In the Pilecki Institute Archives we gather and make available digital versions of various documents. All of them describe the fates of Polish citizens who experienced two totalitarianisms – the German and the Soviet – in the 20th century. We acquire digital copies of documents held by numerous domestic and foreign institutions: the Bundesarchiv, the United Nations Archives, the British National Archives and the Polish State Archives. In this way we are building a knowledge base and a hub for comprehensive research on the Second World War and the dual occupation of Poland – for scholars, journalists, people of culture, families of the victims and witnesses to the crimes, as well as all history enthusiasts.
By implementing an elaborate archival program and digitizing sources on a mass scale, we gather in one place all the documents needed for research on the Polish experience of confronting two totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, especially during the Second World War. A historian who would like to read them all in their original versions would have to visit numerous institutions in several European states: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Great Britain. They would also have to travel to the US. In our archives, the evidence of German and Soviet crimes is stored side by side. The testimonies of Polish citizens – victims and witnesses of two totalitarianisms – shed a new light on the documentation produced by the terror apparatus of both regimes. The records concerning the first attempts at bringing the criminals to a reckoning, which were made by the Polish Underground State and the Government-in-Exile, are juxtaposed with the post-war court documentation from both domestic and foreign proceedings. In order to introduce the Polish testimonies into international circulation, we have to emphasize their value and importance against the main body of sources concerning the history of the 20th century and especially the Second World War and totalitarian regimes. Our archives make possible, inspire and support such reflection, inviting scholars from Poland and abroad to add their contribution.
We believe that there is still so much to be said about the experiences of Poland and Poles during the Second World War. The collections of foreign archives are still waiting for examination and confrontation with the sources which – although scattered across various institutions – are available in Poland. As an institution created for the purpose of interdisciplinary reflection on the most important issues of the 20th century, and above all on the experience of two totalitarianisms, we are therefore undertaking actions to safeguard and disseminate this heritage.
The Pilecki Institute’s digital archive is a treasury of knowledge on the fate of Poland and its citizens in the 20th century, with a particular focus on the Second World War and the experience of two totalitarianisms. Our collections center on the fates of Polish citizens under the German and Soviet occupation, and especially on the crimes committed by both totalitarian regimes. A major part of the documents illustrates the post-war reckoning of totalitarian crimes and instances of negligence in that respect.
We have obtained documents from institutions, public archives, social organizations – both national and international – as well as from private collections. The Pilecki Institute is the only institution in Poland and third in general (following the Wiener Library in London and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington) that makes available the files of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), concerning among others the German occupation policy in Poland, including the crime of the Holocaust. We are the only institution in the country to hold digital copies of materials from the German Bundesarchiv. They describe among others the structure and functioning of the German apparatus of terror in occupied Poland. Moreover, they include case files from proceedings concerning Nazi crimes which were conducted after the war in West Germany (holdings of the Ludwigsburg Center). We are continuously expanding our collections through cooperation with archives in Switzerland, France, Ukraine and other countries, as well as with numerous Polish institutions.
Our archives include audiovisual recordings created as part of the Witnesses to the Age project, which the Pilecki Institute launched in 2018. It is a comprehensive and ever-growing oral history archive. It contains the recorded testimonies of witnesses to history – people who survived the Second World War or were subjected to repression by the communist dictatorship that was established in Poland after the war.
A vital part of the Pilecki Institute Archives is the online database “Chronicles of Terror” (chroniclesofterror.pl) – one of the largest collections of testimonies of the civilian population of occupied Europe. It contains personal accounts of Polish citizens – victims and witnesses of two totalitarianisms. These comprise first and foremost witness testimonies made before the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland (the originals are stored by the Institute of National Remembrance) and the accounts of soldiers and civilians who left the Soviet Union with Anders’ Army (from the holdings of the Hoover Institution). Until recently, these testimonies were scattered and locked away in archives. Only now have they been made available to a wider body of readers, allowing them to uncover family and local histories. Needless to say, these documents are also of immense interest for scholars, journalists and people of culture. And, since they are being translated into English, we are in a position to successfully promote their international dissemination, thereby furthering knowledge of the dual occupation of Poland and serving to memorialize the victims of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.
How to use the digital archive?
The digital archive provides access to documents, film recordings, books, magazines and photographs; millions of scans of documents, thousands of hours of audio-visual material, hundreds of photos. Our collections are constantly growing.
All items are precisely described. An extensive system of metadata and keywords enables everyone to quickly find the appropriate content. The full-text search engine searches both the descriptions and the contents of the documents.
Documents made available in our digital archive are presented in the language in which they were created. Descriptions, on the other hand, are created in Polish, but contain the original names of fonds, series, or unit titles in order to facilitate navigation through the collection.
The tabs “Materials” and “Archives” in the main menu help search our collections on the basis of their structure. In the first case they are grouped by object type: document, film, book, photograph etc. The “Archives” tab, in turn, contains an index of archival institutions of origin. Many of them have an additional hierarchical division into individual fonds and archival units.
Our website archiwum.instytutpileckiego.pl presents a complete collections catalog. They can be easily navigated thanks to the full-text search engine and descriptions attached to all items. Access to the content is possible only at the reading rooms of the Pilecki Institute’s Library in Warsaw and Berlin.
Everyone interested in using our collections is invited to the seat of the Pilecki Institute at 17 Foksal Street in Warsaw. The library is open from Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. It is necessary to make an appointment before visiting. This can be done by sending an e-mail to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (+48) 22 182 24 75.
The library of the Berlin branch of the Pilecki Institute is located at Pariser Platz 4a. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. Appointments can be made by sending an e-mail to email@example.com or by calling (+49) 30 275 78 955.
The Institute’s employees will help with general inquiries regarding the collections, help users navigate our online catalogs, and enable access to materials subject to availability restrictions.
All holdings of the Pilecki Institute Archives can be accessed from computers in our libraries. However, some documents, such as those from the Bundesarchiv or the KARTA Center, are subject to restrictions resulting from agreements between the Institute and the transferring institutions. After arriving at the Library, visitors must sign relevant declarations granting access to documents exclusively on site. Information on access restrictions is included in the Library’s regulations. Before the visit, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the scope and structure of our archival, library and audio-visual resources, as well as with the visiting rules and regulations concerning the use of the collections.
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 gather 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 Institute’s website contains a description of the collections available in the reading room as well as the necessary information to plan a visit. The documents themselves are only available 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 reading room also offers a friendly environment for quiet work.
The materials are obtained from institutions, public archives, both domestic and international social organizations, as well as from private individuals. The collections are constantly being expanded. A full-text search engine that searches both the content of the documents and their metadata allows the user to reach the desired source with ease. Another way to navigate the accumulated resources is to search according to the archival institutions from which they originate and which contain hierarchically arranged fonds and files.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (+48) 22 182 24 75.