Chaim Samuel Hönig

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1 February 1926
Berlin, Germany
19 March 2018
São Paulo, Brazil

Chaim Samuel Hönig was born in Berlin but became a Brazilian citizen. He was the founder of the Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium in 1957 and its first organiser. He was also a founder of the Brazilian Mathematical Society in 1969 and its first president.


Chaim Samuel Hönig was the son of Moisés E Hönig and his wife Rachela. Moisés and Rachela were both from Jewish Polish families and they were married in Poland in the early 1920s. They moved to Germany and were living in Berlin when their first child Chaim Samuel Hönig, the subject of this biography, was born in 1926. Three years later, in 1929, their second child, a daughter Eugenia Hönig, was born. Chaim began his schooling in Germany but he explained in a 2003 interview that he did not excel in his studies at this time. The only subject which he did well in was mathematics and this was largely due to the influence of his father Moisés who was passionate about the subject. Moisés taught Chaim basic mathematics and encouraged him by setting challenging little problems for his son to solve.

For a Jewish boy studying in Germany at this time, life must have been extremely difficulty and this may well explain why Chaim only excelled in a subject he was taught by his father. On 30 January 1933 Hitler had come to power and on 7 April 1933 clause three of the Civil Service Law provided the means of removing Jewish teachers from the universities, and of course also to remove those of Jewish descent from other roles. All civil servants who were not of Aryan descent (having one grandparent of the Jewish religion made someone non-Aryan) were to be retired, with exemptions for participants in World War I and pre-war officials. Not only did Jewish people fear that their children had no future in Germany, but they became increasingly frightened that they were not safe. The Hönig family decided to emigrate.

Of course it was not simple for Jewish families to emigrate at this time since many countries did not open their borders to Jewish refugees. Returning to Poland, or to another country bordering Germany, already looked like a bad move to the Hönigs. They thought that South America provided their best option and in many ways they were fortunate. Countries like Brazil, and others, only allowed Jewish immigrants to come if they were joining a relative who was already living there. The Hönigs were fortunate in that Chaim's uncle, Don Leistner (1900-1955), had been living in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, since the 1920s so they decided to join him. They made the trip in 1937 and settled in Porto Alegre.

Chaim was eleven years old and his sister Eugenia was eight when the family arrived in Brazil. It proved relatively easy for young children to adapt to a different language and a different way of life. Within three months, Chaim and Eugenia were only speaking Portuguese to each other, although for a while they still needed to speak German with their parents who took longer to learn the language. Speaking about these times in an interview, Chaim said:-
... this shows that, in adapting to a new language, the decisive factor is puberty. Foreigners who came before puberty had no problem, while those who came after puberty took three to four years to adapt.
Hönig began his schooling in Porto Alegre in 1937, attending a Junior School until 1939. In 1939 he entered that Colégio Estadual Júlio de Castilhos in Porto Alegre. This excellent school had been founded in 1900 by João José Pereira Parobé as the Gymnasio do Rio Grande do Sul. Parobé was a founder and director of the Escola de Engenharia of Rio Grande do Sul and the school continued to keep strong links to the School of Engineering. In fact when Hönig began his studies there in 1939 the school was named Instituto Júlio de Castilhos (named in honour of a Rio Grande do Sul politician) but, halfway through his studies, its name became Colégio Estadual Júlio de Castilhos. Unlike his experience in the German school system, Hönig now showed himself a brilliant student in all his subjects. His mathematics teacher was very impressed and realised that Hönig was capable to being taught at a much higher level so he suggested that, while continuing to study at the school, he also attended mathematics lectures by Antônio Rodrigues (1918-2003) and Ary Nunes Tietbõhl (1912-1998) at the Faculty of Education, Sciences and Letters of Porto Alegre [1]:-
According to Professor Chaim, attending these courses was fundamental to his career. After all, although he had had an interest in Mathematics since he was a child, he was unaware of the existence of institutions in which it was possible to study Mathematics exclusively. In addition, the two aforementioned professors had graduated from the Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras of the University of São Paulo and, therefore, were already teaching courses along the lines of that institution. It was through them that Chaim learned about the existence of the undergraduate course in Mathematics at the Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras of the University of São Paulo.
Hönig was advised by the two professors who told him that if he wanted to study mathematics in Brazil, the best place was at the Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras of the University of São Paulo. This decision, however, did not find favour with his parents. It was certainly understandable that seeing their son ranked as the best student at the Colégio Estadual Júlio de Castilhos with a brilliant engineering career in front of him, they would find his wishes to study mathematics at São Paulo as near stupidity. When he passed the oral entrance examinations in Portuguese, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry for the Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras of the University of São Paulo in 1946, Hönig's parents relented and agreed to fund their son for a year at São Paulo. They may have thought that after a year he would "see sense" and change to engineering but this was not the case. His performance in the first year was so good that he received scholarships to support him for the remainder of his undergraduate studies and he did not require any further financial support from his parents.

