The private papers of Jakub Berman, one of the most powerful Polish communist politicians of the 1944–56 period, are now available in the Hoover Institution Archives. Berman’s name is associated with the Sovietization of Poland following World War II and repressions against the opponents of the communist regime.
Berman was born in 1901 in Warsaw into a Jewish middle-class family. He completed a degree in law at Warsaw University in 1925. Three years later he joined the Polish Communist Party (KPP). After the Nazi-Soviet attack and partition of Poland in September 1939, Berman moved to the Soviet side of Poland. Initially, he worked as a newspaper editor and later became an instructor in the Comintern school, which trained activists for Josef Stalin’s new party for Polish communists, the Polish Workers’ Party. Stalin was favorably impressed with Berman’s intellectual abilities and political commitment during meetings in the Kremlin in 1943. In the summer of 1944, as the Soviet armies were driving the Germans out of occupied Poland, Berman became a Politburo member, second only to Boleslaw Bierut, an ethnic Pole of peasant origin, chosen by Stalin to lead the new Polish state. Between 1944 and 1956, Berman’s responsibilities in the Politburo included oversight of the Security Office (UB), ideology, and propaganda. During his tenure at least 200,000 people were imprisoned for real or imagined political offenses, of whom some 6,000 were executed. During the relative political “thaw” following the deaths of Stalin in 1953 and Bierut in 1956, Berman was forced to resign from the Politburo and the Central Committee. He was officially blamed for “Stalinist errors and deviations” but never prosecuted. He died in retirement in Warsaw in 1984.
The papers acquired by the Hoover Archives include selected correspondence, reminiscences, speeches, notes, and photographs. The collection is modest in size, but, along with several similar private collections of key Polish Communists and “fellow travelers” acquired during the past decade—such as Stefan Jedrychowski’s, Roman Zambrowski’s, Henryk Jablonski’s, and Edward Osobka-Morawski’s—it significantly broadens Hoover’s holdings on the origins and the early years of the Polish People’s Republic and the Sovietization of Eastern Europe.