A garbage truck is sometimes faster. How to save documents from the Warsaw Uprising?

How come this archive was found in Ukraine? Most probably it was taken away by the Russians in 1945, and after 1990 it was found in the hands of a Ukrainian completely unaware of the value it presented to the Polish nation. At first he demanded PLN 50,000 for it. But when he realised form collectors’ reaction what he acquired, he would raise the price until it reached one million.

It is fascinating and exciting for everyone to start a computer and to find there scanned documents, photographs and other memorabilia form the past. But as much as the number of scans is growing, the same refers to archives, Polish archives are digitalized in but 1% What is to be done, to accelerate the process?

The problem is visible and thorny but little is spoken about or done to solve it. I’ll give you my example.

As a historian I have spent many hours in Polish and foreign archives, doing research for my over a dozen books and numerous scientific and popular science publications. The access to archives is increasingly hindered, for example in order to be given documents in the Institute of Research at the Central Military Archive one has to wait many weeks.

Why have the catalogue numbers been changed?

Professor Stefan Kieniewicz, a late illustrious historian said once that a profound and critical study of a history topic requires half a century of research. It has been long since half a century elapsed and the Warsaw Rising cannot live to a full monography. For a simple reason: The huge documentation of the uprising that survived the war is scattered all over various archives, museums and private collections. Both at home and abroad. It takes time and effort to reach it.

At the turn of 20th Century, while writing a monography of a Home Army grouping led by major “Bartkiewicz” I was relying on scarce available documents, but mostly on accounts, memoires, dairies and so on. With one exception. The insurgents from the 3rd (1150th) Company found a hidden company archive with lists of platoon personnel, weapons, promotion and decoration applications. It was kept by the late insurgent Romuald Jan Luterek “Marynarz” (“Sailor”) in his Warsaw apartment. After having consulted his fellow soldiers from the Company he handed over the whole archive to the Home Army Museum in Kraków. I had to devote my time and go for a couple of days to Kraków to get acquainted with this documentation.

Collecting documentation of the uprising for the purpose of my publications, I spent many hours in three largest archives where the parcelled-up documentation of the uprising was sent after the liquidation of the Department of Public Security in 1956. Most of the documentation was handed over to the Military Institute of History (Wojskowy Instytut Historyczny – WIH) based in Rembertów, much – to the Department of (Communist) Party History, transformed later on to the Archive of Communist Party’s Central Committee with the headquarters in the basement of the Polish parliament in Wiejska St. in Warsaw. The most precious documents, being under constant censorship supervision and virtually inaccessible to ordinary historians were transported to the archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The intention of the communist authorities was these document would never be merged. Their actions were hypocritical and perfidious to such extent, that the content of one dossier would be split into several parts and kept separately in those three archives according to their value as sources.

In early 90s, after the collapse of communism the documentation, including that of the uprising was moved from the basement of the parliament to the Archive of New Records, with the preservation of ancient signatures which are in effect to the present day (marked “AAN”). During the relocation, some documents valuable to historians, but not to the Communists – it is difficult to determine today how many and which ones – were destroyed. There are living witnesses who can confirm this. AAN directorate estimates that it has about 50,000 pages of Warsaw Uprising documentation.
Image from the notepad containing duplicate orders owned by the Warsaw Rising Memorial Museum. Note from colonel “Radwan” (Edward Franciszek Pfeiffer) to major “Bartkiewicz” (Włodzimierz Zawadzki). Photo by Maciej Kledzik.
A bigger collection, estimated at 70,000 pages of insurgent documents, is stored only in Rembertów. In 2002 the documentation was handed over to the archive of the then established Military Historical Research Bureau (Wojskowe Biuro Badań Historycznych – WBBH) in Warsaw.

I remember using special collections of the Scientific Library of the Military Historical Research Bureau. In 2010, the Polish military authorities turned the WBBH into the Military Centre for Civic Education, only to have the first returned to Rembertów six years later as the Military Historical Bureau with the Central Military Archive (Wojskowe Biuro Historyczne z Centralnym Biurem Wojskowym – WBH CAW) It was then that the head of resource records, colonel Andrew W., changed the signatures of all documents in a completely irresponsible, even reprehensible manner. Nobody from among the authorities of the Bureau at the time protested. The colonel left after two years, leaving all the Bureau users in a bizarre situation. Are they supposed to introduce rectifications to alternated catalogue numbers, in all publications? Joyfully, the colonel didn’t order the ancient catalogue numbers to be removed and there are both versions on the dossiers. Only that there is no Internet access to them. They are scanned but in such poor quality that some are faded and utterly illegible or hardly legible and the WBH CAW doesn’t grant access to their digital version.

Promised or damned land? World War Two and Polish émigrés in USA

Sometimes the “American Dream” turned out to be an American nightmare…

see more
The third, also very important collection handed over from the liquidated archive of the Security Apparatus to the Ministry of Internal Affairs is now kept in the Institute of National Remembrance. It is calculated at about 1,000 insurgent document but this is to be magnified by pages containing hearings of former insurgents, (not only from the Home Army) between 1945 to mid-50s. They still haven’t been registered as useful while working on the Warsaw Uprising history.

A Ukrainian vanished with a collection

The third floor in the annex of the Bank of Poland, an insurgent redoubt at 10-12 Bielańska Street, houses the Warsaw Uprising Memorial Museum. It was established by the board of directors of the “Radoslaw” Grouping Historical Group in February 2017, and entered in the Minister of Culture and National Heritage’s register a year later. It is run by three Warsaw Uprising enthusiasts: Tomasz Karasiński, Bogdan Bednarczyk and Marek Ziarkowski.

