Institute of National Remembrance

Institute of National Remembrance
Instytut Pamięci Narodowej
Institute of National Remembrance logo
The logo of IPN
Siedziba Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej przy ul. Wołoskiej 7 w Warszawie styczeń 2019.jpg
IPN headquarters at 7 Wołoska Street in Warsaw
Abbreviation IPN
Motto Our history creates our identity.[1]
Formation 18 December 1998 (21 years ago) (1998-12-18)
Dissolved n/a
Purpose Education, research, archive, and identification. Commemorating the Struggle and Martyrdom. Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation.[2]
Headquarters Warsaw, Poland
  • 7 Wołoska Street
Region served
Republic of Poland
Official language
Jarosław Szarek
Main organ
Several hundred
Remarks The IPN Headquarters in Warsaw co-ordinates the operations of eleven Branch Offices and their Delegations

The Institute of National RemembranceCommission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (Polish: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu; IPN) is a Polish government institution in charge of prosecution, archives, education, and, since 2007, lustration, in relation to crimes against the Polish nation.[3] The IPN investigates Nazi and communist crimes committed between 1917 and 1990, documents its findings, and disseminates them to the public.[4]

The institute was established by the Polish Parliament on 18 December 1998[5] and incorporated the earlier, 1991-established Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (which had replaced a 1945-established body on Nazi crimes).[6] It began its activities on 1 July 2000.[7] The IPN is a founding member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience.[8]

Several scholars have criticized the IPN for politicization and functioning as a "ministry of memory" rather than an objective historical research institute, especially under Law and Justice governments.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15] In 2018, the institution's mission statement was changed to include "protecting the reputation of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Nation".[16]


IPN's main areas of activity,[4] in line with its original mission statement,[5] include researching and documenting the losses which were suffered by the Polish Nation as a result of World War II and during the post-war totalitarian period.[5] The Institute informs about the patriotic traditions of resistance against the occupational forces,[5] and the Polish citizens' fight for sovereignty of the nation, including their efforts in defence of freedom and human dignity in general.[5] IPN investigates crimes committed on Polish soil against Polish citizens as well as people of other citizenships wronged in the country. War crimes which are not affected by statute of limitations according to Polish law include:[4]

  1. crimes of the Soviet and Polish communist regimes committed in the country from 17 September 1939 until fall of communism on 31 December 1989,[4]
  2. deportations to the Soviet Union of Polish soldiers of Armia Krajowa,[4] and other Polish resistance organizations as well as Polish inhabitants of the former Polish eastern territories,
  3. pacifications of Polish communities between Vistula and Bug Rivers in the years 1944 to 1947 by UB-NKVD,[4]
  4. crimes committed by the law enforcement agencies of the Polish People's Republic, particularly Ministry of Public Security of Poland and Main Directorate of Information of the Polish Army,[4]
  5. crimes under the category of war crimes and crimes against humanity.[4]

It is the IPN's duty to prosecute crimes against peace and humanity, as much as war crimes.[5] Its mission includes the need to compensate for damages which were suffered by the repressed and harmed people at a time when human rights were disobeyed by the state,[5] and educate the public about recent history of Poland.[4] IPN collects, organises and archives all documents about the Polish communist security apparatus active from 22 July 1944 to 31 December 1989.[5]

Following the election of the Law and Justice party, the nationalist government formulated in 2016 a new IPN law. The 2016 law stipulates that the IPN should oppose publications that dishonor or harm the Polish nation and that history should be popularized as "an element of patriotic education". The new law also removed the influence of academia and the judiciary on the IPN, and four Law and Justice candidates were appointed to the IPN kolegium replacing the former independent members.[3] According to Polish sociologist Piotr Żuk [pl], in practice, the educational mission of the IPN "means building up a picture of the past only from the point of view of a conservative-nationalist position".[17]

A 2018 amendment to the law,[18] added an article 55a that attempts to defend the "good name" of Poland and its people against any accusation of complicity in the Holocaust.[19] Initially conceived as a criminal offense (3 years of jail) with an exemption for arts and research, following an international outcry, the article was modified to a civil offense that may be tried in civil courts and the exemption was deleted.[18] Defamation charges under the act may be made by the IPN as well as by accredited NGOs such as the Polish League Against Defamation.[18] By the same law, the institution's mission statement was changed to include "protecting the reputation of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Nation".[16]


Main entrance

IPN was created by special legislation on 18 December 1998.[5] The IPN is divided into:[20][5][21]

  • Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (Główna Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu)
  • Bureau of Provision and Archivization of Documents (Biuro Udostępniania i Archiwizacji Dokumentów)
  • Bureau of Public Education (or Public Education Office, Biuro Edukacji Publicznej)
  • Lustration Bureau (Biuro Lustracyjne) (new bureau, since October 2006)[20]
  • local chapters.

