German Police Records Opened at the National Archives
Press Release · Thursday, March 23, 2000
College Park, MD
Recently declassified German language documents at the National Archives confirm that the Polish government-in-exile in London during World War II received sensitive military information about Nazi Germany from agents and informants throughout Europe. Some of the Polish information about the movement of German police and SS units to the East during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941 was similar to information British intelligence secretly got through intercepting and decoding German police and SS messages sent by radio telegraphy. Gestapo officials later discovered some of what the Polish underground had leaked to London, and they appraised Polish intelligence as a very serious threat to German security, seeking to root out Polish agents and informants.
The documents were declassified at the recommendation of the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (IWG). The IWG was created in January 1999 by President Clinton to coordinate implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, which requires the government to locate, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public records relating to Nazi war crimes.
The German documents about Polish intelligence activities and Nazi responses to them are contained in a collection of miscellaneous intelligence-related documents called the "Heinrich Himmler Collection." Despite the title, nothing in the collection is from Himmler himself. Himmler was head of all German police, and this collection contains records from certain branches and offices within Himmler's police empire.
This new material is directly related to a much larger body of German records in the National Archives available since the 1970's. The "Himmler Collection" documents were withheld when the other records were made available for research, because they were considered too sensitive. Some of the German documents describe British agents, informants, or intelligence activities.
Box 4 of the "Himmler Collection" contains selected records gathered by Gestapo counterintelligence officials (Reich Security Main Office, IV E) regarding British, Soviet, French, and Polish intelligence activities in Nazi territories. After Germany conquered Poland in the fall of 1939, Gestapo officials believed that they had neutralized Polish intelligence activities. In 1942, however, they uncovered a cache of Polish intelligence documents in Prague and were surprised to see that Polish agents and informants had been gathering detailed military information and smuggling it out to London, via Budapest and Istanbul. The Poles identified had tracked German military trains to the Eastern front and identified four Order Police battalions sent to conquered areas of the Soviet Union in October 1941. In addition, another seventeen such battalions were stationed in Poland, according to Polish information.
Historians have established that such police battalions participated in the first phase of the Holocaust, shooting Jews in large numbers into mass graves. But these particular documents do not have direct information about police battalion killings of Jews.
Polish agents also gathered detailed information about the morale of German soldiers in the East. After uncovering a sample of the information the Poles had reported, Gestapo officials concluded that Polish intelligence activity represented a very serious danger to Germany. As late as June 6, 1944 Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo, set up a special unit called Sonderkommando Jerzy, designed to root out the Polish intelligence network in western and southwestern Europe.
Another part of the "Himmler Collection" contains a German file card index for persons of police or intelligence interest in Denmark and Scandinavia generally. There is much such routine paperwork in the collection of about 9,100 pages that will be valuable for historical researchers.
The materials are available in the Textual Research Room of the National Archives at College Park, which is located at 8601 Adelphi Road. Hours of operation are Monday and Wednesday 8:45 AM to 5 PM; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8:45 AM to 9 PM; and Saturday 8:45 to 4:45 PM. Free parking is available.
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.
This page was last reviewed on October 29, 2021.
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