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Polish diaspora

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Polish diaspora

The Polish diaspora refers to people of Polish origin who live outside Poland. The Polish diaspora is also known in modern Polish language as Polonia, which is the name for Poland in Latin and in many other Romance languages.


There are roughly 20 million people of Polish ancestry living outside Poland, making the Polish diaspora one of the largest in the world, as well as one of the most widely dispersed. Reasons for this displacement vary from border shifts, forced expulsions and resettlement, to political and economic emigration. Major populations of Polish ancestry can be found in Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Ireland and many other European countries, the United States, Brazil, Canada and elsewhere in the Americas and Australasia, particularly Australia and New Zealand. Polish communities are present in most Asian and African countries.


Poles participated in the creation of first European settlements in the Americas. In the 17th-century Polish missionaries arrived for the first time in Japan. Great number of Poles left the country in the course of foreign Partitions of Poland due to economic exploitation activities and political as well as ethnic persecution by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

A large proportion of Polish nationals who emigrated were Polish Jews, and these also make up part of the Jewish diaspora. The restored Second Polish Republic was home to the world's largest Jewish population as late as 1938 due to mass influx of new refugees escaping genocidal pogroms in the East. It was followed by the reiterated invasion of Poland from both sides. More than 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust by Nazi Germany during World War II. Most survivors subsequently immigrated to Mandate Palestine, since Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah without visas and exit permits at the end of the war. Many remaining Jews, including Stalinist hardliners and members of security apparatus, left Poland during the 1968 political crisis when the Polish communist party, pressured by Brezhnev, joined the Soviet "anti-Zionist" campaign triggered by the Six-Day War. In 1998, Poland's Jewish population was estimated at about 10,000–30,000.

A recent large migration of Poles took place following Poland's accession to the European Union and opening of the EU's labor market; with an approximate number of 2 million primarily young Poles taking up jobs abroad.

Most Poles live in Europe, the Americas and Australia, but Poles have settled in smaller numbers in Asia, Africa, and Oceania as economic migrants or as part of Catholic missions.

Polish diaspora in Europe

All countries and areas of residence thereafter are listed in alphabetical order.


There are presently 396,000 Poles living in Belarus (according to the official 1999 census; the estimates are higher according to various NGO organizations). They form the second largest ethnic minority in the country after Russians. The majority of Poles live in the western regions of Belarus (including 294,000 in the Grodno Region, Polish: Grodzieńszczyzna).

During the Second World War the Soviet Union forcibly resettled large numbers of Belarusian Poles to Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Few Belarusian Poles live in Siberia and the Russian Far East and some of those who managed to survive resettlement returned to Poland after 1956.

Czech Republic

The Polish community in the Czech Republic is concentrated in Cieszyn Silesia (so-called Zaolzie), in the north-east of the country. It traces its origins to post-First World War border changes that partitioned the area between Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia, leaving many Poles on the Czech side of the border. The Polish population numbered 51,968 at the 2001 census.


It is estimated that around 40,000 Poles live in Denmark, the majority of them in Copenhagen.

Faroe Islands

Poles make up 0.2% of the population of the Faroe Islands (followed by Norwegians). They mainly live in the capital of the islands, Tórshavn.


The history of the Polish community in Finland dates back to the early 19th century, when a number of Poles from the Russian-controlled part of the country settled there. In 1917, there were around 4,000 Poles in Finland, mostly soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army, and almost all returned to their homeland by 1921. Finland has never been a major destination for Polish immigrants, and currently around 3,000 Poles live there, most of whom are well-educated. Around half of this population lives in Helsinki, and the biggest Polish organization there is the Polish Association, founded on April 3, 1917.


About one million people of Polish descent live in France, concentrated in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, in the metropolitan area of Lille and the coal-mining basin (Bassin Minier) around Lens and Valenciennes. Prominent members of the Polish community in France have included Frédéric Chopin, Adam Mickiewicz (temporarily), Rene Goscinny, Marie Curie, Raymond Kopa, Ludovic Obraniak, and Edward Gierek (who was raised there). Large numbers of Poles settled in France during the rule of Napoleon when 100,000 Poles fled Russian rule of Poland in the early 19th century. Many enlisted to fight in the French army. Another wave of Polish migration took place between the two World Wars, when many were hired as contract workers to work temporarily in France. Polish refugees also fled Nazi or Soviet occupation (1940s). There are estimates of 100,000 to 200,000 Poles living in Paris and many E.U. program guest workers in regions of the south (including the cities of Arles, Marseille and Perpignan).


