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16 Famous Polish People Around the World

Last updated on November 29, 2019

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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)

Pope John Paul II
John Paul II

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.

Palac Biskupi has a picture of the Pope John Paul II in one of its windows
Credit: Mateusz Giełczyński

Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik)

Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus

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).


Roman Polański

Polish film director Roman Polanski
Credit: Georges Biard

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.


Robert Lewandowski

Polish soccer player Robert Lewandowski
Credit: Светлана Бекетова

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)

Polish pianist Frederic Chopin
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.

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Lech Wałęsa

Polish President Lech Wałęsa
Credit: MEDEF

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.


Andrzej Wajda

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.

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Lukas Podolski (Łukasz Józef Podolski)

Polish-born soccer player Lukas Podolski
Credit: Sven Mandel

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)

Polish scientist Marie Curie
Marie Curie

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.

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Robert Kubica

Polish F1 driver Robert Kubica
Credit: Stefan Brending

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

Józef Piłsudski, a famous Polish political leader and national hero
Józef Piłsudski

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.

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Krzysztof Kieślowski

Krzysztof Kieślowski, a famous Polish film director and screenwriter
Krzysztof Kieślowski | © Alberto Terrile / WikiCommons

Krzysztof Kieślowski was a Polish film director and screenwriter.

He became internationally known for Dekalog (1989), The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and the Three Colors trilogy: Blue (1993), Red (1994) and White (1994).

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

Zbigniew Religa, a famous Polish cardiac surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in Poland
Zbigniew Religa | © PiS / WikiCommons

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

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

Tadeusz Kościuszko

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

Irena Sendler, a famous Polish nurse who saved the lives of around 2500 Polish jews
Irena Sendler

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 😉

6 Comments

  1. Ola Ola July 10, 2018

    Good list. When I’m in Tanzania, people usually react to learning that I’m Polish with “Ah, Lewandowski!” or on occasion “Pope John Paul II, right?” so I’m glad you included them both. As a Pole, the Pope is an obvious choice to me, but I would never guess that Lewndowski’s fame goes all the way to Africa.

    About Chopin – to be fair, his father was French (hence the non-Polish surname), so he’s kind of half-French. It seems that he identified with Poland much more strongly, though. Polish folk music can be heard in his compositions. He also emigrated to France at the time all Polish intellectuals did – it was called Wielka Emigracja – and was part of the Polish diaspora there.

    • Rafael Rafael July 10, 2018

      Hi Ola! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to write such a valuable comment! In our today’s world, football is indeed a strong means of connection between different nations. I come from Brazil, so I know exactly how it feels 🙂

      About Chopin, I confess I didn’t know his father was French, that was really interesting to know.

  2. M M July 21, 2018


    https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsWhen I am abroad many people mention Walesa as well (mostly in States).
    In Australia what I hear the most is Kosciuszko. The biggest mountain is named Kosciuszko (discovered by polish explorer and named as Kosciuszko). There’s very popular beer here named after the mountain, Kosciuszko, so you hear that name a lot.

    • Dagmara Dagmara July 21, 2018

      Awesome ! Thank you very much for sharing 🙂 stay with us hopefully there will be more posts you are going to like 🙂

  3. Marc-Olivier Marc-Olivier November 26, 2019

    Error in numbers…. ” From 1975 to 1918 Poland did not exist as a nation (123 years)” Should be 1795.

    • Rafael Rafael Post author | November 29, 2019

      Thank you, Marc, for pointing that out 😉

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