On 29 April 2010, acting president Bronislaw Komorowski signed into law a parliamentary act that reformed the Institute of National Remembrance.[22]


IPN is governed by the director, who has a sovereign position that is independent of the Polish state hierarchy. The director may not be dismissed during his term, unless he commits a harmful act. Prior to 2016, the election of the director was a complex procedure, which involves the selection of a panel of candidates by the IPN Collegium (members appointed by the Polish Parliament and judiciary). The Polish Parliament (Sejm) then elects one of the candidates, with a required supermajority (60%). The director has a 5-year term of office.[23] Following 2016 legislation in the PiS controlled parliament, the former pluralist Collegium was replaced with a nine-member Collegium composed of PiS supporters, and the Sejm appoints the director after consulting with the College without an election between candidates.[23]

The first director of the IPN was Leon Kieres, elected by the Sejm for five years on 8 June 2000 (term 30 June 2000 – 29 December 2005). The IPN granted some 6,500 people the "victim of communism" status and gathered significant archive material. The institute faced difficulties since it was new and also since the Democratic Left Alliance (containing former communists) attempted to close the institute. The publication of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan T. Gross, proved to be a lifeline for the IPN as Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski intervened to save the IPN since he deemed the IPN's research to be important as part of Jewish-Polish reconciliation and "apology diplomacy".[23]

The second director was Janusz Kurtyka, elected on 9 December 2005 with a term that started 29 December 2005 until his death in the Smolensk airplane crash on 10 April 2010. The elections were controversial, as during the elections a leak against Andrzej Przewoźnik accusing him of collaboration with Służba Bezpieczeństwa caused him to withdraw his candidacy.[23][24] Przewoźnik was cleared of the accusations only after he had lost the election.[24]

In 2006, the IPN opened a "Lustration Bureau" that increased the director's power. The bureau was assigned the task of examining the past of all candidates to public office. Kurtyka widened archive access to the public, and shifted focus from compensating victims to researching collaboration.[23]

Franciszek Gryciuk was acting director from 2010 to 2011.[citation needed]

Łukasz Kamiński, was elected by the Sejm in 2011 following the death of his predecessor. Kamiński headed the Wroclaw Regional Bureau of Public Education prior to his election. During his term the IPN faced a wide array of criticism calling for an overhaul or even replacement. Critics founds fault in the IPN being a state institution, the lack of historical knowledge of its prosecutors, a relatively high number of microhistories with a debatable methodology, overuse of the martyrology motif, research methodology, and isolationism from the wider research community. In response, Kamiński implemented several changes, including organizing public debates with outside historians to counter the charge of isolationism and has suggested refocusing on victims as opposed to agents.[23]

Jarosław Szarek was appointed to head the IPN on 22 July 2016.[25] Szarek is affiliated with PiS, and in his campaign to be elected said that "Germans were the executors of the Jedwabne crime and that they had coerced a small group of Poles to become involved". Following his appointment, Szarek dismissed Krzysztof Persak who was the coauthor of the two-volume 2002 IPN study on the Jedwabne pogrom. In subsequent months, the IPN was featured in media headlines for releasing controversial documents, additional Wałęsa documents, memory politics in schools and efforts to change communist street names, and legislation efforts.[3] According to historian Idesbald Goddeeris, this marks a return of politics to the IPN.[3]



Archive at the former IPN headquarters at 28 Towarowa Street in Warsaw

Following the public debate on Jan T. Gross's book Neighbors, the IPN conducted an in-depth investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom. The investigation was politicized, and the IPN's director was involved in defending Poland's good name outside of Poland during the investigation.[26]


