This is a real Ali Baba cave, special masonry edition. In the long bays of the library of the University of Poznan (Poland), more than 80,000 old books and collectibles are listed. They constitute “one of the largest Masonic catalogs in Europe”, if not “the most important for some”, explains Iuliana Grazynska, curator of the collection. Moreover, more than 89 boxes of archives have still not been classified, and remain quite a mystery. Major detail: this unique collection was assembled… by the Nazis.
Among the countless squares, compasses, engravings and books listed, many objects are indeed stamped with the seal of Heinrich Himmler, number two in the Nazi regime and head of the SS. “The Nazis hated Freemasonry,” Andrzej Karpowicz, who was responsible for the Poznan collection for about 30 years, told AFP. And to explain that Nazism was the “fruit of an anti-elite and anti-intellectual wave”, therefore inevitably “anti-Freemasons”.
Confiscated across Europe
The Nazis closed the lodges or forced them to dissolve, confiscated or – more rarely – burned their libraries. As the German army advanced, collections from conquered countries enriched that of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, which also included archives relating to Jews, Jesuits or witches, according to Karpowicz.
Transported to places deemed better protected against Allied bombardment, the collection was divided into three main parts, two of them hidden in Poland and the third in the Czech Republic. In 1945, the Polish authorities seized a part of it in Slawa Slaska (West) counting up to 150,000 volumes and, in all likelihood, including the archives of the French collaborationist Henry Coston, the rest having been confiscated by the Red Army.
“France was able to recover these documents” soon after, when much of the rest was distributed among various Polish institutions and libraries, said Karpowicz, now retired.
An old tradition
The Poznan Library built up its specific Masonic collection in 1959, in the midst of the Communist era, when the Freemason movement was not authorized. As a general rule, Freemasonry “can only develop in democratic regimes”, underlines to AFP Dominique Lesage, co-author, with Anna Kargol, of the book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, on the banks of the Vistula on the renewal of the movement since the fall of communism in 1990.
An old tradition was indeed there, the first Polish lodge, the Red Brotherhood, having already seen the light of day in 1721. Among its eminent Freemasons, Poland counts its last king, Stanislas Auguste Poniatowski, its first president Gabriel Narutowicz or the great pianist, philanthropist and statesman Ignacy Paderewski.
According to Mr. Lesage’s book, in 2020 there were 47 lodges in Poland from 8 different denominations, bringing together nearly 800 members.
It is by following a wide staircase leading up to the luminous ceiling of the old building of the university library that one approaches the collection of Poznan. Recently exhibited, a selection of rare pearls from this extraordinary collection was a real journey through time which, according to the Masonic tradition and calendar, begins 4000 BC. J.-C.
The first Masonic Lodge was officially constituted in 1717 in England, and its first constitution, written by James Anderson and still widely observed, was published in 1723. “We have the extremely rare princeps edition of this Anderson Constitution and all of its successive editions. , as well as hundreds of other Freemasonry statutes and constitutions. That’s the pride of our collection, ”says Grazynska.
Most of the library consists of works from the 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in German, including all the Masonic encyclopedias in this language, drawings, engravings, scores, table menus, but also almost complete registers of members of lodges or workshops over a long period until 1919.
“We welcome representatives of German lodges in activity, wishing to reconstitute their archives and historical registers. Researchers come to work on our large collection of musical scores created by and for Freemasons, or on the functioning of women’s lodges in Europe, ”emphasizes Ms. Grazynska. The collection is open to anyone who wants to study it. “It’s a wealth of information that you can draw on at will,” says Karpowicz.