Selected papers of Jan Ptasiński (1921–2015), career Polish communist security officer, party functionary, and diplomat, have been added to the holdings of the Hoover Archives. The papers pertain to Ptasiński’s tenure as ambassador to Moscow during 1968−71.
Jan Ptasiński was born in a Mazovian village north of Warsaw. He graduated from elementary school in 1935 and soon after moved to Warsaw to find a job in a construction company as a bricklayer’s assistant and then as a bricklayer. He participated in the civilian defense of Warsaw in September 1939, digging ditches and constructing barricades. After Warsaw’s capitulation to the Germans he returned to his native village and, together with his father, organized the first local cell of the communist-inspired Hammer and Sickle (Sierp i Młot) organization. After the Gestapo destroyed that group, he joined the underground People’s Guard (Gwardia Ludowa) and a little later its successor, the People’s Army (Armia Ludowa), the relatively small communist-led, pro-Soviet, clandestine armed groups, which over all did less to fight the Germans than to sabotage the Polish Underground State and its fighting force, the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), which was loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile. Ptasiński began his political career in early 1945, with the arrival of the Soviet armies. After five-and-a half years of German occupation, Poland was about to be subjected to forty-five years of Soviet-imposed communist rule.
After complementing his elementary education with two years of studies in the Central Party School in Warsaw, the young apparatchik received successive leadership appointments in provincial party structures and the Ministry of Public Security. There he held the position of a deputy minister, this at a time when the prisons were full of real or perceived opponents of the communist regime and Polish patriots were shot on a daily basis. In June 1956, during the anti-communist uprising in the city of Poznań, Ptasiński was in Moscow, where he worked with the Russians to crush the revolt. After the “thaw” of 1956 and the release from prison and return to power of Władysław Gomułka as the first secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Ptasiński’s position in the nomenklatura remained strong. The former Stalinist developed an excellent relationship with the former prisoner and was rewarded appropriately: from 1956 to 1960 he was the deputy commander of the Citizens’ Militia (Milicja Obywatelska), the police force, and until the end of 1967, he was the first secretary of the party organization in the important port city of Gdańsk. From early 1968 until mid-1971, Ptasiński was the People’s Poland’s ambassador in Moscow and member of the Central Committee of the party. In the intensely competitive “dog eat dog” world of the Central Committee, Ptasiński was never entirely loyal to Gomułka, anticipating his eventual exit from power. He did not, however, play his cards right, associating with another pretender to the first secretaryship, Mieczysław Moczar, the leader of a pseudonationalist and anti-Semitic fraction of the party. His luck ran out after Gomułka’s demise in December 1970, when the Silesian technocrat, Edward Gierek, not Moczar, replaced Gomułka as first secretary. After his departure from Moscow Ptasiński was given one of the top positions in the communist-controlled cooperative movement, where he stayed until his retirement in 1983. He lived comfortably for another thirty-two years. After Poland regained its independence in 1989, he was never brought to account for his crimes and abuses, dying at the age of ninety-four and getting a respectable funeral in Warsaw’s iconic Powązki cemetery, while the remains of the victims of communist repression still lie in unmarked pits.
The Ptasiński archives received by Hoover pertain only to his service in Moscow. It consists of copies of his diaries for 1968 and 1969, as well dozens of original manuscript notes from 1968–71 from his meetings and conversations with the leadership of the Soviet foreign ministry and the Communist Party, from Andrei Gromyko on down. The papers are a valuable resource for historians of communist Poland and the Soviet Union, as the period was full of significant crises in the Soviet Bloc, such as the Polish March 1968 student strikes, the Czech Spring of the same year, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia that followed, and the bloody December 1970 confrontations between workers and communist forces in the Polish shipyards.
The papers of Jan Ptasinski are one of several major recent archival acquisitions documenting the history of communist Poland and its relations with the Soviet Union. In 2016, Hoover acquired the papers of another Polish ambassador to Moscow and former high communist official, Stanisław Ciosek, who held that position during 1989–96. Hoover Institution Library & Archives’ Polish collections remain unrivaled as the largest and most-comprehensive body of documentation on modern Poland outside Poland.
Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford.edu