Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich

  • Ossoliński National Institute


Józef Maksymilian Ossolinski (1748-1826), a writer, collector and scholar, was a member of many learned institutions, such as the Warsaw Scientific Society, the Wilno Academy, the Cracow Academy, the Royal Societies in Prague and Göttingen, the Imperial-Royal Society in Vienna, and a doctor honoris causa of the Jagiellonian University. With the foundation act of June 1817 he handed over to the Polish nation valuable collections of books, manuscripts and museum pieces, and at the same time he defined the character of the Institute’s activity, which was to save the cultural heritage of the nation devoid of its statehood by drawing on the resources of Polish literature and museum collections.

The source of the Institute’s upkeep were revenues from the Founder’s landed estates. From 1827 to 1945 the Institute was housed in Lwów and its existence was vital to the activities of the Faculty of the Humanities of the Jan Kazimierz University.

Initially, the Institute was to consist of two branches: the Library and the Publishing House. However, as a result of an agreement between Józef Maksymilian Ossolinski and Prince Henryk Lubomirski, who decided to hand over his own museum collections to the Institute, a third section was created in 1824 by the name of the Lubomirski Museum. The post of the literary curator – the Institute’s highest authority – was to become a hereditary function of the Lubomirski family. From the very beginning, the Institute served Polish science and education and cultivated patriotic traditions. In the years of national bondage the Ossolineum published Monumenta Poloniae Historica, a critical edition of Samuel Bogumił Linde’s Słownik Jezyka Polskiego (Dictionary of the Polish Language) and numerous other works from the fields of history, history of Poland, literary sciences and history of culture, important for the Polish science.

In the period of the Second Republic (1918-1939) the Institute developed dynamically. It published scientific works as well as belles lettres and became one the leading publishing houses of the independent Poland. During that time the Ossolineum holdings were enriched by many new collections, including those of the Lubomirski family of Kruszyna, the Potocki family of Raj, and the Jabłonowski family of Bursztyn, as well as by numerous bequests made by Polish scholars.

During the Second World War the printed collections of the Library were doubled as many private collections were stored there for safety, including those of the Baworowski and Dzieduszycki families as well as numerous donations and deposits made by the civilian population. During World War II, the already numerous and valuable collections of the Ossolineum first fell into Ukrainian hands and then passed to the Germans. In July 1941 the government of the GG appointed Mieczysław Gębarowicz custodian of the Ossoliński Foundation. When in early 1944 the Germans planned to remove some of the objects to the Third Reich, it was he who “took advantage of the situation for his own evacuation plans for the Polish collections. The most precious of the Ossolineum collections were packed into two transports (around 2,300 manuscripts, around 2,200 diplomas, around 1,800 old prints and around 2,300 drawings (...). In March and April 1944 they were transported to Krakow, where they were to see out the war in the safety of the Jagiellonian Library cellars, but in July 1944 the German authorities decided to move them to the Reich. The transport was abandoned in the village of Adelin (now Zagrodno, Poland) in Lower Silesia, and it was here, after the end of hostilities, that the Poles found them.

After the war Lwów was incorporated into the Soviet Union. Only a part of the Ossolineum collections was transferred from Lwów to Wroclaw. These collections were made accessible to the public as early as September 1947. The source of the Institute’s upkeep in the new historical circumstances, after the nationalisation in 1945 of all landed estates, was the state treasury. In 1953, the Ossolineum Library and Publishing House were transformed into branches of the newly created Polish Academy of Sciences. The Ossolineum collections constituted a scholarly workshop for the Wroclaw humanities as they reemerged after the war. The bulk of the collections remained, however, in Lwów, including autographs, diplomas, drawings and prints, photographs, numismatic objects, medals, seals, periodicals and a part of the manuscript collections. At present a report is being prepared on the losses sustained by the Ossolineum Library as a result of the transfer of national borders after the Second World War. These losses are estimated at about 60 percent. Efforts are being made to recover the Ossolineum collections.

In 1990 the post of Ossolineum’s director was assumed by Dr Adolf Juzwenko , who undertook efforts to reactivate the Foundation – the original status of the Institute. On January 5, 1995 the Parliament of th Republic of Poland passed the act on „the foundation – the Ossoliński National Institute (Official Gazette 1995, no. 23, item 121). On the strength of this act patronage over the Institute was assumed by the President of the Republic of Poland and the direct supervision is performed by the Board of Curators.

For almost two hundred years of the Institute’s activity, the collections handed over by the Founder to the Polish nation have constantly been enlarged, mainly through donations, exchange and purchase. Altogether, the Ossolineum collections of the nineteenth and twentieth century books and periodicals, old books, manuscripts, prints, maps and numismatic objects comprise at present ca 1,800,000 items. It is a constantly growing stock. Each year ca 10,000 books and 5,000 units of periodicals are added to it. Special collections grow by several hundred items yearly.

