What is the history of archives in Poland?
The first archives date back to the end of the 13th century. They were kept by Church institutions (diocesan and monastic), towns, provincial rulers and magnates. Archiwum Koronne (the Crown Archive, also called the Kraków Archive) was established in the middle of the 14th century, while Archiwum Metryki Koronnej (the Archive of the Crown Register), which subsequently became the central archive of the Commonwealth, was founded towards the end of that century. The archives of the other central authorities of the Commonweath of the Two Nations were gradually taking shape.
Court archives (town and county), municipal archives, Church archives (diocesan and monastic) and family archives originated in the Old-Polish period. The 2nd half of the 18th century saw the emergence of the Archive of Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last King of Poland. Some organs of the central authorities of the Commonwealth (the Treasury Commission, the Commission for National Education) also kept their own archives.
The Partitions Period (1772-1918)
During the Partitions, the fate of Polish archives varied somewhat, depending on the policies pursued by the partitioning powers: Tsarist Russia, Prussia and Austria.
In 1794 a part of the archival records of the central authorities was removed by the Tsarist authorities and taken to St.Petersburg. In 1808 Archiwum Ogólne Krajowe (the General National Archive) was established in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw. Poland's first modern archive, it was subsequently transformed into the General Archive of Historical Records.
In the Russian zone of partitions, ten provincial archives of historical records were established to collect court records. Archiwum Akt Dawnych (the Archive of Historical Records) and Archiwum Skarbowe (the Treasury Archive) were founded in 1867.
In the Prussian zone of partitions, two state archives existed: in Poznań (from 1869) and Gdańsk (from 1878).
In the Austrian zone Archiwum Krajowe Aktów Grodzkich i Ziemskich (the Archive of Town and County Court Records) existed in Lvov (from 1784) and Kraków (from 1877).
Municipal archives also existed during the Partitions. Some family archives (e.g. of the Czartoryski, Krasiński and Zamoyski families) were transformed into public collections.
The Independence (1918)
Following the regaining of independence in November 1918, the state archives of the Republic of Poland were established by a decree of February 7, 1919 on the organization of state archives and care over archival material. These archives were charged with the gathering, custody, research and the provision of access to the national archival collection. Their operation was supervised by the State Archives Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Public Education.
In independent Poland, several archival centres were established in Warsaw: the General Archive of Historical Records, the Archive of Historical Records, the Treasury Archive, the Archive of Public Education, the Army Archive (transformed, in 1930, into the Archive of New Records). State archives were also established in some provincial capitals. Some church archives were organized anew. Former town and family archives were another important part of the national network.
World War II
Polish archives suffered heavy losses during World War Two. The archival collections came under the administration of the Nazi occupying authorities. The worst affected were the Warsaw archives, which were 95 per cent destroyed, (all the central archives and the Archive of the Capital City of Warsaw were almost totally destroyed). Wanton destruction befell the archives in Poznań and Płock, while numerous collections were extensively damaged.
After World War Two the network of archives was reconstructed wherever possible. The archives on the territories of the former German Reich incorporated into Poland were included in the network. New state archival establishments were also set up in those territories. The valuable archives in Grodno, Lvov and Vilnius found themselves beyond Polish frontiers (in the Soviet Union).
After the World War Two
A Decree on State Archives was issued on March 29, 1951. It introduced a new organization of archival administration as well as the notion of state archival resources (comprising the archives produced by state organs and institutions, the records of dissolved private enterprises, land estates, parties and organizations, as well as of families and private persons who played a notable historical role). As a result of changes in the socio-political system, local-government, family and economic archives were incorporated into the state archives. The Head Office of State Archives was established as a body in charge of archive collections. As time went by the network of state archives was considerably expanded. State offices, institutions and enterprises were subjected to archival supervision exercised by the state archival service. They were duty-bound to a systematic transfer of their records to state archives.
The 1983 Act of Parliament, replacing the 1951 decree, introduced the notion of the national archival resource comprising the entire body of archival material preserved and produced on Polish territory irrespective of the nature of ownership as well as those records which, in line with international law and customs, should have belonged to Poland even if they exist beyond the country's frontiers. The General Director of State Archives became the central organ of state administration in all matters pertaining to archive keeping.
On the history of Polish archives, see also:
* A.Tomczak, Zarys dziejów archiwów polskich (An Outline History of Polish Archives, Vol.1-2, Toruń 1974 - 1980.
* H.Robotka, B.Ryszewski, A.Tomczak, Archiwistyka (Archive Science), Warsaw 1989 (Part II: An Outline History of Polish Archives and their Present-Day Organization).
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