Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland in English
Did you know that Poles can be found in every corner of the world: from Argentina to Zimbabwe? According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Polish diaspora consists of up to 20 million people!
On May 2, we celebrate their holiday. Established in 2002, Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day established in 2002 is a symbolic commemoration of the contributions of Poles living outside of Poland towards the good and development of their homeland.
Below you will find 5 interesting facts about our compatriots, who – most likely – you can also come across in your very own neighbourhood.
1. Although the city with the largest concentration of Poles in the world is, unsurprisingly, Warsaw (two million residents), coming in second is Chicago! It is estimated that 1.5-1.8 million Poles and people of Polish origin live permanently in the so-called Windy City. Apart from Poland, the United States remains the country with the highest number of our compatriots. There are over 9 million Poles living there!
2. One of the most famous migration movements of Poles was the Great Emigration in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was political in nature, and its immediate cause was the failed November Uprising – an independence struggle, which Poles living under the partitions staged against the Russian Empire. The emigrants – mainly members of the aristocracy and the intelligentsia, including the poet Adam Mickiewicz, composer Fryderyk Chopin and General Józef Bem – settled first of all in France, or more precisely in Paris. The Great Emigration was one of the largest migratory movements in Europe at that time.
3. At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Poles left en masse “for bread.” Many went to South America and the United States, others – encouraged by tsarist officials – headed deep into Russia. In 1910, Polish settlers from Zagłębie Dąbrowskie came to the small town of Wierszyna, located 130km from Irkutsk. Each one of them was to receive land and money, but no one warned them about the harsh climate prevailing in Siberia. Today, almost all inhabitants of Wierszyna are their descendants. Approximately 500 people live there.
4. Polish clusters in neighbouring countries, especially in the east, were created as a result of the partitions, border transfers and occupations of the eastern part of Poland by the USSR in 1939. Today, many Poles live in Lithuania in the Vilnius region, in Ukraine’s Lviv and in the Zhytomyr region, as well as in Belarus, in Grodno and its surroundings. What needs to be stressed, however, is that we do not refer to them as the Polish diaspora. They or their ancestors did not emigrate from the country, rather they found themselves outside of Poland as a result of changes in borders.
5. According to research by the British Office for National Statistics, Poles are the largest minority in the United Kingdom. In 2016, the number of Polish citizens permanently residing in the UK exceeded 1 million. However, the traditions of the Polish community in Great Britain reach back to the Middle Ages! Polish emigration during World War II played a special role in Polish history. The authorities of the Republic of Poland, part of the supreme power and the army moved to London. Polish political parties, schools and academic institutions were established there.
If you want to know more, then visit the Emigration Museum in Gdynia the next time you come to Poland. Housed in the historical building of the Maritime Station, from where Polish transatlantic ships sailed for decades, an institution was established that tells the history of the journeys and stories of Poles around the world right up to the present day.