History Podcasts

Poland Population - History

Poland Population - History

POLAND

Poland today is ethnically almost homogeneous (98% Polish), in contrast with the pre-World War II period, when there were significant ethnic minorities– 4.5 million Ukrainians, 3 million Jews, 1 million Belorussians, and 800,000 Germans. The majority of the Jews were murdered during the German occupation in World War II, and many others emigrated in the succeeding years.

Most Germans left Poland at the end of the war, while many Ukrainians and Belorussians lived in territories incorporated into the U.S.S.R. Small Ukrainian, Belorussian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders, and a German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole.

POPULATION GRAPH

Population:

38,482,919 (July 2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 35

Age structure:

0-14 years: 15% (male 2,964,995/female 2,802,278)
15-64 years: 71.6% (male 13,713,078/female 13,845,251)
65 years and over: 13.4% (male 1,966,406/female 3,190,911) (2009 est.)

Median age:

total: 37.9 years
male: 36.1 years
female: 39.7 years (2009 est.)

Population growth rate:

-0.047% (2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 210

Birth rate:

10.04 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 195

Death rate:

10.05 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 64

Net migration rate:

-0.47 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 110

Urbanization:

urban population: 61% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: -0.3% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.62 male(s)/female
total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2009 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

total: 6.8 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 172
male: 7.52 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 6.03 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 75.63 years
country comparison to the world: 75
male: 71.65 years
female: 79.85 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate:

1.28 children born/woman (2009 est.)

country comparison to the world: 209

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:

0.1%; note - no country specific models provided (2007 est.)

country comparison to the world: 127

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:

20,000 (2007 est.)

country comparison to the world: 79

HIV/AIDS - deaths:

fewer than 200 (2007 est.)

country comparison to the world: 120

Major infectious diseases:

degree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea
vectorborne disease: tickborne encephalitis
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2009)

Nationality:

noun: Pole(s)
adjective: Polish

Ethnic groups:

Polish 96.7%, German 0.4%, Belarusian 0.1%, Ukrainian 0.1%, other and unspecified 2.7% (2002 census)

Religions:

Roman Catholic 89.8% (about 75% practicing), Eastern Orthodox 1.3%, Protestant 0.3%, other 0.3%, unspecified 8.3% (2002)

Languages:

Polish 97.8%, other and unspecified 2.2% (2002 census)

Literacy:

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.8%
male: 99.8%
female: 99.7% (2003 est.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):

total: 15 years
male: 15 years
female: 16 years (2006)

Education expenditures:

5.5% of GDP (2005)

country comparison to the world: 51


Population of Poland 1800-2020

Throughout the 19 th century, what we know today as Poland was not a united, independent country apart from a brief period during the Napoleonic Wars, Polish land was split between the Austro-Hungarian, Prussian (later German) and Russian empires. During the 1800s, the population of Poland grew steadily, from approximately nine million people in 1800 to almost 25 million in 1900 throughout this time, the Polish people and their culture were oppressed by their respective rulers, and cultural suppression intensified following a number of uprisings in the various territories. Following the outbreak of the First World War, it is estimated that almost 3.4 million men from Poland served in the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian armies, with a further 300,000 drafted for forced labor by the German authorities. Several hundred thousand were forcibly resettled in the region during the course of the war, as Poland was one of the most active areas of the conflict. For these reasons, among others, it is difficult to assess the extent of Poland's military and civilian fatalities during the war, with most reliable estimates somewhere between 640,000 and 1.1 million deaths. In the context of present-day Poland, it is estimated that the population fell by two million people in the 1910s, although some of this was also due to the Spanish Flu pandemic that followed in the wake of the war.


Key figures

The most important key figures provide you with a compact summary of the topic of "Poland" and take you straight to the corresponding statistics.

Economy

Gross domestic product (GDP) in Poland 2026

Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Poland 2026

Inflation rate in Poland 2026

Unemployment rate in Poland 2020

Most important import partners of Poland 2019

Most important export partner countries for Poland in 2019

Import of goods to Poland 2019

Export of goods from Poland 2019

Trade balance of Poland 2019

Made-In Country Index: perception of products made in Poland, by country 2017

Perception of products made in selected countries in Poland 2017

National Finances

National debt of Poland in relation to gross domestic product (GDP) 2026

Ratio of government expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP) in Poland 2026

Poland's budget balance in relation to GDP 2026


Government of Poland

Today, Poland is a democratic republic with two legislative bodies. These bodies are the upper Senate, or Senat, and a lower house called the Sejm. Each of the members for these legislative bodies are elected by the public. Poland's executive branch consists of a chief of state and a head of government. The chief of state is the president, while the head of government is the prime minister. The legislative branch of Poland's government is the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Tribunal.

