Monument of Nicolaus Kopernikus - Famous Polish People

22 Most Famous Polish People

Let's see the most famous Poles. I am sure you even didn't realize they are all Polish. A lot of people still believe that Frederick Chopin is French, but this is wrong. Maybe his body is in France, but his heart is in Warsaw for a reason.


Famous Poles (History & Recent)

You can't even imagine that some of those famous people were Polish

I am living in Poland since 2014, but before I met my wife, Poland was a completely unknown country for me. Slowly, I am learning the history of Poland, and I am a bit surprised about the famous Polish people below.

Check also the Most Unique Cities of Poland and the Capitals of Poland that will definitely surprise you.


1. Mikołaj Kopernik - Nicolaus Copernicus

Everyone knows the famous mathematician and astronomer Copernicus.  Did you know that he was Polish? and born in Toruń, one of the most beautiful cities in Poland?

Nearly every city has a statue of Nicolaus Copernicus and Poland is really proud of him and in Warsaw, one of the most famous museums has his name.

He formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at the center of the universe, in all likelihood independently of Aristarchus of Samos, who had formulated such a model some eighteen centuries earlier

Nicolaus Copernicus was born on 19 February 1473 in the city of Toruń (Thorn), in the province of Royal Prussia, in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. Toward the close of 1542, Copernicus was seized with apoplexy and paralysis, and he died at age 70 on 24 May 1543.


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2. Frederick Chopin

It might be a surprise as it was to me. Especially if you are not a fan of this music and you have never visited Warsaw and you have already been to Paris.

Frederick Chopin, born in Zelazowa Wola, which is a small village very close to Warsaw. He moved just after he born and lived half of his life in Warsaw and then the other half of his life in France.

He always wanted to return to Poland, but unfortunately, he was not able to.

Frederick Chopin Monument Warsaw

In the last moments of his life, he asked that his heart be transferred to Warsaw, so his body is in France and his heart in Poland.

He was one of the greatest composers and one of the greatest pianist players. He died on the 17th of October in 1849 and buried in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise in Paris.

Especially in Warsaw, Frederick Chopin is like a symbol and you can find his footsteps in every corner of the city. Maybe you can enjoy a Frederick Chopin Tour in Warsaw and Zelazowa Wola.


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3. Pope John Paul II

He might be the most famous Polish person in the world. Karol Józef Wojtyła, was born in the Polish town of Wadowice, 50 kilometers southwest of Krakow.

Pope John Paul II Statue

He was elected pope by the second papal conclave of 1978, which was called after Pope John Paul I, died after just 33 days. During his papacy (16 October 1978 - 2 April 2005) is recognized as helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.

John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church's relations with Judaism, Islam, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.


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4. John III Sobieski (1629 - 1696)

Every person living in Europe should know about this great King of Poland. Born into Polish nobility, Sobieski was educated at the Jagiellonian University (Krakow) and toured western Europe in his youth.

Sobieski demonstrated his military prowess during the war against the Ottoman Empire and established himself as a leading figure in Poland and Lithuania.

Stech Kessel Bitwa pod ChocimiemBy Andreas Stech «pinakoteka.zascianek.pl» - Source

His greatest success came in 1683 with the great victory at the Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Turks who were invading Europe.

On the 12th of September, with the Ottoman army (143,000 Turks) close to breaching the walls, Sobieski ordered a full attack. The Polish-German army of around 70,000 soldiers, attacked the Turkish force.

Around 5 pm, after observing the battle, Sobiecki led the Polish husaria cavalry along with Austrians and Germans in a massive charge down the hill.

Finally, around 5:30 pm, Sobieski entered the deserted tent of Kara Mustafa, and the Battle of Vienna ended. The Pope and other foreign dignitaries hailed Sobieski as the «Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization.»

In a letter to his wife, he wrote, «All the common people kissed my hands, my feet, my clothes; others only touched me, saying: 'Ah, let us kiss so valiant a hand!' »

The victory in the Battle of Vienna was so important that many historians believe that the attack on the 11th of September of 2001 is connected to the date of the Battle.

Source: John_III_Sobieski


5. Maria Skłodowska-Curie

Maria Salomea Skłodowska-Curie born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw and died on July 4, 1934, in France. Something very interesting is that In 1891, Maria Skłodowska left the Polish Kingdom for Paris to study at the Sorbonne. 

