Microfilm Projects in East European Military Archives

Submitted by GFSJAN@aol.com

By Ronald D. Landa {CHIWP Bulletin, Issue 11 (Winter 1998), pp. 264-266}



A U.S. Government initiative has been quietly opening new avenues of research. In 1996 the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Library of Congress (LC) inaugurated a program to microfilm military records and inventories in former Soviet-bloc countries focusing primarily on World War II and the early Cold War years. Expected to continue at least through the year 2000, the program has so far generated more than 300 reels of microfilm.

Projects are now underway at three institutions: the Central Military Archive (Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe) outside Warsaw, the National Defense Ministry Archives (Archivele Militarie ale Ministerului Apararii Nationale) in Bucharest, and the Archive for Military History (Hadtortenelmi Leveltar) in Budapest. The projects are designed to assist these archives with their records preservation programs, to make their records more accessible to scholars in the United States, and to promote closer contacts between former Cold War adversaries. Alfred Goldberg, Historian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, coordinates the program, with assistance from historians in the military services and the Office of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Several non-governmental specialists render advice and assistance.

Under the terms of formal agreements, DoD provides the military archives with microfilm cameras on a long-term loan basis, along with other equipment, film, and supplies. DoD also pays the cost of processing the microfilm. The archives furnish the labor to do the filming. Records are selected for filming by mutual consent. One copy of the processed microfilm is given to the Library of Congress, where it is available to researchers in the European Divisions Reading Room in the Jefferson Building. The archives retain both a positive and negative copy for themselves.

The program involves the reproduction of records inventories as well as records themselves. The intention is not only to facilitate research by American scholars at a centralized location in the United States, but also to allow them to prepare for and more knowledgeably plan their visits to the East European military archives.

Consideration is being given to starting similar projects with the Slovak Military History Institute in Bratislava and the Russian Central Naval Archive at Gatchina near St. Petersburg. Earlier attempts to establish microfilm projects in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria and with other Russian archives did not yield results.

The Library of Congress and the Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) are planning a conference on the theme, "Early Cold War Military History," with the presentation of papers utilizing the microfilmed records from the East European military archives.

Origins of the Program

The microfilm program has its roots in two developments growing out of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loosening of its hold over countries in Eastern Europe.

First, the opening of formerly closed Soviet-bloc archives, for the most part, made available to researchers diplomatic and Communist party records. Military and intelligence records remained less accessible.1 In 1991, for example, an American scholar noted that little was known about records at the Polish Central Military Archive, which is located in Rembertow just east of Warsaw. Military documents here, he observed, were "still considered to be top secret' -- even for the 1940s and 1950s." Researchers were allowed access to the records only by special permission of the Ministry of Defense, but apparently no one had yet received such permission. 2 Thus, the need became apparent to encourage the opening of military records, not only in Poland, but also throughout the former Soviet bloc.

Second, the end of the Cold War allowed greatly increased contacts and communication between Department of Defense historical offices and their counterparts in Russia and Eastern Europe. During the late eighties and early nineties a series of bilateral visits kindled a new spirit of cooperation among them. 3 A key milestone was the April 1990 address to a standing-room only audience in the Pentagon auditorium by the former director of the Russian Military History Institute, General Dmitri A. Volkogonov, about the research and writing of his biography of Josef Stalin.

Out of this new atmosphere emerged plans by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to hold a conference in Washington, D.C., in March 1994 on the military history and records of the Cold War. Nearly 140 representatives from 17 countries, including former Warsaw Pact nations, attended the conference, which was hosted by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. 4 Military archivists from Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary presented papers describing their holdings. 5 Participants also discussed a number of ways to continue their collaboration, including bilateral research visits, publication of a newsletter on Cold War history, joint publications, and the microfilming of archival materials. Following the conference a Department of Defense Cold War Historical Committee, chaired by John Greenwood of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, was established to promote the exchange of information between the historical offices of DoD and various U.S. government agencies and other countries' official history programs. In August and September 1994, the committee sponsored the visits to the United States of 15 military historians and archivists from Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Romania, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada to conduct short-term research on Cold War topics. That winter the first issue of the committee's Cold War History Newsletter was published. 6

Although several private commercial ventures had been undertaken to microfilm materials in former Soviet-bloc countries, a model program existed close at hand within the U.S. Government. In 1992 the Department of Defense and the Library of Congress had begun collaborating to microfilm rare books, manuscripts, and pamphlets in libraries in Moscow and St. Petersburg, 7 and subsequently in Vilnius.

Building on the experience gained from this program, the DoD historical offices approached several military archives in 1995 with formal proposals to begin joint microfilm projects.

