We have many reasons to thank previous generations… for victories over fascism and communism; for enormous strides made in research and medicine… towards conquering diseases; for products of inventive geniuses that make us the most historically aware population in the world. May we never forget Poland’s sacrifices in an effort to promote worldwide peace and freedom. May we always be proud of her contributions and how they have shaped world events. Although only a few of the many outstanding Poles are mentioned on this list, there have been and there are numerous others whose influence, talents and contributions in the fields of medicine, music, art, literature, physics, chemistry and peace have had great impact throughout the world.
May these names remain a part of our lives and be a source of cultural enrichment for our children and grandchildren. Let us look to the future, but let us not forget those who came before us, risked their lives for their beliefs, were ridiculed for thinking ‘outside the box’, and made sacrifices on every level. Possessing an indomitable human spirit, each continued their personal struggle until the goal was fulfilled.
NICOLAUS COPERNICUS (1473-1543) was an astronomer who provided the first modern formulation heliocentric (sun-cen-tered) theory of the solar system in his epochal book. De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). Copernicus was born in 1473 in the city of Torun, in Royal Prussia, an autonomous province of the Kingdom of Poland. He was educated in Poland and Italy, and spent most of his working life in Frombork, Warmia, where he died in 1543.
KAZIMIERZ PULASKI aka CASIMIR PULASKI (1745-1779) was a Polish soldier and politician. A notable member of the Polish gentry, he was tenth commander of the Bar Confederation against the Russian domination of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. When this failed, he moved to America, where he became one of the notable commanders of the American Revolutionary War. He died in the Battle of Savannah.
ANDRZEJ TADEUSZ BONAWENTURA KOSCIUSZKO (1746-1817) was a Polish and Lithuanian national hero, general and a leader of the 1794 uprising (which bears his name) against the Russian Empire. He fought in the American Revolutionary war as a colonel in the Continental Army on the side of Washington. In recognition of his dedicated and faithful service he was elevated by the Continental Congress to the rank of Brigadier General in 1783, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States that same year.
ADAM BERNARD MICKIEWICZ (1798-1855) was one of the best know Polish poets and writers; considered the greatest 19th-century Polish poet alongside Zygmunt Krasinski and Juliusz Siowacki( the three prophets).
FREDERIC FRANCOIS CHOPIN (1810-1849) was a Polish pianist and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the most famous, influential and admired composers for the piano. He was born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin in the village of Zelazowa Wola, to a Polish mother and French expatriate father. Hailed as a child prodigy in his homeland, Chopin left for Paris at the age of 20. In Paris, he made a career as a performer and teacher as well as a composer, and adopted the French variant of his name, “Frederic-Francois”. Always in fragile health, he succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 39.
IGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI (1860-1941) was a Polish pianist, composer, diplomat and politician. He was the third Prime Minister of Poland.
HENRYK ADAM SIENKIEWICZ (1846-1916) was a Polish novelist, one of the outstanding writers of the second half of the 19th century. Sienkiewicz was born to a well-to-do family in Wola Okrzejska, a town in Russian-ruled Poland. A Polish patriot to the core, Sienkiewicz created historical novels that extolled the valiant men and brave deeds of the former Rzeczpospolita. In Poland he is the best know for his colorful historical novels ( The Trilogy) depicting the derring-do of Polish heroes in the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. He was exiled abroad, for his novel Quo Vadis, set in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. His only relative now lives in Australia.
MARIE CURIE Polish MARIA SKLODOWSKA CURIE (1867-1934) was a Polish French physicist and chemist. She was a pioneer in the early field of radioactivity, later becoming the first two-time Nobel laureate and the only person with Nobel Prizes in two different fields of science (physics and chemistry- due to the effects of sharing, she effectively obtained 1.25 Nobel Prizes). She also became the first woman appointed to teach at the Sorbonne. She was born a Pole in Warsaw, and spent her early years there, but in 1891 at age 24, moved to France to study science in Paris. She obtained all her higher degrees and conducted her scientific career there, and became a naturalized French citizen. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw.
CZESALAW MILOSZ (1911-2004) was a Polish poet and essayist. Czeslaw Milosz won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, when he lived in California. He spent the last days of his life in Krakow, Poland. Born in Seteniai, Lithuania, in a Polish gentry family (Lubicz noble clan), he always underlined his connection to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Milosz studied law at the University in Vilnius. His childhood was spent partly in Russia around the time of the Revolution.
POPE JOHN PAUL II born KAROL JOZEF WOJTYLA (1920-2005) reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from October 16,1978 until his death more than 26 years later, making his the second-longest pontificate in modern times after Pius IX’s 31-year reign. He was the first and only Polish Pope and the first non-Italian Pope since the Dutch Adrian VI in the 1520s. His early reign was marked by his opposition to Communism and he is often credited as one of the forces which contributed to its fall. During his reign, the Pope traveled extensively, visiting over 100 countries, more than any of his predecessors. In February, 2004 Pope John Paul II was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize honoring his life’s work in opposing Communist oppression and helping to reshape the world. John Paul II was fluent in 10 languages. He died on April 2, 2005 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
STANISLAW LEM (1921-2006) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer. His books have been translated into 41 languages and sold over 27 million copies. At one point he was the most widely read non-English language science fiction author in the world. His works often veer into philosophical speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding despair about human limitations and mankind’s place in the universe.
WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA (1923-) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator Honored by the Nobel Prize in Literature in1996 and by numerous other awards, she is generally considered the most important living Polish poet. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors-although she once remarked in a poem entitled “Some like poetry” (Niektorzy lubia poezje) that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.
ROMAN RAYMOND POLANSKI (1933-) is an Academy Award- winning Polish film director and actor. A celebrated Hollywood director of such films as Rosemary’s Baby (1968)and Chinatown (1974)., he has continued to direct films in Europe, including Frantic (1988), the Academy Award-winning The Pianist (2002), and Oliver Twist (2005).
LECH WALESA (1943-) is a Polish politician, a former trade union and human rights activist, and also a former electrician. He founded Solidarity (Solidarnosc), the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995.