Famous Poles: 6 oustanding individuals who shaped the history

We’ve already posted about famous Poles twice. But Poland is a country with more than 1000 years of history! This necessitates further delving into that subject. From this article, you’ll learn about 6 famous Poles from older times. We’ll also discuss how the Polish language course in Wroclaw in Polish Dream teaches Polish history.

Famous Poles: Mieszko I


He was the first historical ruler of Poland and also the first Christian duke of it. He’s known for being baptized in 966, allegedly on 14th April – Holy Saturday of that year. However – the exact place and date are subject to a heated debate among historians. Only year 966 is sure.

Mieszko I learned the Christianity from Czech missionaries. He personally demanded they, not their German counterparts, learn from him. Why was that? According to Medieval law, he could have become politically dependent on the German Empire, should he be baptized by them. By marrying Czech princess Dobrava and being baptized by the Czech bishop, he saved himself from this.

He began as the ruler of just Greater Poland – the region in western Poland. However, due to his skilled rule, Poland has doubled its size. He forged an alliance with:

  • Sweden,
  • Norway,
  • Bohemia,
  • German Empire.

When he died in 992, Poland was one of the most powerful countries in the entire Europe. Our mission is to teach you more than just the Polish language. We also strive to teach you a lot about our country. During our Polish language course in Wroclaw, you can expect a lesson about the most iconic rulers. Maybe during our historical trips, we’ll travel to Gniezno Cathedral, where Mieszko was baptized.

Painting: „Poczet królów polskich” by Jan Matejko

Mieszko I by Jan Matejko. Context: famous Poles

Famous Poles: Witold Pilecki


He was a military officer in the rank of rotmistrz, a cavalry captain. But due to his stunning heroism, he was posthumously promoted to a colonel’s rank. How did he earn such a promotion?

His military career includes fighting in the Polish-Soviet war, the September Campaign (failed defense of Poland in 1939), and in Warsaw Uprising. But it is not what made him so worth remembering.

In 1940 he… intentionally let the occupants put him in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp! His plan was to gather intelligence on it. Before his stunning action, no one truly knew what was going on behind that horrible barbed wire. Some people even thought that it was just a forced labor camp, not a death camp. 

Pilecki wrote a report on the situation in the camp. He also organized a military resistance movement in this place. It was divided into groups of up to 5 people, and each group had no knowledge about the other ones. Pilecki fled the camp on 27th April 1943.

On 25 May 1948 Polish communist government… executed him by shooting him in the head. Instead of rewarding him, they accused him of:


  • Illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives, 
  • Being bribed by the foreign governments,
  • Using forged identity cards,
  • Organizing a foreign intelligence network,
  • Planning an assassination of a state dignitary,
  • Not registering in the military recruitment office.
Witold Pilecki in the uniform. Context: famous Poles

Famous Poles: Henryk Sienkiewicz


He was a writer, most notable for writing his famous Trilogy (“Ogniem i mieczem”, “Potop”, “Pan Wołodyjowski”). His internationally recognized book is named “Quo Vadis”, and tells a story of the first Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire.

The Trilogy itself tells the story of Polish instability back in the 17th century. “Ogniem I mieczem” is about Chmielnicki’s uprising, the Ukrainian armed rebellion against Poland. “Potop” is three tomes about the Polish-Swedish war called “The Flood” due to Swedish army numbers. Finally, “Pan Wołodyjowski” is one tome about the life of the knight Michał Wołodyjowski, who appears in the two previous tomes. 

Sienkiewicz was the first Pole to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He won it for the entirety of his works. However, popular, yet incorrect opinion has it that he was awarded for The Trilogy. 

Image: Henryk Sienkiewicz’s portrait by Unkown Author

Famous Poles: Juliusz Slowacki


He was a poet, known for his heated dispute with Adam Mickiewicz. Both artists quarreled about what’s the role of the poet in regaining independence. Slowacki adopted a Tyrtaean stance. He believed that the poet should, in all his poems, inspire his readers to rise against the occupant. He accused Mickiewicz of focusing on the aesthetic aspect of poetry and neglecting the patriotic one.

Another controversy between those poets was their vision of a romantic hero. Slowacki insisted that he was a member of society, equal to others. On the contrary, Mickiewicz wrote a poem in which a hero was an outstanding individual, misunderstood by the common people.

Slowacki is famous mostly for writing Kordian (1834), a dramatical play about a young boy, who’s overly emotional and indecisive. Due to this, he failed to assassinate the Russian tsar. The drama itself is an analysis of the November Uprising (1830-31).

Despite his fight against Mickiewicz, he’s considered a national bard along with him. He wrote in the 19th century, but his language is quite contemporary. For advanced learners, reading his works may be a good idea for helping your Polish language course in Wroclaw through total immersion. 

Image: Juliusz Słowacki’s portrait by James Hopwood the Younger.

Juliusz Słowacki. Context: Famous Poles

Famous Poles: Władysław Jagiełło


One of the most famous Poles in history actually was… Lithuanian! King Władysław Jagiełło, born under the Lithuanian name Jogaila, began his political career as a Grand Duke of Lithuania. His first concern was eradicating a rebellion in the Lithuanian Ruthenia. Having solved his problem, he soon encountered another one.

Jagiełło’s duchy was regularly attacked by the Teutonic Knights. Those armed monks intended to forcefully convert Lithuanians to Christianity. Also – their plan was to make Lithuania their dependent state.

He was offered to marry Jadwiga, the queen of Poland. He converted to Catholicism and thus no longer was a Pagan, whose Teutonic Order was allowed to attack.

In Polish history, Władysław is known for the union of Kreva. Signed in 1384, it led to the personal union between Poland and Lithuania. This meant that they remained two separate states, but united under one scepter. 

What’s curious – historians still discuss what Jagiełło actually promised! The act of union is written very vaguely. Thus – some scholars think that he may actually promised the incorporation of Lithuania into Poland.

Image: Jagiełło’s portrait by Unknown Author

Władysław Jagiełło. Context: famous Poles

Famous Poles: Kazimierz Deyna


Football is the Polish national sport. However – our national team has not won any notable titles recently. So – why’s football a national sport, if we constantly fail at it? And our volleyball team is much better?

The answer is Kazimierz Deyna. He won Poland the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in 1972. Also – in 1974 he won the bronze medal at the World Cup. He died a tragic death in a car accident in 1994.

Ball in the pitch, tribunes in the background. Context: famous Poles



This article contains a list of 6 famous Poles from historical times. We have two posts about more contemporary famous Poles. Shortly, we’ll write an article dedicated to foreigners who shaped Polish history.

Our Polish language course in Wroclaw starts soon!


We’re very glad to announce that our Polish language school in Wroclaw inaugurates a new semester on 9th October 2023. We offer both conversational Polish classes online and in person ones. 

In the Polish Dream Polish language course in Wroclaw, you can learn in groups of up to 5 people or individually. If you want to enroll, please send us an e-mail to: polishdream.wroclaw@gmail.com.