Security Archives. The process of destroying and privatizing documents after 1989 (2)

/Photo by Krzysztof Bergier on / CC BY

In the last months of the existence of the Polish People's Republic, with the consent of the leading officials of the regime, the process of mass destruction of archives documenting the activities of the secret police began. Some of the archives were "privatized": many materials crucial for the assessment of the 1980s events were in the hands of former secret service officers or PZPR politicians. They also became a tool of influence on the political scene of the Third Polish Republic.


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"Leaving these materials in such a state would mislead future researchers, and distort the image of those times and people," said Czesław Kiszczak, the former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in February 1992. As he spoke these words, preparations were underway for the first attempt to disclose the files of the Security Service and to conduct the lustration process. For understandable reasons, Kiszczak disavowed the significance of the SB files and criticized the sense of undertaking lustration or historical research on the Polish People's Republic. In the same statement, he assured that important materials concerning Lech Wałęsa and other opposition leaders had been irretrievably destroyed. In fact, the scale of the destruction of the files was not as great as the former interior minister had suggested, and a large proportion of them have been preserved in the "private archives" of the secret police and high-ranking communist dignitaries.


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The pace of political changes in the People's Republic of Poland between the spring and autumn of 1989 made it possible to take over the archives of the security services by representatives of the opposition to date. The leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was afraid that there would be a mass "exposure" of personal information sources and secret SB collaborators. A few weeks after the contractual elections, the head of the Security Service, Gen. Henryk Dankowski, during a meeting with the heads of Voivodship Internal Affairs Offices, said: “Since a lot of cases and documents have accumulated, our wardrobes should be slimmed down. In connection with the above, I am asking for consideration and verification of the possessed operational materials ”. He added that such actions are justified by the changing "socio-political situation". General Dankowski's statement was an informal and camouflaged suggestion of destroying archives.

The management of the Security Service wanted to maintain the appearance of legality. It was an element of Kiszczak's narrative about the progressive changes in the SB. The head of the Ministry of the Interior maintained that they would lead to the formation of new special services supporting democratic changes. At the same time, the general tried to protect SB staff against mass layoffs. The changes in the formation were therefore simulated and served to preserve Kiszczak's influence. Formally, the destruction process was referred to as "disposal" and in some cases disposal protocols were drawn up. In the case of some types of documents, the heads of the Voivodship Offices of Internal Affairs ordered the destruction of all files. "And some matters, such as those concerning academic chaplaincy,

The destruction of files gained momentum after the appointment by deputies on August 17, 1989 of the Sejm Extraordinary Committee to Examine the Activities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, known as the "Rokita committee". Its goal was, among others explanation of the circumstances of the death of opposition activists during and after martial law. “The Commission may be interested in such events that will be interpreted as constituting a breach by law enforcement officials during and after martial law. Any related materials that are useless in terms of operation, process or from the cognitive or assessment and analytical point of view should be destroyed, liquidated "- stated Gen. Dankowski. At the same time, Department IV, dealing with activities aimed at the Church, prepared a report on the destruction of all files and the de-registration of clergy from the records. In early September, the destruction of the department's documents began. The order to deregister from the files has not been implemented in some provinces. The scale of destruction of documents relating to the collaborators of Department IV (provincial equivalents of Department IV) was enormous. In some voivodships, documents concerning clergy have been preserved in a rudimentary way.

Some of the documents were destroyed as shown in the famous film "Psy" by Władysław Pasikowski - by burning them in landfills. However, the scale of the practice was so great that paper mills were involved in it. According to the preserved documents, more than 23 tons of documents were sent to the Cellulose and Paper Plant in Świecie in the summer and fall of 1989 from the WUSW in Gdańsk. Files were also burned in boiler rooms; some of the bags with briefcases were not burned and were taken over by the Institute of National Remembrance at the beginning of the 21st century. In the Gdańsk WUSW, also 90 percent. microfilms. The estimated scale of damage to personal files is 50-60%, but in some regions (including Gdańsk) even 90%. Almost all documentation of the Military Internal Service was also destroyed. “It is difficult to talk about a single, centrally controlled file destruction strategy. She was very different depending on the region. Often the order of file destruction was left to the heads of the various operational divisions in the field. However, undoubtedly, the greatest destruction concerns the intelligence files and cases concerning the surveillance of the opposition in the 1980s, ”says Grzegorz Wołk from the Historical Research Bureau of the Institute of National Remembrance.