The second largest Polonia in the world, and the largest in Europe, is the Polish minority in Germany. Estimates of the number of Polish descent people living in Germany vary from 2 million to about 3 million. The main Polonia organization is Kongres Polonii Niemieckiej / Polnischer Kongress in Deutschland. Polish surnames are very common in Germany.


The Polish minority in Greece consists of over 50,000 Poles, most of whom are first-generation immigrants to the country. It should be noted however that there might be many more in this minority due to the fact that the Greek Orthodox Church administers Greek names for marriage and Christianizing. Statistics show that over 300,000 Poles visit Greece each year for tourism, especially during the summer months. Famous Poles in Greece who also have mixed Polish and Greek ethnicity include famous Polish singer Eleni Tzoka.


The Polish minority in Hungary numbers around 10,000 and has a long history of over a thousand years. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth included large areas of Hungarian territories, and the Austrian-Hungarian empire (1867–1918) included the Polish region of Galicia. Polish–Hungarian ties are strong and positive, best described in the poem: Pole, Hungarian, two good friends about the fraternal sense of commonality of Polish and Hungarian cultures. Budapest is home to a large Polish community and there are also ethnic Poles in the northern part of the country bordering Slovakia and Ukraine. Most Polish-Hungarians are practising Roman Catholics, but many are members of the Uniate, Eastern (Polish-Carpathian or Carpato-Ukrainian) and Greek Catholic churches.


The Polish minority in Iceland is a relatively new phenomenon, although it has for almost a decade been the largest minority. In 2014 Poles constituted 3.13% of the total population of Iceland.


After Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Ireland was one of three existing EU members to open its borders and welcome Polish workers as relatively cheap qualified labour (the others being the United Kingdom and Sweden). Ireland quickly became a key destination for young Poles seeking work outside the country. According to the 2011 Census, there are 122,585 Poles living in Ireland, constituting the largest ethnic minority in the country.


The Polish minority in Italy numbers around 110,000. The majority of Polish residents are late-20th-century immigrants drawn by the Italian economy's need for imported labor. Large Polish immigrant communities are found in Rome, Milan, Venice, Naples and Palermo. Polish immigration to Italy might continue while the EU contract labor program between the two countries remains in place.


The Polish minority in Lithuania numbers 234,989 persons and, at 6.74% of the population of Lithuania, forms the largest ethnic minority in modern Lithuania. Poles are concentrated in the Vilnius region, and form the majority of population in Vilnius district municipality and Šalčininkai district municipality.

Netherlands and the Benelux

Polish immigration to the Netherlands has steadily increased since Poland was admitted to the E.U., and now an estimated 135,000 Polish people live in the country. The majority of them are guest workers through the European Union contract labor program, as more Poles obtain employment in this country's light industrial jobs. The growing number of Polish nationals could double in the next decade depending on economic conditions in Poland. The majority of Polish people in the Netherlands are in The Hague (approximately 30,000) but Polish emigres long settled in Amsterdam and industrial towns or cities like Utrecht and Groningen. Polish immigrants arrived to find employment in the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. Belgium has approx. 70,000 Poles (Though the number of Belgians of Polish descent could be as high as 200,000), Luxemburg almost 3,000.


Norway has recently experienced an influx of Polish migrant workers. This because Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, providing the same free movement of labour as between members of the European Union. According to the Norwegian statistics bureau Statistisk sentralbyrå there are 72,103 Polish immigrants in Norway per 1 January 2012.


According to the 2002 census, 3,671 Poles live in Romania, mainly in the villages of the Suceava region (Polish: Suczawa). There are even three exclusively Polish villages: Nowy Sołoniec (Soloneţu Nou), Plesza (Pleşa) and Pojana Mikuli (Poiana Micului). Poles in Romania form an officially recognised national minority, having one seat in the Chamber of Deputies of Romania (currently held by Ghervazen Longher) and access to Polish elementary schools and cultural centres (known as "Polish Houses").

