The 7 Most Polish Cities Outside of Poland
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no-image, The 7 Most Polish Cities
Outside of Poland
It is estimated that the Polish diaspora numbers 20 million people, which is more than half of Poland’s population. People of Polish descent live across the entire globe, sometimes forming a large and influential segment of the population of foreign cities like Chicago or Toronto. Read on to learn where to find a bit of Poland away from the homeland.
With over 218,000 inhabitants who have roots in the Land on the Vistula, the Big Apple is often called America’s most Polish town, along with Chicago. One of the city’s neighbourhoods, Greenpoint, is sometimes called Little Poland due to its strong Polish presence, which began in the late 19th century.
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There are Polish food stores and restaurants galore, and there is the Polish-themed Greenpoint Arts Block Festival. Michał Wojnicz, discoverer of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, came to live in New York shortly before World War I, bringing his legendary find with him – which is one of the reasons why the precious manuscript is now American-owned.
The city became a hotspot of Polishness in the 1830s, when a massive wave of immigrants from partitioned Poland fled there after the failed November Uprising, a Polish rebellion against Russian rule. Over the years, Poles have left their mark on the city: there is a Polish school in Batignolles and a considerable Polish library. About 300,000 people with Polish roots currently live in the city.
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Many illustrious Poles, like Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Fryderyk Chopin, have strong ties to Paris. The Nobel prize winner, who was married a Parisian, rests in a grave at the Panthéon, and the genius composer spent 18 years of his short life here and is buried at the famous Pere-Lachaise cemetery.
Polish immigrants started coming to Toronto in significant numbers in the 1870s. Today, the city’s Polish community counts about 200,000, many of whom live in the Ronscevalles neighbourhood. This area is filled with Polish establishments such as the legendary Café Polonez, where you can get traditional barszcz and pierogi. Once a year, Ronscevalles Avenue is closed off for the Ronscevalles Polish Festival, which features Polka music and folk dance performances.
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Geddy Lee, member of the famous Canadian rock band Rush, was born in Toronto to Polish Jewish immigrants.
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Olga Sawicka & Marta Tatol, members of a Polish immigrant folk group dressed in traditional Cracovian clothes rehearsing before their show during a Polish day organized by ‘Goniec’, a Polish immigrant newspaper in Ealing, London, photo: Piotr Małecki / Napo Images / Forum
In a certain sense, London was the capital of Poland for nearly half a century. From 1940 to 1989, it was the seat of the Polish government in exile, the legitimate continuation of the government of the Second Polish Republic after it was abolished by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. After the fall of the communist regime imposed on Poland as a consequence of World War II, the government in exile returned its insignia to the Motherland, showing symbolically that real independence had been finally regained.
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Because of the war, many Poles emigrated to London, amongst them Jan Pieńkowski, who became a celebrated English children’s books illustrator. Today, many of the approximately 185,000 Poles living in the city are recent immigrants.
Poland and Lithuania formed a union from the 14th to the late 18th century. The ties between the two countries were once so strong that the Polish national epic poem Pan Tadeusz starts with the words: ‘Lithuania, my country!’ Significant Polish influence on Vilnius dates back to the times of Władysław Jagiełło, who became king of Poland and Lithuania in 1385 and as such brought to the city many artists, merchants and artisans from Kraków.
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Today there are about 87,000 Poles living in Vilnius, most of whom have resided there their entire lives. The city boasts the house in which the great Polish poet and dramatist Juliusz Słowacki lived in his youth, and a House of Polish Culture.
Although Chicago isn’t the ‘biggest Polish city outside of Poland’ as often claimed, it is nevertheless home to an impressive Polish community. There is a neighbourhood called the Polish Village, many Polish restaurants and stores as well the Copernicus Center, a building remodelled to resemble Warsaw’s Royal Castle. The first large wave of migrants from Poland came to the Windy City in the 1850s.
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The Polish Jewish Chess brothers came to Chicago in 1928, where they started the legendary Chess Records in 1950. This label released songs by celebrated artists such as Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. The metropolitan area of Chicago (not the city itself) is inhabited by approximately 1.5 million people of Polish descent.
The capital of the Brazilian state of Parana is home to about 400,000 people with Polish roots. There are plenty of traces of the Polish influence that has been quite noticeable since the second half of the 19th century, when Poles came there en masse for the first time. For example, Curitiba has a highly successful amateur football team who wear jerseys with the Polish eagle. There’s also a large park named after the Polish Pope John Paul II and a well-known restaurant specialising in pierogi called Tadeo Rei do Pierogi.
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Wondering why the very Polish place you were thinking of wasn't featured in this article? Perhaps it's in our follow-up article: 7 More of the Most Polish Cities Outside of Poland
Written by Marek Kępa, Oct 2015