Some personalities from Poland, like Lech Wałęsa, are well known, and so are their Polish roots. However, there are other famous people out there, also with Polish roots and Polish family history, who are often confused as being from somewhere else. In some instances, they switched nationalities after leaving Poland, or they decided not to maintain the nationality of their Polish parents. Check out these famous people, and see if you knew they were Polish.
The famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (in Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik) was born in 1473 in the Polish city of Toruń. This was the man who developed the theory that the earth rotates around the sun, not the other way around. As such, a large statue of Copernicus sits in central Warsaw, and he also has a science centre and museum dedicated to him in the capital. In his birth city of Toruń, there is a planetarium centre, and you can also embark on a Copernicus pilgrimage where you can visit his childhood home that functions as a museum. Copernicus also spent a lot of his time working in the Polish city of Frombork, where he died.
Despite being born in Poland, many people still think that Maria Skłodowska Curie was French. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as she only took on French nationality after her marriage. Maria Skłodowska Curie was the first ever female to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only female to win a Nobel Prize twice and is the only person to win in two different sciences – chemistry and physics. Her legacy lives on in France, too, as she was the first woman to be made a professor at the University of Paris. Curie was born in Warsaw, and her childhood home has now been turned into a museum dedicated to her life. She has inspired the lives of many and was responsible for discovering the elements of Polonium (which is named after Poland) and Radium.
Anyone who has been to Warsaw will be aware that Frédéric Chopin is Polish. However, those who judge by the sound of one’s name have also often confused Chopin to be French. Chopin grew up in Warsaw in Poland but settled in Paris at the age of 21. In Warsaw, there is a huge Chopin museum, a Chopin statue and many specially designed ‘Chopin benches‘ throughout the city, which play the music of Frédéric Chopin when you press a button. Restaurants and bars in the city also often organise Chopin nights where his music is played and fondly remembered.
The top goalscorer in World Cup history might have scored all those goals for Germany. But did you know he speaks fluent Polish and wasn’t born in Germany? Yes, the world’s record-breaking goalscorer was born in Opole in Poland’s Silesia region. Both of his parents were Polish, and both were also professional athletes. His mother played for the Poland women’s national handball team, and his father was also a professional footballer who played for Odra Opole and later Auxerre in France. Klose left Poland at age eight and moved to Germany to live in Kusel in the Rhineland. Klose later attained German citizenship and chose to represent Germany in international football. However, his wife is Polish and their children speak fluent Polish and German.
Both parents of tennis player Caroline Wozniacki are Polish, even though she was born in Odense, Denmark. Her links to Poland are pretty impressive. Her mother Anna Woźniacka played volleyball for the Polish national team, and her father Piotr was a professional footballer, which was the reason the family moved from Poland to Denmark. Wozniacki has won over 30 trophies as a professional tennis player, but all while representing Denmark. Wozniacki was the first ever Scandinavian woman to hold the world number one ranking. She won six titles in both 2010 and 2011, which was a record in female tennis between 2008 and 2011. In 2018, Wozniacki won the Australian Open, which was her first Grand Slam title.
Hold on a moment, Peter Schmeichel won European Championships for Denmark. He’s Danish, isn’t he? Well, that’s not the full story, because Peter Schmeichel held Polish citizenship until 1970. He was born Peter Bolesław Schmeichel to a Polish father and a Danish mother. Schmeichel’s middle name – Bolesław – is Polish, taken from his great-grandfather; Schmeichel also speaks Polish. However, the family later gained Danish citizenship and lived in Copenhagen, and this is why Schmeichel chose to represent Denmark on the world stage. He enjoyed a decorated career, winning the Danish League, English Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and the European Super Cup. His biggest successes were the 1992 European Championships, which Denmark won, and the 1999 Champions League, when he captained Manchester United and lifted the trophy on a famous night. Schmeichel scored one international goal for Denmark in his 129 caps and also scored nine goals at club level – both statistics are a rarity for a goalkeeper. His son Casper Schmeichel also qualified to play for Poland, but chose to represent Denmark.
The man who gave his name to the temperature measurement of Fahrenheit was another Polish-born physicist and inventor. Daniel Fahrenheit was born in Gdańsk in 1686. At the time, Gdańsk was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, although Fahrenheit mostly spoke in German and later moved to the Netherlands. However, he is fondly remembered in his home city, with many tour groups being taken to Fahrenheit’s original house. Fahrenheit invented the first mercury-based thermometer as well as the Fahrenheit scale, which was the first standardised temperature scale to be widely used. His original thermometer sits on a permanent display in the famous Długi Targ market square in Gdańsk. Ironically, despite the fact that the Fahrenheit scale was invented in Poland, the Celsius scale is used by the country these days.