Poland is divided into 16 provinces for local administration.


Religion in Poland

Religion Number of followers Percentage of
total population
Christianity35,718,63594.3 %
Religiously Unaffiliated2,159,0275.7 %

Source: Pew Research Center. The Global Religious Landscape .

Number of followers estimated by Countrymeters (Tuesday, June 22 2021).


Major studies of Poles

Boris Abramovich Malyarchuk, Tomasz Grzybowski, Miroslava V. Derenko, J. Czarny, Marcin Woźniak, and Danuta Miścicka-Śliwka. "Mitochondrial DNA variability in Poles and Russians." Annals of Human Genetics 66:4 (2002), pp. 261-283. (mirror) Abstract (Summary):

Tomasz Grzybowski, Boris Abramovich Malyarchuk, Miroslava V. Derenko, Maria A. Perkova, J. Bednarek, and Marcin Woźniak. "Complex interactions of the Eastern and Western Slavic populations with other European groups as revealed by mitochondrial DNA analysis." Forensic Science International. Genetics. 1(2) (June 2007): pp. 141-147. Abstract:

Vincenza Battaglia, Simona Fornarino, Nadia Al-Zahery, Anna Olivieri, Maria Pala, Natalie M. Myres, Roy J. King, Siiri Rootsi, Damir Marjanović, Dragan Primorac, Rifat Hadžiselimović, Stojko Vidović, Katia Drobnič, Naser Durmishi, Antonio Torroni, Augusta Silvana Santachiara-Benerecetti, Peter A. Underhill, and Ornella Semino. "Y-chromosomal evidence of the cultural diffusion of agriculture in southeast Europe." European Journal of Human Genetics 17:6 (June 2009): pages 820-830. First published online on December 24, 2008. (mirror)
99 Polish males participated in this study. Their Y-DNA haplogroups were found in these frequencies:
E1b1b1a2 among 4%
I1* among 4%
J1* among 1%
J2b2 among 1%
N1 among 1%
R1a1* among 56.6%
R1b1b2 among 16.2%

Fulvio Cruciani, Roberta La Fratta, Beniamino Trombetta, Piero Santolamazza, Daniele Sellitto, Eliane Beraud Colomb, Jean-Michel Dugoujon, Federica Crivellaro, Tamara Benincasa, Roberto Pascone, Pedro Moral, Elizabeth Watson, Bela Melegh, Guido Barbujani, Silvia Fuselli, Giuseppe Vona, Boris Zagradisnik, Guenter Assum, Radim Brdicka, Andrey I. Kozlov, Georgi D. Efremov, Alfredo Coppa, Andrea Novelletto, and Rosaria Scozzari. "Tracing Past Human Male Movements in Northern/Eastern Africa and Western Eurasia: New Clues from Y-Chromosomal Haplogroups E-M78 and J-M12." Molecular Biology and Evolution 24(6) (June 2007): pages 1300-1311. First published online on March 10, 2007.
Of 40 Polish males included on "Table 1: Frequencies (%) of the Y-chromosome E-M78 sub-haplogroups in the 81 populations analyzed", 2.5% (just one of them) belongs to E-M78 and 2.5% to E-V13.

Krzysztof Rębała, Begoña Martínez-Cruz, Anke Tönjes, Peter Kovacs, Michael Stumvoll, Iris Lindner, Andreas Büttner, H-Erich Wichmann, Daniela Siváková, Miroslav Soták, Lluís Quintana-Murci, Zofia Szczerkowska, David Comas, and the Genographic Consortium. "Contemporary paternal genetic landscape of Polish and German populations: from early medieval Slavic expansion to post-World War II resettlements." European Journal of Human Genetics 21 (2013): pages 415-422. First published online on September 12, 2012.
A total of 1156 males participated in this study. Modern-era Poles as well as native Slavs of Germany (presumably Sorbs and/or Polabians) and east Germans were genetically tested on their paternal (Y-DNA) lines. Among other things: The degree of homogeneity/heterogeneity of Poles in relation to demographic patterns before and after World War II was studied. Particular attention was paid to Polish R-M17 subclades.