Russia and former Soviet Union

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed large parts of Poland's former eastern territories of Kresy. Many Poles were expelled, but a significant number remained in what are now parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. The Soviet authorities also forcibly resettled large numbers of Poles to Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The following post-Soviet countries retain significant Polish minorities.

  • Belarus – 396,000. See the Belarus section in this article and the Polish minority in Belarus for details.
  • Kazakhstan – between 60,000 and 100,000. See Poles in Kazakhstan.
  • Lithuania – between 250,000 and 300,000. See the Lithuania section in this article and the Polish minority in Lithuania article for details.
  • Latvia – between 60,000 and 75,000. See the Latvia section in this article and the Polish minority in Latvia article for details.
  • Russia – about 300,000. See Polish minority in Russia for details.
  • Ukraine – 144,000. See the Polish minority in Ukraine article for details.
  • Serbia

    There is a small community of descendants of Silesian miners in Ostojićevo. In the 2011 census, 741 declared themselves as Poles.


    According to the 2011 Slovak census results, there are 3,084 (0.1%) Poles living in Slovakia. Compared to the Hungarian census of 1910, it is a significant decrease, as then there were 10,569 Polish-language speakers in the territory of present Slovakia.


    The Polish minority in Spain numbers between 45,000 and 60,000. The Polish population is mainly guest workers drawn by Spain's economic boom during the 1990s. Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, San Sebastian and Valencia have significant Polish populations. The Polish minority in Spain is relatively young, 74% are between 20 and 49 years old.


    The Polish minority in Sweden has been estimated to be around 78,000 people. The majority of them are guest workers invited to Sweden since 1990 in contracts with the Swedish government. Most Polish residents live in Stockholm and the rest farther south towards the Baltic Sea. Historically, Poland and Sweden had some cultural exchange with each other and the Swedish Empire's occupation of the Polish Baltic Sea coast (Gdańsk and Pomerania) in various times from the 13th to 18th centuries.


    Like the Polish community of Finland, some Polish diasporans from Germany were come from the Rhine-Ruhr basin, as immigrant workers to Switzerland. The biggest Polish diaspora community live in the Northern Switzerland.


    In 1842 Prince Adam Czartoryski founded the village of Adampol, for Polish immigrants who came to Turkey after the failed November Uprising. The village, still existing and now called Polonezköy (Turkish for Polish Village), is the main center of the small but historic Polish community in Turkey. The Polish minority in Turkey has been estimated to be around 4,000 people. However, Polish minority is higher than present Polish census in Turkey because of Turkified Poles after marriages with Turks. For example, Leyla Gencer's mother was Atiye Çeyrekgil, was born as Alexandra Angela Minakovska and embraced to Islam after death of her husband. Also, Nazım Hikmet Ran's mother, Ayşe Celile Hanım, was a descendant of Mustafa Celaleddin Pasha, who was born as Konstantin Borzecki in 1826. He immigrated to Ottoman Empire after Greater Poland Uprising and embraced Islam in 1848. He later became an Ottoman General and died in 1876.


    According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, there were 144,130 Poles residing in the country. Poles began settling in the territory of present Ukraine in the 14th century, after Red Ruthenia had become part of the Kingdom of Poland. The number of Poles in Ukraine gradually increased over the centuries, but after World War II it drastically decreased as a result of Soviet mass deportation of the Poles in Ukraine to Siberia and other eastern regions of the USSR as well as a campaign of ethnic cleansing, carried out in the early 1940s by Ukrainian nationalists in western part of the country (see: Massacres of Poles in Volhynia). There was a Polish Autonomous District, located near Zhytomyr, created in 1926, but it was disbanded in 1935 and its Polish inhabitants were either murdered or deported to Kazakhstan. The majority of those who survived the war in Ukraine were forcibly deported to the Former eastern territories of Germany after Poland was shifted to the West by the Allied Potsdam Agreement after World War II.