The IPN's Public Education Office (BEP) vaguely defined role in the IPN act is to inform society of communist and Nazi crimes and institutions. This vaguely defined role allowed Paweł Machcewicz, BEP's director in 2000, freedom to create a wide range of activities.[3]

Researchers at the IPN conduct not only research, but are required to take part in public outreach.[27] BEP has published music CDs,[28] DVDs, and serials. It has founded "historical clubs" for debates and lectures. It has also organized outdoor historical fairs, picnic, and games.[3]

The IPN Bulletin (Polish: Biuletyn IPN) is a high circulation popular-scientific journal,[29] intended for lay readers and youth.[27] Some 12,000 of 15,000 copies of the Bulletin are distributed free of charge to secondary schools in Poland, and the rest are sold in bookstores.[29] The Bulletin contains: popular-scientific and academic articles, polemics, manifestos, appeals to readers, promotional material on the IPN and BEP, denials and commentary on reports in the news, as well as multimedia supplements.[29]

The IPN also publishes the Remembrance and Justice (Polish: Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość) scientific journal.[29]

The Institution of National Remembrance has created several board games to help educate people about recent Polish history:


One of the most controversial aspects of IPN is a by-product of its role in collecting and publishing previously secret archives from the Polish communist security apparatus, the Służba Bezpieczeństwa: revealing secret agents and collaborators (a process called lustration).[30] Following the election of a Law and Justice government in 2005, in a series of legislative amendments during 2006 and the beginning of 2007 file access and lustration powers were radically expanded.[31] However, several articles of the 2006-7 amendments were judged unconstitutional by Poland's Constitutional Court on 11 May 2007.[32] Following the court ruling the IPN's lustration power was still wider in relation to the original 1997 law, and include loss of position for those who submitted false lustration declarations as well as a lustration process of candidates for senior office as well as .[31]

An incident which caused controversy involved the "Wildstein list", a partial list of persons who allegedly worked for the communist-era Polish intelligence service, copied in 2004 from IPN archives (without IPN permission) by journalist Bronisław Wildstein and published on the Internet in 2005. The list gained much attention in Polish media and politics, and IPN security procedures and handling of the matter came under criticism.[33][31]

Individuals opposed by neo-Endeks (modern-day adherents of National Democracy principles), such as liberal clergy, independent journalists, Jacek Kuroń, and Zygmunt Bauman, have been targeted with "leaks" from the IPN archives about their alleged past communist ties.[34]

In 2008 two IPN employees, Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, published a book, SB a Lech Wałęsa. Przyczynek do biografii (The Security Service and Lech Wałęsa: A Contribution to a Biography) which caused a major controversy.[35] The book's premise was that in the 1970s the Solidarity leader and later President of Poland Lech Wałęsa was a secret informant of the Polish communist Security Service.[36] Michael Szporer writes that the book should have been more nuanced in its judgment of anti-communist leaders, and that it unfairly singled out Wałęsa.[37]

As of 2012 some 10% of IPN's personnel (215 workers of which 26 are prosecutors) work in the Lustration office. Between 2007 and 2012, prepared four internet catalogs of: former Communist officials, security officers, those targeted by Security, and of people presently holding public office. In the same period, the IPN handled nearly 150,000 "vetting declaration.[38]


According to Georges Mink [fr], common criticisms of the IPN include: its dominance in the Polish research field, which is guaranteed by a budget that far supersedes that of any similar academic institution; the low quality of its research, and its emphasis on "quantity over quality"; its focus on "martyrology"; and various criticisms of methodology and ethics.[23] Some of these criticisms have been addressed by Director Łukasz Kamiński during his tenure; however according to Mink, the changes to the electoral process and the election of Jarosław Szarek as director virtually guarantee the politicization of the institute.[23] In 2019, Jan Grabowski said that the institute should be abolished because of its "nationalist triumphalism" and "primitive and simplistic vision of our own history".[39]


In 2005, after Law and Justice's (PiS) electoral victory, the IPN focused on crimes against the Polish nation.[9] Part of PiS's platform was its historical policy on the national and international level to promote the Polish point of view. During PiS's control of the government between 2005 and 2007, the IPN was the focus of heated public controversies, in particular in regard to the past of Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. As a result, in scholarly literature the IPN has been referred to as a "Ministry of Memory" or as an institution involved in "memory games".[27] IPN's budget is five times higher than that of the Polish Academy of Sciences.[40]

