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The current building of the Ossolineum Institute in Wrocław

The Ossolineum or the National Ossoliński Institute (Polish: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, ZNiO) is a non-profit foundation located in Wrocław, Poland since 1947, and subsidized from the state budget. It was founded in 1817 by Józef Maksymilian Ossoliński of the Topór coat of arms, politician, writer and researcher who devoted his life to building and cataloguing an extremely rich library collection, the second in the country when it comes to size after the Jagiellonian Library of Kraków. The history of Ossolineum goes back to the foreign Partitions of Poland in the 19th century. The institute along with its library was built intentionally as one of the most important national and Polish cultural institutions at a time when the sovereign Poland could not exist. It first opened its doors to the public in 1827, in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine).[1]

The collection of books, manuscripts, art prints and coins was brought by Ossoliński to Lwów, the capital of the Austrian zone of occupation of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 52 crates with the approval of Austrian emperor Franz Joseph. It was the founding stone for his Institute in Lwów (Institut in Lemberg in German). The income from Ossoliński's land-estates served for over three decades as the financial basis for his acquisitions.[1] Ossolineum soon became a meritorious centre for Polish science and culture maintained not only under the foreign rule, but also in sovereign Poland between world wars. Until the 1939 invasion of Poland it combined a Library, Publishing House, and the Lubomirski Museum.[1]

Founding and development[edit]

The building of the Ossolineum Institute in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). Archival photograph from before World War II
Lviv's edifice of former Ossolineum today, renamed as Vasyl Stefanyk Library

The National Ossoliński Institute was located from its foundation up to 1945 in the former cloister and church of the Calced Carmelite Nuns in Lwów at 2 ulica Ossolińscy (now renamed as vulytsia Stefanyka). After the first partition of Poland and the dissolution of many cloisters by the Austrian emperor Joseph II, the cloister building fell into ruin. The restoration of the building was the pet-project of General Józef Bem who in 1823 attached the Museum Lubomirskich to the Ossoliński Institute, which was established originally by Prince Henryk Lubomirski.

Ossolineum in Galicia was under Austrian rule concentrating the Polish intellectual movement and was one of the most important centres of Polish culture in the annexation and Germanization. During that time there were many persecutions in the form of police searches and arrests of employees of the centre.[citation needed]

The institute housed a clandestine Polish printing office in the early 1840s, and had an exclusive right for publishing textbooks in times of Galician autonomy. During the revolutionary upheaval in 1848, the Ossolineum became one of the Polish landmarks in Lwów. It was vandalized by Ukrainian soldiers in the midst of fighting over the city in 1918.[2]

In accordance with the intention of its founder it became one of the most important research centres on history and Polish literature, with one of the biggest book collections in Poland as well as a large collection of manuscripts and autographs including medieval manuscripts and oldest prints.

Smaller archives and book collections are also in Ossolineum: Jabłonowski, Poniński, Pawlikowski, Skarbek, Balzer, Sapieha, Lubomirski, Mniszek.

The library has national character i.e. the Polish department is the biggest and it attempts to complete the whole Polish scientific and literary oeuvre. Ossolineum is the owner of manuscripts of the foremost Polish writers and poets: Mickiewicz, Ansyk, Sienkiewicz, Kasprowicz, Reymont, Żeromski, and above all Słowacki.

Before the Second World War, the Ossolineum library consisted of 220,000 works, over 6,000 manuscripts, over 9,000 autographs, over 2,000 diplomas and over 3,000 maps (the collection of J.M. Ossoliński from the year 1827 included 10,121 works, 19,055 volumes, duplicates, 567 manuscripts in 715 volumes, 133 maps, 1,445 figures).

Ossolineum had also a complete collection of Polish press from 19th and 20th centuries, the biggest in Poland,.

In his last testament, the founder, Józef Maksymilian Ossoliński named members of Ossoliński family to hold the post of economic curatorship and in striving to maintain the continuity of the Institute mentioned 28 notable Polish families among whom a successor could be chosen in case if his own family died out.[3]

World War II seizures[edit]

After the takeover of Lwów by the Soviet Union in the September 1939 attack on Poland, the Communist Party nationalized and redistributed all private property.[4] Ossolineum was closed down and its library holdings were absorbed by the newly created Lviv Branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.[5] The Lubomirski Museum's collection was distributed among various Lwów museums managed by the Ukrainians for the next two years.[6] During the subsequent German occupation of Lwów (from 29 June 1941 to 27 July 1944), the Ossolineum library was incorporated into the structure of the new German Staatsbibilothek Lemberg. At the beginning of 1944, the German government decided to move not only the collection of Lwów’s library, but also university and polytechnic library and Shevchenko Scientific Society.

