Maria Skłodowska-Curie and her relationship with Poland

Marie Skłodowska Curie born in Warsaw on 7th November 1867 as  Maria Salomea Skłodowska was a Polish citizen and both a renowned physicist and chemist, did pioneering work on radioactivity. The most famous thing about her is that she is the only person and the first woman to win two Nobel Prizes.

At the age of 24 (in late 1891), she left Poland to go to France. This article will give some idea about the home country “Poland” in her heart, also about the peculiar relationship with her homeland.

As I mentioned earlier, she was born in Warsaw, and at that time Warsaw was the capital of the Polish province of the Russian Empire.

As it was a part of the Russian Empire, the early formative years of Marie Curie was greatly affected by the elementary school education which was taught by Russians, even the school atmosphere was not good enough for the pupils and hardly bearable, this idea of attitude of Russians towards Polish citizens is also given in her autobiography.

Russian teachers in school and staff members were very suspicious of Polish children and spy on them. In her autobiography, she said that even the utterance of single Polish work could bring harm to them also to their families, which in turn bring lots of problems in the life of young students for example loss of happiness and joy of childhood.

But, Maria’s father Władysław Skłodowski knew how to foster an interest in science in his children. He taught Mathematics and Science to Maria, and she was very much interested in it. When Russian authorities abolished laboratory studies from Polish schools, Maria’s father brought the equipment home and make his children make use of it. Maria’s mother  Bronisława resigned from Warsaw boarding school after the birth of Maria and eventually died due to tuberculosis in 1978. Many of the details of Marie Curie’s life, you can get from here.

After the death of Zofia, her oldest sibling, Maria gave up Catholicism.

She left for Paris from Warsaw for her studies in 1891. Despite spending time on her studies, she was in contact with Poles in Paris discussing national issues and the future of Poland.

When Pierre Curie asked her for marriage, she was in great hesitation what to answer, as she knew this marriage will cause to separate from her homeland and family.

After the discovery of the new substance, she named it “Polonium” based on her homeland country Poland, which was done deliberately by her to use the great publicity from this scientific discovery to bring the attention of the world to the fact that, Poland is still not a sovereign state.

But soon after discovering another radioactive element, “Radium”, she regretted the naming of Polonium, as she found out that “Radium” is easy to identify and thus became very important discovery in radioactivity.

In 1925, after the creation of first Radium Institute set up by Marie Curie in 1918, another institute was created in Warsaw by  Maria Skłodowska-Curie, which was renamed as “Centrum Onkologii–Instytut im. Marii Skłodowskiej-Curie w Warszawie” after World War II.

It is one of the leading research and treatment centers for Cancer in Poland and the World.

When World War I broke out Maria decided to act, inspired by the humanitarian spirit and devotion towards the host country. Because of the outbreak of conflict and the threat of German invasion over the city of Paris forced the daily life to break off which eventually stopped Curie’s scientific research. Government of France moved to Bordeaux, and Marie Curie along with her brought a gram of radium in a lead container.

But, Curie decided to return to Paris, eager to contribute to the war effort and do everything possible. She also donated two gold medals from her two Nobel prizes, a gift that was not accepted. Therefore, she decided to put her sciences at the service of the French Army and French citizens.

She was also very much concerned about her homeland with her family where the war was raging, and the future of the country was in making. During this time, Curie’s political sympathy was with the democratic side of Poland. When the Polish community in France war roaring and polarizing, Maria and many others decided to support  Józef Piłsudski, who was the leader of the Polish socialist party.

Rajeev Singh

Rajeev Singh is a 1st-year Ph.D. Research Fellow at Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow Poland.


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