Justyna Jarczak, Łukasz Grochowalski, Błażej Marciniak, Jakub Lach, Marcin Słomka, Marta Sobalska-Kwapis, Wieslaw Lorkiewicz, Łukasz Pułaski, and Dominik Strapagiel. "Mitochondrial DNA variability of the Polish population." European Journal of Human Genetics (March 21, 2019).
5,852 Polish people contributed their mtDNA to this comprehensive study of mtDNA haplogroups' "variability of Polish population and to visualize the genetic relations between Poles." Most (82.38%) Poles belong to the West Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups H (especially H1), J (especially J1), T, and U (especially U5). 43.42% of them carry varieties of H, Europe's most common haplogroup, and among Poles H peaks at 47.27% in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian region of Poland. By contrast, and as expected, many fewer Poles carry Asian and African haplogroups, but some do carry the Asian (East Asian, South Asian, Central Asian, and Siberian) haplogroups A, B, C, D, G, R, and Z, the mixed African-Asian haplogroups M and N (wrongly described in this study as merely "African"), and the African haplogroup L.
Table S3 presents the following percentages for West Eurasian subhaplogroups among the total Polish population:
H: 10.84% (for undifferentiated varieties)
H1: 15.42% (their single most common haplogroup)
H10: 0.04%
H11: 0.52%
H13: 1.69%
H14: 0.09%
H15: 0.25%
H18: 0.04%
H2: 2.98%
H20: 0.04%
H22: 0.04%
H26: 0.16%
H3: 2.95%
H35: 0.25%
H4: 1.46%
H41: 0.23%
H44: 0.27%
H46: 0.13%
H49: 0.45%
H5: 4.96%
H6: 2.08%
H60: 0.02%
H65: 0.02%
H7: 0.61%
H81: 0.05%
H84: 0.02%
H94: 0.07%
HV: 1.69%
HV0: 2.64%
HV1: 0.31%
HV2: 0.04%
HV5: 0.02%
I: 0.38%
I1: 0.93%
I2: 0.27%
I3: 0.25%
I5: 0.02%
J1: 8.34%
J2: 1.94%
K: 1.04%
K1: 2.59%
K2: 0.65%
T: 4.69%
T1: 2.48%
T2: 2.43%
U: 0.07%
U1: 0.47%
U2: 2.97%
U3: 0.36%
U4: 3.83%
U5: 12.35% (their second most common haplogroup)
U6: 0.07%
U7: 0.22%
U8: 0.77%
W: 0.72%
W1: 0.16%
W3: 0.75%
W5: 0.09%
W6: 0.81%
Haplogroups of Asian origin were found in the following frequencies among Poles, according to figures presented Table 1: only 0.26% carry A, 0.07% carry B, 0.5% carry C, 0.46% carry D, 0.21% carry G, 0.38% carry R, and 0.09% carry Z.
Meanwhile, 0.39% carry X, 0.14% carry L, and 0.02% carry F, and N is found among more Poles (1.06%) than M (0.15%). 4.07% of Poles carry varieties of K, which is both European and Middle Eastern. Per other research, K among Poles includes K1a1b1a, inherited from at least one Ashkenazic Jewish woman who had converted to Christianity.
The African mtDNA haplogroups L0a1a, L1b1, L2a1, L2e, and L3e were found in certain specific regions of Poland in small frequencies. The specific variety of Polish L2a1, L2a1l, was shown in an earlier DNA study to be an inheritance from another one or more Ashkenazic Jewish woman who converted to Christianity.

M. Mielnik-Sikorska, P. Daca, Marcin Woźniak, Boris Abramovich Malyarchuk, Miroslava V. Derenko, K. Skonieczna, and Tomasz Grzybowski. "The history of Slavs in the light of Y chromosome and mtDNA variability." A paper presented at the DNA in Forensics 2012 conference in Innsbruck, Austria between September 6-8, 2012.
Includes mtDNA samples from Poles. A genetic continuity is seen between the ancient Corded Ware culture people (who inhabited central and eastern Europe, including the land that's now Poland) and modern Poles and other Slavs.

Anna Juras, Miroslawa Dabert, Alena Kushniarevich, Helena Malmström, Maanasa Raghavan, Jakub Z. Kosicki, Ene Metspalu, Eske Willerslev, and Janusz Piontek. "Ancient DNA Reveals Matrilineal Continuity in Present-Day Poland over the Last Two Millennia." PLOS One (October 22, 2014).
The authors compared the mtDNA of ancient samples from northern and northwestern Poland with modern populations from Central Europe, Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Northern Europe, among them Poles. Excerpt:

Miroslava V. Derenko, Boris Abramovich Malyarchuk, Galina A. Denisova, Maria A. Perkova, Urszula Rogalla, Tomasz Grzybowski, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Irina Dambueva, and Ilia Zakharov. "Complete Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of Eastern Eurasian Haplogroups Rarely Found in Populations of Northern Asia and Eastern Europe." PLoS ONE 7(2) (February 21, 2012): e32179. Excerpts:

Garrett Hellenthal, George B. J. Busby, Gavin Band, James F. Wilson, Cristian Capelli, Daniel Falush, and Simon Myers. "A Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History." Science 343:6172 (February 14, 2014): pages 747-751. Companion website.
The researchers devised a statistical tool called GLOBETROTTER that allowed them to study admixture in multiple populations around the world. About 2 percent of Northeast Asian ancestry was detected in Poles and is believed to stem from Asian steppe peoples who invaded eastern Europe. Poles have less of this Asian ancestry than Hungarians, Russians, and Belarusians do.