Polish Central Military Archive

Since filming began in May 1996, 69 reels -- on selected topics primarily from the Cold War years -- have been filmed at the Polish Central Military Archive. 8

They cover such subjects as "Operation Vistula" (the suppression of underground resistance in the period 1946-48); General Staff organizational and planning files, directives, and instructions, 1945-60; and records of the Polish representative on the Neutral Nation Supervisory Commission and Korean Repatriation Commission, 1953-54. Some World War II records have also been microfilmed, including files of General Zygmunt Berling, Commander of the 1st Polish Army, relating to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and records of the Polish General Staff in London, 2nd Bureau, on support for the Home Army in Poland. A list of the contents of the first 55 Polish reels is on LCs website at lcweb.loc.gov/rr/european/archiwum/archiwum.html.

For 1998-99 agreement has been reached to film (1) additional World War II records concerning the outbreak of war in 1939 and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, (2) records relating to Operation "Dunaj" --the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, (3) portions of the previously classified 30-volume (11,000-page) internal history, "Development of the Polish People's Armed Forces, 1945-1980," written during the mid-1980s, (4) selected reports of Polish military attaches in Washington, 1945-50, and (5) records relating to the reduction of Polish armed forces after the Korean War.

Two comments are in order about the Polish records scheduled for filming. First, while the heavy ideological slant to the 30-volume internal history diminishes its value as a scholarly work, its numerous footnotes make it an indispensable guide to the location of important documents in the archive. Second, the relatively small collection of attache reports held by the Central Military Archive generally deal with routine meetings and ceremonial and administrative matters (the main body of substantive reports are held by another archive), but there are bits of information in these reports useful to scholars.

The Library of Congress has also received records inventories from the Polish Central Military Archive. Reels 63 and 64 contain inventories for 15 collections of Cold War records, including the Office of the Minister of National Defense, 1945-49; the Finance- Budget Department, 1945-49; the Finance Department, 1950-56; the Organization and Planning Department, 1944-50; and most of the 2,200-page inventory for the General Staff records, 1945-50. In addition, LC has received duplicate printed copies of the 1961 Inwentarz Akt Ludowego Wojska Polskiego z lat 1943-45: Jednostki Bojowe [Inventory of the Records of the Polish People's Army, 1943-45: Fighting Units] (3 parts, 780 pages).

Finally, the Central Military Archive published in 1996 a comprehensive guide (154 pages) to its holdings, thought to be the first such publication issued by a former Soviet-bloc military archive, entitled Informator o Zasobie [Informational Guide to the Holdings]. A copy of the informational guide, as well as a 28-page supplement, Zimna Wojna w Wojskowym Zasobie Archiwalnym [The Cold War in Military Archival Holdings], have been given to the Library of Congress.

Romanian National Defense Ministry Archive

Since work began in February 1997, the Romanian National Defense Ministry Archive has produced 234 microfilm reels. They focus exclusively on records of military elements connected with the Romanian Commission for the Terms of the Armistice and the Peace Treaty, 1942-47. The reels are being catalogued and soon will be available to researchers. LC intends to post a list of the contents of the Romanian microfilm on its website. 9

Future microfilming will include selected records of the information, i.e. intelligence, section of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1944-48, and the records of the Superior Directorate of the Armed Forces, 1945-65. The Library of Congress has received photocopies of two major inventories: the 90-page inventory to the fond Marele Stat Major, Sectia 2 -- Informatii (Joint Chiefs of Staff, Section 2 -- Information), 1944-49, and the 306-page inventory to the fond Consiliul Politic Superior al Armitei (Superior Directorate of the Armed Forces), 1945-48.

Hungarian Archive for Military History

The last of the three archives to begin filming, the Archive for Military History in Budapest, since August 1997 has filmed 44 reels of records from the Ministry of Defense Central Files for the year 1949. The 1949 records cover the Ministry of Defense Secretariat, the Ministry's Chief Directorate for Political Matters, and the General Staff's Organizational and Mobilization Section,Directorate for Materiel Planning, and 2nd Directorate. The Hungarian reels at LC are still being processed and are not yet open for research. LC also intends to post a list of the contents of the Hungarian microfilm on its website.

The plan is to continue filming selected portions of files for the period 1949-56, to be followed by documents and reminiscences related to the 1956 Revolution (about 9,300 pages) and the Ministry of Defense's Presidential Directorate register books for 1945-49 (about 8,300 pages). Time and resources permitting, records of the Hungarian Royal Chief of Staff and of the Presidential Section of the Royal Ministry of Defense for the period 1938-45 will be filmed last.

At present there are no plans to film inventories in the Hungarian Archive for Military History.

Further information regarding the microfilm from the three archives can be obtained from LC's European Division specialists: Ron Bachman (Poland), 202-707-8484, Grant Harris (Romania), 202-707-5859, and Ken Nyirady (Hungary), 202-707-8493.

