Gocovo, Roznava District, Kingdom of Hungary (now Slovakia)
Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia)
BiographyJuraj Hronec was the son of Ondrej Hronec and his wife Zuzana Pribéková. He always used the name Jur, never Juraj, so we will use Jur Hronec throughout this biography. Ondrej and Zuzana Hronec had inherited land from their ancestors, so they were able provide for their family as farmers and operators of a small iron works. They had five children, Zuzka, Jano, Miso, Duro and Jur, the subject of this biography. Zuzka and Miso died young, so Jur had two older brothers. Jur's mother found her young child difficult since as a baby he did not sleep much.
Jur Hronec grew up in harsh conditions. He attended primary school from the end of September until the middle of May. He was unimpressed with his teacher who once asked him what he wanted to be. Jur Hronec said he wanted to be a doctor but the teacher laughed at him and told him the best he could hope for was to kill and dissect pigs in the village, not treat people. Jur was happy when the teacher left after one year. Learning at home was limited with the only book being a bible. From May to the end of September he had to help with the family business (see  or ):-
As a nine-year-old, I helped weigh charcoal and iron ore. We arrived at the iron works in the evening; we spent the night there. The fire protected us and the horses from the bears, and in the morning we loaded ore or charcoal into the wagons. At this age, I had to load about ten tons of coal. In addition, we had to work in the fields ...Jur Hronec had to undertake this very hard work on a very poor diet. Every day except Sunday he had dumplings in the morning, potato soup for lunch and potatoes with milk for an evening meal. Sunday was the day when he was given groats (a type of grain) and a piece of mutton for lunch. In the winter, his diet was extended with sauerkraut and smoked bacon which were imported from Debrecen.
When Jur Hronec was in the sixth grade, his father told him that he wanted him to become a furrier and a tailor in the winter and to be a stone mason in the summer. This did not please Jur at all for he wanted to continue his studies at a secondary school. Around this time Jur's father, Ondrej Hronec, became ill with pneumonia and when he was near to death he was visited by a teacher and a priest who persuaded him that he should encourage the family to support Jur's secondary education. Ondrej Hronec died but left instructions that his wife and his elder sons should support Jur to attend secondary school. Also when Jur was in the sixth grade he was confirmed into the Evangelical Church at a ceremony in the church in the nearby town of Vlachovo.
Supporting Jur Hronec's studies at a secondary school put a severe strain on the family's finances, especially given that his father had died. His mother sold some of their oxen to buy books for her son. The family also borrowed money to help cover the extra expenses. Up to this time Jur had always worn homemade clothes but now his mother had to buy him an outfit for school. Jur wrote :-
When she dressed me in the clothes, she cried. It was as if she subconsciously felt like I was saying goodbye to her.Life had been hard for Hronec so he longed for an easier time and looked forward to studying at the Evangelical Grammar School in Roznava. His friends, however, made fun of him for wanting to leave their village life and he was saddened that even the adults in the village made fun of him wanting to leave. For a ten-crown monthly fee, his mother found accommodation with meals for her son in Roznava. He lived with a widow, who had a house with a garden and a shoemaker's workshop. The school term began on 5 September 1894 and although he was happy when at school, on days off he wandered alone in Roznava and became homesick. He would have given up attending the school and returned home had it not been that he knew his friends would shame him and laugh at him if he gave up. His mother would travel by train to Roznava every Saturday, usually bringing him hazelnuts. He enjoyed her company very much and when she was returning to Gocovo at the end of the day they would walk together to Betliar where she caught the train. She could have caught the train from Roznava, but saved money by walking to Betliar.
Hronec was delighted to find that there were no racial tensions in the school :-
The professors at the Roznava grammar school never allowed a national or religious dispute to develop between the students. They saw in us only students and not Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans, Serbs, or Jews. At that time, several Serbs were studying in Roznava and they all felt very happy there.The director of the Evangelical Grammar School in Roznava was Michal Oravec and he was a kind man who looked after Hronec making sure his studies went well. Things were not easy for him at first since instruction was in Hungarian, which was not Hronec's native language. He made new friends at this High School and soon found that the subjects which interested him most were mathematics and physics. To help fund his studies in Roznava, Hronec began giving private tuition in mathematics and Latin to less able pupils whose parents were wealthy. Soon he was getting enough money from tutoring to be able to almost support himself. He also made money raising tours organised by the school in which he travelled to various places around Hungary seeking financial support for the Evangelical Grammar School. He was allowed to keep one third of all the money he collected. These visits were not only important financially, but they also gave Hronec a broad understanding of the different regions, their peoples and their customs. He was able to improve his language skills with the money he made from the collecting visits, spending a month in Teschen which, at that time, was known for its national and cultural diversity, consisting mostly of German, Polish, Jewish and Czech communities but also having a small Hungarian community. At the time he went there it was around 60% German speaking and during the month spent there he gained a solid knowledge of German.