Anna Siewierska-Górska, Aneta Sitek, Elżbieta Żądzińska, Grzegorz Bartosz, and Dominik Strapagiel. "Association of five SNPs with human hair colour in the Polish population." Homo: Internationale Zeitschrift für die vergleichende Biologie der Menschen 68:2 (March 2017): pages 134-144. First published electronically on February 4, 2017.
186 Polish people had their autosomal DNA genotyped for 22 genes related to different hair colors. 45% of the participants had red hair, 64% had blond hair, and 77% had dark hair. (According to Table 2, dark blond is the most common hair colour among Poles as a whole at 42%, followed by dark black at 22.6%, dark chestnut at 14.8%, blond at 10.8%, medium blond at 5.1%, light blond at 3.8%, red at 0.7%, and reddish blond at 0.2%.) It was confirmed that particular associations are strong with rs12913832 in HERC2 and the red hair genes rs1805007 and rs1805008 in MC1R. Other genes studied included rs1800401 in OCA and rs16891982 in SLC45A.

See also our Ukrainians page for studies by Rebala, et al. (2007) and Malyarchuk, et al. (2008) that include Polish samples.


Krakow has an estimated population of 762,508 people, making up approximately 2% of the total population of the country. People from all over Europe call Krakow home, with minority groups including Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Jews. Approximately 1% of the residents of Krakow identify as a minority.

Polish and Yiddish are the languages that are most often spoken in this city. Ukrainian, German, and Russian speech are also noted for a much smaller percentage of Krakow residents.

One of the things that the city is most known for is its churches, with over 100 erected throughout the city, many which were built during the 20th century. Churches continue to be built throughout Krakow, and there are churches for many different religions, including Roman Catholicism, Polish Catholic, Polish Orthodox, and Latter-Day Saints.

The city is known for being a center of education and is the site of 24 institutions of higher education. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 students reside and attend school in Krakow.


Auschwitz and Its Subdivisions

At its peak of operation, Auschwitz consisted of several divisions. The original camp, known as Auschwitz I, housed between 15,000 and 20,000 political prisoners. Those entering its main gate were greeted with an infamous and ironic inscription: 𠇊rbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.”

Auschwitz II, located in the village of Birkenau, or Brzezinka, was constructed in 1941 on the order of Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), commander of the “Schutzstaffel” (or Select Guard/Protection Squad, more commonly known as the SS), which operated all Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Birkenau, the biggest of the Auschwitz facilities, could hold some 90,000 prisoners. 

It also housed a group of bathhouses where countless people were gassed to death, and crematory ovens where bodies were burned. The majority of Auschwitz victims died at Birkenau. More than 40 smaller facilities, called subcamps, dotted the landscape and served as slave-labor camps. The largest of these subcamps, Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, began operating in 1942 and housed some 10,000 prisoners.


40 Miles From Auschwitz, Poland's Jewish Community Is Beginning to Thrive

U ntil she was 13, Marcjanna Kubala thought she was Christian, like nearly every Polish citizen. Then one day after school, she searched her name on Google and found her family tree. Her great-grandmother&rsquos family name didn&rsquot sound Polish, she thought. &ldquoWere they German?&rdquo Kubala asked her mother. &ldquoNo,&rdquo she replied. &ldquoThey were Jewish.&rdquo

Surprised and fascinated, Kubala, who lives in Krakow, began a journey of rediscovering her identity. Her great-grandmother had lived in Krakow during the Holocaust, and survived because she&rsquod married a Christian&mdashand was therefore able to pass as one. Kubala&rsquos grandmother and mother did the same&mdashboth aware of their Jewish heritage and both hiding it. Kubala, on the other hand, had no idea. While her mother had dropped hints over the years, she chose only to tell her daughter directly when she asked that day.

Unlike the generations before her who had to hide their Jewish roots, first during the Holocaust and then under Communism, Kubala could embrace her newfound heritage. She joined Krakow&rsquos Jewish Community Center (JCC), where she met others on the same journey. After college, she became director of Krakow&rsquos Hillel, an organization of young Jews with chapters around the world.

