In the first years of its existence, the Polish trade union Solidarność and its leaders focused on bread, meat, and civil rights, rather than documenting their activities. Nevertheless, a huge quantity of documents came into being, including: a kaleidoscope of newspapers, flyers, and calls for strike, but also posters, poetry, video and sound recordings. They were published by numerous individuals and groups in many different ways and locations, which made monitoring the stream of publications very complicated. Collecting materials proved even more difficult than publishing them. But this did not keep scholarly institutions such as the IISH, Feltrinelli, or Harvard from starting to develop collections. Theo van Tijn (1927-1992) played a crucial role in this process.
Van Tijn, professor of economic and social history and member of the Board of the IISH, safeguarded about two stretching meter of materials and launched an international project to catalogue and make available for research all these Polish materials in the ‘diaspora’.
In 2011, the Institute received a file from Van Tijn’s legacy with documents on his Polish activities between 1981 and 1988. This fascinating file shows how Van Tijn, as a historian in search of sources, shaped history himself. He used his scholarly networks to make contacts within the union, and these endured when Solidarność was driven underground on December 13, 1981. Van Tijn entered into an agreement with the leadership of the union to designate the IISH as a depot for its publications and archives abroad. When martial law was declared, this agreement could not be implemented. As a former Trotskyist, Van Tijn made effforts to have Isaac Deutschers biographies of Stalin and Trotsky published in Polish, and he also was involved in debates about the perspectives of this legendary union.
Theo van Tijn papers, inventory no. 2-6