In October 1901 Hronec's mother died and their family home and property was divided among the brothers. This had quite a impact on Hronec who still had support from his brothers but somehow he felt he now had no home. He graduated from the Evangelical Grammar School in Roznava in 1906 and later in that year enrolled at the University of Kolozsvár in Hungary (now the University of Cluj, Romania) where he continued his studies of mathematics and physics. He wrote :-
At first I lived with the widow of the professor, in good conditions and with good food. However, it was too expensive for me, so I found a sublet in a cheap apartment in the suburbs and without food. I prepared the food myself from what my brothers from Gocov sent. The mathematics professors were great! Algebraic equations and analytical geometry were taught by Gyula Vályi. Everything he presented was scientifically correct and possessed great depth. I am grateful to him for teaching me the basics of mathematics. Differential and integral calculus were presented by Ludwig Schlesinger. I became a great admirer of him. He also had great knowledge of other subjects, he had met mathematicians from all over the world. I gained the affection of both professors when I received excellent grades in their subjects, which had not happened in courses before. This gave me an excellent reputation and for my outstanding performance I received free lunches and dinners in the canteen. Here, too, I made money by tutoring.Ludwig Schlesinger had been appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Kolozsvár in 1897, served as head of the department of higher mathematics and, in 1906-07, was the dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Sciences. He became Hronec's dissertation advisor. Hronec graduated from the University of Kolozsvár in 1906 with the dissertation Matematika ako prostriedok vychovy charakteru Ⓣ and spent the following year qualifying as a mathematics teacher. He was appointed as a mathematics teacher at the High School in Kezmarok, taking up the post there on 9 November 1906. There he taught mathematics and physics for 17 hours a week. His method of teaching was never to write anything on the blackboard but to have the pupils do that, never with direct instructions but rather only with Hronec asking questions to help them. He would have a pupil stop in the middle of working something out and ask another pupil to take over. This meant the pupils had to pay close attention at all times. Július Suja-Zaik writes :-
It was well known that, as a high school professor, Hronec never used notebooks in his teaching work, because he knew each student so perfectly that he could always approach each one specifically with regard not only to his knowledge, but also his character and behaviour. During his pedagogical work, he did not like intimidating students and during the entire 16 years working in high school, he did not allow any student to fail in mathematics, since he was always able to encourage them and motivate them to study his subject. Perhaps it was also because he was an example to them in his behaviour, because as a teacher he consistently took care that he showed by example that not only good teaching, but above all ordinary everyday honest work, is a guarantee of the success of the teacher in school.He also decided that to teach physics well he had to have a top quality laboratory. He visited various companies and was able to build what he claimed to be "the most modern physics laboratory in Hungary!" His students loved physics and were always looking forward to physical experiments in the laboratory.
Hronec loved teaching and wrote books on the subject including School teaching and the mentality of teaching. He did not intend, however, to spend his whole life as a teacher and made visits to various universities to learn more mathematics. He made study visits to the universities of Berlin (1910), Giessen (1911, 1912) and Paris (1914). While in Berlin, he attended lectures by Walter Schottky, Georg Frobenius and others. Giessen was particularly important to him since his former teacher Ludwig Schlesinger had moved from the University of Kolozsvár to the University of Giessen in 1911 where he continued to teach until he retired in 1930. Hronec undertook research advised by Schlesinger and was awarded a doctorate from Giessen after defending his dissertation Fuchssche Periodenrelationen für lineare Differentialsysteme Ⓣ there in 1912.
