Library & Archives Acquires Papers Of General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Hoover Institution Library & Archives have obtained the papers of Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923–2014), first secretary of the Polish United Workers Party (1981–89), prime minister of Poland (1981–85) and head of state (1985–90). Jaruzelski was the last leader of the Polish People's Republic (PRL) before the first partially-free, democratic elections sounded the death knell of the Soviet Communist system in Poland.

Mieczysław F. Rakowski General Wojciech Jaruzelski
(left) Mieczysław F. Rakowski with (right) General Wojciech Jaruzelski

During the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Jaruzelski's family managed to escape to Lithuania, which itself was then swallowed up by the Soviet Union the following summer. Following an unsuccessful attempt by Wojciech's father to apply for Soviet citizenship, the entire family was arrested by the NKVD (People’s Commisseriat for Internal Affairs) and, like hundreds of thousands of Poles before them, sent to work camps in Siberia. Wojciech was pressed into forced labor in the Karaganda coal mines of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The effects of snow blindness caused irreversible damage to his eyes, leading him to wear sunglasses that became his trademark later in life. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union by its erstwhile ally Germany, Jaruzelski was recruited into the Soviet Officer Training School and served in Polish units under Red Army command, most notably during the takeover of Warsaw following the doomed Warsaw Uprising and in the Battle of Berlin.

Following the war, he took part in the fight against the anti-Communist underground in Poland, a stark turnaround from the patriotic fervor of his youth. He graduated from the Polish Higher Infantry School and then the General Staff Academy, became a member of the Communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), and served as an informant under the codename “Wolski” for the Soviet-led counterintelligence directorate of the Polish military. Both adaptable and servile to Poland’s new overlords, Jaruzelski managed to avoid being purged during Nikita Krushchev’s “thaw,” as were many of the most ardent Communist officers who had begun their careers under Stalin. Jaruzelski became the chief political officer of the Polish military in 1960, its chief of staff in 1964, minister of defense in 1968 and a member of the Central Committee of the PZPR in 1970. In a career that overlapped with half a century of Eastern European history, he managed to deftly climb the ladder to the top position in the most important of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact satellite states by the final decade of the Cold War.

The most significant and polarizing decision made by Jaruzelski, less than two months after his election to first secretary, was the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981, lasting until July 1983. Democratic political organizations were banned, thousands of activists were jailed, dozens of civilians were killed in the ensuing unrest, civil liberties were dramatically curtailed, the military took over management of most institutions, and soldiers and tanks patrolled the streets. While Jaruzelski defended his actions as necessary to prevent an armed intervention by the Soviet Union, the weight of historical evidence indicates an ultimately failed attempt to stifle the burgeoning Solidarity movement on orders from Moscow.

The Jaruzelski papers, amounting to dozens of boxes of archival material, consist of notebooks, biographical materials such as diplomas and certificates, photographs, correspondence, reports, clippings, article drafts, Western radio monitoring reports, press summaries, unpublished manuscripts, typescripts, and Jaruzelski’s handwritten annotations across various documents. A cursory examination of the materials reveals Jaruzelski’s preoccupation with his role in the events in which he played a key part, and his attempts to explain and justify his decisions. While they are unlikely to significantly change the public perception of Jaruzelski, especially in Poland, the papers will be an indispensable resource for biographers and for historians of the Polish People’s Republic and the Cold War.

Jaruzelski Gorbachev

The Wojciech Jaruzelski papers are a significant addition to the Hoover Institution’s already world-famous Polish holdings, the largest and most comprehensive documentation on modern Poland outside that country. They complement a number of collections already at Hoover, especially the papers of CZESŁAW KISZCZAK, the last prime minister of Communist Poland and minister of internal affairs during the imposition of martial law, MIECZYSŁAW RAKOWSKI, prime minister during 1988–89, and KRZYSZTOF DUBIŃSKI, the Polish interior ministry’s recorder of the meetings between the representatives of the Polish Communist government and the Solidarity opposition. The papers of two other prominent Communist officials—ROMUALD SPASOWSKI, Poland’s ambassador in Washington, and ZDZISŁAW RURARZ, the ambassador in Japan, who left their posts and moved to the United States after the imposition of martial law—are also at Hoover. Also of note are the papers of STEFAN OLSZOWSKI, Poland's foreign minister (1971–76, 1982–85), whom Jaruzelski disciplined for an “immoral life” and removed from his position. More recently, the Hoover Archives received the first tranche of papers of JERZY JÓZEF WIATR, an advisor to Jaruzelski and one of the chief ideologues of the PZPR.

The Wojciech Jaruzelski papers will be available to researchers in the Hoover Institution Library & Archives at Stanford University once they have been reviewed and organized.