11 Famous Polish People

Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin

There are many famous people that were born in Poland. This article is not big enough (and I am not paid enough, more importantly) to go through all of them, so 11 will have to suffice.

In the next few paragraphs, we will draw attention to some of the most famous Polish people, their greatest achievements, and how they managed to influence Poland and subsequently the world! Enjoy!

List Of Famous Polish People

Did you know that Pope John Paul II is of Polish origin? And, do you know that one of the most important thinkers who revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos, Nicolaus Copernicus, too was Polish? What about Marie Curie, a French-Polish two times Nobel prize winner?

And the list of famous Polish greats doesn’t end there. 

1. Andrzej Wajda

Wajda is among the most important Eastern European directors, creator of such words as “The Promised Land”, “Man Of Iron” and “Katyn” [1]. 

In his work, he dealt with the history of Poland, the horrors of World Wars, the communist period, and the subsequent struggle of workers.

He was born on March 6, 1926, in the Polish city of Suwalki. He studied painting in Krakow between 1946 and 1949, and then movie directing in Lódžu. 

During World War II, he was a member of the Polish resistance movement from 1942. 

He made his first movie Generation in 1954, and after Ashes and Diamonds in 1958 he was considered one of the most important Polish directors. He earned this reputation primarily as an uncompromising commentator on the overall Polish political and social traditions.

2. Maria Skłodowska Curie

Maria Skłodowska Curie was a French-Polish popular scientist, born in the Polish capital of Warsaw on November 7, 1867. 

Curie studied at the renowned Sorbonne University of Paris [2]. 

She introduced the world to a new word – radioactivity. 

During WW I, Maria Skłodowska Curie was working on the creation of mobile halls with X-rays. In other words, she was making a mobile “radiological circuit”.

She showed and applied in practice how to install an X-ray machine in a car and how to use the dynamo to produce electricity for the X-ray machine to work properly.

Doing that, Maria Skłodowska Curie also equipped 20 cars with a mobile radiology laboratory and trained 150 people to work on them.

She introduced something completely new to military medicine – mobile radiological diagnostics, ie. war radiology. Consequently, with the discovery of radioactive elements came the development of a new medical discipline – radiotherapy.

During her old age, she would fall ill with pernicious anemia. Her life ended on June 4, 1934.

Due to her extraordinary achievements in Chemistry and Physics, she was the first woman who won the Nobel prize twice, in 1903 and 1911.

3. Frédéric Chopin 

Frédéric François Chopin was a world-known Polish composer and pianist. 

He was born in the Polish village of Zhelezova Vola near Warsaw in 1810. Until the age of 20, Chopin lived in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, where he composed two piano concertos. 

He moved from Warsaw to Paris, the capital of France, to further master his piano skills. 

Unfortunately, Chopin wasn’t blessed with good health. He suffered from tuberculosis and was only 39 years old when he died. Chopin died in Paris on October 17, 1849. 

Chopin is considered among the most important composers and pianists of all time. 

Thanks to Chopin, elements of Slavic music have taken their place in the world of classical music. Some of his compositions are considered as the basis of Polish folk classical music.

Related: The Five Russian Composers: Who Were They?

4. Robert Kubica

Kubica is a Krakow-born Polish Formula 1 driver and the only Pole who won an official Formula 1 race.

However, a huge crash stood between him and his hopes and dreams. In 2011, he suffered a near-fatal accident with Renault. He underwent 20 operations since then. 

It was the same year when the experts believed that he is set to sign a contract with Ferrari, as a substitute for Felipe Massa, a deal that obviously never happened. 

A huge number of top drivers gave tribute to his capabilities, with Hamilton mentioning him as someone who was able to beat all his generational rivals with his raw talent. 

Although unlucky, he never gave up. Since 2019, he is officially back in the competition. russi

5. Peter Schmeichel

No football fan is a stranger to the name of Peter Schmeichel: a great player, one of the greatest European goalkeepers that ever played this beautiful game. 

However, not too many people know that he once had Polish citizenship!

In fact, he was born in Denmark as a son to a Polish jazz musician. He even inherited his middle name Boleslav from his great-grandfather. He, his sister, and his dad were citizens of Poland until 1970 when all three officially became citizens of Denmark. 

He won everything that is to be won in modern football with Manchester United, under the coaching of Sir Alex Ferguson. He became popular for his late headers that brought his team many important victories.

His son Kasper Schmeichel is also a goalkeeper and a pretty decent one! In 2016, against all odds, he won the Premier League with Leicester in an epic season under Claudio Ranieri.  