&ldquoThis sounds unusual, but I&rsquom just one of many hundreds of people with a similar experience,&rdquo says Kubala, now 27. Hillel membership in Krakow has doubled in the last year. &ldquoMost members are like me, people who discovered only later in life that they&rsquore Jewish,&rdquo Kubala says. &ldquoFor many years they had no idea where their family roots came from. Then they discovered a document or a picture and everything changed.&rdquo

Amid a resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, and despite a nationalist government that has sought to silence criticism of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, Poland&rsquos Jewish community is being reborn. It&rsquos a trend being led not just by people who have recently discovered their Jewish ancestry, but also those without Jewish roots who wish to give back. Now Poland, where 1,000 years of Jewish history went up in flames over seven decades ago, is home to one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world.

In 1939, Poland was home to 3.5 million Jews, Europe&rsquos largest Jewish population. On the eve of the Holocaust, 10% of Poles were Jewish. (For comparison, less than 2% of the U.S. population is Jewish.)

Being the capital of European Jewry made Poland the prime target for Nazi brutalities. Adolf Hitler&rsquos regime built its deadliest concentration camps here, and more Jews were murdered in Poland than anywhere else by far. Just 10% of Poland&rsquos Jewish population survived.

After the camps were liberated, most Jews left Poland, mainly for Israel and the U.S. As a result, nearly 80% of American Jews have Polish roots, says Poland&rsquos Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, a native New Yorker whose grandparents fled Poland before the war.

Those who stayed in Poland continued to suffer. Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors were murdered by their neighbors upon returning to their homes. Some Poles joined a &ldquogold rush,&rdquo digging for valuables in mass graves of Jewish bodies. As Communist rule quickly replaced Nazi rule, Polish Jews were forced to choose between their faith and their country. Those who left could remain Jewish those who stayed had to hide their Jewish identity.

That process accelerated with the 1968 purge, when more than 15,000 Jews&mdashhalf of Poland&rsquos Jewish population&mdashwere stripped of citizenship and forced to leave. As a result, less than a tenth of the 10% of Polish Jews who managed to survive the Holocaust remained, says historian Stanislaw Krajewski.

In 1939, the city of Krakow was home to 70,000 Jews, a quarter of the city&rsquos population. Today around 100 Jews live there&mdashor at least that&rsquos what the guidebooks say. According to Jonathan Ornstein, executive director of JCC Krakow, that figure is actually closer to 2,000 and steadily rising. High-ranking members of the Jewish community estimate there are now 30,000 Jews among Poland&rsquos 38 million citizens, up from 10,000 in 2007&mdashand say there could be many more still unaware of their ancestry. &ldquoThousands of people are walking around Poland with Jewish roots they still don&rsquot know they have,&rdquo Ornstein says, estimating there may be as many as 100,000.

Among its events and workshops, JCC Krakow now offers genealogy services to help people trace their Jewish roots, and Shabbat dinners where gentile visitors can learn more about the community. In 2017, the center opened Krakow&rsquos first new Jewish community preschool since the Holocaust.

Kasia Leonardi was 25 when she discovered Jewish ancestry on both sides of her family. Given Poland&rsquos history, she was hesitant to embrace those roots. But encouraged by her sister, Leonardi eventually attended a Hanukkah party at the JCC and became more involved. Two years later, she and Ornstein began dating, and in 2017 they married in a ceremony conducted by Rabbi Schudrich outside the JCC in Krakow&rsquos old Jewish quarter.

The fact that this community hub lies just 40 miles from Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, should send a message to the international Jewish community, Ornstein says: Poland isn&rsquot just a graveyard of Jewish tragedy, but also a living monument to Jewish resilience. &ldquoOf course we must visit the Holocaust sites, but we must understand that we as a people are more than that. Maybe Auschwitz is a little piece of who I am, but I refuse to be defined by what others have done to my family,&rdquo says Ornstein, whose grandmother lost her parents and all her siblings at the camp.

He and others see this rebirth of Poland&rsquos Jewish community as a way of healing, 70 years on. &ldquoWe can&rsquot bring back the 6 million victims, but we can do something else that I don&rsquot think we realized we could do,&rdquo he says. &ldquoWe can bring back Jewish lives.&rdquo

Poland&rsquos broader relationship with Jewish people remains complicated. Anti-Semitism still exists on the fringes of society far-right groups have accused President Andrzej Duda, whose wife has Jewish lineage and relatives in Israel, of being beholden to Jews.