The reason was that in the nineteenth century, women could not study in Poland, so she developed her scientific career there.

Pierre and Marie CurieBy nieznany - Source

She was awarded the Nobel Prize for the first time in 1903 - in physics, with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for research into the phenomenon of radioactivity discovered by Becquerel. 

It was awarded for the second time in 1911 - for chemistry, for the discovery of polonium and radium, the isolation of pure radium, and the study of the chemical properties of radioactive elements.


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6. Robert Lewandowski

We do not have to make any special introductions to the greatest and most famous Polish football player. You can see him in TV advertisements and also in street posters around the city.

Enjoy Lewandowski - 5 goals in only 9 minutes. I remember in this game a friend saying: «He scored 5 goals in only 9 minutes and I am still looking for the remote control to switch on the TV».

The only sure is that we all know that Lewandowski is indeed the most famous Polish football player in the world.


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7. Wisława Szymborska

Ok ok, the name is 100% Polish without any doubt. She born on the 2nd of July in 1923 and she died 1st of February, 2012.

She was a poet, essayist, and translator which awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. When World War II broke out in 1939, she continued her education in underground classes.

From 1943, she worked as a railroad employee and managed to avoid being deported to Germany.  During this time, her career as an artist began with illustrations for an English-language textbook, writing stories, and occasional poems.

Surrounded by friends and relatives, Szymborska died peacefully of lung cancer in her sleep at home in Kraków in 2012, aged 88.


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8. Roman Polański

Who doesn't know the famous Polish-French film director, producer, writer, and actor? Born in France on the 18th of August, 1933, but they moved back to Poland (Krakow) in 1937.

Just 2 years after moving back to Poland, World War II started and Poland was invaded by the Nazis, causing the Polanskis trapped in the Krakow Ghetto. After his mother and father were taken in raids, Polanski spent his formative years in foster homes, trying to survive the Holocaust.

He made his first film in 1962 in Poland (Knife in the Water) and was nominated for a United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

It won France's César Awards for Best Picture and Best Director and received three Oscars. He later produced and directed «The Pianist» (2002), a drama about a Polish-Jewish musician escaping Nazi persecution. The film won three Academy Awards including Best Director, along with numerous international awards.


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9. Irena Sendler

The woman Hero saved several thousand Jewish children during the Holocaust and should be known around the world as the female Schindler.

Irena Sendlerowa 1942Irena Sendler 1943 - Source

Irena Stanisława Sendler also known as Sendlerowa, born on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw.

Polish humanitarian, social worker, and nurse who served in the Polish Underground Resistance during World War II in German-occupied Warsaw. During the war, she pursued conspiratorial activities, such as rescuing Jews.

Sendler participated, with dozens of others, in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then providing them with false identity documents and shelter with willing Polish families or in orphanages and other care facilities.


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10. Helena Rubinstein (Chaja)

Helena is one of the most famous Polish-American businesswomen in the world and she born in Krakow on 25 December 1872.

For those who have no idea who she is, mostly I guess men, she is the founder and eponym of Helena Rubinstein Incorporated cosmetics company. This made her one of the world's richest women.

Helena Rubinstein by Paul César Helleu 1859 1927Helena Rubinstein by Paul César Helleu (1859-1927) - Source

What is important to note, is that she emigrated from Poland to Australia in 1896, with no money and little English. Her stylish clothes and milky complexion did not pass unnoticed among the town's ladies, however, and she soon found enthusiastic buyers for the jars of beauty cream in her luggage.

Except for being a businesswoman, she is also a well-known art collector, and philanthropist.

Finally, at the outbreak of World War I, she and her husband Titus moved to New York City, where she opened a cosmetics salon in 1915, the forerunner of a chain throughout the country. Chaja died in Manhattan, New York the 1st of April, 1965.


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11. Janus Korczak & Stefania Wilczyńska

Another of the invisible heroes of World War II everyone should know about. His real name was Henryk Goldszmit and he was born in Warsaw in 1878-1879. A doctor, educator, writer, journalist, and social activist is a well-known personality to every Polish and is strongly related to the Warsaw Ghetto.

In September 1939, he spoke for the last time on Polish Radio, calling for peace. In the fall of 1940, the Orphans' Home, as a Jewish institution, was resettled to the Warsaw ghetto at 33 Chłodna Street.

