Did You Know?
The following items have been compiled by the PAJ’s Warsaw correspondent Robert Strybel.
Reproduction in any form without author’s permission is strictly prohibited.
- Built on the slopes of the Tatras Mountains at an elevation of from 800 to 1,000 meters (2,500 to 3,200 feet) above sea-level, Zakopane is Poland’s
highest-lying town. It is the country’s winter sports capital and in summer attracts fanciers of hiking, mountaineering and folklore.
- The popular Polish lullaby-style Christmas carol “Lulajaze, Jezuniu” served as the basis of one of the scherzos composed by Fryderyk Chopin
(1810-1849); much of his music reflected the national rhythms and dances of his native land.
- Ecumenical dialogue is now under way between Poland’s Roman Catholic Church and Polish Catholic Church, a 50,000-strong offshoot of Polonia’s
Scranton-based Polish National Catholic Church. Dialogue had not been possible until the previous Polish Catholic leader, who had collaborated with Poland’s former communist regime, was voted out of
- Polish pathologist Edmund Biernacki (1866-1911) was the first to discover that the rate at which red corpuscles separated could help identify a
patient’s disease. Known in Polish as odczyn Biernackiego (Biernacki’s reaction), the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) has been a cornestone of modern medicine ever since.
- Jak sie masz? Na zdrowie! and Daj mu buzi! are said to be the three phrases non-Polish Americans are most likely to know in Polish. The most familiar single
words are thought to be kielbasa, pierogi and the four-letter “D-word.”
- The Slovincians were an Old Slavic group closely related to the Kashubs and inhabited an area of Pomerania around Slupsk. Unlike the Kashubs, whose ethnic
identity was strengthened by their Catholic faith, the Protestant Slovincians succumbed to Germanization before Poland regained its independence.
- Liquor connoisseurs around the globe have acclaimed Poland’s companion brand vodkas, potato-based Chopin brand and rye-based Belvedere, as the
world’s finest vodkas. They sell in the US for around $30 a bottle and are the favorite tipple of many American celebrities.
- Czernina (also spelled czarnina) is better known across Polonia than in Poland. Board of health regulations now prevent the sale of blood in butcher shops,
so only those who raise their own poultry or know someone who does can regularly enjoy the soup.
- Completed in 1502, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gdansk took 123 years to build. Said to accommodate 20,000 people, it is Poland’s biggest
house of worship and one of Europe’s largest Gothic brick churches.
- Polish numbers are rather difficult for foreigners to master, and the numeral two is undoubtedly the most troublesome since it has all of 13 different
forms: dwa, dwaj, dwie, dwu, dwˇch, dwom, dwˇm, dwoma, dwiema, dwoje, dwojga, dwojgu & dwojgiem.
- The fabled painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa is a 11th-12th-century Byzantine icon offered to the Pauline monastery by Prince Wladyslaw of Opole in 1384.
According to legend, it was painted by St. Matthew on the table-top of the Holy Family in Nazareth.
- The standard Polish flag is divided equally into a white horizontal top half and a crimson bottom half. The national crest, a crowned white eagle on a red
shield, should be flown only by Polish ships at sea and Polish diplomatic legations abroad. Turned upside down (with the red half at the top), Poland’s colors become the national flag of Indonesia.
- Exiled Polish King Stanislaw Leszczynski (1677-1766) is credited with having introduced the French to two specialities of Polish cuisine: bigos (meat &
sauerkraut stew), which is known in France as choucr˘ute garni, and baba (tall yeast-raised egg bread), which the French developed into one of their favorite desserts, a rum-soaked cake called baba au rhum
- The Romanesque-Gothic Church of St James in Sandomierz is believed to be Poland’s first brick edifice. Visitors may view the remains of monks murdered
by the invading Tartars in 1259.
- More dogs in the Polish countryside are named Burek than anything else. The name comes from the word “bury” which is a kind of dirty
grayish-brown—the color of most nondescript mongrels found on Polish farms. In cities, dogs have such names as Rex (or its diminutive Reksio), Azor, Kajtek, Brutus, Budrys, Misiek, Icier, Hetman,
Bosman and Wicher. Popular names for bitches include Saba, Sara, Tara and Diana. Small lapdogs are sometimes called Pimpus, Dzidziua or Kropelka.
