Our Digital Collections
We hope that our digital collections will facilitate many scholars in their scientific research of that period: a few clicks of the mouse is all that is required to discover the history of Poland and the fates of its citizens in the 20th century.
A detailed look into the history of the Second World War requires very careful and complex logistics. One of the main tasks being undertaken by the Pilecki Institute is to collect and share documentation presenting the different faces of the last century. Until recently, many of them have remained scattered, undiscovered or forgotten. Some were kept in foreign archives on other continents, as was the case of documents belonging to one of the largest collections of civilian testimonies in occupied Europe.
These testimonies published on our website Chronicles of Terror reflect the personal experience of thousands of Polish victims of totalitarian crimes, of their families and their loved ones.
Among them are the memories of Polish citizens who left the Soviet Union with Anders’ Army, accounts referring to the victims of the Katyn Massacre, testimonies about Poles helping Jews and also files from the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, provided by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). All these documents, scattered and locked away for years in different archives, facilitate today the discovery of personal and local histories that inspire scholars, journalists and people of culture. Furthermore, their translation into English makes them available on an international level, thus informing the world of the double occupation of Poland and helping to perpetuate the memory of the victims of totalitarianism.
This specific collection includes essays by Polish children concerning their wartime memories, written as a part of a competition announced in 1946 with the permission of the former Ministry of Education.
All materials and documents published on our website have been obtained from institutions all over the world, including: the Hoover Institution, the Committee for the Commemoration of Poles Saving Jews, the Institute of National Remembrance, the Katyn Museum – the Martyrdom Department of the Polish Army Museum, the Archives of Modern Records, the National Archives in Kielce and the National Archives in Radom.
The Pilecki Institute’s Digital Archives are another digital database of archival sources, created to encourage interdisciplinary reflection on the key issues of 20th century history: German and Soviet totalitarian regimes. All of the materials and documents published on our website have been obtained from various institutions, including: public archives, social organizations (both national and international), as well as private individuals. Our collections are fully available only in the Institute’s reading room, but future visitors can already familiarize themselves with the descriptions of the catalogued sources.
Our full-text search tools which analyze the content of the documents and their metadata, facilitate reaching the desired source. Another possibility is to search according to the division into archival institutions to which the documents belong. The collections from a given institution are arranged hierarchically into fonds and archival units.
The first documents published on our website will include selected materials from the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives) describing the German instrument of terror in occupied Poland.
This is an example of the first – and so far, the only – cooperation between the Polish scientific institution and the Bundesarchiv. As one of the very few institutions in the world, we also possess documents gained from the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) concerning German policy in occupied Poland. They were declassified not earlier than in 2017 and until very recently it was nearly impossible to examine them as they were only accessible with the permission of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Our digital archives will be the third place, just after London’s Wiener Holocaust Library and Washington’s Holocaust Memorial, where these archival materials will be made available for scientific research.
The archival materials also include many recordings created as part of the project “Witnesses to the Age – Oral History Archive”, which the Pilecki Institute has been carrying out since 2018. These are the recollections and reminiscences of people who lived through the Second World War, and also of those who remember the communist period. Among the witnesses who talk about their experiences are soldiers from all fronts of the conflict, civilians, political prisoners, concentration camp inmates, and those who were incarcerated in forced labor camps and the Gulag. Among those interviewed, deserving special mention are the testimonies of Wiesław Kępiński (the adopted son of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, who survived the Wola massacre), Father Jan Sikorski (chaplain of prisoners and Solidarity members), Aleksander Tarnawski (the last survivor of the Silent-Unseen formation), and Teresa Żabińska-Zawadzka (the daughter of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, Righteous and original directors of the Warsaw Zoo). Short versions of these recordings are also available on the YouTube channel.
The use of our archival sources in the privacy of your own home opens new perspectives, especially in the difficult situation we are currently facing.
We hope that our collections will assist both Polish and foreign historians in their scientific research. We firmly believe that our efforts will greatly improve the way in which the body of knowledge about the significant role played by Poland in this period of history is documented and disseminated.