Several scholars have criticized the IPN for turning in recent years, with the rise of the Law and Justice government and the 2018 amendment to the IPN law, from objective historical research towards historical revisionism.[9][10][11]

Following the disruption of the 2019 New Polish School of Holocaust Scholarship conference in Paris,[41] the IPN was criticized by French higher-education minister Frédérique Vidal,[41][42] who said the disturbances had been "highly regrettable" and "anti-Semitic", and that the disturbances organized by Gazeta Polska activists appeared to have been condoned by the IPN, whose representative did not condemn the disruption and which criticized the conference in social-media remarks that were re-tweeted by the Polish Embassy in Paris.[43]

Even though homosexuals were persecuted by the Communist regime (see Operation Hyacinth) the IPN refused to give them the status of a persecuted group, because "police actions against homosexuals were preventive measures and it is difficult to regard them as unlawful".[17]

Organizational and methodological concerns

Concerns have been raised with the institution's approach to historical research, which tends towards historical positivism and a claim of objectivity.[44] According to Wiktoria Śliwowska, the IPN's historiographic approach is more broadly concerned with assigning blame than with understanding of historical processes.[44] Valentin Behr writes that the IPN is most "concerned with the production of an official narrative about Poland’s recent past" and therefore it lacks innovation in its research. Behr adds that the IPN "has mainly taken in historians from the fringes of the academic field" who were either unable to obtain an academic position or ideologically drawn to the IPN's approach.[45]

Historian Dariusz Stola concludes that the IPN is a "Ministry of Memory", but bureaucratic in nature rather than Orwellian. This combination of traits limits the pluralism and quality of research the institute can produce. Stola notes that IPN is a "regular continental European bureaucracy, with usual deficiencies of its kind", and concludes that in this aspect the IPN resembles the communist institutions it is supposed to deal with, equally "bureaucratic, centralist, heavy, inclined to extensive growth and quantity rather than quality of production".[38] Stola also suggests that the IPN shows a "tendency for a questionable vision of interpretations of the past", and that its treatment of Poland's Communist history is meant to give "an orientation to the authors and the readers, probably a moral orientation they desire."[38]

Relations with Ukrainians

In March 1944, the Armia Krajowa and Peasant Battalion units attacked the Ukrainian-populated village Sahryn; hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were killed in the subsequent Sahryń massacre. Historian Mariusz Zajączkowski said that the massacre could be described as a war crime or perhaps a crime against humanity. The IPN investigation on this matter was discontinued in 2010, and the IPN found that there was no crime in Sahryń. A Ukrainian request to reopen the investigation was refused.[46][47]

Employee incidents

In September 2017, a historian in charge of education in Lublin for the IPN, wrote in a column in Gazeta Polska that "after the aggression of Germany into Poland, the situation of the Jews did not look very bad" and "although the [Nazi] occupation authorities took over, they ordered the wearing of armbands with the star of David, charged them heavy taxes, began to designate Jews-only zones only for the Jews, but at the same time permitted the creation of Judenrat, that is, organs of self-government."[48] In 2014, the same historian said in an expert opinion to a Polish court that the Nazi party was a leftist party and that the swastika is an ambiguous symbol.[48] These statements were widely criticized by other historians including Dariusz Libionka, and the IPN issued a statement saying that the "In connection with the thesis in the article by Tomasz Panfil in the Gazeta Polska, the Institute of National Remembrance declares that position presented there is in no way compatible with the historical knowledge about the situation of the Jewish population in Poland after 1 September 1939." and that it expects the historian "will, in his scientific and journalistic activities, show diligence and respect to the principles of historical and research reliability."[49] In October 2017, education minister Anna Zalewska presented the historian with a medal for "special merits for education".[48]

In October 2017, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the IPN to fire the deputy director of its publishing office because he had published several books by Holocaust denier David Irving. The IPN responded that the official "is not a Holocaust denier himself so there is no reason to dismiss him".[50][51]

In 2018, the institute was the subject of controversy after removing Adam Puławski from his position doing research on Polish–Jewish relations during World War II; 130 historians from Poland and abroad criticized the decision in an open letter.[52]

See also