Poland has given numerous valuable and remarkable personalities in all domains, from literature, picture, or music to sciences, mathematics, and politics. Although you must have heard of many of them, few are those of whose origin you were aware.
In todays’ article, I will present 4 of the most famous people on Earth who I bet you didn’t know were actually Poles.
1. Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik)
The famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, or, by his Polish name, Mikołaj Kopernik, was born in 1473 in Toruń, in what was then the Royal Prussia, a region which belonged to the Kingdom of Poland.
Nicolaus Copernicus is mostly renowned for his contributions to the domain of astronomy, being the first who made an explicit presentation of the famous heliocentric model of the universe, according to which the Sun was placed at the centre of the universe, and not the Earth. This model of the cosmos he presented in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). Copernicus’ theory was revolutionary at the time, representing a major shift from the geocentric model of the universe, which considered the Earth as being the stationary centre of the universe, with the Sun revolving around it.
Apart from being a mathematician, astronomer and physician, he was also a polyglot, classics scholar and translator, with a doctorate in canon law. He also developed a fundamental concept in economics, the famous quantity theory of money and formulated Gresham’s law.
2. Marie Skłodowska Curie (Maria Salomea Skłodowska)
Born in Warsaw in 1867, Maria Salomea Skłodowska is one of the most famous females figures in the world. She is better known as Marie Skłodowska Curie (or simply Marie Curie), as she married the French physicist Pierre Curie whose surname she took.
A famous chemist and physicist, Marie Skłodowska Curie is renowned for her important research on the phenomenon of radioactivity, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 (together with her husband and the physicist Henri Becquerel), and for the discovery of the chemical elements polonium and radium, for which she was awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1911. According to Wikipedia, she is the first woman who received a Nobel Prize, the first and the only one who won it twice, and the only person to be awarded the Noble in two separate scientific fields.
Although a French citizen by marriage, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who liked to use both her surnames, never forgot her Polish origin. She taught her daughters Polish and took them to Poland for visits. You have probably figured out why the first chemical element she discovered – polonium – is named as such.
3. Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin)
Another famous personality of Polish origin was the great pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Born from a French father – Nicolas Chopin – who had emigrated to Poland, and a Polish mother, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, by his birth name, was brought to the world in 1810 in Żelazowa Wola, near Warsaw – the place where he spent his childhood.
Chopin’s talent was spotted from an early age, and he was considered a child prodigy, according to Wikipedia. He studied at the Warsaw Lyceum and attended the Warsaw Conservatory, becoming part of the Polish elite and joining the intellectuals’ world. Receiving European renown, he travelled and lived to several locations, among which Paris, where he died in 1849.
His piano compositions have been widely appreciated, especially for their sensitivity and fine shades. A representative of the Romantic era, Fryderyk Chopin found inspiration for his music, among others, in Polish folk music. His famous compositions were influenced by the nationalist movement, following the spirit of his times. He had always considered himself a Pole and loved his homeland, hence his request that his heart be taken back to Poland after his death. Therefore, while his body lays buried in Paris, his heart is in Warsaw, in the Holy Cross Church.
4. Pope John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła)
Pope John Paul II, by his real name Karol Józef Wojtyła, was born in 1879 in Wadowice, a town in the vicinity of Krakow. He was elected pope in 1978 and was the head of the Catholic Church until his death in 2005. He was “the second-longest-serving pope in modern history after Pope Pius IX”  and the first non-Italian person to become pope “since the 16th-century Pope Adrian VI” .
In his attempt to spread his teachings and to improve Catholic Church’s relations with other churches such as Judaism, Islam, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pope John Paul II travelled across the whole world during his pontificate. His most famous teachings include talks about the importance of family, women’s equality and dignity, the future of mankind, while he strongly opposed capital punishment, abortion or euthanasia.
He is known for having an important role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He has been credited for encouraging Poles to stay strong in demanding a change in their country and urging them to make a peaceful revolution. He was an advocate of European Integration, having supported Poland in its process to receive EU membership.