The Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute owns the largest collection of documents related to the history of Polish Jews in the 20th century in Poland.
The history of the Archive begins in 1944, when, soon after the Red Army entered Lublin, the Central Jewish Historical Commission (CŻKH) was established as a section of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP) – a body of Jewish self-government. In 1945, the headquarters of the Commission were moved to Łódź, with additional branches opened in Kraków, Białystok, Warsaw, Katowice, Wrocław and others.
The Commission’s main goal was to document the Holocaust, so it had immediately began to gather testimonies from Jewish survivors and to collect documentation issued by German authorities and Jewish organizations during the war. By the end of 1945, the Commission had collected about 1300 testimonies from witnesses and the documents of the Jewish Social Self-Help, of the German administration of the Łódź Ghetto (Ghettoverwaltung), several registries of Jewish prisoners (for example from the Hasag camp in Częstochowa), documents of certain Jewish councils (the most extensive one, containing a large number of personal documents, came from Kraków). Soon, the collection was expanded with documents from the American Joint Distribution Committee central – an organization which provided financial support for social care in ghettos during the war.
In September 1946, the Commission’s collection was expanded with the first part of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto – the Ringelblum Archive, discovered in the remains of the 68 Nowolipki street house (the second part was found in the Hi Archive in 1950). The collection of documents, testimonies and reports, comprising over 2000 units, was collected in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Oneg Shabbat group, led by Dr Emanuel Ringelblum, and provides a unique insight into the Holocaust and into the life of Jews in occupied Poland. The Ringelblum Archive has been included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World list since 1999. Currently, the collection is available as scans and, in the complete version, as books.
In 1946, the CŻKH completed the documents of the Underground Archive of the Białystok Ghetto – partly original, partly copied. In 1947, the Archive received the majority of documents from the Jewish Religious Community in Wrocław (1852-1943). The Archive also contains an enormous collection of documents from the Kraków Jewish Community (1822-1939).
When the Jewish Historical Institute was established in October 1947, the CŻKH and its units were gradually dismantled. The archives were moved to the renovated JHI building in Warsaw - before the war, the Main Judaistic Library and the Jewish Sciences Institute.
In 1949-1950, the JHI Archive became an owner of documents from dismantled post-war Jewish organizations, mainly the CŻKP, but also Organization for Development of Creativity, Healthcare Society, various Zionist parties and organizations (Ichud, Hanoar Ha-Cijoni, Poalej Syjon Hitachdut, Keren Kajemet, Keren Ha-Jesod) and the Bund. Additionally, the Archive received documentation of international organizations whose agendas were functioning in post-war Poland: American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). These document bodies are very large and present a detailed view on the life of Jews in post-war Poland, including emigration. The archive of Jews registered in Poland after the war (over 300,000 names) is unique in a global scale.
Over many years, the JHI Archive had gathered an enormously valuable collection of testimonies and memoirs – a shocking evidence of the fate of Polish Jews during World War II and of the Holocaust. The collection of testimonies consists mainly of accounts given to the CŻKH employees (later the JHI) by the survivors – regarding their experiences but also the activity of informers and war criminals. As time went on, the collection was expanded with letters from Jews and Poles, regarding mainly help offered during the war. The memoirs contain a collection of original memoirs and diaries made during the wartime, sent to competitions organized by the CŻKH and the JHI, as well as memoirs written after many years. The collection is open and constantly expanded with new items, many of which have been published in print.
One of the particularly valuable positions in the JHI Archive is the „Lviv Case” with memoirs from the Lviv Ghetto (e.g. by Professor Maurycy Allerhand) and documents regarding the beginnings of the Jewish Council in the city. In the spring of 1949, workers in the Muranów district found Jewish death certificates from 1939 and 1941. The collection, comprising ca. 10,000 items, is a shocking evidence of often partly burned, sometimes illegible documents of extermination of the Jewish nation. The Archive contains also a small section of private letters from the wartime period, for example from families Naimark, Halperson or Finkelsztejn.
Between 1979-2004, the Yad Vashem Award Documentation Department at the JHI helped complete documents necessary to apply for the „Righteous Among the Nations” title, granted by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem to people who saved Jews during the war. The documents from this section are currently stored at the JHI Archive and provide a valuable resource on Poles saving Jews.
The Archive also provides access to the legacy of private persons, mainly former JHI employees, such as longtime JHI director Bernard Mark (including many valuable copies of documents from various international archives), Tatiana Brustin-Berenstein, Artur Eisenbach.
The JHI Archive has been expanding its collections since the very beginning. Currently, we mainly receive new items from donators – usually personal documents of persons of Jewish descent who have died recently, memoirs summarizing lives, or accidentally found pieces of Jewish prints.
The JHI Archive is open to everyone interested. No authorisation from tutors or company or organization seniors are required. The only requirement is to complete and to sign a declaration of the Archive resource user.
The Archive workshop is open Monday-Friday, between 8:30 AM and 4 PM, aside from Polish bank holidays and Jewish holidays (dates are announced on the JHI website). Note: due to the coronavirus pandemic, access to the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute is limited. Please check the latest regulations in the Plan your Visit tab.
A visit to the Archive should begin with browsing the index of Archive sections. The index is available online, in the tab: Inventories. Index of JHI archive items”. Then, one has to use the archive inventories. They are usually available in the pdf form, also online, and contain personal and geographical indexes.
Some documents from the JHI Archive are available only in the digital form, on computers at the Archive workshop or in the Reading Room. The www.cbj.jhi.pl website contains some scanned archives from the JHI Archive resources: documents of Jewish religious communities from Włocławek, Bydgoszcz, Żychlin, Wrocław, Prague; a collection of documents from masonic lodges; pre-war register of the Jewish population of Gliwice (a fragment of the Jewish Community in Gliwice section); a collection of pre-war flyers and announcements related to social and political life of the Jewish communities; a collection of documents from ghettos and camps located in Central and Eastern Europe, 1939-1944 [Judenrat documents]; a collection of death certificates of people who died in the Warsaw Ghetto (which makes only about 2% of murdered Jews of Warsaw); Society of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Poland; Jewish Society for Popularization of Arts; Jewish Cultural Society in Poland; documents from the Ringelblum Archive.
Non-digitised documents should be ordered from the archivist through filling a reverse. The orders are completed on the same day, before 3:30 PM. Non-digitised documents are available only in the JHI Reading Room in the working hours – which are different than the Archive workshop.
There is a possibility to obtain a copy of documents from the Archive – photocopies or scans. In order to do so, one has to fill in an order form. In case of larger orders, the term should be arranged with the archivist. The current pricelist of photocopying services is available at the JHI website.