossene Mengen". That publication was the basis for his qualification as a professor. In 1928 Straszewicz obtained a position as a professor at the Warsaw University of Technology in the Engineering Faculty. From 1932 to 1935 he was dean of the faculty, and in the years 1938-1939 was vice-president of that university.
Straszewicz was also strongly involved in editing mathematical journals. He was an editor of The Mathematical and Physical Review (1924) and Parameter (1930-1939).
In September 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, Warsaw was under Nazi occupation and the University of Technology was closed by the Germans. Straszewicz was forced to leave Warsaw until 1942. When he returned, he worked at the State Higher School of Technology, which recruited professors from the University of Technology for its staff. From 1942 to 1945 Straszewicz was actively engaged in clandestine teaching. He was the president of the clandestine University of Technology. He also rendered services to a cause devoted to saving as much as possible of the property of the University of Technology and its scientific output.
After the Second World War, Straszewicz was very active in rebuilding the Warsaw University of Technology and restoring it as leading scientific and educational centre. From 1945 to 1960 he was a chair of the Cathedral of Mathematics, and from 1948 to 1951 was vice-president of that university. In 1974 he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the Warsaw University of Technology.
In the period from 1945 to 1951 Straszewicz also gave lectures on geometry and mathematical analysis at University of Warsaw.

His scientific research concerned mainly topology (from 1913 on), set theory and geometry. A generalization of the thesis of Zygmunt Janiszewski (1888-1920) on cutting the plane was one of the most important results of his scientific research. Moreover, Straszewicz was an author of the method concerning tangent lines to curves, elaborating on the example of the ellipse. He also gave a new definition of the notion of an arc and worked out the basic equations of spherical trigonometry.
In addition to these significant achievements in pure mathematics he rendered great services in the domain of the methodology of mathematics teaching and in improving the curricula for primary and secondary schools. He was an author and co-author of many modern mathematics textbooks at primary and secondary levels, used by many generations of students, raising the level of their mathematical knowledge. These textbooks included new concepts of the mathematics curriculum for schools, for example, the concept of introducing of geometrical transformations symmetries and homotheties as a basis for elementary geometry teaching.
Straszewicz was also a lecturer and mentor to many generations of mathematicians and mathematics teachers.
He was an active member of the Polish Mathematical Society: its president from 1953 to 1957 and an honorary member from 1969 on. In 1979 he was awarded the prestigious prize named after Samuel Dickstein from the Polish Mathematical Society for his achievements for the benefit of mathematical culture.
Straszewicz was also the chair of the Polish Commission for Mathematical Curricula and Textbooks for Primary and Secondary schools from 1957 to 1975, and a member of the Main Council of the Higher Education in Poland.
He is perhaps best remembered for having founded in 1949 the Polish Mathematical Olympic Games, competitions for students especially talented in mathematics. Of all his activities, this was his "baby": he elaborated the methodological basis and the rules of competition for these Olympiads and co-organized them from 1949 to 1960. It is worth noting that the majority all generations of the laureates of these Olympiads became outstanding mathematicians, now famous throughout the scientific world.
As a mathematician and educator Straszewicz was well known in international scientific societies. He was an active member of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction in the periods 1932-1929 and 1957-1972, and vice-president of ICMI from 1962 to 1966. He participated at many international conferences and congresses as the head of the National Polish Commission and a representative of Poland. He chaired a section at the International Congresses of Mathematicians. He authored national reports on mathematical instruction in his country; in particular he reported on the "Connections between arithmetic and algebra in the mathematical instruction of children up to the age of 15" at the ICM of Stockholm in 1962.
Professor Stefan Straszewicz died in Warsaw. His tomb is at the Brodno Cemetery in Warsaw.


