The archive materials of Nowy Sącz during the war

Sylwester Rękas

The archives of Nowy Sącz have a turbulent history, both at the end of the 19th century and at the end of the German occupation the resources suffered great losses. However, the first big disaster occurred already in the late Middle Ages – in 1486, the town record books of Nowy Sącz burned, although parchment documents fortunately survived. On 17 April 1894, the town hall in Nowy Sącz burned down, with the town archive inside, and about 150 royal privileges from the years 1273–1773 were destroyed with it. This time, the town record books for the period from 1488 to the end of the 18th century were saved, but the parchments were lost. A special room for the municipal archive and J. Szujski library was planned in the new town hall, but immediately after the fire, the oldest city archival materials that survived the fire were placed on deposit in the Archive of Historical Records of the City of Krakow (currently the National Archives in Krakow). A separate room was not prepared in the town hall and the library was passed over in 1909 to the People’s School Society together with other valuable files that still remained in Nowy Sącz (also guild records, apart from the town records). An attempt was also made to enlarge the archival resource; in 1913 Władysław Mazur helped acquire the deposit of the Nowy Sącz archives by the People’s School Society library (documents, files and court record books) and some of the files of the Stary Sącz customs chamber. Before the Second World War, there were two archives in Nowy Sącz: the municipal (in the attic of the town hall) and the second one at the J. Szujski Municipal Library. When the castle was renovated in the 1930s, it was intended to be the new seat of the Museum and some of the files were placed there.[1] It is worth mentioning that Homecki, as the main head guildsman, kept the collection of the old guild files of Nowy Sącz. The Old Polish files held in the library were not properly stored and sorted, as reported by the Head of the State Archive in Krakow in a letter dated 21 October 1938.[2]

During the occupation, the Germans were very interested in the archives, they began collecting them and inventory the files. The city commissioner, Dr. Hein sent the first reports on the archives kept in Nowy Sącz to his superiors in Kraków in March 1940. In them he mentioned valuable 19th-century German files of the imperial-royal customs chamber in Stary Sącz. The German authorities got interested in the files stored in the library, in the castle and in the town hall. They also ordered he city library to be closed and cabinets with archival materials to be sealed. Then some of the materials were successfully hidden in the nearby apartment of a teacher (Szybiakówna) on the other side of Jagiellońska Street. On 18 July 1940, the management of the German Archive in Kraków sent all of the municipal authorities a questionnaire on archives and current registries. From it we can learn, among other things, that the city files from recent years (1919–1939) were kept in a toilet on the second floor of the town hall (!), the older files, dating back to the 19th century, were kept in the attic. The Nowy Sącz castle held files concerning various localities, including document concerning the German settlers. These answers were not precise, but the Germans only began to research the resources. Bringing the Nowy Sącz archives to order was entrusted to a professor of the II Gymnasium in Nowy Sącz, Jan Weimer.

In October 1940, the new city commissioner, Dr. Friedrich Schmidt visited the archive in the Nowy Sącz castle. Since the files kept there were stored in damp toilets, the Commissioner even sent a letter to Prof. Romuald Reguła, which was then responsible for the management of the castle museum and archive, expressing his outrage at the conditions in which the documents are held. The Commissioner ordered the valuable archives, stored in the castle in an unsuitable way, to be transported to the municipal library in the “Manor” in the Nowy Sącz planty park (Jagiellońska 35). In September 1940, City Commissioner Hein summoned the head of the Library Laura Markowska and informed her, that the library building would be given over to the Hitlerjugend and the collections should be quickly moved. The Commissioner designated the monastery of the Jesuit fathers as the transfer location. However, they did not have suitable free rooms. The ones that were available were too damp, which would put the archival materials at risk of being destroyed. The Germans were successfully convinced to change the place of storing files. Fr. PA Mazur was asked to allocate the rooms of the “Świt” parish house at Św. Ducha 2 Str. for a Polish library. Meanwhile, the Germans searched for valuable files in the city archive too; the city plan in German language from 1831 found in them was sent to Kraków to be copied. In October 1940 a Volksdeutsch Dr. Rudolf Kesserling, former lecturer of evangelical religion at the University of Warsaw, was entrusted with the supervision of the archive and the German library. It is worth mentioning that Rudolf Kesserling came from a family of German settlers, who came from Saxony to Galicia in the second half of the 18th century. He was born in 1884 in New Chorosno, a German colony near Lviv. He studied at the universities of Vienna, Leipzig and Halle. He was the vicar of the Evangelical parish in Lviv (until 1929), and then a military chaplain. In 1932 he was awarded with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (!) and in the same year he became a professor of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at the University of Warsaw. After the war, he was a religion teacher in post-war Germany (West Germany).

The authorities of the Archive of the General Government in Kraków were very interested in the Nowy Sącz archives. As early as November 1940, Dr. Kesserling reported the storage location of the files in the municipal library, their number and importance, to the counselor of the state archive in Kraków, dr Goering. A few days later, he sent in a general inventory of the files kept in the city hall.