In October 1941, the Orphanage was forced to move again, this time to ul. Sienna 16 / Śliska 9, to some rooms in the building of the Association of Commercial Employees.

At the beginning of 1942, Korczak officially took care of an institution for orphans in a tragic situation at ul. Dzielna 39, and in May the same year he began to write a "Diary", about the Nazi occupation.

Korczak consciously rejected many offers calling to save himself, and finally on the day of his deportation, on the morning of August 5 - 1942, during the so-called "great action", he refused to leave the children and employees of the Orphanage.

Together with Korczak and despite they were all given the chance to avoid the deportation to Treblinka, it was also Stefania Wilczyńska and the other staff of the orphanage who chosen the death instead of giving up the children.

Finally, he marches with his children on their last trip from Umschlagplatz to Treblinka extermination Camp supporting them till the last moment.


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12. Daniel Fahrenheit

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686 - 1736), was a physicist, inventor, and scientific instrument, maker. Fahrenheit's inventions ushered in the first revolution in the history of thermometry (branch of physics concerned with methods of temperature measurement).

Daniel invented the mercury-in-glass thermometer for the measurement of room temperature. He also invented the Fahrenheit scale, which uses the degree Fahrenheit (symbol: °F) as the unit.

Fahrenheit was born in Danzig (Gdańsk), then in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, but lived most of his life in the Dutch Republic. Let us explain the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Formally, the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 

After 1791, the Commonwealth of Poland – was a dual state, a bi-confederation of Poland and Lithuania.

Source and Read More: Daniel_Gabriel_Fahrenheit


13. Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. Very active in promoting the Immaculate Virgin Mary, his life was strongly influenced by a vision he had of the Virgin Mary when he was 12.

«That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red.

She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both».

block 11 auschwitz death blockBlock 11: Auschwitz Main Camp - Read: Auschwitz Visit

One year after his vision, Kolbe and his elder brother, Francis joined the Conventual Franciscans. In 1910, Kolbe was given the religious name Maximilian. Kolbe also founded monasteries in both Japan and India. To this day, the monastery in Japan remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan.

In 1936, Kolbe's poor health forced him to return home to Poland, and once the WWII invasion by Germany began, he became one of the only brothers to remain in the monastery.

He refused to sign a document that would recognize him as a German citizen with his German ancestry and continued to work in his monastery, providing shelter for refugees, including hiding 2,000 Jews from German persecution.

On February 17, 1941, the monastery was shut down; Kolbe was arrested by the German Gestapo and taken to the Pawiak prison. Three months later, he was transferred to Auschwitz. Everyone who visits Auschwitz will definitely pass from the cells where we martyred and hear his story.

Never abandoning his priesthood, Kolbe was the victim of severe violence and harassment. Toward the end of his second month in Auschwitz, men were chosen to face death by starvation to warn against escapes.

On August 14, 1941, Father Maksymilian Kolbe was killed in the basement of the "death block" in the German concentration camp Auschwitz. At the end of July, during the roll call, he voluntarily chose to starve to death in exchange for a convicted fellow prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek.

Eventually, after 15 days in a cell without food or drink, he was killed with a phenol injection and his body was burnt in Crematorium No. 1.

Source: «https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=370»


14. Ignacy Łukasiewicz

Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born on 8 March 1822 in Zaduszniki, near Mielec, in the Austrian Empire (after the Partitions of Poland) as the youngest of five children.

He was a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and philanthropist. He was one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a crownland of Austria-Hungary.

Also, a pioneer who in 1856 built the world's first modern oil refinery. His achievements included:

  • the discovery of how to distill kerosene from seep oil,
  • the invention of the modern kerosene lamp (1853),
  • the introduction of the first modern street lamp in Europe (1853), and the
  • construction of the world's first modern oil well (1854).

Read more about Ignacy.


15. Jerzy Ivanov-Szajnowicz

A Polish-Greek athlete and hero of the 2nd World War, born in December of 1911 in Warsaw, Poland from a Russian father and a Polish mother. However, Jerzy's mother separated from her first husband and married a Greek businessman, Jannis Lambrianidis. Jerzy and his mother moved to Thessaloniki.

