Family Story

Uncle Gyula

Remembering Gyula Perl

Early years

Uncle Gyula, by his full name Gyula Perl was born in Győr in 1881. In 1909, he changed his name to Gyula Pál. And when he lived in Denmark to Julius Pal.

Actually, one of his brothers married the sister of my grandmother and what is more, his other brother married my grandmother’s cousin. This is why it crossed my mind to remember him and share the life story of this remarkable person with you.

The graves of Berta and David Perl at the Jewish Cemetery in Győr-Sziget, 2000s, received from Esther Bánki

His parents were called David Perl (1839-1909) and Berta Perl (1857-1907) came from Vágújhely (Slovakia). His father, David Perl, was a merchant and later a carrier. His company was called “Perl Dávid és Társa”. They are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Győr. Gyula had four siblings: Arnold (1878-1945), Otto (1879-1944), Elza (1893-?), Ignatz (?-?) and Alajos (1888-1889).

Horse-driven wagon of the Perl Dávid és Társa Co., official carrier of the Hungarian State Railways in Győr – ©

Gyula Perl attended the Benedictine Grammar School in Győr. Among his schoolmates we see Frigyes Riesz, later the internationally renowned mathematician. Gyula Perl remained in contact with him later on. He was a talented student getting the best marks in nearly all subjects. After finishing the Grammar School in 1900, he continued his studies at the Budapest University where he got his degree in 1908. He went on studying at universities of Göttingen, Munich and possibly Paris.

Benedictine church and Grammar School on Széchenyi square in Győr, 1920-30, Photo: Glück József, © Dr. Kovács Pál Könyvtár, Győr

From 1908–1918 he was a teacher at the high school of Székelyudvarhely (now Romania). The famous Hungarian writer, Dezső Szabó, teacher in Székelyudvarhely at the time, described him in his autobiographical novel as an intelligent, educated, and erudite person, but maybe too ambitious. (Dezső Szabó: Az elsodort falu (The village swept away); novel, 1919) Besides teaching he conducted an intensive research work under the guidance of Frigyes Riesz, who was then professor at the University of Kolozsvár (now Romania). Between 1912 and 1915 Gyula Pál published nine papers in leading periodicals. In 1916, he got his doctorate from Kolozsvár University under Riesz.

Perl tried to get a job in a university town offering good conditions for research. His applications for jobs at high schools in Budapest and Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia today) were turned down, but at the end of WW1, in 1918 or 1919, he managed to get a job in Pozsony. During the WW1 he served in the Hungarian army as a volunteer officer on the Italian front. He was wounded and perhaps a bullet remained in his back for ever which made sitting difficult for him and badly affected his temper. He received a Hungarian army medal in 1922.


He participated in the revolutionary movement in Hungary in 1918-1919. But it was possibly not the main reason of his emigration to Denmark. He simply lost his job as a consequence of Pozsony becoming part of the newly created Czechoslovakia.

Fortunately, Harald Bohr, mathematician (brother of the Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, Danish physicist), whom Perl met probably in Göttingen earlier, invited Perl to go to Copenhagen.

Skt. Jørgens Gymnasium, around 1990, © Frederiksberg Stadsarkiv

He started teaching as a temporary staff member at the Skt. Jørgens Gymnasium (Grammar School), where Børge Jessen, who later became a leading figure in the field of mathematics in Denmark, had been one of his students.

In the meantime, Julius Pal seemingly became a mediator in relations between Hungarian and Danish scientists through the Bohr brothers and Jessen.

Postcard from Gyula Perl to his nephew, Ödön Bánki, 30 June 1926; Ödön Bánki (1903-1978) was a medical student in Munich between 1925-1927, received from Esther Bánki

In 1925, Pal joined the Polyteknisk Læreanstalt (Institute of Polytechnics) where he worked until his death. Beside his main job there, he undertook temporary part time jobs, too.

He started at Polyteknisk as a teaching assistant in 1925, and he continued as a lecturer as from 1926. His professional path culminated by the King of Denmark nominating him to associate professor in 1929. As a precondition, he was granted Danish citizenship in 1928. He taught mainly analysis and wrote a bulky and excellent textbook on the subject published in 1931 and rewritten in 1941.

Polyteknisk Læreanstalt, date unknown, ©

From 1932 on, Pal was the teaching assistant of H. Bohr at the university. In addition, he was the first librarian of the institute. Unfortunately, in 1938 he had to leave the university because of his bad personal contacts with H. Bohr, B. Jessen and other professors.

I, my dear nephew, long for home every day and it is a special day for me if only a letter comes from home. I believe that [in this respect] your fate is easier than mine; because I was already 40 years old when I left my home country and at this age transplantation is difficult.

