The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum / Instytut Polski i Muzeum im. gen. Sikorskiego

  • Sikorski Institute

History

The underlying reason for the creation of the Gen. Sikorski Polish Institute in London was the events of September 1939, which forced the government of the Republic of Poland into exile. Then, in February 1945, after the Yalta conference, it became clear that the Allies intended to cease to recognize the Polish Government-in-Exile and its armed forces. It seemed obvious that many Poles would want to remain in the West with their families. It was thus important to secure the documents generated by that government and the armed forces. On the initiative of Col. Zygmunt Borkowski, the director of the Archive and Museum Services, a plan was established to appoint an institution modelled on the Polish Library in Paris and the Museum in Rapperswil. This plan was accepted by President Władysław Raczkiewicz and Prime Minister Tomasz Arciszewski, and in this way, in 1945, the Gen. Sikorski Historical Institute was founded, with, at its core, Department “S” under director Dr Edmund Oppman and his wife Regina. The Institute issued an appeal to civilians, military personnel and organizations for donations of documents for its collections. Some people made bequests ensuring that their valuable collections would later pass to the Institute’s archive. This archive is now generally regarded as holding the most important Polish émigré collections in the world. Together with the museum and the two libraries it is an integral part of the Institute.

Administrative Structure

In 1988 the institute’s management board and archive service merged with those of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust, though it remains an autonomous institution.

Archival and Other Holdings

The archival holding today is the product of the fusion of several different archival collections from the period of the occupation, the prewar period, and the postwar period; it runs to some 700 linear metres of files and covers the period 1918-1990. These materials are of fundamental significance to the study of Polish history in the years 1939-1945, though they do not constitute all of the archival material generated in this period by Polish authorities and institutions – research should also extend to the collections of the Central Archive of Modern Records (AAN) in Warsaw, the archive of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, California, and the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America in New York. The majority of these materials have now been processed and are inventoried. A card file referencing some 40,000 people, is also kept. The Institute’s holding is divided into the following sections:

  1. The diary of Gen. Władysław Sikorski,
    1. Documents relating to the 1939 September Campaign,
    1. Records of particular government and state administrative offices relating to the president, government, ministries, embassies, consulates and missions, and other official state bodies,
    1. Collections relating to Polskie Siły Zbrojne (PSZ, the Polish Armed Forces), from Sztab Naczelnego Wodza (Commander-in-Chief) to materials from the various military units,
    1. Over 10,000 eye-witness accounts by Poles who ended up in Russia or were deported there after 1939,
    1. Around 300 private collections (legacies and papers).

The museum’s collections also include photographs, bills, posters and ephemera, plans and maps, films, audio tapes, records, video recordings, philatelic and numismatic collections, and a separate Personal Archive. The library holds more than 20,000 volumes. Materials relating to the extermination of the Jews are held above all in the following record groups (which does not preclude the possibility of finding valuable documents and information in other collections not mentioned here):

Opening Times

The Institute's holdings are available in the workroom open Tuesday - Friday 9.30 – 16.00.

Conditions of Access

As an academic institution, the archive releases its collections for access by scholars in accordance with British law, i.e. a certain period after their creation. Persons wishing to use the Archive reading room must book an appointment.

Sources

  • ClaimsCon'06/Alina Skibińska, Guide to the Sources on the Holocaust in Occupied Poland/online search