Digital archives of the Pilecki Institute

Idea

Ever since it was established, the Witold Pilecki Institute of Solidarity and Valor has been collecting and sharing documents that present the multiple historical facets of the last century. Many of them were previously split up, lost, or forgotten. Some were held in archives on other continents. To facilitate research, we have created an innovative digital archive that enables easy access to the source material. We are striving to collect as many archives as possible in one place. As a result, it takes little more than a few clicks to learn about the history of Poland and its citizens in the 20th century. The documents themselves can only be accessed in the reading room located at the Institute’s main office. Descriptions of the digital archive collections and information needed to plan a visit are available on the website.

The goal of the Pilecki Institute is an interdisciplinary reflection on the key historical issues of the 20th century: the German and the Soviet totalitarian regimes. Documents presenting the actions of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union form the basis of the digital archive’s collections. These collections are undergoing constant expansion thanks to the efforts of the Institute’s researchers. Ultimately, the material will include thousands of documents, films, audio recordings, photos, books and other materials.

The launch of this new digital project does not mean that the “Chronicles of Terror” online database of testimonies will cease to function. It will still be available online and continuously developed with a view to presenting the personal testimonies of Polish citizens who survived the Second World War. Online access to it will be limited, however, and the full content of the testimonies will only be available in the Institute’s reading room.

 

Available collections

The materials are obtained from institutions, public archives, both domestic and international social organizations, as well as from private individuals. The first to be made available were documents from the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), which provide evidence of the Third Reich’s occupation policy and Holocaust crimes, as well as materials from the Bundesarchiv on the functioning of the German terror apparatus in occupied Poland. These collections are being continuously updated. Further materials will arrive from Polish, British, and German archives. We hope that, with time, we will also be able to provide resources in the form of photographs, audio recordings, books and even maps.

The reading room also offers an opportunity to access audio-visual recordings created as part of the “Witnesses to the Age” project. This archive of oral history, which we created in 2018, contains the recorded memoirs of people who survived the Second World War, as well as of those who remember the post-war communist era.

The documents in the digital archive are presented in PDF format in the language in which they were originally produced. They have also been processed with an OCR program in order to increase searchability. Moreover, they include a metadata system containing inventory descriptions. A full-text search engine that searches both the content of documents and their metadata allows the user to reach the desired source with ease. Another way to navigate the accumulated resources is to search via the archival institutions from which they originate and which contain hierarchically arranged fonds and files.

Our digital archives contain collections of millions of scans of documents from dozens of the Institute’s partners and thousands of hours of audio-visual material recorded in several different languages. Despite the wide range and great diversity of our collections, these materials essentially relate to the history of the Second World War and the Polish confrontation with German Nazism and Soviet Communism.

We hope that the collections will be used in the research of both historians from Poland and abroad, and that a visit to the Institute’s reading room will become second nature when working on issues related to the history of the 20th century. We trust that our work will enable knowledge of this period and of the role and importance of Poland at the time to be deepened and disseminated, especially beyond our present borders.

 

Reading room

Catalog descriptions of the materials are available online on the digital archive page. The documents themselves are only accessible in the Institute’s reading room, a public space where material is available free of charge to researchers and anyone interested in the topics collected there. The Institute’s employees can provide assistance in the scope of general inquiries regarding the collections, help users navigate our online catalogs, and grant access to materials subject to availability restrictions.

Most of the archival materials are in open access on computers in the reading room. Some of our collections, e.g. from the Bundesarchiv, are subject to the restrictions on availability resulting from agreements between the Institute and the institutions which transfer them. An appropriate declaration must be signed upon arrival at the reading room in order to gain immediate access to these documents.

Before your visit, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the scope and structure of our archival, library and audio-visual resources, as well as with the regulations for visiting and using the collections.

All those wishing to access our collections are invited to the Pilecki Institute at ul. Foksal 17 in Warsaw. The reading room is open from 9–15, Monday to Friday. An appointment must be made in advance by emailing czytelnia@instytutpileckiego.pl or calling (+48) 22 182 24 75.

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