Pilsudski Institute of America, Photographs of Polish soldiers and civilians during WWII (1939-1945)

The Pilsudski Institute of America is a non-profit organization incorporated in the State of New York and was established on July 4, 1943 in New York City as a major research, archival and science institution for research of modern history of Poland. The Institute is devoted to collecting, safe-keeping and preserving the documents and other historical memorabilia related to the history of Poland, Poles and of Americans of Polish descent; and to make the collections accessible to researchers and visitors to the Institute, and worldwide. The Institute promotes research in modern history of Poland and Polonia (Polish diaspora) and education through public programs such as documentary film screenings, book presentations, history classes and family workshops. The Institute has a large archival collection, special library, historical artifacts selection and a gallery of paintings.

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Photographs of Polish soldiers and civilians during WWII (1939-1945)

The photograph collection consists of photographs of Polish Armed Forces in the West which consisted of Polish Armed Forces-organized military formations, established in the autumn of 1939 outside of Poland, on the basis of inter-allied agreements signed with France and the United Kingdom. The Polish Armed Forces were commanded by the Commander-in-Chief General Władysław Sikorski and later on General Kazimierz Sosnkowski.

This collection includes three major groups of photographs associated with three military formations: Polish Armed Forces in the United Kingdom (1940-1944), the formation of Anders’ Army in the East, and the life of soldiers of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade in Africa (1940-1942).

The largest group of photographs contains images of Polish soldiers in the United Kingdom, including Polish ground troops in southern Scotland during military drills, parades, or simply during their off-duty time; Polish airmen who formed Polish fighter and bomber squadrons as part of the Royal Air Force; and the Polish Fighting Team, also known as “Skalski’s Circus,” fighting during the North African Campaign in 1943. The collection also includes photographs of the members of the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Service and members of the military medical services.

A small portion of the images presents sailors and warships of the Polish Navy in British ports and in the seas. Numerous images of officials of the Polish military and government-in-exile can be found throughout this part of the collection. Photographs of the commander-in-chief of the Polish Forces, Władysław Sikorski, and the president-in-exile, Władysław Raczkiewicz, are well-represented.

A striking contrast to the Polish Forces in the West is presented in the photographs of Anders’ Army, which recruited Polish prisoners-of-war held in the Soviet NKVD camps. The majority of the photographs were taken during the period of the Army’s formation in the Buzuluk area of the Soviet Union . The lack of support and supplies can be seen clearly in these photographs. A significant number of images show orphaned Polish children who sought refuge in the Army.

Finally, the last and the smallest group of photographs in the collection shows the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade. The images follow the Brigade from its garrison duties in Egypt to its operations against the Axis powers in Battle of Gazala in Libya. The Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade took part in battles in Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and became famous for the defense of Tobruk.

For inquiries about the Pilsudski Institute of America or about this collection, please contact: office@pilsudski.org