An independent state – Poland declared independence in 1918 following more than 120 years when it came under Russian, Prussian, and Austrian rule. Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 sparked the Second World War, during which six million Poles died, including the majority of its Jewish population. After the war Poland became a communist state and member of the Warsaw Pact. In 1989, it became the first member of the Soviet bloc to establish a non-communist government and joined the European Union in 2004.
Bialowieza Forest – The Bialowieza forest in northeastern Poland preserves nature as it was a few centuries ago, with bison, ancient trees and rare plants. Aside from its beautiful architecture, Poland also has a wealth of lakes, mountains, and forests that are home to animal species otherwise extinct in Europe.
Market Square, Krakow – Located in the center of Krakow's Old Town, Market Square is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, dating back to the 13th century. It hosts several of the city's historical landmarks, including the Renaissance Sukiennice (ancient cloth market), St. Mary's Basilica, and the Town Hall Tower. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Up and coming – In Poland's first years of EU membership, over 800,000 Poles left every year to work in other -- mainly Western -- EU countries where wages were higher. But according to recent research by Poland's Central Statistics Office, this tide of emigres has stemmed and an increasing number of Polish nationals have remained in the country since 2008. Poland is the only economy in the European Union to avoid going into recession since the 2008 financial crisis.
Bronislaw Komorowski – In 2010, President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, including many of the country's top leaders, died in a plane crash in Russia. They were on their way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Russian massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn. Following Kaczynski's death, Bronislaw Komorowski was elected as the country's president for a five year term.
Pope John Paul II – More than 90% of Poland's population is Roman Catholic. The late John Paul II served as Pope from 1978 until his death in 2005. The only Polish pope to date and the third-longest serving pontiff, he was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, credited with helping end communism in his native Poland and Europe. He traveled extensively during his pontificate, visiting over 120 countries and delivering more than 2,000 speeches.