Since 1987 Ronald D. Landa has been a member of the Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense. From 1973 to 1987 he worked as a historian at the Department of State, where he was one of the editors of the documentary series, Foreign Relations of the United States.


1 Regarding the holdings of the Slovak Military Historical Archive at Trnava, which administratively is under the Military History Institute, see Pavel Vimmer, "Miesto a hlavne ulohy VHA v systeme vojenskeho archivnictva" [The Place and Main Tasks of the VHA (Military Historical Archive) in the Slovak Military Archival Structure], Vojenska Historia, vol. 1, no. 2 (1997), pp. 74-81. A short description of the Russian Central Naval Archive is in Patricia Kennedy Grimsted et al, eds., Archives in Russia, 1993: A Brief Directory (Washington, DC: International Research & Exchanges Board, 1992), p. C-5.
2 P. J. Simmons, "Report from Eastern Europe," Cold War International History Project [CWIHP] Bulletin, no. 1 (Spring 1992), p. 12. The article is condensed from Simmons longer paper, "Archival Research on the Cold War Era: A Report from Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw," CWIHP Working Paper No. 2, May 1992.
3 Brooke Nihart, "Soviet Military Museum Leaders Tour Historical Center," Fortitudine, vol. XVIII, no. 3 (Winter 1988- 89), pp. 9-11, and "Military Museum Heads Visit Russian Counterparts," ibid., vol. XVIII, no. 4 (Spring 1989), pp. 16, 23; Henry I. Shaw, Jr., "Hungarian Military Historians Visit Center," ibid., vol. XIX, no. 2 (Fall 1989), p. 21; Burton Wright III, "International Military History Exchanges: The Hungarian People's Army Visits Washington, D.C.," Army History, no. 14 (April 1990), pp. 17-18, and "International Military History Exchanges: Soviet Military Historians Visit Washington, D.C.," ibid., no. 15 (Summer 1990), p. 28; Henry I. Shaw, Jr., "U.S. Military Historians Find Warm Welcome in Poland," Fortitudine, vol. XX, no. 1 (Summer 1990), pp. 15-18; Frank N. Schubert, "The Exchange Program with the Hungarian Military Institute and Museum," Army History, no. 18 (Spring 1991), p. 17. See also Daniel R. Mortensen, "Downed Aircrew over Europe: Revival of Polish Affection at the End of the Cold War," Air Power History, vol. 40, no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 44-51, and Richard A. Russell, "A Return to Russian Naval History," Pull Together, vol. 34, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 1995), pp. 4-6.
4 See Judith Bellafaire, "The Cold War Military Records and History Conference," Army History, no. 31 (Summer 1994), p. 36. An account of the conference by a Slovak participant, Miloslav Pucik, is in his "The Cold War International History Projekt," Vojenska Historia, vol. I, no. 1 (1997), pp. 142-44.
5 For the papers presented at the conference, see William W. Epley, ed., International Cold War Military Records and History: Proceedings of the International Conference on Cold War Military Records and History Held in Washington, D.C., 21-26 March 1994 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1996). Papers that describe former Soviet-bloc archives and their holdings include V. V. Mukhin, "The Military Archives of Russia," pp. 185-92; N. P. Brilev, "The Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation," pp. 193-202; Vladimir Pilat, "Cold War Military Records in Czech Military Archives and Possibilities of Their Study," 213-17; Adam Marcinkowski and Andrzej Bartnik, "Polish Military Records of the Cold War: Organization, Collections, Use, and Assessment," pp. 219-31; Andras Horvath, "The System of Distrust: The Top Secret Document Management System in the Hungarian People's Army, 1949-1956," pp. 233-45; and Alexandru Osca, "The Romanian Military Archives: An Important Source for the Detailed Study of the Cold War," pp. 247-54. The U.S. Army Center of Military History is considering placing the conference proceedings on its website at http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg.
6 U.S. Department of Defense Cold War Historical Committee Cold War History Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1995). A description of the program that brought the 15 researchers to the United States in the summer of 1994 is on pp. 2-3.
7 James H. Billington, "Bear and Eagle," Civilization, April/ May 1998, p. 90.
8 A brief description of the Polish project and the 20 May 1996 inaugural ceremony held at the Central Military Archive, attended by U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Rey, is in Zdzislaw G. Kowalski, "Wspolpraca archiwistow wojskowych [Cooperation of Military Archivists]," Polska Zbrojna, 18 June 1996.
9 Working as a volunteer for the Library of Congress, a retired Foreign Service officer, Ernest Latham, prepared a detailed finding aid to the first 96 reels of Romanian microfilm. See Donna Urschel, "Romanian Specialist Creates Finding Aid in English," Library of Congress Gazette, vol. 9, no. 18 (8 May 1998), p. 10.


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