- Pol Ams who have not visited Poland over the past few years are often surprised to find that the American dollar has lost its almighty status. Luggage
porters, doormen, taxi drivers, waiters, street traders and others now prefer zloties because it saves them a trip to the currency exchange office. All goods and services are now available for zloties and
there are no longer any special shops that accept only Western currency.
- As a result of post communist geographic changes, Poland now has seven separate neighbors: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus,
Lithuania and Russia. Since there is talk of Belarus giving up its independence and rejoining Russia, Poland would then border directly on Russia at two different points: the Kaliningrad enclave (the
headquarters of Russia’s main Baltic naval installations) to the north and former Belarus to the east.
- The western city of Poznan is the country’s single largest concentration of a burgeoning sex industry, according to the weekly news magazine Wprost.
It has more striptease bars, erotic massage parlors, peep shows and related businesses than any other Polish city and caters, to a large extent, to visitors from neighboring Germany. Throughout the country,
there are numerous sex shops and escort agencies which function as thinly-disguised brothels.
- A true freak of nature is Central Europe’s only true desert, the Pustynia Bledowska located midway between Krakow and Czestochowa. It consists of 20
sq. mi. of shifting sands, oasis-like vegetation (only along the River Biala Przemsza that cuts through the desert), and even mirages on hot summer days.
- The 2,500-year-old fortified log-style settlement at Biskupin, Poland, was first discovered in 1933 by historian Walenty Szwajcer. The settlement has since
been reconstructed and is a major tourist attraction.
- The sturgeon, the European mink and the strepet (a game bird) are among the species that have become extinct in Poland during the 20th century. The wild
ponies found in the Bialowieza Virgin Forest, popularly referred to as tarpans, are actually half-breeds, since no full-blooded tarpans have survived.
- One of America’s biggest repositories of Polish-Americana are the Orchard Lake Schools north of Detroit. Set up in the late 19th century to train
priests for Polonia, the institution now comprises a boarding high-school, college, seminary, art gallery, several museums and the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
- Poland’s second largest religious denomination is the Polish Autocephalous (independent of foreign authority) Orthodox Church with an estimated
800,000 to one million faithful. The Orthodox Church has most of its followers along the country’s eastern borderlands, and the northeast city of Bialystok is said to be about one-third Orthodox. The
third largest denomination are Jehovah’s Witnesses (Swiadkowie Jehowy), who are believed to have several hundred thousand followers.
- Most judges and dentists in Poland are women, as are about one-half of all the medical doctors. Many traditionally male professions became feminized after
so many males had been killed in the war. The communists also wanted to weaken the family by sending mothers to work and their children to day-care centers - much like today’s militant feminists.
- Although dry cereals (Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Musli) as well as toast and jam are gaining adherents in Poland, the favorite breakfast of most Poles
remains cheese and cold cuts, usually in the form of open-face sandwiches on bread or rolls. Tea with lemon is the most common breakfast beverage.
- Only the first word in the title of a book or movie is capitalized in Polish, therefore, Henryk Sienkiewicz’s classic novel is “Ogniem i
mieczem” (“With Fire and Sword”). In the names of newspapers and organizations all important words are capitalized, e.g. “Dziennik Poranny”, Towarzystwo Milosnikow Zwierzat.
- The take-home price of a half-liter (just over 17 oz.) bottle of domestic beer in Poland is between 40 and 90 cents. Imported beers may run as high as
$1.50. Naturally, the prices in restaurants, bars and cafes are always higher than what is charged in retail stores.
- The Polish National Catholic Church, set up by Polish-born priest Franciszek Hodur around the turn of the century, was the only successful reform movement
to occur within American Catholicism. It now has an estimated 300,000 members in the United States and Canada and a 50,000 strong sister-denomination in Poland.
- Vocations to the Roman Catholic priesthood in Poland (5,325) first exceeded that of the United States (4,769) in 1978. At present, Poland’s vocations
(about 7,500) are more than double those of the United States.
