Polish Emigration Abroad - Historical Review
Polish Diaspora abroad counts 15-20 mln people. Poles belong to the nationalities
that have relatively high fraction of emigrants compared to the number
of Poles that live in Poland (about 40 mln now, read more about it in
Poland - Basic Information - Facts - Statistics ). This is due to
difficult Polish history, loss of independence, economical problems and
due to the communism. The total numbers of Poles abroad are given in the
Diaspora (Polonia) Worldwide .
We have to remember that the Poles abroad are not necessarily the immigrants.
For instance the Poles who remained in the Soviet Union, sometimes against
their will, sometimes because their house and their family were settled there for
hundreds of years. They ended up to live in a different country after
the war when the boarders were changed as a result of Jalta treaty. So,
these people form a Polish minority or Poles living abroad but not the
The first wave of tens of thousands of political emigrants left Poland
in the result of the loss of independence at the end of XVIII century
and after unsuccessful national uprisings of 1830 and 1863. Many of
them contributed to the freedom of other countries - like general Pulaski
and Kosciuszko in the USA or general Bem in Hungary. The most prominent
Polish poets and our national spiritual leaders, Adam Mickiewicz and
Juliusz Slowacki created their best work while abroad. The most important
wave of emigrants left Poland after the uprising in 1830 and this emigration
is usually called GREAT EMIGRATION (wielka emigracja) since many
great generals, politicians, writers, national heroes have to leave
Poland to avoid imprisonment, death or sending to Siberia.
The Main Waves
of Emigration from Poland
Franciszek Maciolek - Nancy's
paternal grandfather, the picture was taken at about
1906 when he became the citizen of the USA
The second wave - about 3.5 millions people left Polish territories
that belong to Austria, Russia and Prussia in years 1870-1913. This
was mainly economical immigration, so called "for bread" (za chlebem)
immigrants. This immigration consisted mainly of peasants
from economically neglected rural provinces, many from the mountainous
region of Galicia (Southeastern Poland) that belonged to Austria, but
not only. People from all the divided Polish land were immigrating and they are
difficult to account for as Poles since they were the citizens of Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Also many Jews left in that time. Jewish people were more determined to stay in the new country,
whereas some Poles left only temporarily and then came back.
The majority of these people left Poland to the USA, the others
to Germany, France or Belgium. Read about immigration of Poles to America
in the article: Three
Waves of Massive Polish Immigration.
The third emigration wave took place during the twenty years of independence
between World War I and World War II when 2.5 million Poles left for the
search of a better job or future. Altogether in years 1870 - 1938 over 6 millions
people left Poland.
During World War II - 3 million Poles ended up beyond Polish boarders,
mainly as the soldiers who fought against the Hitler regime in foreign
armies or in Polish armies formed abroad. The Soviet Union Stalin's regime sent
to Siberia and Kazakchstan at least 1 mln 700 thousands of Polish citizens during
the two years when they occupied Eastern part of Poland and before Nazi Germany attacked them.
Some of the Poles were saved thanks to enrolling to general Anders army (over
100 thousands) later on. In the effect of the agreement with Soviet Union about 300,000
Poles returned to Poland from the Soviet-occupied territories after
the war. The rest was either killed, died on starvation or in the labor camps
or remained in the Soviet Union
since the boarders changed in the course of Jalta treaty and Poland
lost 1/3 of its territory on the East. About 800 thousands of Polish
citizens remained in Western Europe after World War II. Among them were
soldiers and generals, labor camp prisoners or people who were involved
in fight against Hitler on behalf of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) -
and they could not come back to Poland after the war because of the
danger of Soviet persecutions. Also many politicians, scientists and
artists who did not foresee their chance in the communistic of Soviet-type run
Poland. After the World War II the center of Polish immigrant political
life abroad was England with the Polish Government in Exile which ceased
to exist with the fall of communism in 1990.
Travel abroad was restricted to Poles until 1980, still over a million
people left Poland permanently in that time: about 600 thousands in
years 1945- 1955 and the next 800 thousands in years 1956-1979. More
people left after 1956 not because the life became more difficult (this
was the time when Stalin-type of regime ceased to exist and the thick
wall became a bit thinner and more transparent) but rather because it was easier to receive
the passport and to leave abroad. Some of this emigration was legal
- for instance in the action of uniting families (akcja laczenia
rodzin) between Poland and Germany. Between 1950 and 1987, about
850 thousands of people immigrated to Germany in the effect of this
action as resettlers ("aussiedlers" in German). Many of these people
claimed German connections. But the truth is that quite a lot of this
emigration was mainly from economical reasons.
In the years 1967-1968 the exodus of Polish Jews (about 20 thousands)
took place. It was caused partly by internal tensions in Polish
communist party, between so called patriots and nationalists and the
internationalists, some of the communists of the second group were of
Jewish origin. It was also magnified by studentsí riots of March 1968
and by the international situation in Israel.
The next big wave of immigration took place in years 1980-1990
when about 100 thousands people was leaving Poland every year. This
immigration was mainly economical (so called "emigracja dorobkowa"),
although some Solidarity activists have to leave after martial law was
enforced. Majority of people who left were young and good educated people
who did not foresee political or economical change. Majority of people
left to Germany, Austria, or through the temporary camps in Italy to
Canada, Australia or the USA.
Some sociologists predict that another immigration wave started
with the day when Poland joined the EU on May 1st 2004. Some EU
countries allowed the new EU members to apply for a job with the day
they joined EU. Among these countries is Great Britain, Ireland and
Sweden. But this emigration has more temporary character and it is related
to the prospects of Poles to find a legal and a good paid job abroad.
For the last ten years the unemployment in Poland was between 14-20%,
according to the numbers in the article
Unemployment in Poland - in Figures - Statistics . Read also more
articles about Polish economical situation and the
reasons of unemployment in the series of articles on economy.
1) Forum Polonijne (in Polish)
- this forum is not active anymore
Migration from Poland (in Polish)
Check a selection of the articles about Polish
immigration / emigration - history and distribution of Polonia around
the world. Check also recently updated Polish
genealogy articles SiteMap.
written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn article #367
Below is a link to a scholarly study of some Europeans ethnic groups
written by Matthew Frye Jacobson, David Roediger and entitled:
Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and
Jewish Immigrants in the United States
If you are trying to find your Polish roots you need to buy this
book written by Rosemary A. Chorzempa, entitled:
Check also immigration books listed below:
Polish-Americans, written by Martha A.,
of Polonia in the United States.
MAP contains all articles classified according to the topic.