By Michael Smart, ’97
ON Dec. 19, 2000, in ceremonies in Poland, representatives of the LDS Church and BYU donated historic manuscripts to the Polish national archives. The papers, some of which date back to the 16th century, are records of the Potocki family and were scattered during World War II.
“The Potocki family was one of the most prominent families in the Hapsburg empire,” said Blair R. Holmes, ’66, associate professor of history, who studied the papers while they were in Provo. “They owned tens of thousands of acres in southern Poland and what is now the Ukraine. Some of those documents were signed by Polish kings.”
During World War II, family members packed what they could of their records aboard a train and fled their castle. Over time, a portion of those papers ended up in the possession of a Swiss document dealer. BYU‘s special collections library purchased them in 1985.
In 1994 the Genealogical Society of Utah organized a visit to Utah for the Polish national archivist and included the BYU manuscripts on the itinerary. His archive had gathered the records the Potockis left behind and, over the next few years, his interest in BYU‘s manuscripts evolved into a request that they be returned to Poland. The documents were microfilmed before being returned so that BYU researchers can continue to study them.
Brent Griffiths, Europe area manager for the Genealogical Society of Utah, noted that lands in central Europe have changed hands many times during the past 100 years, and many historical materials from the area have been moved or lost.
“For this material, first of all, to still be in existence and then to be returned, has a great significance to the people of Poland,” he said.