- The Old Warsaw Restaurant in Dallas has been rated as one of the best in Dallas and indeed one of the best in the United States. It is very early 20th
Century European with a string quartet playing classical music. It was established originally by a Polish born gentleman who got bored working for the Library of Congress.
- St. Casimir was born of Polish royalty in 1458. His refusal to take up arms against a Hungarian army earned him the title “The Peacemaker” among
Poles. He devoted much time to prayer and study, and used his influence and resources to help the poor. Casimir also refused his father’s demand to marry, and chose instead, a celibate life. He died in
1484. Many miracles were reported at his tomb. Casimir was canonized in 1522 and his feast is March 4.
- The white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaetus albicilla) which often nested in Polish woods was probably the prototype for the Polish National Emblem, according to
Polish historian and graphic artist Bogdan Wroblewski, who organized a historic exhibit in Warsaw’s Independence Museum. The majestic, high-flying bird is a proud and regal symbol of independence.
During times of partition, the black eagles of occupying forces replaced the white eagle on official flags and seals. Later, the communist authorities deprived the eagle of its crown.
- Several years ago Polish and Jewish experts revised the death toll at the German-built Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex from 4 million to about
1.5 million. About 1.1 million of those killed there were were Jewish. The figure of 4 million Auschwitz victims put to death by the Germans was concocted by Soviet officials to draw attention away from
Stalin’s crimes, and most of the world had believed that figure for decades.
- Poland is probably the only country in the world whose military, police officers and other uniformed services use a two-finger salute. Only two fingers (the
index and middle angers) are extended when ever Poles raise their right hand to take an oath.
- Elderly Polish woman, born in the early part of this century and named after the Blessed Mother, have had to spell their first name three different ways
just in their lifetime. When they were little girls—was Marya, as young adults between the two World Wars they spelled it Marja. And after World War II, the spelling was changed to Maria.
- The town of Suchowola in northeastern Bialystok voivodship (province) is situated at the very geographic center of Europe. That is the place where a line,
drawn from a point in Finland in the north to Greece in the south, transects a line from the Ural Mountains in the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Other centers of Europe claimed by such countries
as Austria or Hungary can be arrived at if the calculation is based only on continental Europe (minus the British Isles and Scandinavia).
- Poland’s “Golden Age” (“Zloty Wiek”) was a nearly two-century-long period coinciding with the rule of the Jagiellonian Dynasty
(1385-1573). During that period, Poland grew to be the biggest country in Europe—a multinational commonwealth of Poles, Lithuanians and Ruthaians which straddled the continent from the Baltic Sea the
north to the Black Sea in the south. This period witnessed the dynamic growth of the arts crafts, learning, town construction and many other fields.
- Poland’s first periodical was the Merkuriusz Polski Ordynaryjny which began publication in Krakow in 1661. Its creation was inspired by King Jan
Kazimierz, hence, the publication supported the policies of the royal court. It was printed at Gorczyna Printery.
- If you have a Polish surname ending in -icz or -wicz, but had been born several centuries ago, chances are that your name would have probably ended in -ic
and -wic. Common names of that period included Bartkowic, Jamowic, Stachowic, Szymonowic and Wlodkowic, etc.
- Most kielbasa consumed in Poland is regarded as a cold cut. It is eaten cold with bread and tea for breakfast or supper and is often served as an appetizer
to “bite down” successive rounds of vodka. Sometimes kielbasa is roasted on sticks over a bonfire, but it is rarely served hot as a main course at dinner.
- The Tarczyn Fruit and Vegetable Processing Works in the central Polish town of Tarczyn ranks among the world’s top exporters of apple concentrate. It
has been estimated that about 20% of the apple juice sold throughout the world today is made from concentrate produced by the Tarczyn facility.
- If you ask a Polish sales clerk for a dozen eggs or oranges, you can expect to get a blank stare of confusion. Although the word “tuzin” (dozen)
exists in Polish, hardly anybody today knows how many units it contains.
- Poland has four different denominations with the word Catholic in their name. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, which claims the allegiance of more
them 90% of all Poles, there is the Polish Catholic Church (app. 50,000 followers) an offshoot of Polonia’s Polish National Catholic Church, and two Mariavite churches; the Old Catholic Church of the
Mariavites (app. 20,000); and the Catholic Mariavite Church (5,000). The latter has had woman priests and bishops for years.