At the beginning of 1990, the case of file destruction was revealed by the press, including by Jerzy Jachowicz, at that time writing for Gazeta Wyborcza. On January 31, 1990, General Kiszczak, who was still the head of the Ministry of Interior, prohibited further destruction of any archives. The order reduced the "scrap". According to Piotr Naimski, head of the Office for State Protection during the rule of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski, in the spring of 1990, however, the files of Department I, i.e. intelligence, were destroyed.

In 1989, not only the documents of the Security Service were destroyed, but also protocols of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, invaluable to historians. In 2014, in the house of the deceased Wojciech Jaruzelski, a service memo from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Captain Sylwester Jagusiak, who stated in it that on December 20, 1989 in the Paper Factory in Jeziorna near Warsaw two tons of the so-called secret waste paper. According to the testimony of one of the employees of the secretariat of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, 267 files with transcripts from 1982–1989 were destroyed. “The only hope of historians is the possibility that the transcripts have been preserved as copies in the homes of members of the Politburo. Perhaps they did not return them to the party archives, ”explains Grzegorz Wołk.

“Jaruzelski explained to me the circumstances under which these documents were burned. From a legal point of view, it is indeed a crime, although on the other hand the party can do whatever it wants with its documentation, 'Mieczysław F. Rakowski wrote in his' Dziennik'. It is worth adding that the actions referred to by Jaruzelski as "crimes" were the subject of prosecution investigations and court trials. However, they did not bring about any results in the form of the conviction of the principals of the process of destroying the files or its executors.

In Jaruzelski's house, PZPR documents concerning the cooperation of Department I with criminal groups in Western Europe as part of the "Żelazo" campaign were also found. Documents seized by the Institute of National Remembrance after the death of Wojciech Jaruzelski are one of many examples of "privatization" of documents. “Twenty thousand former SB officers are currently retired or are out of service. One has to assume that at least 1/3 of them have interesting knowledge, ”said Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, then Minister of Internal Affairs in 1996. According to Dr. Tomasz Kozłowski, the author of the monograph "The end of the empire of the Ministry of the Interior", at the end of the Polish People's Republic, "the ministry was in a state of disarray, and the officers began to implement their individual survival strategies". One of them was to create your own archives. "We do not know, how large a percentage of the documents have been privatized, e.g. to obtain hooks. We know of several cases of such use of files. By far the most important of these concerns the attempt to blackmail Lech Wałęsa in 1995 - leading figures in political life were involved in this conspiracy ", Dr. Tomasz Kozłowski emphasizes in an interview with PAP.

There was also much information among historians about other "private archives". The documents in the possession of communist dignitaries were mentioned, among others, by Lech Kowalski, author of the biography of Czesław Kiszczak. There were also suspicions that after the disclosure of "Bolek + files" in Czesław Kiszczak's home in 2016, other regime officials destroyed their archives. In an interview with PAP, Grzegorz Wołk reminds about the cases of sale and removal of archives to Western archives, including Hoover Institute.

Documents of the communist secret services were also destroyed after 1990. In July 2018, the head of the Military Historical Bureau, prof. Sławomir Cenckiewicz informed that the files of the Military Internal Service were destroyed by 2013. The destruction also concerned the files of the Ministry of Public Security, courts and prosecutor's offices from the Stalinist period, the Main Information Board, the Second General Staff Directorate, and the Headquarters of the Border Protection Forces. In the opinion of WBH specialists, apart from the documentation of the "security organs" of the People's Republic of Poland, thousands of archival units were destroyed, the "importance of which for the study of the communist past seems almost invaluable".

Michał Szukała (PAP)

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