Unlocking Andrzej Pomian's London Archive

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last month I had the privilege of participating in a conference titled "Documents of the Polish Underground State 1939–1945" organized by the Central Archives of Modern Records in Warsaw. My presentation was on the Andrzej Pomian papers, which I organized and which were recently added to the Hoover Archives. The conference was held in the historic PAST building  which was captured in a fierce battle by the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. I was somewhat nervous about giving my talk;  it was in Polish and I'd never spoken before an audience such as this. As usual, my worries were unfounded and my presentation was well received. I met a number of interesting historians and archivists, nearly thirty of whom also spoke during the two-day conference. Below is the translation of my presentation. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Andrzej Pomian, who died four years ago in Washington, DC, at the age of ninety-seven, was a Polish journalist and author who spent many years working for Radio Free Europe. During World War II, he was a member of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army  the largest underground organization in Nazi-occupied Europe. Evacuated from Poland in April 1944 in one of the most spectacular flight operations of the war, Pomian worked in the Polish government in exile in London for the next ten years. He then moved to the United States, bringing with him a large metal trunk filled with notes, documents, underground publications, and reports on the Home Army’s activities. Those documents, untouched for more than fifty years in accordance with Pomian's wishes, were sent to the Hoover Institution Archives as a large addition to a small set of Pomian's papers donated earlier.

Andrzej Pomian (the name he adopted during the war) was born in 1911 as Bohdan Sałaciński in the Polish village of Black Ostrów in Podolia, which became part of the Soviet Union after 1920. Escaping from the Soviets, the family moved to Warsaw, where Bohdan became a student, completing his legal studies at the University of Warsaw in 1932, where he remained as a lecturer. From the beginning of the German occupation, Pomian was involved in underground work. He taught law at the underground university and worked in various units of the resistance, ending up at  the Bureau of Information and Propaganda, which coordinated the work of intelligence and underground newspapers, broadcast underground radio programs, and operated photographic and film units.

The PAST building (site of the conference) in downtown Warsaw

Operation N, an initiative of the bureau, published documents in German aimed at weakening the morale of German soldiers and colonists in Poland. Several of the magazines and proclamations created under Operation N are in Pomian's collection. The Home Army was involved in sabotage, self-defense, and retaliation against the Germans. It also provided the Allies with crucial information in the field of intelligence, monitoring the movement of troops in the east and the development of the secret German V-1 and V-2 rockets. The primary goal of the Home Army, however, was to prepare for the expected collapse of the Nazi occupation and the liberation of the country.

After the Allied landing in Italy and the encroachment of the Red Army into prewar Polish territory, a national uprising was planned, to be centered in Warsaw, for the second half of 1944. In connection with this plan, the Home Army and the underground civil authorities ordered several officers, including Pomian, to report to the Polish and British authorities in London to discuss the preparations’ progress. These contacts were usually carried out by encrypted radio transmissions or by individual couriers and emissaries, but this important mission required a different method.

At that time regular night flights from England and southern Italy, with parachute drops of weapons, documents, money, and agents, were made into occupied Poland. A new joint Polish-British operation, Wildhorn I (Operation Most [Bridge] I in Polish), intended to land a plane in occupied Poland, was carried out in the evening of April 15, 1944. A Douglas Dakota aircraft, unarmed but equipped with eight additional fuel tanks, left its base near Brindisi in southern Italy. Crossing the Balkans and the Carpathian mountains en route to Poland, it landed, under difficult conditions, in a beet field near Lublin, southeast of Warsaw. The so-called runway was marked by bonfires and protected by several forest units of the Home Army. Couriers and bags of dollars were unloaded, and Pomian and other passengers, including Brigadier General Stanisław Tatar came on board, barely avoiding an intense and bloody firefight between soldiers of the Home Army and Wehrmacht units. The return flight to Brindisi and then Gibraltar brought Pomian to England twenty-four hours later.

The PAST building during the Warsaw Uprising, August, 1944

Pomian followed the tragic epilogue of the war in Poland from distant London. The Warsaw Uprising, lasting sixty-three days, failed due to lack of support from the Soviet Union—the Red Army that came a few weeks after the uprising began stopped on the Vistula River, just across from burning Warsaw. Poland's allies, the British and the Americans, could not do much to help but didn't even protest the Soviets’ treacherous behavior. Among the tens of thousands killed were most of Pomian's colleagues and friends. Warsaw was virtually razed to the ground, and Poland became a Soviet dependency. Western powers not only failed to protest but, in the following year, withdrew recognition of their loyal wartime ally. The uprising, not surprisingly, dominated Pomian's thoughts; the majority of his collection consists of documents related to that tragic event (including typescripts, manuscripts, poetry, newspapers, and government documents).

During his ten years in London, Pomian continued working for the Polish government in exile, coordinating contacts and financial support for the anticommunist underground in the country and veterans of the Home Army. When, in 1955, he decided to move to the United States, he packed everything into a big trunk, apparently never opening it again. Shortly before his death, he decided to pass it on to the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.

The Andrzej Pomian papers consist of twenty-two archival boxes. A significant portion of those materials are postwar newspaper clippings, newspapers, and magazines, often commemorating consecutive anniversaries of the Warsaw Uprising. Documents concerning the activities of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda and underground resistance are in the first six boxes.

This collection is now available to researchers. We plan to microfilm this collection and pass it on to the Central Archives of Modern Records, as we recently did with the microfilmed collection of Jan Karski.

"The Red Terror", Andrzej Pomian Papers, Hoover Institution Archives
"The Red Terror", Andrzej Pomian Papers, Hoover Institution Archives

I also wanted to share some scans from this collection. Here are  examples of propaganda from Operation N. This cover suggests that it is an anti-Soviet brochure, but the text is devoted to the Nazi crimes in Poland. Several items from this collection, including this brochure, are showcased in an exhibition of World War II propaganda currently on display at the Hoover Institution.

Andrzej Pomian's later work is also well documented in the collection of the Polish station of Radio Free Europe  The corporate and broadcast records of RFE/RL are housed at the Hoover Institution. Most of our collections on World War II were microfilmed, transferred to Poland, digitized, and made available online. The best guide to our Polish collections is the book by Professor (and Poland's director of the National Archives) Władyslaw Stępniak, Polish Archival Materials in the Collections of Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Thank you very much.