But Duda&rsquos nationalist government has also been at the center of a feud with the Israeli government over the treatment of the historical record surrounding the Holocaust. Last year, it angered the Israelis, as well as the U.S. and other Western governments, by pushing a bill that outlaws blaming Poland for any crimes committed during the Holocaust. The so-called Holocaust bill, which has since been watered down, faced international criticism for censoring discussions of Polish complicity.

Relations had appeared to be warming until February, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Feb. 14 during a summit in Warsaw that &ldquoPoles cooperated with the Nazis&rdquo during the Holocaust. The Polish Prime Minister pulled out of a planned trip to Israel for a summit of Eastern European nations, which was then canceled.

In a sign of the complexity of this issue, Poland&rsquos Jewish community sided with Poland in the diplomatic scuffle&mdashespecially after a senior Israeli minister accused Poles of &ldquo[suckling] anti–Semitism with their mother&rsquos milk.&rdquo Ornstein echoes sentiments expressed by many Polish Jews, who say the country&rsquos views aren&rsquot reflected by a single piece of legislation. &ldquoWhen you hear about anti-Semitism in Poland, it&rsquos a little more complicated than we realize,&rdquo he says.

Against this geopolitical backdrop, the JCC in Krakow offers a powerful symbol of reconciliation&mdashespecially given the role played by non-Jews, or gentiles, in its revival. The JCC&rsquos permanent staff includes many Jews, but all of the 55 volunteers are gentiles. These non-Jewish volunteers are crucial for helping out on Shabbat, when Jews are not supposed to work.

Among them is Agnieszka Gis, who has volunteered at the JCC since she was 16. She was raised in the city&rsquos old Jewish quarter, which had been a Jewish ghetto during the war. Learning about the Holocaust and visiting a concentration camp is mandatory in Polish schools. After visiting Auschwitz in high school, the 24-year-old recalls, &ldquoI couldn&rsquot help but feel something of a void, because my country is missing something, my city is missing something, the streets where I grew up are missing a big part of their identity.&rdquo When she heard about the JCC, she was shocked to find there was indeed a thriving Jewish community in the area. &ldquoI thought the Holocaust was the end,&rdquo she says.

Giś began volunteering regularly, spending time with Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren. &ldquoI felt it was important to show them that they are welcome here in Poland,&rdquo she says.

She is one of thousands of non-Jewish Poles supporting Jewish renewal throughout the country. &ldquoI&rsquom not alone in this feeling that Jews are a part of Poland and we should welcome back this community,&rdquo Giś says.

It&rsquos hard to overstate how crucial non-Jews have been to Poland&rsquos Jewish revival.The Krakow JCC was founded in 2008 by Prince Charles, together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and World Jewish Relief, the British organization behind the Kindertransport, which rescued thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust.

As Ornstein puts it, &ldquoIn our history, when non-Jews have taken a tremendous interest in us, it hasn&rsquot worked out very well.&rdquo But in Poland&rsquos case, that interest breathed new life into a community facing extinction.

In 1988, non-Jewish Poles created what is now the world&rsquos largest Jewish culture festival, held in Krakow&rsquos old Jewish quarter each summer. Attracting some 30,000 mostly non-Jewish Poles, the festival played a key role in boosting Jewish life here, says Krajewski, who co-chairs the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. Many people with Jewish ancestry were initially hesitant to embrace those roots, he says. But &ldquothe festival was such a success, they realized that if non-Jews could be so attracted to Jewish culture, maybe Jews could be too.&rdquo

In the same week as the Jewish Cultural Festival, the JCC today stages a &ldquoRide for the Living&rdquo&mdasha kind of homage to &ldquoMarch of the Living,&rdquo the annual event in which thousands of people from around the world march from Auschwitz to Birkenau in memory of the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

Instead of marching through concentration camps, Ride for the Living takes several hundred participants on a 60-mile bicycle ride from Auschwitz to the Krakow JCC, from the death of Jewish life in Poland to the site of its renewal. For Ornstein, there is no better way to show the world how far Polish Jews have come. &ldquoThis symbolizes in a very strong way what we&rsquore doing in this community,&rdquo he says. &ldquoPeople are tracing our history from darkness to light.&rdquo


Contents

Early history Edit

The first sign of humans in Polish lands was 500,000 years ago. The Bronze Age started around 2400-2300 BC. The Iron Age started around 750-700 BC. At that time the Polish lands were under the influence of the Lusatian culture. About 400 BC Celtic and Germanic tribes lived there. Those people had trade contacts with the Roman Empire.

Over time, Slavs came to Polish lands. Some of those Slavs, now commonly referred to as Western Slavs (though in reality a diverse group of tribes with shared ethnic and cultural features), stayed there and started to create new nations. The most powerful tribe was called the Polans, who united all of the other Slavic tribes living there, and this is where the name "Poland" comes from.

