There’s not many morning TV shows in America where you can get your traffic report and learn the proper pronunciation of the Polish word pączki. That’s because there’s not many on-air Polish traffic reporters like Jenny Milkowski.
Jenny brings a uniquely Polish personality to the weekday morning show at FOX-TV Chicago, “Good Day Chicago.” Aside from sprinkling informational tidbits about Poland in between her traffic reports, she serves as an on-air Polish guru. That’s right. Whenever anyone at the station is covering anything involving Polish culture, you can probably bet that Jenny will be involved. Her Polish pride shines through the TV camera lens, making her among the most passionate and visible proponents of Polish culture in the Chicago metropolitan area.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jenny to discover more about her Polish background. Here’s the full interview:
What is your connection to Poland?
“I was born in Chicago, but my parents where born in Poland. My mom came to Chicago in the seventies when she was 20 years old. She had just finished nursing school in Poland and came for a touring visit. Her mom, my grandma, was already in the states and convinced her to stay. My mom eventually met my dad while shopping at his father’s store, and they started dating shortly after and got married. Both of my parents are from the Tarnow area. My mom is from Miechowice, and my dad is from Wietrzychowice. My dad came here on a boat with his mom and some of his brothers when he was just seven years old!”
Did you grow up more Polish or American?
“I was born on the northwest side of Chicago, which is a heavily Polish neighborhood. My younger sister and I grew up in a very Polish household and didn’t speak English until we went to school, and even in preschool I didn’t know English that well.
When you’re a kid, you learn languages quickly, but I was very shy…so that didn’t help! So because I was shy and didn’t know how to ask my teacher if I could go to the bathroom, I would pee myself! Almost every day my mom had to bring me a new pair of pants to change into, but by first grade I was fluent in English so it wasn’t a problem anymore. In addition to going to “regular” school Monday through Friday, we also went to Polish school on Saturday mornings!”
How can people tell you are Polish?
“Being Polish has always been a huge part of who I am! Not only did I grow up with parents who came straight from Poland, but I knew the language. People can tell I’m Polish because I’m always sure to tell them, haha! I am proud of where I came from and my culture. Growing up and living in Chicago and being Polish is great because there is such a huge Polish community that makes you feel welcome!”
“I LOVE talking about the Polish culture and my Polish upbringing on TV! I think sometimes anchors on television can be a little stiff and don’t show the audience where they truly come from. I believe that I should be myself–which is Polish and quirky! I want all the Polish men and women and children who watch at home to say ‘wow, that’s really cool! She’s like me, and she’s on TV, and she is proud of who she is!’ My coworkers enjoy my stories, and they love to learn about how it was growing up Polish.”
Ok, most important question: What is your favorite Polish food?
“That’s a tough question! There is SO much good food! and get this, my family owns a Polish store! It’s called Bristol Deli on 5205 West Belmont in Chicago. We have an amazing chef that cooks delicious Polish salads and dinners! We call it Meals By Babcia! We also have tons of wonderful Polish candies and desserts. I think my favorite has to be pasztet, kielbasa and zurek!”
What’s the best part about your job in television?
“My favorite part of my job is being able to connect with Chicagoans and Polish Chicagoans and Polish people from all over the world! I am on Facebook almost all the time. Please see my videos and talk to me at Jenny Milkowski TV!”
Here’s some more videos/photos from Jenny:
I’ve said before that Polish women are among the most beautiful on earth. The million dollar question is: how do you land a date with one?
Perhaps these 10 pick-up lines will work. The other possibility is that you’ll get a pączek in the face and never go on a date again. Whether you try these or not, I hope you find them amusing.
1. Girl, life without you is like a pączek without jelly.
2. Baby, I’m falling like communism for you.
3. Poland must be heaven, because it sent me an angel.
4. You and I go together like kapusta and pierogi.
5. You Polish? Because my heart longs for Solidarity with you.
6. Hey girl. Let me Chopin the door to your heart.
7. Roses are red, violets are blue, I’d save Poland from 123 years of Russian occupation for you.
8. Wanna [Polka] Dance?
9. I know why they say Polish is the hardest language to learn. Looking at you makes me speechless.
10. Knock Knock.
Krak OW! You’re gorgeous!
