Last updated on November 29, 2019
In one of my first visits to Poland, I was curious to know who were the famous Polish people that I knew. Some names were more obvious than others, but there were some that were really surprising.
The interesting thing about this list is that famous people here listed succeed in many different areas. In some cases more, in other cases less, but for sure Poland has impacted the success of these celebrities.
Which ones of those did you know were Polish?
Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła)
Yes, the pope was Polish!
In my opinion, he is the most famous Polish person around the world. He was born in a city close to Krakow, and the Polish people are really proud and grateful for the pope.
Poland is a very catholic country – 87,6% according to our buddy Wikipedia – so it’s natural that they feel very proud of having a Polish pope.
Besides being a religious leader, the pope also had political influence and used it in order to help to put an end to the communist era in Poland.
In Krakow, there is a place called Bishop’s Palace (Pałac Biskupi) where the pope used to stay while visiting the city.
In this building, there is a window from where the pope used to bless and talk to his followers. Nowadays, this window has a picture of the pope in his honor.
Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik)
Copernicus was a mathematician and astronomer that proposed a heliocentric model of the universe, i.e. a model where the Sun would be the center of the universe, not the Earth as it was imagined by then. He was born in the city of Toruń, Poland.
In Warsaw, there is even a museum with his name – Copernicus Science Centre (Centrum Nauki Kopernik).
Polański is a famous Polish film director and Oscar winner due to his direction in the movie The Pianist.
Even though he was born in Paris, his family has Polish and Jewish roots, and in 1937 they moved back to Poland when Polanski was only 4 years old. Polański has Polish citizenship.
Football fans – or soccer fans for the Americans 😉 – for sure already knew that Lewandowski is Polish.
He is Poland’s greatest football idol, and also the greatest striker of the Polish national team’s history.
Football is a good form of connection between different nations, that’s why whenever I tell someone that I live in Poland, they say: Lewandowski!
He is indeed the most famous Polish football player out there.
Chopin (Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin)
This was one of my surprises, Chopin was actually Polish, not French!
That’s a common assumption people usually do because he lived a great part of his life in France.
He was born in the Duchy of Warsaw, in a time when Poland did not exist as a nation since its territory was controlled by other countries.
He emigrated to France when he was 20 years old. When it comes to music, I think he is the most famous Polish person.
Lech Wałęsa co-founded and headed Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc.
In the dawn of August 14th, 1980, around 17,000 workers seized control of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to protest. After negotiations with the Communist government, Solidarity’s leader, Lech Wałęsa, appeared before his fellows and made a historical announcement:
“We have an independent, self-governing trade union! [crowd cheers] We have the right to strike!”
This historical event marked the formation of the Solidarity trade union, which over time became a strong political force against Communism in Poland.
In 1983, Wałęsa received the Nobel Peace, and in 1990 he was elected the first president in Poland after the end of the Communism era.
I confess I didn’t know Andrzej Wajda before living in Poland. I believe that great fans of international cinema probably know the Polish director, that in 2000 received an Oscar for his 5 decades of extraordinary film direction.
One of his most famous movies and the only one I’ve watched so far is called Katyń, and it covers the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers during World War II.
The Polish officers were captured by the Russian army, and in 1940 were executed in a huge massacre that is still remembered today. A sad event in the history of Poland.
Lukas Podolski (Łukasz Józef Podolski)
One more star from the football fields.
Podolski was born in Gliwice, Poland – close to Katowice – and emigrated with his parents in 1987 to West Germany when he was only 2 years old.
Initially, Podolski wanted to play for the Polish national team, but in 2003, the then coach, Paweł Janas, refused to select him. What a loss for the Polish national team, right?
Marie Curie (Maria Salomea Skłodowska)
A great Polish scientist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.
She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and also the first person and only woman to receive the Prize twice!
She was born in Warsaw, and when she was 24 she emigrated to France (just like Chopin), where she then obtained French citizenship later on.
A woman way ahead of her time!
Did you know that she actually move to France because women were not allowed to enter the university in Poland?