Piast and Jagiellon dynasties Edit

Poland began to form into a country around the middle of the 10th century in the Piast dynasty. In 966, Prince Mieszko I became a Christian, and so the Polish people also became Christians. The next king was Bolesław I of Poland (called Bolesław the Brave). He conquered many lands and he became the first King of Poland. Casimir I of Poland changed the Polish capital from Gniezno to Kraków. In the 12th century Poland broke into some smaller states after the death of King Bolesław III Wrymouth in 1138 because of his will. Those states were later attacked by Mongol armies in 1241, which slowed down the unification of the small states into the big country of Poland. This happened eighty years later, in 1320, when Władysław I became the King of the United Poland. His son Casimir III the Great reformed the Polish economy, built new castles and won the war against the Ruthenian Dukedom. Many people emigrated to Poland, becoming a haven for emigrants . Many Jewish people also moved into Poland during that time. The Black Death, which affected many parts of Europe from 1347 to 1351, did not come to Poland. [10]

After the death of the last Piast on the Polish throne, Casimir III, Louis I of Hungary and his daughter Jadwiga of Poland began their rule. She married the Lithuanian prince Jogaila. Their marriage started a new dynasty in Poland: the Jagiellon dynasty. Under the Jagiellon dynasty, Poland made an alliance with its neighbor Lithuania.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to Second Republic of Poland Edit

In the 17th century Sweden attacked almost all of Poland (this was called “the Deluge”). Many wars against the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Cossacks, Transylvania and Brandenburg-Prussia ended in 1699. For the next 80 years, the government and the nation were weak, making Poland dependent on Russia. Russian tsars took advantage of this by offering money to dishonest members of the Polish government, who would block new ideas and solutions. Russia, Prussia, and Austria broke Poland into three pieces in 1772, 1793 and 1795, which dissolved the country. Before the second split, a Constitution called "The Constitution of 3 May" was made in 1791. The Polish people did not like the new kings, and often rebelled (two big rebellions in 1830 [10] and 1863 [11] ).

Napoleon made another Polish state, “the Duchy of Warsaw”, but after the Napoleonic wars, Poland was split again by the countries at the Congress of Vienna. The eastern part was ruled by the Russian tsar. During World War I all the Allies agreed to save Poland. Soon after the surrender of Germany in November 1918, Poland became the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska). It got its freedom after several military conflicts the largest was in 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War.

World War II Edit

On September 1, 1939, World War II started when Nazi Germany attacked Poland. The Soviet Union attacked Poland on September 17, 1939. Warsaw was defeated on September 28, 1939. Poland was split into two pieces, one half owned by Nazi Germany, the other by the Soviet Union. More than 6 million Polish people died, and half of these people were Jewish. Most of these deaths were part of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed. At the war's end, Poland's borders were moved west, pushing the eastern border to the Curzon line. [12] The western border was moved to the Oder-Neisse line. The new Poland became 20% smaller by 77,500 square kilometers (29,900 sq mi). The shift forced millions of Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews to move.

Polish People's Republic to Third Polish Republic Edit

After these events Poland gradually became a communist country. It was supposedly an independent country. But in reality the new government was appointed by Joseph Stalin. It was also under the control of the Soviet Union. The country was then renamed the People's Republic of Poland. There are many Poles in the neighboring countries Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania (these three countries were part of the Soviet Union until 1991), as well as in other countries. The most Poles outside of Poland are in the United States, especially in Chicago. Germany and the United Kingdom are also home to a large Polish diaspora. The most recent mass emigration of Poles to western countries began after 1989.

In 1989 Solidarity - a trade union led by Lech Wałęsa - helped defeat the communist government in Poland. Even before that event, Lech Wałęsa was given a Nobel Prize for leading the first non-communist trade union fighting for democracy in the Communist Block. When Communism ended in Poland there were many improvements in human rights, such as freedom of speech, democracy, etc. In 1991 Poland became a member of the Visegrad Group and joined NATO in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Polish voters then voted to join the European Union in a vote in June 2003. The country joined the EU on May 1, 2004.

Currently, the Prime Minister is Mateusz Morawiecki. On 10 April 2010 the President Lech Kaczyński died in a government plane crash in Smolensk in Russia. The president is elected directly by the citizens for a five-year term. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and confirmed by the "Sejm". The Sejm is the lower chamber of Parliament legislature for the country. It has 460 deputies elected every four years.

Poland's territory is a plain reaching from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Carpathian Mountains in the south. Within that plain, the land varies from east to west.

