Mysterious man leaves nearly 400 WWII Home Army IDs in envelope at Warsaw Uprising Museum – The First News
Almost 400 ID cards of Home Army soldiers who fought in the Warsaw Uprising found their way to the Uprising Museum after an envelope containing the documents was handed over by a mysterious elderly man who left without saying a word.
Museum workers were stunned when they realized what was inside, with some of the documents signed by Auschwitz volunteer and hero Witold Pilecki.
Delivered last year, the identity cards have only just been made public and presented to the museum as part of a temporary exhibition.
The transport of 383 ID cards and three insurgent passes is more than double the entire collection the museum has assembled over several decades and museum sources say the lot could be worth as much as to one million zlotys.
The identity of the donor remains a mystery, however.
Museum director Jan Ołdawski said: “He left no information, his appearance made any identification impossible without using methods that are not accessible to us.
“Before our historians knew what we were dealing with, he was gone. Perhaps he was a man who knew how to disappear unnoticed.
Tens of thousands of pieces of identification were printed during the uprising, in various designs and colors. The rectangular cards, usually pink (but there were also white, gray, green-gray and orange ones), contained the basic data of the soldiers – rank, pseudonym, first name, often also last name – real or illegal, date of birth, and sometimes a fingerprint.
The setbacks were marked with information about the soldier’s postings, decorations and promotions, sometimes also the weapons he owned, the right to make arrests, or the successful completion of an officer cadet exam during the uprising. .
Ołdawski said: “This is one of the most precious gifts we have received since the creation of our museum.
“Besides its extremely high value, also as a collector’s item, the collection of identity cards is an invaluable historical source.
“It also has enormous sentimental value: behind each card is the story of a soldier from the Home Army, a Warsaw insurgent.
“Looking at these extremely valuable documents, we have the faces of their owners before our eyes. “
The museum said the reason the documents contained the soldiers’ real names was that during the occupation, for reasons of secrecy, the Home Army soldiers did not have any documents confirming their membership in the movement. clandestine.
But just before the start of the Warsaw Uprising, Home Army Commander General Tadeusz “Bór” Komorowski ordered the soldiers to be given ID cards so that they could be recognized as serving. in a legitimate army and not as partisans, which the Germans gave themselves. the right to perform.
The museum said: “From the start of the uprising, for the Germans to have ID meant that the owner of the document was a bandit and had to be killed.
“However, on August 30, 1944, thanks to pressure from the governments of the United States and Great Britain, the German Army recognized the Home Army as an integral part of the Polish armed forces and thus the identity became a lifelong passport until the end of the war.
Museum historians have established that most of the identity documents handed over belonged to soldiers fighting from the beginning to the end of the uprising in Śródmieście, in the Chrobry II and Gurt groups, in the Zaremba-Piorun, Bełt, Gozdawa and Kilinski battalions. .
Two documents were signed by Witold Pilecki, who was the commander of a groupement during the uprising.
Almost all of the documents bear the number of POW camp 344 in Lamsdorf.
Ołdawski said: “Insurgents who were sent to transit camps had their identity cards confiscated. A German order number was written on the ID card and sent to the camp archives, and the insurgents instead received a metal plate – a badge with a camp number, which they wore on a string. “
What happened to the documents after the war is not known. In March 1945, the camp was occupied by the Red Army.
Ołdawski said: “If the Germans did not clear the archives, they were probably recovered by one of the Soviet secret services.
“After the war, the collection could have been used to identify participants in the Warsaw Uprising, to monitor members of the Home Army, which was already being treated as an enemy organization.
“It was valuable because it mostly contained real first and last names.”
Until now, the collection of insurgent identity documents in the Warsaw Uprising Museum numbered around 300. They were collected for many years, first by the Warsaw Historical Museum, then by the Warsaw Museum. L’Insurrection, which opened in 2004. The recent donation has more than doubled this collection.
Dr Katarzyna Utracka from the museum said: “Based on these documents, we can check the biographies of the soldiers, establish their names.
“It often happened that we had an insurgent, we knew which unit he was fighting in, we knew his war name, but we didn’t know his last name.
“Thanks to these documents, we were able to establish a number of names and reconstruct the combat history of these soldiers. “
The documents are now part of the Insurgent Identity Cards exhibit and can be viewed in the museum’s Liberator Room.