Despite his emigration, Jerzy was deeply attached to his homeland and he was always coming to Poland for vacation. During one of his stays in Warsaw, he joined the Warsaw Academic Sports Association and in 1938 was declared as Poland's top water polo player.

jerzy polish greek famous

After the outbreak of the war in 1939, he started cooperation with the Polish military mission in Salonika. He helped Polish soldiers who found their way to Greece from Romanian and Hungarian camps, escaping through the territories of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

In 1940, he was recruited to work for the Polish intelligence. He was last captured on September 8, 1942, in Athens, and on December 2, 1942, he was sentenced to a triple death penalty.

On January 4, 1943, in Kesariani, while leading the condemned man to the place of execution, he got rid of his handcuffs and tried to escape. However, he was hit, tied, and then shot by a firing squad. In Greece, he is recognized as a national hero and his statue stands in Thessaloniki.

On the 25th of March of 2021, the Polish Post in a ceremonial introduction, issued the stamp "Jerzy Ivanov-Szajnowicz", to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Greek Uprising of 1821.


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16. 17. Warner Bros

Warner Bros' name originates from the founding Warner brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner. Harry, Albert, and Sam emigrated as young children with their Polish-Jewish parents to Canada from Krasnosielc, Poland (part of the Russian Empire under the Russian Partition).

Read more here: Warner Bros.


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18. Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski, on 2 August 1923, in Wiszniew, Poland. Now the city is Vishnyeva and it is located in Belarus. Peres was a polyglot, speaking Polish, French, English, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, although he never lost his Polish accent when speaking in Hebrew.

Peres served as the ninth President of Israel (2007 - 2014) and he was the world's oldest head of state. Considered the last link to Israel's founding generations and he won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Read More About Shimon Peres.


19. Samuel Willenberg

During the Treblinka death camp uprising, he was among the people who managed to escape and he later joined the Polish underground and also fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. After the war, he emigrated to Israel and became a famous sculptor, writer, and painter.

He was also active in reviving Polish-Israeli relations after the fall of Communism is consider a Hero by both nations. Being the last survivor of Treblinka who died in 2016.


20. Władysław Szpilman

Another famous survivor of the Holocaust. Władysław Szpilman was a Polish pianist and classical composer which is widely known as the central figure in the 2002 Roman Polanski (No. 8) film: «The Pianist». During the German occupation, he and his family were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto.

Szpilman started working inside Warsaw's Ghetto as a musician to support his family. Unfortunately, everyone in his family was deported to Treblinka in 1942. Szpilman stayed at the Ghetto as a laborer and helped smuggle in weapons for the coming Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Beginning in August 1944, Szpilman was still hiding in an abandoned building at al. Niepodległości 223 where he was discovered by a German officer. The officer instead of killing him asked him to play something for him on piano, after discovering he was a pianist.

He played Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. After that, the officer brought him bread and jam on many cases and also offered one of his coats to keep him warm. The officer died as a Soviet prisoner of war.

Finally, Szpilman liberated on January 17, by the Soviet and Berling's Polish Army. Since that time he was living as a «Warsaw Robinson» in the debris of Warsaw, since the total destruction which followed the Warsaw Uprising in August of 1944.


21. Alina Szapocznikow

Alina born in Kalisz and she is a holocaust survivor of Pabianice and Litzmannstadt ghettos, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt.

After the war, she studied Arts and became one of the leading European surrealists, Nouveau realisme, and pop-art artists working mainly in bronze and stone.


22. Maria Cunitz

Despite the fact that the Nationality of the Maria Cunitz is defined as Silesian. Silesia changed hands multiple times but we can proudly state she has Polish roots. Maria Cunitz was born in Wohlau (now Wołów, Poland), as the eldest daughter of Heinrich Cunitz, a physician, and Maria Scholtz from Legnica.

maria kunitz swidnica rynek

As the most notable female astronomer of the early modern era, she authored a book Urania propitia, in which she provided new tables, new ephemera, and a simpler working solution to Kepler's Area Law for determining the position of a planet on its elliptical path. A book which made her famous.

She left most of her life in Swidnica (see: 11 most unique cities of Poland) where you can find a monument of her sitting on a bench at the Rynek (market square) of the old town. The Cunitz crater on planet Venus is named after her and the minor planet 12624 Mariacunitia is named in her honor.


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Hope you Enjoy the List of the Most Famous Polish People!
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Last modification: Mon 31 May 2021