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

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.

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By Maciej Kledzik

Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

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