In Poland, as elsewhere, precious fragments, if not whole chunks of the nation’s documentary heritage, have disappeared through "natural" causes: acidified paper that crumbles to dust, leather, parchment, film and magnetic tape attacked by light, heat, humidity or dust. But in addition Polish libraries and archives have incurred great losses because of acts of war and floods as detailed below.

Acts of War

Poland has been frequently invaded. Its libraries have, as a result suffered many losses, some accidental due to bombardments and resulting fires, other quite deliberate.

The following notes are taken fromLost Memory - Libraries and Archives destroyed in the Twentieth Century a 1966 UNESCO report

1939-1945 Poland
After the German occupation of Poland, the Germans embarked upon a policy of ruthless destruction of Polish libraries, archives and museums. In 1939 the Western provinces were occupied and they lost nearly all their public and private libraries. In Poznan, the Raczynski Library and the Science Society Library were destroyed. The Cathedral Library with its unique collection of incunabula was burned. After the Germans occupied all of Poland, nearly all Polish libraries suffered losses of collections and catalogues. In October 1944, the National Library in Warsaw was completely destroyed, with the loss of about 700,000 volumes, including almost all manuscripts and older printed works as well as the print, music and map collections. The Central Military Library, containing 350,000 books on the history of Poland, was totally wrecked, including the Rapperswil Library deposited there for safekeeping (60,000 volumes on Polish nineteenth century émigrés, and the Krasinski Library. On the eve of the German evacuation of Poland in January 1945, the main stacks of the Warsaw Public Library were burned. Many other books were taken to Germany and were only partially recovered after the war. According to one estimate, 15 million out of 22,5 million volumes in Polish libraries were destroyed.
        Briet, p.21; Helena Bilinska, LJ 71(1946)1022-1023, 1034;
        Biblioteka narodowa w latach 1945-1956. Warszawa, 1958;
        The National Library in Warsaw. Warsaw, 1974, p.1

1939-1945 Poland, Jewish Libraries
As soon as the Germans had invaded Poland they formed 'Brenn-Kommandos' (arsonsquads) to destroy Jewish synagogues and books. Thus the Great Talmudic Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Lublin was burned. The remainder of this library, about 24,000 volumes, was later shipped to Germany together with hundreds of thousands other Jewish books from private or public collections. A large part of these were destroyed by air raids, especially in Berlin. Of the books that remained in Poland, many were either pulped or burned.
        Jacqueline Borin, Libraries & Culture 28(1993)445-460


Great losses have also resulted from floods. Specifically, the 1997 flood in Poland affected about 80 libraries and destroyed around 300,000 volumes, the value of which was estimated at US $700,000. On top of that, the material losses in buildings and furnishings were estimated at US $1 million. (Wolosz, 1999). Additional details can be found on a "Flood Disaster in Poland" webpage and from an appeal issued by the then Director of this Center.


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