In 1939 Omar Catunda had been appointed, on an interim basis, as professor responsible for the chair of Mathematical and Higher Analysis in the Department of Mathematics at the University of São Paulo. In 1945 Elza Gomide was appointed as Catunda's assistant and in the same year André Weil was appointed to the chair which Catunda had filled on a temporary basis. Cândido Lima da Silva Dias, who had himself been a student in the Department, was by this time a professor with Luiz Henrique Jacy Monteiro as his assistant. Jean Dieudonné was appointed professor of mathematics at São Paulo for 1946-47. In addition, Jean Delsarte spent four summer months as Professor at the University of São Paulo in each of the years 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951. It was indeed an excellent Department containing leading international mathematicians that provided Hönig with an inspiring environment in which to study. He was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in Physics and in Mathematics in 1948 and, in 1949, he graduated with a Licentiate in Mathematics.

Edison Farah (1915-2006) had studied mathematics at São Paulo and had graduated in 1941. He was appointed as Catunda's assistant for Higher Analysis in 1944 and then André Weil's assistant for the same topic in the following year. When André Weil left São Paulo, Farah took over the teaching of Higher Analysis. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1950 for his thesis entitled "Sôbre a medida de Lebesgue." In 1951, Hönig was appointed as Farah's assistant in Higher Analysis, becoming in charge of the exercise classes. Hönig had become a Brazilian citizen in 1950, something which was necessary before he could be appointed to an academic position. His appointment as Farah's assistant had been made on the recommendations of Omar Catunda and Cândido Lima da Silva Dias. Hönig had been undertaking research for his doctorate from the time he graduated with a Licentiate in Mathematics, officially advised by Edison Farah although in practice he received most help from Leopoldo Nachbin.

Hönig submitted his 44-page thesis Sôbre um método de refinamento de topologias and was awarded his doctorate in 1952. The examining committee consisting of Edison Farah (chairman), Omar Catunda, Cândido Lima da Silva Dias, Leopoldo Nachbin and Charles Ehresmann approved the degree "with distinction." He had already had two papers in print, namely Classification of the additive groups of rational numbers (Portuguese) (1948) and On a method of refinement of topologies (Portuguese) (1951). The 1951 paper is, in fact, Hönig's Ph.D. thesis in which he constructs examples of curious topological spaces. His methods reproduced much of the theory of semi-regular spaces expounded by Marshall Harvey Stone.

Cândido Lima da Silva Dias suggested that, because the teaching and research at São Paulo had been heavily influenced by members of Bourbaki, Hönig would benefit from postdoctoral studies in Paris. With financial support from both the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and from the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Hönig was a postdoctoral fellow at the Henri Poincaré Institute in France from 1953 to 1955. During this period he studied with world-leading mathematicians such as Marc Krasner, Laurent Schwartz, Alexander Grothendieck, Jean-Louis Koszul, Henri Cartan and André Lichnerowicz. Returning to São Paulo, he again took up his duties as an assistant of Edison Farah. In 1955 he was elected as an associate member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. He would become a full member in 1968.

In 1957 the series of Brazilian Mathematics Colloquia was begun by Hönig. He was the organiser of the First Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium from 1 July to 20 July 1957. He also delivered one of the main lecture courses on Álgebra Multilinear e Variedades Diferenciáveis . At the Second Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium held from 5 July to 18 July 1959 he was a member of the organising committee and also gave the course Classificação dos A-Módulos do Corpo de Frações de um Anel de Dedekind . He also gave a lecture on the Development of Mathematics in Brazil where he set out the need for planning the best use of existing research centres, the need to attract talented young people into a scientific career, and the need to increase exchanges between Brazilian and foreign researchers. At the Third Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium held from 2 July to 15 July 1961, he delivered the six lecture course Aplicações da Topologia à Análise . Also at this meeting he set up an exhibition on teaching mathematics in Brazilian high schools. By the time of the Sixth Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium held from 2 July to 22 July 1967 there had been a change in format and Hönig delivered the Improvement course Introdução às Funções de uma Variável Complexa . At the Eighth Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium held from 5 July to 23 July 1971 he delivered one of the four standard courses, namely Análise Funcional e o Problema de Sturm-Liouville . We note that he published this course as a 178-page book in 1971.
More information about the Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium is given at THIS LINK.

The Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada (IMPA) was founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1952. In 1959, Leopoldo Nachbin invited Hönig to work simultaneously at the IMPA and at the Mathematics Department in São Paulo. In the early 1960s Hönig was told that he was no longer required as an assistant in Higher Analysis. Immediately he was offered the position of assistant to Mário Schenberg, the professor of Rational Mechanics and Celestial Mechanics. Hönig spent the years from 1961 to 1964, working as a visiting professor at the Faculté des Sciences in Rennes, France. He returned to Brazil in March 1964, only days before a military dictatorship was established in Brazil following a military coup. He later said that, had he still been in France at the time of the military coup, he may never have returned to Brazil. Although some academics were repressed, according to Hönig, mathematicians were relatively unaffected (see [1]):-
... there were people who tried to use the military period, spread rumours, that they were going to catch that one and that they were going to hunt this one, but at the Instituto Militar de Engenharia, as far as I know, none of this took place. ... The most targeted areas were the human sciences, social sciences, then these things were more important .. But in Mathematics this did not happen ...
In 1969 the Brazilian Mathematical Society was founded during the Seventh Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium. Hönig was leading the move to establish the Society and he was elected as the first President. The Society began publishing a Bulletin in 1970 and Hönig wrote the Introduction to the first part of the first volume. We present an English translation of his Introduction at THIS LINK.