According to German orders two transports, which were prepared by professor Mieczysław Gębarowicz, who was managing Ossolineum during the war, were supposed to include only German specialized literature and a reference book collection of the main reading room. However, it also consisted of the most valuable and carefully selected special collections and Ossolineum’s cimelias. Together there were 2,300 manuscripts, cir. 2,200 documents (diplomas), cir. 1,700 old prints, cir. 2,400 figures and drawings from an old collection of Lubomirsky’s Museum, the Pawlikowski collection and hundreds of old coins. Moreover, it also included cir. 170 of the most valuable manuscripts of another Polish foundation library the Baworowscy Library, and the most valuable manuscripts and incunabulums of the University Library in Lviv. Among the evacuated literature of 19th and 20th century there were the autographs of Pan Tadeusz of Adam Mickiewicz, the whole legacy of Juliusz Słowacki's manuscripts (with autographs of Mazepa, Lilla Weneda, Król-Duch) and Aleksander Fredro (with autographs of Pan Jowialski, Śluby panieńskie, Zemsta and Dożywocie) and then autographs of works of Seweryn Goszczyński, Teofil Lenartowicz, Józef Conrad, Henryk Sienkiewicz (with autographs of The Deluge), Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Jan Kasprowicz, Władysław Reymont (together with the autograph of Chłopi), Stefan Żeromski.

Furthermore, the manuscript legacy of Lviv’s scholars was moved: Wojciech Kętrzyński, Ludwik Bernacki, Balzer, Karol Szajnoch and the archive of the Galician activist peasant movement of Bolesław and Maria Wysłouch. When it comes to documents, the oldest and most valuable copies were selected, starting from the documents of Pope Gregory IX from 1227 and the Silesian prince Henry I the Bearded from 1229.

The Ossolinem collection reached Cracow within March and April 1944, where they were supposed to survive the military actions in a cellar of the Jagiellonian Library. Unexpectedly in the summer of 1944, this collection was transferred by the Germans further West and stored in Adelin (Zgrodno) near Złotoryja in Lower Silesia in the summer of 1944. Fortunately, they survived the whole war and in 1947 were incorporated into the collection of the reactivated Ossolineum Library in Wrocław.

After the subsequent reversal of fortune, and another seizure of Lwów by the Soviet army, from August 1944 the library holdings functioned as the so-called Polish Sector of the Lviv Institute of Sciences' library. Only small part of the library and archival materials were transported in the years 1946–1947 from Lwów to Wrocław as a "gift of the Ukrainian people to the Polish nation".[5][6] They arrived by means of two train shipments in sealed carriages to the city, which was still in ruins at the time, and were opened to readers in September 1947.

Postwar appropriations[edit]

In 1946–1947, Ukrainian communists divided the Ossolineum collection in two parts. They followed the general rule that all materials referred to or with origins in lands east of the Curzon line, especially those connected with (in the Ukrainian commission's opinion) the history and culture of West Ukraine, and those whatsoever connected with Russia, Belarus, Podolia, Volhynia (Wołyń), Lithuania, Turkey where were to remain in Lviv. This rule applied to even those materials, in which there was only a single mention about West Ukraine. There was a case where a great scroll of papers containing Greater Poland and Silesian materials was refused to be returned to Poland, because it had one page about Zhovkva (Żółkiew). The same happened to foreign materials that in the Ukrainian commission's opinion, where not connected with Poland.[7]

Originally the Ukrainians planned to hand over only 30,000 volumes from the Ossolineum Library. The number of books was increased several times and in May 1946 it finally reached 150,000 old prints, prints from 19th and 20th century and manuscripts. This constituted only 15–20% of the entire collection because graphical and cartographic collections, and almost the entire collection of Polish periodicals from the 19th-20th century were not taken into consideration.

Polish staff was denied to participate in decision making and assigned solely technical job, whereas Ukrainian staff was the only responsible for decisions, control and management. Offices where materials were packed were closed and Polish staff was refused to have access to them. The whole work was conducted in a great hurry.[7]

While dividing the collection, quite unique criteria were applied. Among those questioned, were King's Stanisław August Poniatowski abdication act, because it was signed in Grodno (now Hrodna in Belarus), Leszczyński materials of John Amos Comenius as a bohemian, all materials about dissidents, materials about the Bar Confederation, and diplomatic correspondence concerning Partitions of Poland.

The Church of Society of Jesus, in which was a collection of press that was not bequeathed to Poland

In former Lwów, known as Lviv from now on, stayed priceless collection of Polish press, which was unprotected and “temporarily” stored for 50 years in Church of Society of Jesus, which was dedicated to the Saint Peter and Paul. All this collection was deliberately destroyed in later years as a part of soviet rampage of eradicating Polish heritage and historical roots of Lviv city.[citation needed]

National Ossoliński Institute title was replaced with a new name of W. Stefanyk Lviv's National Scientific Ukraine Library.