And she did great!
Unfortunately, her constant contact with radiation had terrible effects on her health, and on her husband’s as well.
Just like Chopin, many people think she is French, but no, she was a GREAT Pole! Another famous person that has entered the history of our science.
This one is special for those who follow Formula 1.
Kubica was a Polish driver that was born in Krakow. He had retired from F1 races, BUT, in this year of 2019, he decided to return to F1.
He will race for Williams!
I knew Kubica even before I came to Poland. I used to watch F1 races, and he’s was usually mentioned.
Of course, they didn’t pronounce his name correctly in Brazil. He wasn’t as successful as Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, but oh well, he is still famous for the F1 lovers.
Józef Piłsudski was a Polish national hero that strongly contributed to Poland regaining its independence in 1918.
From 1795 to 1918 Poland did not exist as a nation (123 years!). Even so, Poles didn’t stop believing in Poland and they fought many times to regain their so dreamed independence.
Piłsudski was one of these patriots. As a statesman, he dreamed of seeing Poland independent again and devoted his life to achieve it.
He was one of the main national heroes responsible for putting Poland back into the world map.
During World War I, he organized Polish legions who fought alongside the ally forces. At the end of the war, the allies agreed on the independence of Poland.
On November 11th, Piłsudski was appointed Commander in Chief Of Polish forces. On that same day, he proclaimed an independent Polish state. This date has then become Poland’s independence day.
Who does not like to watch a good movie? Well, we love it! That's why we've created a list with the 13 greatest Polish movies of all time. Check it out!
Krzysztof Kieślowski was a Polish film director and screenwriter.
He received many awards during his career, including Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (1988) and the Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear (1994).
In 1995, Three Colors: Red was nominated for 3 Oscars!
Zbigniew Religa was a famous Polish cardiac surgeon. He performed the first heart transplant in Poland back in 1987.
Even though the surgery was considered to be practically impossible, Dr. Zbigniew Religa took the chance, and guess what? He succeeded and his patient outlived him!
Another interesting fact is that the surgery took an amazing 23 hours!
You might think, ok, that was indeed a good achievement, but that’s why he’s world-famous? I’d risk saying no. Actually, National Geographic made him world-famous.
After the surgery was completed (remember, after 23 long hours), a picture was taken at the surgery room. In the picture, you can see that one of his colleagues had fallen asleep after such tremendous procedure.
I bet you have seen this picture before somewhere in social media. At least I have seen it when I was in Brazil.
In 1987, National Geographic chose this picture as the picture of the year. For that reason, this has become an iconic picture in the whole world.
If you want to learn more about Dr. Zbigniew Religa, you can watch the movie Bogowie (2014). The movie tells the story of his early career back in the 1980s.
Anja Rubik is a world-famous Polish supermodel.
She was born in Rzeszów and is considered to be one of the most successful supermodels in the world from mid- to late-2000s until today.
Tadeusz Kościuszko was a great Polish patriot who was active during the second half of the XVIII century.
He was the Commander in Chief of the famous national uprising of 1794, who became known as Kościuszko Insurrection.
Unfortunately, after losing the battle to Russia, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth suffered its third partition and ceased existing.
Poland would only regain its independence 123 years later, after World War I.
Irena Sendler, also known as Irena Sendlerowa, was a Polish catholic nurse who worked in Warsaw during World War II.
Along with her trusted network, she saved around 2500 Polish Jewish children during the Holocaust by smuggling them out of the ghetto. This avoided methods to be sent to concentration camps.
She used different ways to smuggle the children out of the ghetto, such as:
- Transporting them in ambulances as if they were suffering from typhus;
- Hiding them in trash cans, supply boxes, and coffins.
After that, the children received new identity cards and were sent to a convent or adopted by Polish catholic families.
Another brave Polish woman on our list. Her braveness had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of people.
The world can’t be thankful enough for such an act of kindness from Irena and her collaborators.
So, how many people from this list you knew were Polish? Have you missed any famous Polish on the list? Tell us in the comments 😉