6. Roman Polański

Raymond Thierry Liebling, better known as Roman Polański, is a famous Polish film director and one of the most successful movie directors in the history of cinema. 

He was born in 1933 in Paris, the capital of France, spent the period of World War II in Krakow, and then lived in the UK, USA, and finally settling well in Paris, France. 

His first full-length movie is called „Nóż w wodzie“ („Knife in the Water“), a movie that immediately got the world’s attention.

It is the only one of his movies where the characters spoke Polish. 

However, he is best recognized for his later works, such as Chinatown (1974), Tess (1979), and especially The Pianist (2002) which won three Oscars and many international awards.

During his life, he won eight Oscars in total, six BAFTA awards, and seven Golden Globes. In addition, he won a Golden Bear in Berlin, Golden Palm in Cannes, and A Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema at the KVIFF. 

Read: 14 Famous Czechs

7. Pope John Paul II

John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła) is not only the only Polish but also the only Slavic Pope that ever reigned over the Vatican and the Catholic world. 

His biography is nothing short of amazing! He was born in 1920, in the Polish town of Wadowice, around 50 kilometers from Warsaw. 

In 1938 he enrolled in the acting school in Krakow. 

During the years of Nazi occupation, he worked in a chemical factory near Warsaw, in order to escape deportation. 

After the war, he will find theology as his main interest and vocation. He finished his doctorate in 1948.

He was a monk in the city of Krakow until 1951.

Later he became a moral theology and social ethics professor in Krakow and the Faculty of Theology in Lublin. He was considered a top-notch Polish intellectual, famous not only around Poland but in a wider context also around the elite theology circles of Europe. 

He became a Pope in 1978. His reign was marked by controversies, as he was a strong opponent of the communist ideology, abortion, LGBT movements, and divorce.

8. Krzysztof Kieślowski

Kieślowski is another bright star of Polish cinema and one of the most famous artists that ever lived. 

He was born in Warsaw, in a religious Catholic family, with no particular ambition to become a movie director. He got into the world of theater by pure chance, but then Kieślowski applied to the Łódź Film School, which has Polanski and Wajda among its alumni.

Kieślowski’s last four films, his most commercially successful, were foreign co-productions.

9. Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus (Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik) is probably the most famous Polish scientist and innovator, who revolutionized our understanding of the movement of celestial bodies.

Copernicus lived and worked all his life in Royal Prussia, a region that had been part of the Kingdom of Poland. He showed interest in different scientific fields, being a mathematician that actualized some ideas of the ancient Greek thinkers and philosophers. 

His discovery, the one that the sun is stationary and the earth revolves around it, was a spark for what is later to be called the Copernican Revolution. 

Besides this, Copernicus also contributed to the development of the concept of money. In 1519 he formulated a principle that later came to be called Gresham’s law.

He died on 24 May 1543 at age 70.

10. Miroslav Klose

Klose is a well-known Polish player who never really played for the Polish national team. While active, he played mainly in Germany for Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen, and Bayern Munchen. Internationally, he played for the German national team until his retirement. 

He was born in the Silesian city of Opole in Poland. 

After World War II, his father (being an ethnic German and a radical activist) moved his family to West Germany. 

In fact, he was called to play for Poland after his first great season with Kaiserslautern, but he refused, saying that he has a German passport and a chance to play under Rudi Voller. 

He went on to become one of the best strikers ever. 

He is an all-time FIFA World Cup top scorer with 15 goals, and among the top German scorers.  

11. Robert Lewandowski

Just like Klose, when speaking of Lewandowski, we speak of one of the greatest strikers to ever play football. Just like Klose, he also spent the main part of his career in Germany playing mainly for Bayern Munchen. 

He was born in the Polish city capital of Warsaw and began to play football in Poland. The football elite of Europe noticed him for his top performances in the jersey of Lech Poznań.

Soon after, he moved to the city of Dortmund to the second greatest German club called Borussia Dortmund, where he was part of the famous generation led by Jurgen Klopp. 

Later he moved to the city of Munich to play for the great Bavarian giant Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga numerous times and also winning the Champions League twice. 

He was considered the best FIFA player for the season 2019/2020.

Robert Lewandowski is without a doubt the brightest star of football in Poland, and the greatest Polish football player that ever lived. 

The Bottom Line

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this about some of the most famous Polish people. If you want to learn more about them and their culture, be sure to check out this article about Polish Easter eggs and how they are made.


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