Famous Polish People



Fame is the state of being known throughout the world. There are a lot of people who would like to be famous not only when they live but also after their death. However, it is not easy as one has to do something special and extraordinary to be noticed, remembered and recognized for centuries. Every country has some national heroes and people to be proud of. This is also the case as far as Poland is concerned. I would like to present short biographies and achievements of Poles well-known both now and in the past. They will be divided into certain categories.

Krόlowie (Kings)


- Mieszko I (Mieszko I of Poland) (ca 930-992) - he was the first known Piast duke of the Polans. Under his reign, the lands became quite a big county, but the most important event took place in 966 when he was baptized and married Dobrawa, and in 972 when there was Bitwa pod Cedynią (the Battle of Cedynia);

- Bolesław Chrobry (Bolesław the Brave) (967-1025) - he was the son of Mieszko I (Mieszko I of Poland). In 1000 the first Polish arcybiskupstwo (archbishopric) in Gniezno was established where there was an important zjazd (congress). One of its main visitors was cesarz Otton III (Emperor Otto III);

- Kazimierz III Wielki (Kazimierz III the Great) (1310-1370) - he contributed to the building of Poland a lot. There is even a famous Polish saying that he zastał Polskę drewnianą, a zostawił murowaną (found wooden Poland, and he left it brick);

- Jan III Sobieski (John III Sobieski) (1629-1696) - he is famous for being a good dowόdca (commander). He took part in a great number of wars and fights such as wojna z Turcją (war with Turkey), Bitwa pod Chocimiem (the Battle of Chocim) or Bitwa pod Wiedniem (the Battle of Vienna). He married Maria Kazimiera d'Arquien (Marie Casimire d'Arquien) especially known as Marysieńka (diminutive form of Marie) and he wrote listy do Marysieńki (letters to Marysienka);

- Stanisław August Poniatowski (Stanisław August Poniatowski) (1732-1798) - he is associated with III rozbiory Polski (partitions of Poland), Konfederacja Barska (the Bar Confederation) and Konstytucja 3 Maja (the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1971). He was also mecenas sztuki i nauki (a patron of art and science) which was very popular in Oświecenie (Enlightement).

Literatura (Literature)


- Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) - was one of the most famous poets in Renesans (Renaissance). His greatest works are Treny (Threnodies/Laments) written after the death of his daughter Urszula, Odprawa posłόw greckich (The Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys), Fraszki (Trifles), Pieśni (the Songs), and Psałterz Dawidόw (David's Psalter);

- Aleksander Fredro (1793-1876) - a poet, a playwright and a writer from the period of Romantyzm (Romanticism) wrote mainly komedie (comedies) e.g. śluby panieñskie, czyli magnetyzm serca (Maidens' Vows, or the Magnetism of the Heart) and Zemsta (The Revenge) which told about the lifestyle of the Polish szlachta (nobility);

- Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) - undoubtedly, he is considered one of the greatest poets and writers in Polish literature, wieszcz narodowy (national bard). His fame can be compared to Shakespeare. He is the author of a lot of works: Sonety Krymskie (The Crimean Sonnets), Reduta Ordona (Ordon's Redoubt), Konrad Wallenrod, Dziady (Forefathers' Eve) consisting of three parts, Oda do młodości (Ode to Youth), Ballady i romanse (Ballads and Romances), Grażyna, Pan Tadeusz;

- Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) - another wieszcz narodowy (national bard) best known for Kordian, Balladyna, Lilla Weneda, Grόb Agamemnona (Agamemnon's Tomb), Testament mόj (My Testament), hymn Bogurodzica (The Mother of God);

- Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910) - she wrote in Pozytywizm (Positivism) and her works are Nad Niemnem (On the Banks of the Niemen), Gloria Victis which is a collection of novels or Dziurdziowie;

- Bolesław Prus (1847-1912) - he lived in the period of Pozytywizm (Positivism). His short novels Antek, Katarynka (The Barrel Organ) or Kamizelka (The Waistcoat). Besides, we can also mention Anielka (Annie), Placόwka (The Outpost), Lalka (The Doll) which probably is the most known work of this author, Emancypantki (The New Woman), Faraon (Pharaoh);

- Maria Konopnicka (1842-1910) - this author is popular with children since she wrote for them such books as e.g. O krasnoludkach i sierotce Marysi (About the Little People and Orphan Mary), śpiewnik dla dzieci (Music Book for Children), O Janku Wędrowniczku (About Jonnie the Wanderer), Na jagody (Picking Berries) or Nasza szkapa (Our old mare). Nevertheless, she also wrote more serious poems like Rota (Oath) and Wolny najmita (The Free Day Labourer), Mendel Gdański (Mendel of Gdansk);

- Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) - he is one of our Polish noblista (Nobel Prize Winner), the author of short stories: Janko Muzykant (Janko the Musician), Za chlebem (For Bread), Latarnik (The Lighthouse Keeper) and great novels known all over the world such as Trylogia (The Trilogy) consisting of three parts: Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword), Potop (The Deluge), and Pan Wołodyjowski (Fire in the Steppe), Rodzina Połanieckich (The Polaniecki Family), W pustyni i w puszczy (In Desert and Wilderness), Krzyżacy (The Teutonic Knights/ The Knights of the Cross), Quo Vadis, Bez dogmatu (Without Dogma);

- Stefan Żeromski (1864-1925) - he is also very well-known for his written achievements, mainly for Rozdziobią nas kruki, wrony (Ravens and Crows Will Pich Us up to Pieces), Syzyfowe prace (Sisyphean Labours), Ludzie bezdomni (Homeless People), Popioły (Ashes), Wierna rzeka (The Faithful River), Przedwiośnie (The Spring to Come), Siłaczka (The Strongwoman), or a theatrical drama Uciekła mi przepiόreczka (A Quail Has Escaped Me);

- Jan Kasprowicz (1860-1926) - he belonged to the writers of the period called Młoda Polska (Young Poland) and he created great poems like Krzak dzikiej rόży (The Wild Rose Bush), Salve Regina, Księga ubogich (The Book of the Poor) or Hymny (Hymns);

- Władysław Stanisław Reymont (1867-1925) - he is the writer who cannot be omitted as he is another Polish Noblista (Nobel Prize Winner) and the author of Komediantka (The Comedienne), Ziemia Obiecana (Promised Land), Chłopi (The Peasants);

- Jan Brzechwa (1898-1966) - he is children's beloved writer as he wrote mainly for them. All kids in Poland know his poems and works like Pan Kleks (Mr Kleks), Pchła Szachrajka (The Tricksy Flea), Tańcowała igła z nitką, Kaczka Dziwaczka, Na Wyspach Bergamutach, Kłamczucha (Liar) and many others;

- Kornel Makuszyński (1884-1953) - another writer popular with children and teenagers for O dwόch takich co ukradli księżyc (The Two Who Stole the Moon), Awantura o Basię (Argument about Basia), Szatan z siόdmej klasy (The Devil from Seventh Grade), Szaleństwa panny Ewy (Follies of Miss Eva), Przyjaciel Wesołego Diabła (The Friend of a Jolly Devil), Przygody Koziołka Matołka (The Adventures of Matolek the Billy-Goat);

- Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) - he is known throughout the world and also Polish Noblista (Nobel Prize Winner). His literary output is very rich, but among his most famous works are Zniewolony umysł (The Captive Mind), Dolina Issy (The Issa Valley), Trzy zimy (Three Winters), Ocalenie (Rescue), Orfeusz i Eurydyka (Orpheus and Eurydice);

- Zofia Nałkowska (1884-1954) - a woman writer living in the period between the wars who wrote Kobiety (Women), Rόwieśnice (Peers), Granica (The Frontier), Węzły życia (Bonds of Life), Medaliony (Medallions);

- Wisława Szymborska (1923- ) - she is a very famous contemporary poet who got Nagroda Nobla (the Nobel Prize) for literature in 1996. Her poetry includes Dlatego żyjemy (That's Why We Are Alive), Pytania zadawane sobie (Questioning Yourself), Sόl (Salt), 101 wierszy (101 Poems), Lektury nadobowiązkowe (Non-required Reading), Koniec i początek (The End and the Beginning), Chwila (Moment), Dwukropek (Colon). Everybody knows her poem entitled Nic dwa razy się nie zdarzy (Nothing Twice).

Muzyka (Music)


Poland also has some great musicians to be proud of:

- Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) - undoubtedly, he is one of the most outstanding Polish musicians, composers and pianists associated with a very expressive style. His debut took place when he was only seven years old and a year later he gave a good piano concert and was even compared to Mozart. Although he was born in Poland, he finally moved to Paris in 1830 where he stayed till the end of his life. Among his works we can mention: Polonezy (Polonaises), Mazurki (Mazurkas), Walce (Waltzes), Nokturny (Nocturnes), Ballady (Ballades), Scherza (Scherzos), Impromptu (Impromptus), Preludia (Preludes), Etiudy (Etudes), Ronda (Rondos), Koncerty fortepianowe (Piano concerts) and others;

- Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) - he was our great composer and he wrote opery (operas) like Halka, Flis (The Raftsman), Straszny Dwόr (The Haunted Manor), Hrabina (The Countess); balety (ballets) like Na kwaterunku (On the Billet); operetki (operettas) and ballady (ballads) like Dziad i baba (The Old Man and Woman);

- Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) - a pianist, composer and conductor. His first Preludium (Prelude) was written when he was nine years old and later there are his famous I Symfonia (Symphony No. 1), Koncert na orkiestrę (Concert for Orchestra), Gry weneckie (Venetian Games), Melodie ludowe (Folk Melodies);

- Wojciech Kilar (1932- ) - he is a pianist, composer as well as film music composer. He learned music in Rzeszόw, Krakόw, Katowice and abroad in Paris and he gave his first piano concert at the age of fifteen. As far as his classical compositions are concerned, we should mention Mała uwertura (Small Overture), Symfonia nr 1 na smyczki (Symphony for Strings), Springfield Sonnet, Przygrywka i kolęda (Prelude and Christmas Carol), Ricordanza, Magnificat. As it has just been written, Kilar is the author of music to great number of films such as Lalka (The Doll), Rejs (Cruise), Barwy ochronne (Camouflage), Dracula, Brat naszego Boga (Our God's Brother), życie jako śmiertelna choroba przenoszona drogą płciową (Life As a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease), Pianista (The Pianist);

- Henryk Mikołaj Gόrecki (1933- ) - another prominent contemporary composer and pianist who graduated from a prestigious university Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Muzyczna w Katowicach (the State Higher School of Music in Katowice) and continued his studies in Paris. He created a lot of good pieces of music, but his most well-known one is III Symfonia also called Symfonia pieśni żałosnych (Third Symphony or Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). We can also mention: Cztery preludia (Four Preludes), Trzy utwory w dawnym stylu (Three Pieces in an Old Style), II Symfonia ,,Kopernikowska"(Symphony No. 2 "Copernican"), Beatus Vir, Totus Tuus, Pięć pieśni kurpiowskich (Five Kurpian Songs) and many others;

- Krzysztof Penderecki (1933- ) - he cannot be omitted as he belongs to contemporary composers and musicians who create Polish classical music. It can be said that he became generally popular and admired when he took part in a famous Polish festival Warszawska Jesień (Warsaw Autumn) where he presented his works Strofy (Strophes), Psalmy Dawida (David's Psalms) and Emanacje (Emanations). Other recognized works are Pasja £ukaszowa (St Luke Passion), opery (operas): Diabły z Loudun (The Devils of Loudun), Raj utracony (Paradise Lost) and Czarna maska (The Black Mask), Symfonie (Symphonies), Tren Ofiarom Hiroszimy (Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima);

- Zbigniew Preisner (1955- ) - although he did not finish any music school or university, he is considered the greatest Polish film music composer. The most popular film for which he composed music are Trzy kolory: czerwony, biały, niebieski (Three Colors: Red, White, Blue), Kiedy mężczyzna kocha kobietę (When a Man Loves a Woman), Tajemniczy ogrόd (The Secret Garden), Podwόjne życie Weroniki (The Double Life of Véronique), Dekalog (The Decalogue), Zabić księdza (To Kill a Priest).

Wynalazcy, odkrywcy i naukowcy (Inventors, discoverers and scientists)


Also in this more scientific field we have a few noticeable and prominent people.

- Mikołaj Kopernik (1473-1543) - he is very well-known not only in Poland, but also abroad and all over the world as astronom (astronomer), matematyk (mathematician), astrolog (astrologer). Everybody knows his significant work O obrotach sfer niebieskich (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) where he presented heliocentryczną wizję świata (heliocentric vision of the world). We say that he "wstrzymał słońce, ruszył ziemię" ("stopped the Sun and moved the Earth");

- Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867-1934) - she dealt with the field of fizyka (physics) and chemia (chemistry). Her achievements are the discovery of new pierwiastki (elements): polon (polonium) and rad (radium) as well as her teoria promieniotwόrczości (the theory of radioactivity). She was awarded two Nagrody Nobla (Nobel Prizes) in physics and chemistry.

Sportowcy (Sportsmen and sportswomen)


Well-known Polish people associated with sport are:

- Irena Szewińska (1946-) - a Polish lekkoatletka (athlete) who won seven Olympic medals (three gold ones). She took part in Igrzyska Olimpijskie (the Olympics) five times and she broke the world record ten times. She was the first woman to reach the score below 50 seconds in the 400m sprint;

- Zbigniew Boniek (1956-) - a very talented piłkarz (footballer) who scored 24 goals in 80 matches. He played for Narodowa Reprezentacja Polski (Polish National Team), Juventus or A.S. Roma. Then, he was wiceprezes Polskiego Związku Piłki Nożnej (a vice-president of the Polish Football Association) as well as trener (a coach) of polska reprezentacja (the Polish national team);

- Andrzej Gołota (Andrew Golota) (1968-) - a Polish bokser (boxer) known all over the world who had 46 fights and won a bronze medal at the Olympics in Seoul. His most famous fights are the ones with Robert Smith, Terry Davis, Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter;

