Béla Cholnoky: A history. Part 1

30 September 2012

This post continues the history of the Father of South African diatomology. This text was originally prepared by Dr Keve T Kiss of the Danube Research Station, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in 1999, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Béla Cholnoky. The text is presented in three parts.

Part 1

Béla Jenö Cholnoky was born in Budapest on the 27th of June 1899 as son of Jenö Béla Cholnoky, professor of geography and his wife, baroness Petronella Barrois du Vignée.

As quoted from Cholnoky’s biography published by Gerloff et al (1968): After leaving the Grammar School in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania) he attended the Universities at Kolozsvár and Szeged, where he studied in the faculties of biology and geography, and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, summa cum laude.  With the help of a scholarship from the Deutschen Wissenschaften in Berlin, he continued his studies directed by professors Ervin Bauer and Kolkwitz (1924/5) and obtained a second degree of Doctor of Philosophy, summa cum laude.

In an autobiographical letter to Prof Zoltán Szabó, dated 1943, Cholnoky writes (in Hungarian): Military service: From 10th March 1917 till 13th November 1918 in the ‘k.u.k Gebirgsartillarieregiment nr 4’.  During this period, I was at the top of my class at the school for officers.  I was seriously injured on the drill ground and I was hospitalized for several months.   For a long time I was walking on crutches. During military service , I received educational leave as an invalid and I started my university studies at the natural history and geography faculty of the King Franz Joseph’s University in Kolozsvár.

University studies: I started during military service during the summer of 1918 in Kolozsvár and continued after discharge until the Romanian occupying troops prevented the functioning of the university in May 1919. I had to move to Budapest with my family and I attended the Technical University there from the early spring of 1920 for two semesters.  When the “refugee” university of Kolozsvár resumed its activities in Budapest in the early autumn of 1920, I returned there to continue my studies.  In my third year at the university I became assistant to István Gyõrffy, Professor at the Botanical Institute in 1921.  I continued in this position during the move of the Botanical Institute and the Natural Science Faculty to Szeged, until December of 1924.  My research activity was not supprted and I was forced to give up the job (Cholnoky, 05/05/1943).

Since that time he worked as a grower and dealer of seeds, first for Hungarian firms and later for the firm N.V. Sluis and Groot’s Koninklijke Zaadteelt and Zaadhandel in the Netherlands.  During this time he assembled his private laboratory complete with a rich library, later confiscated by the Hungarian government and was assigned to the South Hungarian Research Institute in Pécs.  In this period he has contact only with a single Hungarian phycologist, Gábor Szemes.  As a seed business man, he visited nearly very European country, where he built his scientific relationships.


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