The whole floor of the exposition was opened to the public by the Military Trade Enterprise which pays the maintenance cost. The museum amassed extraordinary exhibits eagerly visited by Warsaw guided tours. The museum runners search through flea markets, inter alia in Warsaw Koło, antique shops and often they learn first about showing up of insurgent documents and exhibits.

Two years ago, before opening the museum, a Ukrainian contacted one of the uprising memorabilia collectors, offering to sell a pile of documents – letters, reports, orders, ID cards, seals etc. from the insurgent District of North Downtown (Śródmieście Północ). As a proof he showed scans of dozens of chosen documents and exhibits. The collection offered by the Ukrainian contained, apart from documentation and Home Army ID cards also seals of the Warsaw Region Commandment of the Home Army.

Undoubtedly it was the archive of general Albin “Łaszcz” Skroczyński commanding the Warsaw Region of the Home Army. How come this archive was found in Ukraine? Most probably it was taken away by the Russians in 1945, and after 1990 it was found in the hands of a Ukrainian completely unaware of the value it presented to the Polish nation. At first he demanded PLN 50,000 for it. But when he realised form collectors’ reaction what he acquired, he would raise the price until it reached one million.
A dispatch from the Warsaw Uprising commander-in-chief, general “Bór” Tadeusz Komorowski, from the archive of general “Łaszcz” Albin Skroczyński, commander of the Home Army Warsaw Region. Photo: Maciej Kledzik’s home archive.
On learning this the AAN directorate promptly informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. They latter didn’t react though and the Ukrainian with the insurgent archive form the Downtown disappeared. Several years of searching didn’t help even with the Warsaw Prosecution’s Office involved.

If the collection falls into the hands of Russia in a territory that she occupies, we can actually count it as a part of war loses. Somewhat more than 30 scans from this archive sent as a transaction offer – that’s what’s left.

Thrown into a dustbin

For me, as a historian of insurgent Warsaw a priceless exhibit at the Warsaw Uprising Memorial Museum is a notepad containing duplicate orders that belonged to colonel Franciszek Edward Pfeiffer “Radwan”, the commandant of the Downtown. Mr Tomasz Karasiński spotted it and bought for “Poliart” – the largest countryside antique shop in Poland, situated in Koty, in the commune of Tworóg [Silesia].

While on a three-month F. Miszczak Home Army Foundation scholarship in London in the early 1990s, penetrating the resources of the Underground Poland Study, I did not find any of colonel Pfeiffer’s documentation or memorabilia. I learned that after his death in 1964, the owner of the house where he lived put his belongings recklessly in bags out on the street. Custodians from the Study of Underground Poland came too late. A garbage truck was faster than them, which is why the few surviving mementos of the colonel-general are so valuable.

A few months ago, during the demolition of a tiled stove in one of Warsaw's apartments, the archives of troops fighting in southern Downtown were accidentally found after 78 years. Some 600 documents were put up for sale by the finder. The Warsaw Uprising Memorial Museum acquired 400 pages of documentation. The remaining two hundred got dispersed. The finder demanded one thousand zlotys for one page of the document.

Choose freedom at MiGhty speed

Polish pilots were fleeing the communist Poland using military aircraft.

see more
Digitizing documents acquired by the Warsaw Uprising Memorial Museum will not present problems. The Archive of New Records will help scanning them. And the other two hundred? Will they make their way to uprising historians, and in what form? Without the whole, it will be difficult to write a complete monograph of southern Downtown. So far no historian has undertaken this task. Awaiting digitalization

The plan to digitalize the entire documentation of the Warsaw Rising has already been formulated by one of the Polish archives and museums – the Archive of New Records. The director of the archive, Mariusz Olczak has been gradually executing the project, expanding by the Polish Underground State’s documentation. Recently he has purchased three new scanners and altogether having eight he has equalled with the Institute of National Remembrance.

There remains an unsolved problem who and how will coordinate the digitalization? In the aftermath of talks with directors, museum workers and historians we have settled that the minister of culture should set up a committee that would coordinate and advertise the digitalization of the Polish Underground State’s documentation, as well as the one of the Warsaw Rising. After all, in two years we’ll be celebrating the 80th anniversary of the latter.

-Maciej Kledzik, associate professor at the Warmińsko-Mazurski University in Olsztyn, postdoctoral fellow

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki
Main photo: How come the archive of the general “Łaszcz”, Albin Skroczyński, commanding the Warsaw Region of the Home Army was found in Ukraine? Photo: Maciej Kledzik’s home archive.
See more
History Previous issue
Somosierra and women. Stories from the times of Napoleon
Maria Walewska wrote to Napoleon about the battle. He replied: "You can be proud."
History Previous issue
First secretary on target, or attempts that weren’t
Gomułka was furious when he learned about another attack.
History wydanie 17.11.2023 – 24.11.2023
Invasion without a single shot
Yuri Bezmenov’s theses were ridiculed, and he himself was called a paranoiac.
History wydanie 10.11.2023 – 17.11.2023
A man for the Chief's special tasks
Among the Germans he was nicknamed "Mr. Lieutenant At Ease".
History wydanie 3.11.2023 – 10.11.2023
The biggest robbery in the world
The only Polish touch in the Louvre permanent exhibition is a portrait of the arch-traitor Count Stanisław Szczęsny Feliks Potocki.