He published both textbooks aimed at undergraduates or postgraduates and research monographs. For example: Aplicações da topologia à análise (1961); Análise de Fourier em espaços L2L_{2} e teoremas do tipo de Sobolev (1965); Análise functional e aplicações . Vols. I, II (1970); Introdução às funções de uma variável complexa (1971); Análise funcional e o problema de Sturm-Liouville (1971); The abstract Riemann-Stieltjes integral and its applications to linear differential equation with generalized boundary conditions (1973); and Volterra Stieltjes-integral equations (1975). For more information about some of these books, see THIS LINK.

The 1965 publication Análise de Fourier em espaços L2L_{2} e teoremas do tipo de Sobolev was Hönig's thesis which he submitted in his application to became a full professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters. In 1973, he was approved in a competition for a Full Professorship at the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of São Paulo. He continued in this chair until he reached the age of 70 in 1996 when he was required to retire.

Hönig made many contributions to supporting the development of the mathematical sciences in Brazil [6]:-
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hönig was part of the organising commission for important scientific events in the field of Mathematical Analysis, among them the three Quinzenas de Análise Funcional [Functional Analysis and Differential Equations Fortnights] held at the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (Aeronautics Institute of Technology), in 1967, 1969 and 1970, and the I Escola Latino-Americana de Matemática [Latin American School of Mathematics], held in Rio de Janeiro in 1968. A founding partner in 1969 of the Sociedade Brasileira de Matemática (Brazilian Mathematical Society), Hönig was its first president, from 1969 to 1971, as well as one of the founders in 1974 of the Academia de Ciências do Estado de São Paulo [São Paulo State Academy of Sciences]. ... Hönig also acted as coordinator of the Mathematics Advisory Board of the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Educational Personnel), of the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico - CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development) and Fundação de Amparo e Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo - FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation).
In 1998 he was honoured with the award of the National Order of Scientific Merit.

Hönig's death notice from the Universidade Federal do ABC states [7]:-
It is with regret that we inform you of the death of Professor Chaim Samuel Hönig, a pioneer in Mathematics in Brazil and who played an important role in structuring the mathematical community. We are especially grateful to Professor Chaim for his immense generosity in donating his personal collection to our library. Burial will be on 23 March 2018 at 1:30 pm at the Embu das Artes Israeli Cemetery, Keishi Matsumoto Road 7. The wake begins at 12:30 pm.

References (show)

  1. M F Cavalari, As contribuições de Chaim Samuel Hönig para o desenvolvimento da matemática brasileira (Doctoral Thesis, Universidade Estadual Paulista, Rio Claro, 2012).
  2. M F Cavalari, Uma narrativa da trajetória acadêmica de Chaim Samuel Hönig (1926-).
  3. M F Cavalari and S R Nobre, Chaim Samuel Hönig (1926 - 2018): Trajetória Acadêmica e Contribuições para o desenvolvimento da Matemática Brasileira, Revista Brasileira de História da Matemática 19 (37) (2019), 117-139.
  4. J V Herod, Review: Volterra Stieltjes-integral equations, by Chaim Samuel Hönig, Mathematical Reviews MR0499969 (58 #17705).
  5. E Hewitt, Review: Sôbre um método de refinamento de topologias, by Chaim Samuel Hönig, Mathematical Reviews MR0052759 (14,669a).
  6. S Mamarão, Hönig, Chaim Samuel, Mathematician, in C S Zweig (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of Refugees of Nazi Fascism in Brazil (Imprimatur, 2022).
  7. Nota de falecimento do Prof Dr Chaim Samuel Hönig, Universidade Federal do ABC (20 March 2018).
  8. J B Prolla, Review: Análise functional e aplicações. Vols. I, II, by Chaim Samuel Hönig, Mathematical Reviews MR0461068 (57 #1054).
  9. N A Shenk, Review: Análise de Fourier em espaços L_{2} e teoremas do tipo de Sobolev, by Chaim Samuel Hönig, Mathematical Reviews MR0205061 (34 #4896).
  10. C P da Silva, Início e Consolidação da Pesquisa em Matemática no Brasil (Editora Edgard Blücher Ltda., São Paulo, 2022).
  11. G S Young, Review: Aplicações da topologia à análise, by Chaim Samuel Hönig, Mathematical Reviews MR0133796 (24 #A3621).

Additional Resources (show)

Honours (show)

Honours awarded to Chaim Samuel Hönig

  1. Speaker at the Brazilian Mathematics Colloquium 1957

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2022