Kesserling, notified the head of the Polish library that he takes control over all of the libraries and archives in the Sącz district, and at the same time he asked to borrow a number of books and Stary Sącz court record books. They were placed in the German library in the “Sokół” building. The Old Polish books were kept in Kesserling’s office, who during the entire occupation period ensured that they will soon return to the Polish library. He used the files, among others, to write a propaganda monograph of Nowy Sącz, which presented the city as a center with German roots [Neu-Sandez und Neu-Sandezer Land: Ihre deutsche Vergangenheit und Aufbauarbeit (1230–1940), Krakau – Warschau 1941]. In order to do justice to Kesserling, it should be mentioned that the book collections confiscated from the whole district, were first brought to Kesserling’s German archive, and from there, in batches, they were transferred to the Polish library. In the autumn of 1940, the city commissioner sent the files from the Evangelical parish offices of the region to the archive supervised by Kesserling. In April 1941 Kesserling in turn sent the commissioner a report on the work on the files stored in the German archive, which shows that some of the files were sorted out due to them being decayed; he inventarized more than 200 volumes of different books, more important documents were specially marked, he also organized 2,206 files, and all of the privileges (from Stary Sącz) he placed in separate envelopes.[3]

Information about the Nowy Sącz archives sent in by Pastor Kesserling allowed the head of the German State Archive in Krakow, Dr. Erich Randt to include them in his second paper on archives in the General Government (Die Archive des Generalgouvernements, Die Burg, Heft 2, Krakau 1941, pp. 60-61.) The files were divided into three general groups: the history of culture, economic history and the history of the German settlement. Continuing to organize the archive, Kesserling mentioned in his report of July 1942 the necessity of sorting out the decayed archival materials (about 4,000 files) and creating several thematic groups:

  1. The city records of Nowy Sącz, dating back to 1750, with the following comment: Although these files may be important for Polish historical research, they are irrelevant for German history of that period;
  2. The Magistrate Records dating back to 1750, on which he commented that those written between 1772 and 1867, until the period of autonomous Galicia, are written in German. He grouped the records in this archive into detailed groups: materials important to the Germans, Jewish matters, school matters, etc.;
  3. Files of kreis (district) and tax offices and chambers (of Stary Sącz, Nowy Sącz, Limanowa, Tymbark, Krynica and Muszyna, etc.). Files written mainly in German;
  4. A library of national and regional laws from 1772 onwards;
  5. Nowy Sącz and Stadła Evangelical parish records. The files from this collection were sent to a branch of the Internal Board. Some of them are currently part of the resources of the National Archive in Krakow.[4]

Kesserling’s 10-page inventory and description of city and guild record books of the municipal archive in Nowy Sącz, created on 11 August 11 1942 is extremely valuable. The books listed in this inventory were later taken away by the Germans and lost.[5]

In relation to the Old Polish records, it is worth mentioning that in December 1942, the city commissioner of Nowy Sącz sent 16 photocopies of city and guild privileges to Krakow, to the director of the GG Archive. It is not known what the content of these privileges was. The most valuable files were collected in the private apartment of the City Commissioner Dr. Hueller.

A large part of the records, including valuable files and documents from Stary Sącz, were loaded on trucks and taken to the west by the Germans in July 1944. It is possible, however, that some day these files will be found, as it happens with various cultural goods looted by the Germans, as long as they were not destroyed during the war. Kesserling left three large empty envelopes, in which he kept the privileges and copies of documents taken from Stary Sącz (7 items). After the war Wiktor Bazielich asked Kesserling, who stayed in Germany, to describe the circumstances of the files being transported out of Nowy Sącz. Kesserling explained that he was reluctant to send the Old Polish files into Germany, as their importance is mainly connected with the area where they are stored. The pastor even wrote that he risked a lot, trying to protect these files from being taken away. When he tried to find out where the files would go to, he received the answer that they will be taken to Goerlitz (Zgorzelec) and that the care of them was entrusted to Landkomissar Muege, who was in Limanowa during the war. However, the post-war testimony from the head of the municipal library, Laura Markowska, brought completely different facts, that did not match Kesserlig’s version. Before leaving Nowy Sącz in 1944, Dr. Kesserling informed Markowska that the files he had taken to the German archive some time before, were stored in the town hall, in a special shelter. Unfortunately, it was not true, such a shelter never existed in the town hall. The trace of the archives taken away was lost and they were not found to this day, although soon after the war the management of the State Archive in Krakow tried searching for them. They were searched for in Zgorzelec, Bolesław and other towns in Lower Silesia. Wiktor Bazielich participated in the search; after receiving information that some archival materials were found in Zgorzelec in 1947, he wrote to the authorities of the State Archive in Wrocław about them, but they asnwered, that the discovered files concerned only Zgorzelec itself.[6]

Hopefully the looted archives have not been destroyed on their way into Germany and will be found some day.


[1] K. Golachowski, Inwentarz Archiwum Miasta Nowego Sącza z lat 1292–1772 (Inwentarz idealny) „Rocznik Sądecki”, vol. 3, pp. 192–200.

[2] Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie Oddział w Nowym Sączu (ANKNS), Korespondencja w sprawie archiwów miejskich zamku królewskiego w Nowym Sączu, zabytków, muzealiów oraz pomocy finansowej dla Redakcji „Rocznika Sądeckiego”, ref. 31/15/790, p. 59.

[3] K. Golachowski, pp. 201–203, L. Markowska, Karta z kroniki Biblioteki Miejskiej im. J. Szujskiego w Nowym Sączu) “Rocznik Sądecki”, vol. 2, pp. 173-179. ANKNS, Archiv der Stadt Neu- Sandez Archiwum Miejskie w Nowym Sączu [Korespondencja w sprawie archiwów sądeckich], ref. 31/15/929.

[4] K. Golachowski, pp. 204–205

[5] The inventory is stored in the Nowy Sącz Branch of the National Archive in Krakow, in the above-mentioned correspondence collection, see: footnote 3.

[6] K. Golachowski, pp. 206–210; L. Markowska, pp. 182–184.