US / UK quarrels about how much a billion actually is aside — there was a time when you could rather easily become a billionaire in Poland. A time when disregard for “drobne” was real. I mean, would you care about ‘small change’ when ‘small change’ could be a roll of notes to burn a socialist cigar with? (Of course, there were no cigars under socialism here. But there was Cuban music. Close, though no cigar. And I heard people saw Vietnamese cigs once, meant to repel jungle insects, not to pamper your smoker’s palate. But I digress.)
For nostalgic (to old local reader) and for educational (to our young expat reader) purposes, here goes a gallery of the banknotes of the times of plenty. See lifestories behind the faces! Reckon how many of these people were pure, genuine Poles. NONE!
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…OUR MONEY!
Born in Austria, a national hero in Poland and Hungary, a mathematician, burnt (not entirely) during artillery tests, wrote scientific stuff in German, a general, got Légion d’honneur from Napoleon, and Virtuti Militari for defence against Russians, adopted Islam and was a Turkish field marshal, died in Ottoman Syria.
Born in Russia, served in the Russian army, a sapper, commanded an uprising against Russia, got married to a Lutheran (but converted for him to RCC), fought against Bem (10 above) in Hungary, remarried, degraded and hanged in Russia (Warsaw, specifically).
From Warsaw working class, fought for the Bolsheviks in the revolutionary Russia. And fought against Ukrainians. Fought against Poles during the Polish-Soviet War. Fought against Franco forces in Spain. Shot POW’s and befriended Hemingway. Fought against Germans since 1941. Would give [fatal] orders drunk, a Stalinist MP in Poland, killed by Ukrainian fighters.
Born in Ukraine, a Socialist activist, arrested by Austrians, migrated to Switzerland, returned to Warsaw (in Russia), founded a workers party, arrested by Russians, died in Schlisselburg prison, aged 33.
A noble born in Kiev Russia, awarded by Russians for fighting Chechens. Arrested by selfsame Russians for conspiring, he escaped from his Siberia-bound transport and got to France, where fought for the Paris Commune. Died and was interred in Paris. Mentioned in the Polish National Anthem he is not — another J. Dąbrowski is, being a British Queen(‘s peer), sort of.
A noble, born in Polesia. Got a scholarship in Paris, a military engineer. Fought against Britain, an American national hero. Insurrected against Russia in Poland, leading nobles and peasants alike, sorely defeated, Sworn allegiance to the Russian tzar, emigrated to USA, then to Paris, died in Switzerland. Did I mention he’s mentioned in the name of the highest peak Down Under?
Born in Torun (Prussia, Poland, either Pole or German), wrote in Latin. An astronomer, a mathematician, a translator, a general, a diplomat, a businessman, he stopped the Sun and moved the Earth. In 2006 his skull was DNA-tested and certified to be his. [Watch out for a Polish insider joke: he was a woman.]
The first ruler of Poland, when there was no Poland yet. His other wife was German. He got (t)his country baptised and religious. Sweet, huh? You bet!….
You’d brand him a pop musician today, somewhere betwixt Rubik and Doda. He was so Polish that his name is spelled French way. Adored, quite weirdly, in Japan. As is Vader. (Which is much less weird.) His “green” banknote – unlike 50 zlotych – was first to mean anything like a dollar.
Montypythons unwound it eloquently: Say no more! Say no more!
….If you go on with “Skłodowska-Curie”, you are pro-Polish.
….If you choose “Curie-Sklodowska”, you are a bloody French lover. Or worse, a French person.
She and her spouse (or the other sex round) used to be on a 500 French Franc banknote. Say: who valued her more? Anyway, the lady discovered polonium and radon.
[Watch out for a Polish insider joke: she was a woman.]
A middle-class man, a philosopher, a geologist, a scientist, a sponsor to others, including this Jew. Set up a coal mine. A Catholic priest. Well, naturally? Said to dislike wearing his cassock so much he did not wear it. Wanted general education and teology separated. [Ain’t that a shocker? Hardly lived in any Poland though.]
A noble, born in Russia (now Belarus), died in Russia (now Warsaw). His composer’s career set off in Berlin. Fathered Polish national opera. — It was, uh, blasphemised calculated there are 5 female names in Poland. The title of one Moniuszko’s highlit opera is Halka. “Halka” is a female name – and then it means “petticoat” in Polish (plus some scary things in some scary languages, possibly).
Below Jontek, a Highlander, Halka’s boyfriend, pines for his love. Halka dumped him for a landlordling, thus he pines. His first words: “The pines tremble on the mountain”. (Or “Roar firs”. Anyway, some trees near Zakopane. Anyone spots a bagpiper in second two below? Oh, and the voice comes from a Ukrainian.)
The front side is PRL. (You won’t understand.) The reverse shows Warsaw. (I don’t understand.)
Born in tzarist Poland into a family of Tartar Lithuanians, died in Switzerland. The man who wanted to lift up Polish hearts, basically by means of heart-chilling stories about cruel non-Poles suffering defeats from not less cruel foes. One of his novels, Quo vadis, is about non-Poles suffering in Rome. A Nobel prize winner. Without him, Poland would be different, including some titles.
Born on the much hated 7th day of May, just like Hume, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and, well, others.
He got a Nobel prize for a lengthy dialect-laden novel about peasants. Thomas Mann did not get the prize then. Some say there were few good candidates “during the 1920s”.
Born in Russia (now Ukraine), died in New York, a composer and a triumphant piano virtuoso. His heart is interred in the USA. Married a baroness. Has haunted his own museum. They say he was a Sir of the British Empire. A skillful politician, in English, a prime minister, in Poland. Starred in a music drama, as pioneerly as 30 years prior to another music drama, “Yellow Submarine”.
A 5000000 zloty note was designed, with the Moustached Marshall
but people had started miscounting zeros already, so the powers that mint gave the idea up. (So, the highest ranking officer here is the Soviet 3-star general, I suppose?)
They don’t pay me for this.