- Robert Korzeniowski (1968-) - another popular sportsman, the best chodziarz (racewalker) in the world who won four gold medals at the Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens). Although he retired in 2004, he promotes lekkoatletyka (athletics) and he is szef redakcji sportowej w telewizji (the manager of sports programmes on TV);

- Adam Małysz (1977-) - there is no person in Poland who would not know this name as he is the best Polish skoczek narciarski (ski jumper). He showed his possibilities during Turniej Czterech Skoczni (the Four Hills Tournament) in 2000/2001. Then, he won a gold medal in Harrahov and he was also successful in Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Willingen or Holmenkollen;

- Robert Kubica (1984-) - he is the first Polish kierowca wyścigowy/rajdowy (Formula One racing driver). In 2005 he won tytuł mistrzowski (the champion title) in World Series by Renault. He started as a small boy driving gokarty (off-road vehicles) and now he is a very promising driver;

- Otylia Jędrzejczak (1983-) - the most popular Polish pływaczka (swimmer) is mistrzyni Igrzysk Olimpijskich, Mistrzostw ¦wiata i Europy (the champion of the Olympics, World and Europe Championship). She is a specialist in styl motylkowy (butterfly).

- Tomasz Adamek (1976-) - one of the best boxers in the Polish boxing history. Multiple world champion in the most prestigious world federations (IBF, WBC, WBO) in two weight categories. Unlike Golota, Adamek showed he has 'the fighting heart' in all situations.

Ludzie filmu (People of the film)


- Andrzej Wajda (1926-) - he is a prominent director who screened very important films like for example Wesele (The Wedding), Zemsta (The Revenge) or Popiόł i diament (Ashes and Diamonds). As far as his prizes are concerned, in 1981 Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron) won Złota Palma (Golden Palm) in Cannes, whereas Ziemia Obiecana (The Promised Land), Panny z wilka (The Maids of Wilko) and again Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron) got the nominations for Nagroda Akademii Filmowej (Academy Award) for the best foreign- language film. He was also awarded the Oscar from Amerykańska Akademia Sztuki i Wiedzy Filmowej (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences);

- Roman Polański (1933-) - an actor and director known recognized not only by Polish people but also by foreigners. His film entitled Nόż w wodzie (Knife in the Water) directed in Paris brought him international fame as it was nominated for the Oscar. He won Złota Palma (Golden Palm) in Cannes for the best film Pianista (The Pianist) and the Oscar for directing this particular film;

- Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941-1996) - a director and screenwriter nominated for the Oscar known all over the world for films like Dekalog (The Decalogue), Krόtki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing), Krόtki film o miłości (A Short Film About Love), Podwόjne Życie Weroniki (The Double Life of Véronique), Trzy kolory: czerwony, biały, niebieski (Three Colors: Red, White, Blue);

- Izabella Scorupco (1970-) - she belongs to actresses were born in Poland but made a great career and achieved success abroad. Her first husband was a famous hockey player, Mariusz Czerkawski. She is best known and recognized as one of Bond's girls - Natalya Simonova in GoldenEye. In Poland her big part was in Jerzy Hoffman's production Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword).

Bohaterowie narodowi (National Polish Heroes)


- Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817) - he was both Polish and American generał (general) who fought for the independence of these two nations. He was also the leader of the national powstanie (uprising) in 1794 to defend Konstytucję Trzeciego Maja (the 3rd May Constitution);

- Jόzef Piłsudski (1867-1935) - he was działacz niepodległościowy (an independent activist), dowόdca wojskowy (a commander), polityk (a politician), the first Marszałek (Marshall), Naczelnik Pañstwa (Chief of State) as well as premier (Prime Minister). He contributed to regaining Polish niepodległość (independence) in 1918 what made him the national hero;

- Jan Paweł II (John Paul II) - (1920-2005) - undoubtedly, he is one of the greatest and most loved Polish national heroes who in 1978 became Papież (the Pope). He was the Pope of pielgrzymki (pilgrimages) as he traveled a lot and visited a great number of places all over the world. He had the ability and the gift to be understood by children, teenagers and adults and his main message was love;

- Lech Wałęsa (1943-) - elektryk (an electrician) working in Stocznia Gdańska (Shipyard in Gdañsk) who was also działacz związkowy (a trade union activist) and the founder of Solidarność (Solidarity) - the organization that opposed komunizm (communism) in Poland. Then, he became a well-known politician and finally the President. He was awarded Pokojowa Nagroda Nobla (the Nobel Peace Prize) and honorary degrees.

Without doubt, there are more people worth mentioning here that are considered to be the heroes and that contributed to the creation of Poland, Polish culture and Polish history. I chose the most important and prominent Poles. Nevertheless, there are also other figures that could be placed and described in this article.