Last week 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 that 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 to give my talk, since it was in Polish and I’d never spoken before an audience like this. As usual my worries were unfounded and my presentation was well received. I met a number of interesting historians and archivists, nearly 30 of whom also spoke during the two-day conference. Below is the translation of my presentation. Let me know what you think.
Andrzej Pomian, who died four years ago in Washington D.C. 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, before moving to the United States. He brought with him to the U.S. a large metal trunk filled with notes, documents, underground publications, and reports on the activities of the Home Army. These 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 given earlier.
Andrzej Pomian, the name 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, eventually working in 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.
“Operation N“, an initiative of the Bureau, published documents in German, with the aim of weakening the morale of German soldiers and colonists in Poland. Several examples of 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 collaps of the Nazi occupation and the liberation of the country.
After the Allied landing in Italy and the encroachment of the Red Army into pre-war Polish territory, a national uprising was planned, with its center in Warsaw, for the second half of 1944. In connection with this plan, the Home Army and underground civil authorities ordered several officers, including Pomian, to report to Polish and British authorities in London to discuss the progress of preparations. These contacts were usually carried out by encrypted radio transmissions or by individual couriers, and emissaries but the importance of this mission required a different method.
At this time there were regular night flights from England and southern Italy with parachute drops of weapons, documents, money and agents into occupied Poland. A new joint Polish-British operation, “Wildhorn I” (Operation “Most [Bridge] I” in Polish) planned with the intention of landing a plane in occupied Poland, was carried out in the evening 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 Carpathian mountains en route to Poland, it landed in difficult conditions in a beet field near Lublin, southeast of Warsaw. The “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.
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 started, 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 they didn’t even protest the treacherous behavior of the Soviets. 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 for their loyal, war-time ally. You can see that the Uprising dominated Pomian’s thoughts since the majority of his collection consists of documents related to the 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 anti-communist 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, and deciding, shortly before his death, it would be best 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 these materials are post-war newspaper clippings, newspapers and magazines, often commemorating consecutive anniversaries of the Warsaw Uprising. Documents relating to the activities of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda and underground resistance, can be found in the first six boxes.
This collection is now available to researchers. A complete inventory of the collection is almost complete. We are going to microfilm this collection and pass it on to the Central Archives of Modern Records as we recently handed over to the microfilmed collection of Jan Karski. If anyone is interested, I can give you the inventory in electronic form.
I also wanted to quickly show you some scans from this collection. Here are some examples of propaganda from “Operation N”. This cover suggests that it is an anti-Soviet brochure but all the text is devoted to the Nazi crimes in Poland. Several items from this collection are showcased in an exhibition of World War II propaganda currently on display at the Hoover Institution.
I’d like to add that Andrzej Pomian’s later work is well documented in the collection of the Polish station of Radio Free Europe. The corporate and broadcast records of RFE 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 National Archives) Władyslaw Stępniak, Polish Archival Materials in the Collections of Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Thank you very much.
Warsaw, Poland October 24, 2012