Jan Aleksander Herman

Affiliations: 
Chemistry Université Laval, Québec, Ville de Québec, Québec, Canada 
 Chemistry Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, Leuven, Vlaanderen, Belgium 
 Mathematics University of Warsaw, Poland 
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Translated from: http://www.contact.ulaval.ca/article_magazine/un-legs-qui-donne-du-sens/
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A legacy that gives meaning

From Warsaw to Quebec, Jan Aleksander and Kazimiera Herman have lived an edifying story that paved the way for generosity.

By Catherine Gagné

Provide financial support to foreign students enrolled in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Laval University. This is the wish that Jan Aleksander Herman and his late wife Kazimiera wished to achieve by bequeathing a large part of their heritage to The Laval University Foundation, through the Perennia Planned Giving Program.

The couple set up the Jan-Aleksander-and-Kazimiera-Herman Scholarship Fund, which is much more than a monetary bequest. Indeed, behind each scholarship that will be funded lies the inspiring story of this man and woman, passionate about science and determined to pursue their university studies despite the many obstacles that World War II created. Access to scholarships having given them wings, Mr. and Mrs. Herman also wanted to give them to young people of the same fire.

Poland, Belgium, Quebec
Both of Polish origin, he, professor of chemistry at Laval University from 1957 to 1994, and she, research assistant in the same department from 1958 to 1986, their history dates back to 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.


“The school year 1939-1940 did not exist for anyone in Poland, because from the start of the war all schools were closed. In 1940, vocational schools were created to train young technicians for the benefit of the German industrial sector, ”recalls Herman.
So he took a course in metallurgy and foundries but, like many other young resistance fighters, chose to stay in Poland.

In 1943, he got a job in Warsaw, which allowed him to pay for his mathematics lessons at an underground university. He was then fortunate to have as professors eminent mathematicians such as Waclaw Franciszeck Sierpinski, gold medalist at the University of Warsaw for his essay on number theory, and Andrzej Mostowski, recognized in particular for his set theory. with atoms.

“Underground universities had developed in Poland,” he says. Classes were given in the evenings to small groups of students, but were severely punished by the Germans: teachers risked capital punishment and students were sent to prison in Germany or to concentration camps. "

Following the Warsaw Uprising, on August 1, 1944, Mr Herman was taken prisoner and brought to the Stalag Mühlberg camp in Saxony (Germany). At the end of the war, he was transferred to a refugee camp in the west, in an area occupied by the allies. Finally, freedom! He was then informed of the existence of a scholarship program financed by the Polish Army Fund in England and by the Belgian state for Poles wishing to start or complete their university studies in Belgium.

Mr Herman therefore enrolled at the Catholic University of Louvain in 1945 and received this scholarship, which corresponded to 2000 Belgian francs ($ 20) per month.

It was a happy period, he recalls, marked by his meeting with Kazimiera, who would become his wife in 1951. Both lived the same journey, but luck would have it that their destinies intersect on the benches of this university. . They both obtained their doctorate in science degree, specializing in chemistry, and worked for six years in a research institute in Brussels.

“The University of Louvain was very generous: it paid the registration fees for us, which were around 4000 Belgian francs per semester. This is where I had my first contact with student financial assistance. "

In 1957, he therefore obtained a position as a chemistry professor at Laval University and moved to Quebec with his wife.

“Laval University had only 6,000 students at the time, and its engineering faculty was on Boulevard de l'Entente in the Saint-Sacrement district, where I started teaching. We are in 1957, at the dawn of the Quiet Revolution and the development of universities. "

Giving back
Having benefited from financial assistance during their studies in Belgium, the couple were sensitive to the financial worries that many foreign students are experiencing. Herman and his wife made this philanthropic gesture to give back. They are proud of the University where they have made their career, of its chemistry department and of the students who are trained there. "We thought we would leave a legacy that gives meaning to our common history and will survive us."

Still the bearer of the sacred fire, Herman ends the interview with a touch of nostalgia: "If I were young, I would love to go back to school. When you think about it, the period of study at university is very pleasant… especially if it is not underground, ”he adds with a touch of humor.
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Andrzej Mostowski research assistant (Computational Biology Tree)
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Wacław Sierpiński research assistant (MathTree)
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