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September is a very important month for Poland and all people with a Polish background. Two significant, yet contrasting, events occurred during this month in Polish history: the 1683 victory at Vienna, which halted the Ottoman Empire’s advance into Europe and the 1939 conquest by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
In both cases, Poland proved to be central in deciding Europe’s fate, a centrality that is all-too-often overlooked in studies of European and global history.
During the decades leading up to the 1683 Battle of Vienna, the Islamic Ottoman Empire had gradually been eroding Christian power in southeastern Europe. The rivalry between Christianity and Islam had persisted for centuries, and both sides had committed horrible atrocities against each other. In the summer of 1683, the Turks set their sights on Vienna, which would serve as a gateway to conquer the rest of Europe.
For months, a massive Ottoman army of 150,000 laid siege to Vienna. The city’s fortified walls and handful of brave Austrian defenders managed to impede the Turks from attaining a quick victory, but by September it became clear that, bar some miracle, Vienna would fall.
Poland would provide the miracle. Polish King John III Sobieski had long feared Ottoman encroachment into Europe and recognized that if Vienna fell, Poland might be next, followed by the kingdoms of the west. In early September, Sobieski marched an army of 60,000 men toward Vienna to relieve the desperate defenders.
On Saturday, September 11th, Sobieski’s forces, including his prized Winged Hussars, charged upon the dumbfounded Turkish camp from atop a ridge. The Ottomans were slaughtered, their leader Kara Mustafa Pasha, forced to flee for his life. After the victory, Sobieski wrote to the Pope, “We came, we saw, and God conquered.”
Exactly 256 years later in 1939, Poland’s fortune would be the opposite. On September 1st, Nazi Germany invaded Poland with 40 infantry divisions and 14 mechanized divisions. They utilized a strategy called Blitzkrieg, which relied on an overwhelmingly fast-paced armored assault.
Although the Poles mobilized around 1,000,000 men, they were technologically outmatched, especially in armor. Furthermore, Germany’s powerful air force wreaked havoc on Polish military establishments and transportation lines.
To make matters worse, the Soviet Union had allied with Nazi Germany and invaded Poland from the east on September 17. Surrounded by two invading powers, it is amazing that Poland lasted as long as it did. The Polish army completely capitulated on October 5, which meant Poland had resisted for 35 days (In comparison, France lasted about 45 days against Nazi Germany alone). The western powers failed to provide Poland with any significant military support, despite their promises to do so before the war. Along with Poland fell the flood gates, and the Nazis quickly went on to control or influence most of the European continent.
Although the results of these two historical events were drastically different, they share two major similarities: 1) In both instances, Europe was threatened by an enemy bent on total conquest. 2) In both instances, Poland was among the first to fight this grave threat, and the consequences of that struggle impacted Europe’s overall fate.
Had Poland failed to halt the Turks at Vienna, Europe would have been vulnerable to further bloodshed and destruction. Similarly, had Poland succeeded in halting the Nazis, it would have interrupted Adolf Hitler’s designs and possibly rallied the rest of Europe against him in a moment of weakness.
In that sense, Poland has been the historic linchpin of Europe. Its fate has been inextricably tied to the fate of the rest of the continent. This is in no small part due to Poland’s central geographic location within Europe, which has time and again put it on the front lines of the immemorial struggle between east and west.
As Poles and people of Polish descent, we should be proud about our central place in history. At the same time, we should learn from our past and be prepared for the possibility of once again having to play a difficult, but crucial role in future events.
Each country has fun little tidbits of information that set it apart from others. Poland is no exception, except it’s often not the first country that comes to people’s minds.
Here are 10 fun facts about Poland you may not have known about–no particular order. If even one or two of them surprise you, I’ll consider my mission accomplished.
1. At 2,120.7 ft tall, the Warsaw Radio Tower was the second-tallest man-made structure ever built.
2. Not counting Russia, Poland is Europe’s 8th largest country in both population and land area.
3. At its peak in the early 17th century, Poland, along with its partner Lithuania, controlled 450,000 square miles. That’s roughly 3.7 times its current size.
4. Many consider the Polish constitution of 1791 to be the world’s second oldest—after the United States.
5. Malbork Castle in Poland is the largest castle in the world by surface area.
6. The Polish flag is the exact opposite of the Indonesian flag.
7. Poland is one of the world’s most Catholic countries—92.2% of Poles follow the religion, according to a Pew Research poll.
