The first distinct Polish communities in Romania emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, when, with the dissolution of the independent Polish state, compact groups of Poles settled mainly in Bukovina, where they formed distinctly ethnic settlements, and also in Bessarabia and the Romanian Principalities.
The connections between Poles in Romanian territories and their motherland were preserved through language, the Catholic Church and common ethno-cultural and historical traditions.
Due to its unique location at the crossroads of Byzantine, Slavic and Central European cultural influences, the history of Polish settlement in Bukovina is of special importance to the history of this province and, subsequently, to the history of Romania as a whole. In this context, the Poles have made a special contribution, especially in cultural and religious fields, to the initiation and perpetuation of the spiritual treasure of Bukovina, nicknamed “the Switzerland of the East” by specialists.
Even today, most Poles in Romania live in distinct ethnic communities unique to southern Bukovina (in the Suceava County).
In the eighteenth century, groups of Poles from Galicia arrived in Bukovina, attracted by living conditions and much lighter tax burdens. A significant number of Poles who settled in Bukovina were brought by the Austrian imperial authorities interested in capitalising on the riches of this region (ores, salt, forests), which formed the north-eastern part of Moldavia.
In order to exploit these natural resources of the region, Emperor Joseph II (1780–1790) brought a large number of Poles to Bukovina. The first Polish colonists were mining specialists from Bochnia and Wieliczka, who were brought to extract the Cacica salt deposit. They were later followed by wood and glass craftsmen and railway workers. Simultaneously, teachers and ministers of the Catholic Church arrived in newly-created Polish communities in Bukovina. They mainly came from the regions of Bochnia and Kalush (present-day Ukraine). The Poles who moved to Bukovina hailed from the góral (highlander) communities from the region of Czadca (present-day Slovakia), and they settled in the villages of Solonețu Nou, Poiana Micului, Pleșa (in the Suceava County) and Laurenca, Davideni-Zrab, Dunawiec (the present-day Chernivtsi Region, Ukraine). The Poles from the Kiusca River valley settled in Panca, Pătrăuții de Jos (the area called Arșița) and the village of Păltinoasa. Over time, a Polish majority emerged in numerous villages such as Cacica, Solonețu Nou, Pleșa, Bulai (Moara), Ruda (Vicșani), Păltinoasa (in the Suceava County), Tereblecea, Davideni-Zrab, Huta-Veche, Pătrăuții de Jos, Crăsnișoara Veche (the Chernivtsi Region).
The Bukovinian Poles set up numerous cultural organisations and associations which aimed to celebrate and spread Polish values. These included “Polish Houses,” which functioned in most of the Polish-inhabited Bukovina villages. The centre of cultural activity of the Bukovinian Poles was the city of Chernivtsi (present-day Ukraine). A particular role was played by numerous reading societies (cabinets) (Czytelnia Polska) in historic Bukovina.
After the union of Bukovina with Romania (15th/28th November 1918), the number of Bukovinian Poles decreased (34,119 people in 1919, compared to 36,210 people in 1910), as some of them returned to their motherland, which regained independence on 11th November 1918.
In interwar Bessarabia, there were compact communities of Poles in present-day Chișinău, Khotyn, Tighina and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. The Jan Sobieski organisation, led by Roman Biskup, operated successfully in Chișinău.
In the old Kingdom of Romania, the number of Poles was slightly higher in Bucharest (1,300–1,600 people) than elsewhere in the country. The Adam Mickiewicz Polish Cultural Society was established in the capital.