The Polish Baltic coast is mostly smooth but has natural harbors in the Gdańsk-Gdynia region and Szczecin in the far northwest. This coast has several spits, dunes and coastal lakes. Coast lakes are former bays that have been cut off from the sea. These areas are sometimes called lagoons. Szczecin Lagoon is on the western border with Germany. The Vistula Lagoon is on the eastern border with Kaliningrad, province of Russia. The longest river in Poland, the Vistula river, empties into the Vistula Lagoon and also directly into the Baltic Sea.

The northeastern region is densely wooded, sparsely populated and lacks agricultural and industrial resources. The geographical region has four hilly districts of moraines and lakes created by moraines. These formed during and after the Pleistocene ice age. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four districts and covers much of northeastern Poland.

Poland has many lakes. In Europe only Finland has more lakes. The largest lakes are Śniardwy and Mamry. In addition to the lake districts in the north, there are also many mountain lakes in the Tatras mountains.

South of the northeastern region is the regions of Silesia and Masovia, which are marked by broad ice age river valleys. Silesia region has many resources and people. Coal is abundant. Lower Silesia has large copper mining. Masovian Plain is in central Poland. It is in the valleys of three large rivers: Vistula, Bug and Narew.

Further south is the Polish mountain region. These mountains include the Sudetes and the Carpathian Mountains. The highest part of the Carpathians is the Tatra mountains which is along Poland’s southern border. The tallest mountain in Poland, Rysy at 2,503 m (8,210 ft), is in the High Tatras.

Administrative divisions Edit

Poland is made of sixteen regions known as voivodeships (województwa, singular - województwo). They are basically created from the country's historical regions, whereas those of the past two decades (till 1998) had been focused on and named for separate cities. The new units range in areas from under 10,000 km 2 (Opole Voivodeship) to over 35,000 km 2 (Masovian Voivodeship). Voivodeships are controlled by voivod governments, and their legislatures are called voivodeship sejmiks.

The sixteen voivodeships that make up Poland are further divided into powiaty (singular powiat), second-level units of administration, which are about the same as to a county, district or prefecture in other countries.

Almost no Polish literature remains before Christianisation in the 10th century. Polish literature was written in the Latin language during the Middle Ages. The Polish language was accepted as equal to Latin after the Renaissance for literature.

Jan Kochanowski was a leading poet of European Renaissance literature in the 16th century. Other great Polish poets include Adam Mickiewicz who wrote Pan Tadeusz epic in 1834.

Several Polish novelists have won the Nobel prize. Henryk Sienkiewicz won in 19 dramatized versions of famous events in Polish history. Władysław Reymont won a Nobel prize in 1924. He wrote the novel Chłopi. Two polish poets won Nobel prize as well. One is Wisława Szymborska (1996) and the second Czesław Miłosz (1980).

Stanisław Lem is a famous science fiction author in the modern era. His Solaris novel was made twice into a feature film.

In the past, Poland was inhabited by people from different nations and of different religions (mainly Catholics, Orthodox and Judaism). This changed after 1939, because of the Nazi Holocaust which killed many Polish Jews. After World War II, the country was changed into a communist country, by the Warsaw Pact which included most central European countries and Russia Russia.

Today 38,038,000 people live in Poland (2011). In 2002 96.74% of the population call themselves Polish, while 471,500 people (1.23%) claimed another nationality. 774,900 people (2.03%) did not declare any nationality. Nationalities, or ethnic groups in Poland are Silesians, Germans (most in the former Opole Voivodeship), Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Belarusians. The Polish language is part of the West Slavic section of the Slavic languages. It is also the official language of Poland. English and German are the most common second languages studied and spoken.

In the past few years, Poland's population has gone down because of an increase in emigration and a sharp drop in the birth rate. In 2006, the census office estimated the total population of Poland at 38,536,869, a very small rise on the 2002 figure of 38,230,080. Since Poland's accession to the European Union, many Polish people have moved to work in Western European countries like the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Some organizations state people have left because of high unemployment (10.5%) and better opportunities for work somewhere else. In April 2007, the Polish population of the United Kingdom had risen to about 300,000 people and estimates predict about 65,000 Polish people living in the Republic of Ireland. However, in recent years strong growth of Polish economy and increasing value of Polish currency (PLN) makes many Polish immigrants to go back home. In 2007, the number of people leaving the country was lower than people who are coming back. Poland became an attractive place to work for people from other countries (mainly Ukraine).

A Polish minority is still present in neighboring countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in other countries. The largest number of ethnic Poles outside of the country can be found in the United States.