8. There are an estimated 60 million Polish people in the world. More than one third of them live outside Poland.
9. Mount Rysy is the highest point in Poland, standing at 8,199 feet.
10. Poland’s Białowieża Forest is one of Europe’s last primeval forests and the last remaining home of European bison.
This past week, Pope Francis visited Poland to celebrate World Youth Day, which is an international gathering of young people hosted by the Roman Catholic church every few years. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, from 187 countries, arrived in Krakow to participate, hurling Poland onto the global scene.
Although the event is meant to be a joyous occasion for young people to celebrate God, there was one somber moment that left the Pope visibly upset—his visit to Auschwitz, the German concentration camp from World War II, which is only about an hour away from Krakow.
Anyone who has visited Auschwitz knows that it’s a dark, gloomy place. The terror and suffering of the millions who died there still pervades the air. As the Pontiff alone stepped through those infamous Arbeit Macht Frei gates, the sun reflecting off his white robes stood in stark contrast to the perpetual darkness that looms over that dismal camp.
One of the most significant moments of the Pope’s visit was his solitary prayer time in the former jail cell of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who made the ultimate sacrifice to save a stranger during World War II at Auschwitz.
The Life of Maximilian Kolbe
Maximilian Maria Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894 in what was, at that time, the Russian partition of Poland.
His transformative religious experience came early in life, when he was only nine years old. He describes that while praying before a statue of the Virgin Mary one day, she appeared before him holding two crowns—one white and one red. The Blessed Mother spoke to him explaining that the white crown represented purity and the red one represented martyrdom. She then asked him if he would accept either of them. He accepted both.
After that defining experience, Kolbe entered into a deeper religious faith than most people do over the course of their entire lives. In 1907, he joined the Conventual Franciscan Friars and was ordained a priest in 1918. It was here that he took on the religious name of Maximilian.
Over the course of his ministry, Father Kolbe promoted the veneration of the Virgin Mary and founded various Catholic media outlets—from a newspaper to a radio station—to spread the Gospel.
He also founded a monastery near Nagasaki, Japan on a mission trip to the far east in 1931. Amazingly, this monastery survived the atomic bomb dropped on the city 14 years later. Today, that same monastery serves as a center of Franciscan missionary activities in Japan.
In 1936, Father Kolbe returned to Poland to a monastery he had founded in 1927 in the town of Niepokalanów, near Warsaw. As Europe moved toward war, the moment at which Father Kolbe would don the red crown he had accepted from the Virgin Mary as a child drew closer.
Wearing the Red Crown
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, many Franciscan brothers left Father Kolbe’s monastery in Niepokalanów, but not him. It’s important to mention that, although Kolbe’s mother was Polish, his father was German, meaning that he could have enjoyed greater rights under the Nazi regime. He waived those rights.
Instead, Father Kolbe actively resisted the Germans by publishing anti-Nazi writings, providing shelter to persecuted Jews and even turning his monastery into a temporary hospital for victims of the ongoing war.
Such activities did not escape the Nazi authorities for long, and they shut down Father Kolbe’s monastery in 1941 before arresting and sending him to Auschwitz. During his stay at the death camp, Father Kolbe continued to act as a priest for the prisoners, despite suffering through back-breaking labor and severe beatings by the guards.
One day during the summer of 1941, Nazi guards discovered that three prisoners had escaped from the camp. Furious, the Nazi commander ordered that ten prisoners be placed in the camp’s underground starvation cell as retribution.
Ten prisoners were chosen at random to be starved to death. One of them, Polish army sergeant Franciszek Gajowniczek reportedly cried out in anguish that he would never see his wife and children again. At that moment, Father Kolbe, who was not among the condemned, stepped forward and asked the Nazi commander if he could take Gajowniczek’s place in the starvation cell. Shocked, the commander agreed. Gajowniczek was saved and lived until the year 1995. Kolbe was led off to the starvation cell with the other nine prisoners.
In those last days, Father Kolbe led his fellow condemned prisoners in prayer and devotion as they all slowly starved. Eyewitnesses say he never once begged for food or water, but rather focused on comforting his cell-mates. After two weeks, nine out of ten prisoners had died. Only Father Kolbe remained alive.
