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November 13, 2012

Edmund Osmanczyk Papers Come to Hoover

Edmund Osmanczyk (right) with Polish premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski in the mid-1980
Edmund Osmanczyk (right) with Polish premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski in the mid-1980s.
Offprint of Osmanczyk’s 1957 article “The Hoover Library and Its Polish Collecti
Offprint of Osmanczyk’s 1957 article “The Hoover Library and Its Polish Collections” inscribed to Witold Sworakowski, director of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.

The papers of Polish journalist, writer, politician, and Silesian activist Edmund Osmanczyk (1913–1989) have been added to the Hoover Institution Archives. Osmanczyk’s life was rather atypical for his generation of Polish intellectuals; unlike most others, who were either killed or had to leave the country, he survived the war and forty-five years of communism, and died in free Poland.

Born on the extreme western periphery of ethnic Poland, in mostly German Silesia, Osmanczyk studied in Warsaw and in Berlin. His journalistic career began in the 1930s as a correspondent covering the League of Nations in Geneva. Later he directed the press of the Union of Poles in Germany, an organization concerned with the welfare of over a million ethnic Poles and Polish immigrants living in pre-World War II Germany. Threatened with arrest by the Gestapo, Osmanczyk moved to Warsaw and got a job with the Polish State Radio. When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, he joined the underground, working for its clandestine radio in Warsaw. He lived through the Warsaw Uprising, and, in early 1945, he joined the Polish troops fighting alongside the Red Army. He was a war correspondent during the battle for Berlin, the Potsdam Conference, and the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

An enthusiastic and vocal supporter of Poland’s rights to its formerly German “Recovered Territories,” and uncritical of Polish Communists and their Soviet sponsors, Osmanczyk worked for the Polish state radio and the press agency without having to join the Communist Party. His radio and press assignments took him to various countries in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Along with a small group of Catholic and unaffiliated intellectuals, Osmanczyk served in the parliament of Polish People’s Republic for close to thirty years, through 1985, helping provide a semblance of democratic diversity to this largely symbolic institution. In the waning years of communist Poland, during the social and political ascendancy of the Solidarity trade union movement of the 1980s, Edmund Osmanczyk joined the democratic opposition. He was one of the Solidarity representatives in the round table discussions with the Communists that paved the way for a peaceful transition from authoritarian communism to a parliamentary democracy in Poland. In the first semifree parliamentary elections in the Soviet Bloc, on June 4 1989, Edmund Osmanczyk was elected senator. He was able to enjoy his democratic mandate, political popularity, and respect only briefly, dying of a heart attack four months later.

Edmund Osmanczyk authored some two dozen books and hundreds of articles. His most substantial work was the four-volume Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, with an introduction by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, published in several editions in Polish, English, and Spanish. Osmanczyk, an old acquaintance of Witold Sworakowski, director of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives was probably the first scholar from communist Poland and the Soviet Bloc to conduct research in our archives. After his October 1956 visit to Stanford, Osmanczyk published a detailed report on some of the Polish holdings of the Hoover Library and Archives; it remains a useful tool for researchers to this day.

Maciej Siekierski