Testimonies of victims of the Soviet occupation of Poland from the holdings of the Hoover Institution

28 March 2017
Dr. Tadeusz Krawczak (Archive of Modern Records), Marianna Otmianowska (National Digital Archives), Anna Gutkowska (The Witold Pilecki Center), Dr. Eric Wakin (The Hoover Institution), photo: Patrycja Mic

The Witold Pilecki Center will receive digital copies of about 30,000 testimonies of Polish citizens, victims of the Soviet occupation of Polish lands in 1939-1941, preserved in the archives of the Hoover Institution. The Center will catalogue the collection and transcribe the documents, a significant number of which are in manuscript form. They will be published on the Center’s website (zapisyterroru.pl, chroniclesofterror.pl) in the original Polish and in English translation.

The accounts of Poles who left the Soviet Union with the Anders Army were deposited in the  archive of the Hoover Institution after the World War II. Fearing they might be seized or destroyed by the communist authorities, the Polish government-in-exile sought to find a safe place to keep them. The choice of the Hoover War Library was determined by its location in faraway California and by the fact that the institution itself had always supported the cause of Polish independence. As a private institution, it was also believed to be less vulnerable to any pressure on the part of Communist Poland to hand over the materials.

A race against time. Poles in the Anders Army

Photo: NAC

“The testimonies collected at the Hoover Institution record the wartime experience of the inhabitants of pre-war Poland’s eastern provinces,” says Dr. habil. Magdalena Gawin, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage. “This source material contains the accounts of those who were arrested as enemies of the people and who, having been subjected to torture and abuse, were sentenced to many years in Soviet labor camps. People deported to the East recount their long journey in cattle cars, the hardships of life in exile, work beyond their strength, starvation-level food rations, and the death of their loved ones. Their testimonies point to a dramatic race against time when, following the amnesty granted by the Soviet Union, Poles were trying to reach Anders Army recruitment points. Most of the testimonies were given after they had managed to escape the ‘inhuman land’.”

Photo: NAC
Photo: NAC

“General Anders’ soldiers and the civilians accompanying his army dreamed of returning to a free and independent Poland. In the great drama that unfolded, the soldiers were sent to fight on the Italian front, while the civilians were scattered all over the world, from America to Africa and from India to New Zealand. Many of them ended up as permanent emigrants. Thanks to the project of the Witold Pilecki Center and the cooperation established with the Hoover Institution their testimonies will become part of Polish collective consciousness. With the return of these materials, we hope to revive the memory of the Soviet occupation of Poland’s pre-war eastern provinces and to recall the phenomenon of the Anders Army,” says Wojciech Kozłowski, Program Director of the Witold Pilecki Center for Totalitarian Studies.

Testimonies available to all

Dr. habil. Magdalena Gawin, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, photo: Patrycja Mic

“Although some of the documents from the Hoover Institution have been available in Poland for some time, it is only now that access to individual testimonies will become truly universal,”  explains Anna Gutkowska, Director of the Witold Pilecki Center. “The Center has set up the Polish-language website zapisyterroru.pl and its English-language version chroniclesofterror.pl. Within the framework of the project we have been presenting testimonies of Polish citizens who were victims of Nazi terror to the general public. The agreement we signed today will enable us to supplement the testimonies regarding Nazi crimes with those recounting crimes perpetrated by the Soviet Union.”

Photo: Patrycja Mic

 Anna Gutkowska also emphasizes that for the first time this source material will be translated into English. “So far the documents collected in the Hoover Institution were only available to Polish historians or scholars who speak Polish, such as Norman Davies and Tymothy Snyder. Now the documents will be available to practically all English-speaking academics. We are glad that the Center will thus become an ‘ambassador’ of Polish history all over the world,” she adds. Within the framework of the Zapisy Terroru/Chronicles of Terror project the Center publishes testimonies of Polish victims of totalitarian crimes in two language versions (Polish: zapisyterroru.pl and English: chroniclesofterror.pl).

Under the terms of the agreement with the Hoover Institution, the Center will also cooperate with Archiwum Akt Nowych (Archive of Modern Records) and Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archives).

The website ZapisyTerroru.pl / ChroniclesofTerror.pl currently features around 1,000 testimonies of victims and witnesses of totalitarian crimes, 700 of which have been translated into English. Every testimony is precisely described, which enables one to identify particular individuals and to determine when and where the events recounted took place. With a fully searchable system, users will have no difficulty in finding specific accounts.


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