    United Kingdom

    Polish people have travelled to the British Isles throughout the centuries for a variety of reasons. By 1016, Cnut the Great, of Danish-Polish descent had conquered England assisted by Polish troops. In the 16th century Polish travellers came as traders and diplomats. In the 18th century, a small number of Polish Protestants arrived as religious refugees due to the Counter-Reformation in Poland. In the 19th century, due to the collapse of the November Uprising of 1831, many Polish fighters came to Britain in search of sanctuary.

    However, it was only after the First World War that Poles settled in large numbers in London – many from the Prisoner of War camps in Alexandra Palace and Feltham. During the Second World War many Poles came to the United Kingdom as political émigrés and to join the Polish Armed Forces in the West being recreated there. When the Second World War ended, a Communist government was installed in Poland and was hostile to servicemen returning from the West. Many Poles felt betrayed by their wartime allies and were understandably reluctant to return home. Many soldiers refused to return to Poland, and around 200,000, after occupying resettlement camps, later settled in UK. The Polish Government in London was not dissolved until 1991, when a freely elected president took office in Warsaw.

    Following Poland's entry into the European Union in May 2004, Poles gained the right to work in some other EU countries. While France and Germany put in place temporary controls to curb Central European migration, the United Kingdom (along with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland) did not impose restrictions. Many young Poles have come to work in UK since then. Estimates vary between 300,000 and 800,000 moving to the UK since May 2004.

    Estimates for the total number of people living in the UK and born in Poland, or of Polish descent vary significantly. There were an estimated 831,000 Polish-born residents in 2015. The numbers have been decreasing after 2008. Other than London, Poles have settled in Southampton in Hampshire, Manchester, Bolton and Bury in Greater Manchester and Chorley in Lancashire. There are also large concentrations in Bradford, Leeds, Coventry and Nottingham, as well as South Yorkshire, South Wales, Herefordshire, Rugby, Banbury, Slough, Redditch and Swindon.

    The economic crisis in the UK and the growing economy in Poland reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK. By the last quarter of 2008, it was claimed by the IPPR that up to half of those that had come to the UK to work may have returned home. However the research was unreliable, as numbers have never been recorded, and was shown to be incorrect by Professor Krystyna Iglicka of the Centre for International Affairs, in Warsaw. The 2011 census also indicates that it was probably never true.

    According to the UK Office for National Statistics, Poland had overtaken India as the most common non-UK country of birth for people living in the United Kingdom in 2015.

    North America

    The United States and Canada were the major focus of Polish political and economic migration after 1850 and up until the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many North American Catholics and Jews trace their ancestry to the region known today as Poland. This region had a high Jewish population before World War II. During World War II, some 3.1 million Polish Jews, along with 2.8 million ethnic Poles who were mostly Catholic, were killed by the German military in the Holocaust There's a revival of contemporary Jewish life in the new democratic Poland.


    According to the Canada 2011 Census, there are 1,010,705 Polish Canadians. The population is widely dispersed across Canada. The first Polish immigrants came to Canada in the 19th century. One of the largest concentrations of Polish-Canadians is in the Roncesvalles area of Toronto. The area holds an annual Polish Festival, Canada's largest. The Canadian Polish Congress is an umbrella organization founded in 1944 by Polish-Canadians in Canada to coordinate the activities and to articulate the concerns of the Canadian Polish community on public policy issues.


    During the times of Napoleon, 5,000 Poles fighting in Polish Legions in the Napoleonic armies were sent to fight against the rebelling Haitians. Many of the Poles who were sent there felt it wrong to fight against the Haitians who were fighting for their freedom—just like the Poles in the Napoleonic armies—and some 400 Poles changed sides. After the war, the Haitian constitution stated that because the Poles switched sides and fought for their cause, all Poles could become Haitian citizens. Many of the Poles who were sent to Haiti stayed there. Most of their descendants live in Cazale and Fond-des-Blancs in Haiti.


    The first Polish immigrants to Mexico arrived in the late 19th century. During World War II, Mexico received thousands of refugees from Poland, primarily of Jewish origin, who settled in the states of Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon.

    United States

    There are approximately 10 million Americans of Polish descent.

    Chicago bills itself as the largest Polish city outside the Polish capital of Warsaw. There are approximately 185,000 Polish speakers in the Chicago metropolitan area. Chicago's Polish presence is felt in the large number of Polish-American organizations located here beginning with the Polish Museum of America, the Polish American Association, the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Highlander's Alliance of North America.

    Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Baltimore and New Britain, Connecticut also have very large Polish populations. Older Polish Americans are rapidly migrating to the Southeast (Florida), Southwest (Arizona) and the West Coast (California), but also destinations for Polish immigrants from Poland in the 1990s.

    Buffalo is seen as American Polonia's second city, as it is also home to many Polish-Americans. Its steel mills and automobile factories provided jobs for many Polish immigrants in the early 20th century. The only city to have official Dyngus Day celebrations inspired by the popular Polish custom of Dyngus Day is Buffalo. A section of New Britain, Connecticut was designated officially as "Little Poland" in 2007 by a unanimous vote of the City's Common council.

    The major American Polonia organization is the Polish American Congress.

    South America

    There has been political and economic migration of Poles to South America since the mid-19th century. The largest number went to Brazil, followed by Argentina and Chile.


    In Argentina Poles are one of the most significant minorities, numbering around 500,000. The Parliament of Argentina has declared June 8 Polish Settlers' Day.


    The number of people of Polish descent in Brazil is estimated at almost around 3 million. Most Polish Brazilians are Catholic, with significant Jewish and non-religious minorities. The majority of them are concentrated in the South and Southeastern regions of Brazil, especially in the states of Paraná and Espírito Santo.


    A small number of Poles came to Chile, with first of them coming during the Napoleonic wars. In early 20th century, there were around 300 Poles in Chile, but considered Germans. After World War II, in 1947–1951 around 1,500 Poles, mostly Zivilarbeiter, as well as some former soldiers and Nazi concentration camp inmates settled in Chile, and in 1949 the Association of Poles in Chile was founded. An estimate of 45,000 ethnic Poles live in Chile. Most live in Santiago. One of the notable Polish Chileans is Ignacy Domeyko.


    It is estimated that around 3,000 Poles live in Colombia, the majority of them in Bogota.


    Polish immigration in Uruguay brought Poles to settle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An estimated 10,000 to 50,000 Polish descendants are thought to be in Uruguay. The majority of them reside in Montevideo, the capital. Often Poles came when the Prussian (now Germany) and Russian Empires ruled Poland, thus they were known as "Germans" and "Russians".


    The first Polish settlers arrived in South Australia in 1856. After World War II, large numbers of displaced persons migrated from Poland to Australia, including soldiers from the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade (the "Rats of Tobruk").

    There are now approximately 160,000–200,000 Polish Australians.

    New Zealand

    In 1944, several hundred Polish children and their caregivers, survivors of forced resettlement of Poles to Soviet Siberia, and their caregivers were temporarily resettled at a refugee camp at Pahiatua, New Zealand. It was originally planned for the children to return to Poland after World War II ended, but they were eventually allowed to stay in New Zealand with the onset of the Cold War.

    At the 2013 Census, Polish New Zealanders numbered 1,944 by birth and 2,163 by ethnicity; of those, 42 percent lived in the Auckland Region and 23 percent in the Wellington Region.


    In the early years of Zionism, Jewish immigrants from Poland—then part of the Russian Empire—was a significant prominent part of the ideologically-motivated immigration to the then Palestine, in the Second Aliya and Third Aliya. Many Jews of Polish origin had prominent roles in building up the Yishuv, the autonomous Zionist-oriented Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine from which Israel developed. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, many of the Jewish Displaced Persons in Europe who eventually got to Israel were also of Polish origin. In later generations, these in general abandoned the speaking of Polish and Yiddish in favor of Modern Hebrew.

    In Israel today live about 4,000 non-Jewish ethnic Poles. There are also about 50,000 Jewish immigrants from Poland with affinity to Polish language and culture and about 150,000 of their descendants very little of such affinity.

    South Africa

    According to the Council of Polonia in South Africa, some 25,000–30,000 Poles live there. The Polish community in South Africa dates to World War II, when the South African government agreed to the settlement of 12,000 Polish soldiers as well as around 500 Polish orphans, survivors of forced resettlement of Poles to Soviet Siberia. More Poles came in the 1970s and 1980s, with several of them specialists, coming for contracts and deciding to stay there.


    Polish diaspora Wikipedia