At this point, the Nazis were frustrated that Father Kolbe wouldn’t die, and they decided to give him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Father Kolbe peacefully offered his arm up for the needle and left this world on August 14, 1941 at the age of 47.
75 Years Later…
Pope Francis visited this underground cell during the World Youth Day celebrations, as mentioned in the beginning of the article. The knowledge of Father Kolbe’s sacrifice doubtless moved the Pontiff as he silently prayed in the dark, underground cell.
Francis’s predecessor, Saint Pope John Paul II, had canonized Father Kolbe a Saint and named him a martyr in 1982. In the end, Father Kolbe kept his promise to the Virgin Mary. Throughout his life he had worn the white crown of purity and worked for the salvation of others as a priest. In death, he put on the red crown of martyrdom, freely choosing to die in the place of a complete stranger at Auschwitz.
As mentioned, the Auschwitz death camp continues to have an air of hopelessness and despondency. It is ironic, then, that in the deepest and darkest corner of this “hell on earth,” one Polish priest could maintain the virtues of faith, hope and love. As a strong Roman Catholic, I find Father Kolbe’s story to be inspirational evidence that no amount of darkness can snuff out God’s light.
To learn more about Saint Maximilian Kolbe, visit:
Pokemon has hit Poland. While the viral mobile phenomenon known as Pokemon GO made its global premier on July 6, it didn’t become available in Poland until July 16. Since then, it has spawned the same level of obsession and hysteria among Polish people as it has in people the world over. It’s even leaving social media sites like Twitter and Instagram in the dust in terms of number of users.
For those not familiar, Pokemon GO is a free mobile game that uses GPS technology to create a virtual world where players can hunt and capture fictional monsters called Pokemon. For example, if you are walking down the street and you turn the game on, it will show a virtual version of that street with Pokemon walking around. There are also certain hotspots, known as “gyms“ and “PokeStops” around the world where people congregate.
The game, released by Nintendo, is based on the Pokemon games and TV shows that reached global popularity in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Those who were childhood fans back then are now adults, many of whom are downloading and playing Pokemon GO for nostalgic reasons. Within four days of its release, Nintendo made $14 million and its stock prices soared.
Now, the same Pokemon GO craze is infecting Poland where sometimes groups of 20 people or more are seen traveling through parks and in town centers searching for the digital monsters. One Polish marketer observes that these are typically males with smart phones who have an interest in the latest gadgets and technology.
Those are the facts of the game, and people’s reactions to it range from total fascination to absolute horror.
On one hand, the game is positive in that it encourages movement. If you don’t physically walk around, you won’t find Pokemon and won’t be able to progress in the game. In the U.S. where there’s an obesity crisis, experts have been searching for ways to get people off the couch for years. Now, Pokemon GO has done it in days. I’ve personally seen more people than ever frequenting parks, trails, forests and other areas where they think they’ll find Pokemon.
But for me, the negatives might just outweigh the positives. While people are, in fact, out and about more, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. For example, there’s been an increase in people visiting cemeteries, not to pay their respects to loved ones, but to capture so-called ghost-type Pokemon. In Poland, there have been reports of people visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial to capture Pokemon. This is sick and wrong, and I applaud the people who run the Auschwitz memorial for their recent ban of Pokemon GO on the premises.
Furthermore, even though Pokemon GO players are technically being more active outside, they’re still staring at a screen. The problem here, aside from people’s eyes not getting a break from that artificial lighting, is that players are all too often totally oblivious to their surroundings. Since Pokemon can appear anywhere, people have been caught trespassing onto others property, walking through oncoming traffic and even DRIVING while playing the game.
There are further reports of people driving into trees, falling into ditches and off cliffs and getting mugged all because they are watching their phone screen for Pokemon and not paying attention to their surroundings. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these stories. So far, I haven’t heard of any serious accidents in Poland, but it’s only a matter of time if this hysteria keeps spreading.
I’m not trying to be negative here, but it’s this Crazy Polish Guy’s opinion that anything can be fun and positive as long as it’s played responsibly–unfortunately we have a lot of totally irresponsible Pokemon GO players out there. Poland is coming into the craze comparatively late, I hope and pray that they learn from the mistakes made by people in the rest of the world.