I do not long even for my siblings as much as I long after your father. My dear friend Zoltán [Dr. Zoltán Bánki (1873-1934), Ödön’s father] has virtually forgotten me, but I think of him every day and I would like to talk to him about all kinds of things and be reassured that there are people whose character and noblesse cannot subdued and destroyed. (Letter from Gyula Pal to Ödön Bánki, after July 1932)

By this time in Denmark, he changed his name Pal Gyula to Julius Pal loosing also an accent mark in his family name. It should be noted, however, that he kept Pal Gyula as signature in all his letters and felt home sick for a long time. He could visit Hungary only twice. First in 1931, with his family spending several months in Győr at his brother’s wherefrom he probably visited his sister Elsa Fisher, later Pollak, who lived in Vienna. He went for a second visit to Hungary alone in 1935.  

Telegram from Copenhagen from Gyula, Alma and Birgit Pal to Ödön Bánki to congratulate him on his doctor’s degree, received from Esther Bánki

In 1921, Pal married Alma Christine Bissen (1889-1962), the daughter of the Danish painter Rudolf Bissen. (Alma Christine Bissen was first married with the Swedish/Danish sculptor Gerhard Henning (1880-1967) between 1914 and 1918.) Their only child, Ilona Birgit Pal, was born in 1922. 

I myself am almost always ill and my life is not worth much, except for the fact that I can still look after my wife and child better than if they had to make a living on the widow’s pension (which is rather low). (Letter from Gyula Pal to Ödön Bánki, 1932)

Indeed, Pal had to work hard to care for his wife and daughter by teaching in a foreign country in a foreign language. He complained about it in a letter to Frigyes Riesz.

Gyula Pal at the teacher’s desk, Wikipedia

But he kept contact with is hometown Győr. The ceramist Margit Kovács (1902-1977) studied at a porcelain factory in Copenhagen in 1932 and lived for some weeks at Pal’s house. Her father, Sándor Kovács (1871-1912) was actually his friend. In addition, Ödön Bánki and Margit Kovács knew each other from childhood in Győr, their mothers having been friends. (Interesting to note that Alma Bissen Pal worked for 15 years in the porcelain industry and had probably contacts that helped Margit Kovács in her studies.)

From left to right Olga Bánki (my grandmother), Gyula Perl, Frida Polgár (standing), unknown and Viktor Polgár, 1930s (?), received from Esther Bánki

Pal was frequently ill. In spite of this he participated in the resistance during Nazi occupation. His bad state of health became even worse when he got the news after the war about the death of his relatives in Hungary. This surely contributed to his early death in a Copenhagen hospital on September 6, 1946.

Of his close relatives only his sister-in-law Ilona Perl and her son Jancsi survived in Budapest as well as his nephew Peter Thomas Fischer (changed to Fisher in the US) by immigrating to the US in 1938. What happened to his sister Elsa, Peter Thomas Fischer’s mother, is unclear. Nothing is known about the life of Ignatz Perl either.

Written by Esther Bánki, The Netherlands, Gyula Perl’s second niece

May the editor (P. Krausz) quote here a short email he received from Esther Bánki while exchanging on Esther’s writing on his Uncle Gyula:

“Dear Peter Krausz,

My Hungarian is not so good, that’s why I’m writing to you in English. The idea of the meeting in 2024 is really great! Thank you so much! I will definitely send this information to more of my family members. 

My great-grandmother was Lidia Perl. She married Mór Reichenfeld, who was a grain merchant. They had 7 children, but 5 of them died young.

Only my grandfather Zoltán (1873-1934) and his sister Lenke (1875-1944) became adults. Zoltán Reichenfeld, born in Győr, changed his name to Bánki. He was a gynaecologist by profession in Győr. My grandmother’s name was Olga Árpási (former Goldschmied).

They had two children, Ödön and Zsuzsanna (1912-1944). Ödön Bánki (1903-1978), my father, was born in Győr too. He studied in Würzburg and München due to the Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary. He was also a medical doctor. In 1928, he emigrated to The Netherlands and survived there. Here he had 8 children. My aunt was an architect. (I wrote an article about her, translated into Hungarian). She married Dr. István Pál (Sterk). My grandmother and aunt were deported from Győr to Auschwitz and killed there. István Sterk survived in a labour camp. But died of cancer in 1953. His daughter Eszter Sterk (born 1953) lives in Austria now. 

In Hungary, I have only a few relatives, all descendants of Adolf König from Györ and I have contact with the descendants of the brothers and sisters of my great-grandmother Lidia Perl. They live in Hungary, Israël, the U.S., Serbia and Australia (Eva Quittner’s family).

Kind regards,

Esther Bánki (born in 1964)

August 2021”

Sources of Gyula Perl’s biography written by Esther Bánki:

An article, Pál Gyula – Julius Pal (1881-1946) the Hungarian – Danish mathematician by László Filep and Sigurd Elkjaer, 2001, was an important source for this biography

Gyula Pál – Wikipedia
Pál Gyula – Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – EuDML

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

With the exception of the photos from Esther Bánki and the image of Gyula Perl, all images are simple illustrations.