Selected works by Stefan Straszewicz:

S. STRASZEWICZ 1924, O wielobokach (On Polygons) , Publisher: Ksiaznica - Atlas, Lvov
S. STRASZEWICZ 1924, Rozwiazania zadan z Cynematyki (Solutions of Tasks in Cynematics) , Warsaw, Publisher unknown
S. STRASZEWICZ 1933, La préparation des professeurs de mathématiques de l'enseignement secondaire, L'Enseignement Mathématique, 32, 365-374 (not signed, but attributed to Straszewicz in the list of authors at the end of the issue; probably co-authored with S. Dickstein named in the same list without page number)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1934, Geometrja dla II klasy gimnazjalnej (Geometry for the 2nd Grade of Gymnasium) , Lvov, Ksiaznica - Atlas
S. STRASZEWICZ 1937, Die gegenwârtigen Entwicklungstendenzen in mathematischen Unterricht in Polen, L'Enseignement Mathématique, 36, 377-384
S. STRASZEWICZ 1938, Geometria analityczna (Analytical Geometry), Lvov, Ksiaznica - Atlas (second edition: Wroclaw 1947)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1947, Algebra (Algebra), Wroclaw, Ksiaznica - Atlas
S. STRASZEWICZ 1947, Matematyka (Mathematics) , Wroclaw Ksiaznica - Atlas, (other edition: 1949)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1947, Matematyka dla przyrodnikow (Mathematics for Natural Scientists), Warsaw, Komisja Wydawnicza Towarzystwa "Bratnia Pomoc" Studentow Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego
S. STRASZEWICZ 1948, Geometria (Geometry) , Wroclaw, Ksiaznica - Atlas (also Publ. PZWS 1947, other edition: 1948)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1948, Repetytorium elementow matematyki (Repetitory Course of Elements of Mathematics), Warsaw, Trzaska, Evert, Michalski
S. STRASZEWICZ 1951, Zadania z IV Olimpiady Matematycznej (Mathematical Problems from the 1st Polish Mathematical Olympiad), Warsaw, PZWS
S. STRASZEWICZ 1952, Zadania z IV Olimpiady Matematycznej (Mathematical Problems from the 2nd Polish Mathematical Olympiad), Warsaw, PZWS
S. STRASZEWICZ 1953, Zadania z IV Olimpiady Matematycznej (Mathematical Problems from the 3rd Polish Mathematical Olympiad), Warsaw, PZWS
S. STRASZEWICZ 1954, Zadania z IV Olimpiady Matematycznej (Mathematical Problems of the 4th Polish Mathematical Olympiad), Warsaw PZWS
S. STRASZEWICZ 1956, Zadania z Olimpiad Matematycznych (Mathematical Problems and Puzzles from the Polish Mathematical Olympiads), Warsaw, PZWS (other editions: 1960, 1961, 1967, 1972). English version: volume 12 of the series Popular Lectures in Mathematics, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1965
S. STRASZEWICZ 1964, Relations entre l'arithmétique et l'algèbre dans l'enseignement des mathématiques pour les enfants jusqu'à l'âge de quinze ans, L'Enseignement Mathématique, s. 2, 10, 271-293
S. STRASZEWICZ 1974, Geometria wykreslna (Descriptive Geometry), Warsaw, WSiP (also Publ. PZWS 1971)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1974, Matematyka dla klasy IV i V piecioletniego technikum i liceum zawodowego (Mathematics for the 4th and 5th Grade of Five Years Technical and Vocational Secondary School), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1987)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1975, Arytmetyka i algebra w klasach V-VIII szkoly podstawowej (Arithmetics and Algebra for Grade V-VIII of Elementary School), Warsaw, WSiP (also Publ. PZWS 1972)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1975, Matematyka (Mathematics), Warsaw, WSiP (also Publ. PZWS 1969 and other editions: 1970, 1972, 1973)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1976, Matematyka dla klasy III liceum ogolnoksztalcacego (Mathematics for the 3rd Grade of Lycee), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1977, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1977, Matematyka dla klasy III czteroletniego technikum i liceum zawodowego (Mathematics for the 3rd Grade of Four Years Technical and Vocational Secondary School), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984)
S. STRASZEWICZ 1977, Matematyka dla klasy III piecioletniego technikum i liceum zawodowego (Mathematics for the 3rd Grade of Five Years Technical and Vocational Secondary School), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1987)
S. STRASZEWICZ, S. KULCZYCKI 1947, Geometria wykreńlna (Descriptive Geometry), Wroclaw, Ksiaznica - Atlas
S. STRASZEWICZ, A. BIAŁAS 1973, Matematyka (Mathematics), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, also Publ. PZWS 1969)
S. STRASZEWICZ, J. BROWKIN, J. REMPAŁA 1975, Dwadziescia piec lat Olimpiady Matematycznej, (Twenty five years of the Polish Mathematical Olympiads), Warsaw, WSiP
S. STRASZEWICZ, A. EHRENFEUCHT, O. STANDE 1975, Algebra, (Algebra), Warsaw, WSiP (also Publ. PZWS 1969, other editions: 1970, 1972, 1973)
S. STRASZEWICZ, A. EHRENFEUCHT, O. STANDE 1975, Algebra dla klasy III czteroletniego technikum i liceum zawodowego (Algebra for Grade III of four years technical and vocational secondary school), Warsaw, WSiP (other editions: 1976,1978, 1979, 1980,1981, 1983, 1986)
S. STRASZEWICZ, S. KULCZYCKI, Z. KRYGOWSKA 1957, Nauczanie geometrii w klasach licealnych szko?y ogolnoksztalcacej (Teaching of geometry in Lycea), Warsaw, PZWS