In 1913 he received an offer to lecture at the University of Springfield in the United States. He rejected the offer because he believed that his mission was to bring the best of European mathematical education to his own people. In 1914 World War I broke out while Hronec was in Paris and his plans for further study visits became impossible. As an Austro-Hungarian citizen, he had to leave Paris within twenty-four hours. The painful journey from Paris through Switzerland to Kezmarok took eight days and eight nights. Back in Kezmarok, conditions became difficult for Hronec who wrote :-
Economic and social conditions deteriorated greatly during the war. I ate at the inn, but I had a weak stomach and got sick. The wife of my colleague and good friend took me to lunch. I overcame the disease and suddenly realised how lonely I was. There were no more brothers, my friends were married, only I was left alone. I thought it would be necessary to find a wife, but those who I knew had already entered marriage; I was late. At the beginning of August 1917, my former German professor from the Schuster grammar school in Roznava and his eighteen-year-old daughter appeared in Kezmarok. At the end of the summer of 1917, I asked for her hand. We got engaged and I visited her regularly in Budapest, where she lived. However, during frequent visits, I found out that she was mentally ill. I thought I would cancel the engagement, but after her pleas, I gave up that idea and I promised to keep my word. At Christmas 1917 we got married in Kezmarok, where we continued to live.After World War I ended, in October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated and the first Czech-Slovak Republic was established. Hronec decided that he wanted to enter university teaching and work for the improvement of higher education in Slovakia. After studying at the universities in Prague, Göttingen and Giessen, he habilitated at the Charles University in Prague in 1923 and began teaching there as a privatdocent. In the following year he was appointed as an extraordinary professor of mathematics at the Czech Technical University in Brno. In 1928 he was promoted to full professor. He continued to teach at the Czech Technical University in Brno until 1938 but from 1935 onwards he became a leading figure in promoting higher education in Slovakia.
From the autumn of 1936 Hronec was chairman of an action committee which aimed to establish a Slovak Technical University, a Faculty of Science and a University of Economics in Slovakia. In 1935, he had spoken at the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of the University of Trnava as a representative of the Technical University in Brno. He pointed out that Slovakia had the same university faculties in 1935 as it had 300 years earlier. He compared the expenditures provided by the Czechoslovak government to higher education in the Czech Republic, Moravia and Slovakia stating that nearly eight times more was spent on higher education in the Czech Republic than in Slovakia. The pressure quickly paid off and a Technical University, based in Košice, was established on 23 June 1937. Hronec became the first rector of this new university on 4 August 1938 but the First Vienna Award signed on 2 November 1938 ceded Košice to Hungary so the Technical University in Košice was never officially opened. At first it was moved to Presov, but a better site was found in Martin. This. however, was also short lived and the Technical University moved permanently to Bratislava.
Hronec also took part in the establishment of the Faculty of Science of the Slovak University in Bratislava on 1 October 1940, where he began working as an unpaid professor. The University of Commerce was also established in Bratislava in October 1940 by the Department of Business Engineering of the Slovak Technical University and Hronec became its first dean. World War II caused Hronec's work expanding higher education in Slovakia to be put on hold but when the war was over he continued his campaign and the Faculty of Education in Bratislava was established in 1946; Hronec became dean for the period 1946-48. Also in 1946 he became chair of a commission which saw the establishment of the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Košice.
In addition to this work improving higher education in Slovakia, Hronec became the head of the Department of Mathematics at the Faculty of Science in Comenius University, Bratislava :-
And as a university professor, he also had to cope with the scientific and pedagogical tasks that were a direct part of his pedagogical mission; in his capacity as head of the department, he had to take care not only of his own personal professional development, but also that of his the other professors in his department and of the organisational management and running of the department. In this area, too, he was known for requiring a continuous study of the latest professional literature by others, because his enduring belief was that theoretical knowledge is the main and most important basis of every teacher's personality.He wrote pedagogical books, mathematical works, university textbooks and research papers; his textbooks were written in Slovak. His first textbook, published in 1932, dealt with algebraic equations and the application of linear algebra to the study of analytical geometry. In other textbooks devoted to mathematical analysis, he gave the foundations of the calculus of probability, the theory of elliptic integrals, the theory of functions of a complex variable and basic knowledge of the theory of conformal representation. He also devoted one textbook to the theory of ordinary differential equations and another to the theory of partial differential equations.
Jur Hronec received many honours for his contributions to mathematics in Czechoslovakia. The Union of Czechoslovak Mathematicians and Physicists made him an honorary member in 1959. He was posthumously awarded the 'Medalla Memorial Komensky' in 1962. At least three schools have been named for him, two in Bratislava and one in Roznava. Three stamps have been issued in his honour. See THIS LINK.
Hronec died after a short illness in Bratislava but, according to his wishes, he was buried in his native village of Gocovo. Let us end by giving three quotations by Hronec:-
Believe me, dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more noble than work. Work will fill your life, without it life is empty, the content of life will not be filled with any fun.
If I had to choose my profession again, I would just like to be a professor of mathematics. It is a science whose principles applied yesterday, apply today and will apply tomorrow.
I have been convinced many times that only solid work and acquired knowledge that cannot be taken away can feed a person until death. Only honesty, diligence, solidity and knowledge can make a person happy and contented.
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Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update March 2022
Last Update March 2022