- In some sections of the Polish countryside gold coins (tsarist gold rubles, Austrian ducats, U.S. gold pieces, etc.) are still placed in the diaper of a
baby about to be christened. It is believed that will help ensure good luck and prosperity throughout his or her lifetime.
- Since Germans constituted the majority of residents in many Polish towns when they were first developing centuries ago, many Polish words denoting municipal
affairs, handicrafts, implements, etc. are of German origin. They include rada (council [from German Rat]), burmistrz (mayor [Burgermeister]), ratusz (town hall [Rathaus]), plac (town square [Platz]), rymarz
(leather worker [Riemer]), slusarz (locksmith [Schlosser]), sruba (screw [Schraube]), sznur(rope [Schnurr]), etc.
- If you are planning a trip to Poland and want to live cheaply in private homes for as little as $5 to $35 a night (including breakfast), send away for a new
book Poland Directory of Affordable Accommodations, enclosing a $15 check made out to: Polish B&B, 1470 E. Wilson Ave. #102, Glendale, CA 91206-3961. For further details phone: (818) 243-4527
- Mikolaj Rey of Naglowiee (1505-1569) was the first major writer who wrote entirely in Polish and urged his countrymen to do likewise, rather than using the
ancient Latin tongue. “To all the world’s nations let it be known that Poles are not geese, but have a tongue of their own,” he wrote in one of his many humorous epigrams. The present U.S.
Ambassador to Poland, Nicholas Rey, is a direct descendant of the 16th century writer.
- Czernina (also spelled czarnina with an “a” in the first syllable and known in some parts of Poland as jusznik) can be made from the blood of
geese, ducks, pigs or even rabbits but never chickens. In the olden days it also had a ritual significance. When a suitor came calling but was not accepted by the family, he was served this czarna polewka
(black soup), which meant his advances were unwelcome.
- Hand kissing, the traditional Polish way of greeting the fair sex, will probably begin disappearing within a generation. Under the influence of Western
lifestyles dominating the media, including feminist propaganda, more and more teenagers and young adults are abandoning this custom which has long been a trademark of chivalrous Polish males.
- It might be confusing for an American to flip a coin in Poland because the eagle side is considered the head. Although orzel czy reszka is usually
translated as “heads of tails”, human heads are rarely found on coins minted in Poland, except for special commemorative issues. The flip side (reverse) of Polish coins usually displays its value
wreathed in a floral motif.
- If the letters “gl” are added after the “m” to the English word “misty,” you get the Polish word mglisty which means
exactly the same thing!
- Polish interest in basketball has been spurred in recent years by the inclusion of high-performance black American players on a number of Polish teams.
Poland’s championship team MazowszankaPruszkow includes New Yorker Keith Williams and another black cager, Tynce Walker. On the team defeated in the finals, Polonia Przemysl, were Detroiter Nathan
Buntin and former Indiana University basketball star Darryl Thomas.
- Polish funeral firms dress the deceased and deliver his or her closed coffin to the church or cemetery chapel for services, but the deceased is never really
on display as in American funeral parlors. The closest of kin may get a peek at their loved one just before the service or at graveside. In small villages, however, the family buys a coffin from the local
carpenter, dresses the deceased and displays him at home in an open coffin surrounded by tall candles. Embalming is not practiced and cremation is rare.
- Polish Jewish surnames frequently denoted a country, region or city. Example Turech, Turek, Hiszpariski, Syryjczyk, Wolynski, Mazowiecki, Amsterdamski,
Kijowski, Warszawski, etc. Such names were either in Yiddish (a dialect of German) Danziger, Posner, Lubliner, Lubartower, Krakower, Tykociner, etc., or were translated into Polish as Gdanski, Poznanski,
Lubelski, Lubartowski, Krakowski, Tykocinski. Other Jewish names originated from various occupations such as Arendarski (innkeeper), Krawiec (tailor), Szewc (cobbler), Srebro (silver) and Zlotnik (goldsmith).