Archival and Other Holdings

The Ossolineum is one of the largest scientific libraries in Poland, second to none as far as the collections in the field of the humanities are concerned. The acquisitions profile has been defined as humanistic with special stress being laid on Polish and Slavonic history, culture and literature. In this respect, the Ossolineum collections are unique not only in Poland but also worldwide. For scholars of the Holocaust, the most important is the manuscripts section (of which some 17,500 items have been catalogued), which contains a chronologically and formally diverse range of historical materials. Alongside archivalia from a variety of institutions, legacies and papers including family collections, mementoes and correspondences, without a doubt the most important is the collection of memoirs recorded during World War II or shortly after the war. This collection runs into several thousand; they are successively being catalogued and released for scholarly use. The catalogues of the Ossoliński Institute are accessible on its website. Also worthy of note are the collections recently donated by Professor Władysław Bartoszewski, a member of Rada Pomocy Żydom „Żegota” (the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews), and Jan Nowak-Jeziorański (the legendary World War II courier who smuggled documents from occupied Poland to London), which catalogues are also accessible online.

Among the memoirs that may contain documents of interest in respect tothis subject are the following:

13170/II, Antoni Mikulski, O czym zapomnieć nie wolno!... Wspomnienia – fakty – dokumenty 1939-1944, recorded in 1947, 147 pp. 13533/II, Maria z Paygertów Bobrzyńska, Życie zmiennym jest. Pamiętnik z lat 1900-1958, vol. 3, 1939-1945, 98 pp. 13981/II, Lucjan Kuć, Pomoc i współpraca z ludnością żydowską ludności wiejskiej powiatu siedleckiego z uwzględnieniem zagadnień żydowskich w innych powiatach Podlasia w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej w Polsce, 254 pp. 14083/II, Ludmiła Krobicka-Modzelewska, Warszawa 1939-1944, 185 pp. 14455/II, Józef Konieczny, Najazd Hitlera na Polskę w 1939 r. Przeżycia okupacyjne gminy Skrzydlna. Kartki z pamiętnika, 90 pp. 14489/II, Henryk Wisz, Wspomnienia z obozów koncentracyjnych, 144 pp. 14558/II, Melchior Wańkowicz, Posłannictwo i obcość. Szkice o kwestii żydowskiej, 108 pp. 15339/II, Antoni Palichleb, Wspomnienia 1918-1944, Part II: Życie obozowe na Majdanku IX 1943-II 1944. Likwidacja Żydów z getta lubelskiego w Majdanku 2 XI 1943, 150 pp. 15418/II, Wiktor Budzyński, Ze wspomnień z drugiej wojny światowej i okupacji, 61 pp. 15614/II, Zofia Szymańska, Moja droga w zawodzie lekarza. Wspomnienia z lat 1892-1972, k. 330. 15619/II, Janina Mazur-Stocka, Wspomnienia do 1945 r., 119 pp. 16298/II, Archiwum Rady Głównej Opiekuńczej miasta Lwowa (Archive of the Central Welfare Council of the city of Lwów). Papiery Żydów z Borysławia, 180 pp. 16543/II, Papiery Kazimierza Sosnkowskiego, Sprawy krajowe 1940-1942, vol. I-II. 16598/II, Zbiór W. Świrskiego, Sprawozdania Wydziału Wojskowego (Obszaru 3 AK Lwów) 1942-1944, 289 pp. 16599/II, Sprawozdania wydziałów i placówek Okręgowej Delegatury Rządu we Lwowie (ODR Wino dla Delegatury Rządu na Kraj w Warszawie z lat 1942-1944), 326 pp. 16603/ I, Materiały Władysława Zycha (Falko, Szary) p.o. okr. Delegata Rządu we Lwowie i komendanta Okręgu Lwów Wschód ZWZ, 1939-1941. 16711/II, Lwów pod znakiem swastyki. Pamiętnik z lat 1941-1942, 404 pp.

Finding Aids, Guides, and Publication

online databases: A. Skibinska (ed.), chapter 5.

Conditions of Access

The collections of 19th to 20th century books and periodicals and the microform collections are open to all persons over 18 years of age who have joined the library and have received a library card.

The special collections (manuscripts, old books, prints, cartography, numismatics) can only be used by persons who can document such a need (e.g. through a letter of recommendation from their supervisor, identification as an academic worker, permission from the Ossolineum’s director, or who are retired academic staff). The decision to grant the right to use the special collections is taken by the head of the appropriate department or room.