Books translated into Polish by Stefan Straszewicz:

R. DEDEKIND 1914, Ciaglosc a liczby niewymierne (Stetigkeit und Irrartionale Zahlen) , Warsaw, Gebethner and Wolff
é. GOURSAT 1914, Kurs analizy matematycznej (Cours d'analyse mathématique), Warsaw, Kasa im. J. Mianowskiego Instytutu Popierania Nauki

Books edited by Stefan Straszewicz:

S. KULCZYCKI 1975, Z dziejow liczb (History of Numbers), Warsaw, WSiP (other edition: 1976)

Journals created and edited by Stefan Straszewicz:

A. RUSIECKI, S. STRASZEWICZ (edited by) 1930-1939, Parametr (Parameter), Warsaw, Ksiegarnia sw. Wojciecha.
A. RUSIECKI, S. STRASZEWICZ (edited by) 1931-1932, Mńody Matematyk (Young Mathematician), Warsaw, Ksiegarnia sw. Wojciecha

All books and works above are available in Poland at the National Library in Warsaw, the Library of the University of Warsaw, the Jagiellonian Library in Kracow, the Nicolaus Copernicus Library at the University in Torun, the Adam Mickiewicz Library University in Poznan, and others.


J. KOWALSKI, The Polish Mathematical Society (PTM), Available at (PDF - the Polish Mathematical Society)
K. KURATOWSKI 1973, A Half Century of Polish Mathematics 1920-1970 (in Polish: Pol wieku matematyki polskiej), Warsaw, Ksiazka i Wiedz. English version: 1980, A Half Century of Polish Mathematics: remembrances and reflections, Oxford, Pergamon Press Oxford - PWN Warsaw
RAPPORT DU CERCLE MATHEMATICO-PHYSIQUE DE VARSOVIE, L'Enseignement des mathématiques et de la physique dans les écoles privées de la Pologne, L'Enseignement Mathématique, 13, 299-319
J. ZALESKI 1989, Stefan Straszewicz 1889-1983, Warszawa, Pracownia Historyczna BGPW, s. 100. Available at

Internet addresses

Life of Straszewicz:

Photos of Straszewicz: (PDF - the Polish Mathematical Society) Caricature of Straszewicz drawn by the Polish mathematician Leon Jesmanowicz (1914-1989):

Ewa Lakoma
Institute of Mathematics
Military University of Technology
Warsaw (Poland)