Famous people

How many world famous people, whose homeland is Poland can you mention? If the number is less than five – you should definitely read this chapter! Poland is the birthplace of lots of very well known people – scientists, artists, composers, poets, saints and… businessmen. All of them contributed to science or culture. Some of the names have become well-recognized symbols of their fields!

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun. He is one of the most famous scientists in the world: a mathematician, doctor, lawyer, economist, but first of all – the greatest astronomer. He has become world famous for his work „De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”,  revealing the revolutionary heliocentric theory of the universe. He died in Frombork and was buried in the local Cathedral.


Maria Sklodowska – Curie (1867 – 1934)

Maria Skłodowska-Curie was born in Warszawa and was one of the greatests European scientists. She announced the theory of radioactivity and discovered two new chemical elements: radium and polonium. For her discoveries in chemistry she was twice awarded the Nobel Prize – even today, Maria Skłodowska-Curie is the only woman who has won this prize twice. You can find the Musuem of Maria Sklodowska-Curie in the Old Town of Warsaw.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810 – 1849) 

Fryderyk Chopin was one of the greatest composers in the history of music and a piano virtuoso. He used to be called the Poet of the Piano. He wrote countless pieces, among them the famous mazurkas or the Etude of Revolituion. He was born in Zelazowa Wola near Warszawa, where his family house still stands today in the form of a museum of the composer. Fryderyk Chopin died in Paris, in exile (beacuse of the politial situation in Poland he had to leave the country). His heart however was buried in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw.

Artur Rubinstein (1887 – 1982)

Artur Rubinstein was one of the most famous pianists, who gave more than 6000 concerts in tours around Europe, and the Americas. His career lasted almost 80 years. He was born in Lodz in Central Poland.  He left the country with his family in 1939 and settled in the USA, where he was given citizenship. In Lodz, his hometown, there is a beautiful monument commemorating the pianist. In the famous Blikle cake shop in Warszawa one can see the photographs from his last visit to Warsaw (1979).

Lech Walesa (born in 1943) 

Lech Walesa was born in Popowo in 1943. A winner of the Peace Nobel Prize (1983) and leader of the Solidarity movement who contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He worked as an electrician in a shipyard in Gdansk and lead the workers in strikes against the communists. He was elected the first president of independent Poland (1990-95).


Saint John Paul II (1920 – 2005) 

John Paul II seems to be one of the most famous Popes in history. Before becoming Pope, his name was Karol Wojtyla. He was Krakow’s bishop, cardinal, and, after his election in 1979, Pope John Paul II. He has become the great apostle of reconciliation among nations and religions. In Poland there is a special route of John Paul II retracing his life and mission. He has been canonized on 27 April 2014 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.


St. Sister Faustina (1905 – 1938) 

Faustyna Kowalska was canonized by John Paul II in 2000, known as the Apostle of God’s Mercy. She was buried in Krakow in Lagiewniki, where the world famous shrine of Divine Mercy is.



Wisława Szymborska (1923 – 2012) 

Wisława Szymborska is a world famous Polish poet. She was also a literary translator and critic. In 1996 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2001 she received the diploma of the American Academy of Art and Literature, the most important award given by this institution to prominent artists.


Roman Polański (born in 1923) 

Roman Polański is a world famous director, the creative force behind Oliver Twist, The Ninth Gate, or Frantic among many others.  Born in 1933 to a Polish Jewish family in Paris, in 1937 he moved to Krakow, were he survived World War II (in the village of Wysoka, near Krakow). In 2003 he was given the Academy Award for his film The Pianist.


Irena Sendlerowa (1910 – 2008) 

Irena Sendlerowa is one of the Righteous Among the Nations for helping Jewish children during World War II in Poland. As a symbol of empathy with the Jewish people during the war she was also wore a band with a Star of David around her arm (she had no Jewish origins). Irena Sendlerowa smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto in Warsaw, finding places to hide for them and new families to care for them– due to her heroism she saved about 2500 Jewish children from Holocaust. She has her own tree in Yad Vashem.

Helena Rubinstein (1870 – 1965) 

Helena Rubinstein, known as the Queen of Cosmetics, was born in 1870 in Krakow, in the Jewish town called Kazimierz (her family house is there today). She became one of the most famous cosmetics industrialists and the founder of the Helen Rubinstein company. In 1902 she moved to Australia and then to London, where she started her international career producing creams based on her mother’s recipe. She died in New York.

Max Factor (1872 – 1938) 

Max Factor (Maksymilian Faktorowicz), the cosmetics icon and the founder of the Max Factor company was born in 1872 to a poor Jewish family in Lodz. As a small boy he worked in a pharmacy and at a dentist’s, where he made his first experiments with mixing creams and medicines. When he was 20 he opened his first shop in Moscow and very soon he started working for the Tzar’s court providing cosmetics. In 1904 he moved to USA to further his great career.