Partial transfer to Wrocław[edit]

Since 1947, Ossolineum Library in Wrocław was being reactivated on the basis of the collection from Lviv’s Ossolineum, which Poland recovered from authorities of the Soviet Union. After nationalization of landed estates in 1945 the source of money for the Library's maintenance in new historical conditions became the Budget. Since 1953, which was the moment of establishing Polish Academy of Sciences, Ossolineum library and publishing house became members of Academy institutions as a two separate institutions, whereas the Lubomirscy Muzeum was closed down.

Ossolineum today[edit]

In accordance with the act from January 5, 1995 the National Ossoliński Institute obtained the status of foundation subsidized from the Budget, at the same time Ossolineum stopped being an institute subordinate to the Polish Academy of Sciences. Relations between Ossolineum and Stefanyk Library were established in the early 1990s, but for a long time both parties offered proposals that excluded each other. In 1997, Poland put forward a proposal for the return of all of the Ossolineum collections from Lviv. In 2003, Ossolineum gained the option of full access to the Polish collection stored in Stefanyk Library with possibility of copying (scanning and microfilming) and working out analysis by Polish specialists. In Wroclaw, there was agreement about mutually copying (scanning) Polish collection in Lviv and Ukrainian materials signed.

In 2006, in Lviv branch of Wrocław National Ossoliński Institute was open. It is situated in renovated edifice of previous Baworowscy Library. It consists of exhibition hall and office for Ossolineum employee, who takes part in copying collection, preparing catalogue, signalling condition of collection and maintenance needs.

Ossolineum in Wrocław
Present postmonastic building of the Ossolineum, north wing 
From Piasek Island 
At night 
South wing, side of Nankier square 
South entrance, side of Odra River, from Grodzka Street 
Back south entrance form Nankier square 
Bust of founder 
Stefanyk National Library in Lviv (original seat of Ossolineum)
Ossolineum edifice in Lviv 
Library catalogues 
Reading room 
Reading room 
Reading room 
Antique stove 

Distinguished employees[edit]

Literary curators[edit]

  • Jan Wincenty hr. Bąkowski 1818–1826
  • Henryk ks. Lubomirski 1827–1850
  • Maurycy hr. Dzieduszycki 1851–1869
  • Jerzy ks. Lubomirski 1869–1872
  • Kazimierz hr. Krasicki 1872–1882
  • Andrzej ks. Lubomirski 1882

Assistant curators[edit]

  • Mikołaj Michalewicz 1826–1827
  • Father Franciszek Siarczyński 1827–1829
  • Tadeusz Wasilewski 1829
  • Ksawery hr. Wiesiołowski 1829–1832
  • Konstanty Słotwiński 1832–1833
  • Ignacy hr. Krasicki 1833–1834
  • Gwalbert Pawlikowski 1834–1847
  • Jerzy ks. Lubomirski 1847–1851
  • Antoni Małecki 1869–1872 i 1882–1913
  • Ignacy Dembowski 1923


  • Ks. Franciszek Siarczyński 1827–1829
  • Konstanty Słotwiński 1831–1834 (1837)
  • Antoni Kłodziński 1839–1849,
  • August Bielowski 1850–1876
  • Wojciech Kętrzyński 1876–1918,
  • Witold Bełza 1916–1920
  • Adam Fischer 1916–1920
  • Jerzy Koller 1916–1920
  • Władysław Tadeusz Wisłocki 1916–1920
  • Antoni Lewak 1918–1939


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stanisław Kosiedowski (2007). "Jak powstawało lwowskie Ossolineum (How Lviv Ossolineum was established)". Józef Maksymilian Ossoliński - szkic biograficzny, Ossolineum 1967. Lwow.home.pl. Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on 13 October 2006. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ Markian Prokopovych. Habsburg Lemberg: Architecture, Public Space, and Politics in the Galician Capital, 1772-1914. 2009. Purdue University Press. p. 141
  3. ^ Adolf Juzwenko, Thaddeus Mirecki. The fate of the Lubomirski Dürers: recovering the treasures of the Ossoliński National Institute. Society of the Friends of the Ossolineum. 2004. p. 13
  4. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland's Holocaust, 1998 ISBN 0-7864-0371-3, p.14.
  5. ^ a b Patricia Kennedy Grimsted. Trophies of war and empire: the archival heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the international politics of restitution. 2001. Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. p. 163
  6. ^ a b (in Polish) Ossolineum's page, Historia i współczesność Archived 26 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ a b Norman Davies, God's Playground, a History of Poland, Columbia University Press, 1982, ISBN 0231053525, p.558

External links[edit]