North Korea Revelations from the Polish Archives: Nukes, Succession and, Security

Koreans welcome the first chief of the Polish Mission to the NNSC, Gen. Mieczysław Wągrowski, in summer 1953. Source: Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance.

Communist-ruled Poland was one of the first states to recognize the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948. Less than two years later, Poland (together with other countries from the Eastern Bloc) joined the Korean War effort by assisting the DPRK and spreading anti-American propaganda domestically. After the war, Poland supported the reconstruction of North Korea and received 1,200 orphans as well as a considerable number of students.

These efforts were typical for all European communist countries under Moscow’s domination, but Poland’s involvement with Korea did have several distinguishing characteristics. One was Poland’s participation in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) and Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC). Both bodies were established by the Korean Armistice Agreement, and Poland (as well as Czechoslovakia) was selected to become a communist member of the commissions.

The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission

The NNRC existed for less than one year, and the majority of POWs from North Korea and China decided not to return to the DPRK or communist China. A similar stance on repatriation was presented by a small group of POWs from the United Nations side, who declared that they wished to stay in communist custody.

Despite the official name of the commission, Polish delegates were far from “neutral.” They followed the instructions relating to repatriation that they received from Chinese officials. Moreover, they used the NNRC as a covert institution for the activities of intelligence officers.

One of the officers that worked for Polish intelligence was Władysław Tykociński. In 1965, after long service as a Polish diplomat, he fled to the West and asked the Americans for asylum. In April 1966, he stood before the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives and shared with the Americans significant information on the operations and the scope of interest of Polish intelligence, also recalling some of the activities in Korea. 

The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission

While the NNRC was short lived, the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission still exists today—although it has evolved over the decades. Between August 1953 and mid-1956, the NNSC was an extremely important body. Its members were obliged to monitor 10 ports of entry in both Koreas in order to avoid rearmament of the peninsula. Furthermore, mobile inspection teams of the NNSC were allowed to supervise other locations in the North and the South, if violations of the armistice had been reported.

Similar to their behavior in the NNRC, the Poles did not maintain neutrality. They used the commission to collect intelligence in South Korea and helped North Korea to avoid unexpected inspections. Such an attitude facilitated the introduction of new weapons on North Korean soil.

Under pressure from South Korea, in mid-1956, inspection teams were withdrawn from its territory and soon the DPRK demanded the same treatment. The significance of the NNSC soon thereafter decreased, and members of the NNSC could work only in the narrow Demilitarized Zone. Nevertheless, Polish representatives stayed in the northern part of the DMZ until early 1995, when they were forced by the DPRK authorities to leave North Korean territory.

Trends in Polish-North Korea Relations

In general, Polish-North Koran relations during the Cold War were strongly influenced by Soviet-DPRK ties.

Poland was a satellite state subordinate to Moscow and obediently followed the Soviet Union’s instructions in foreign policy. Consequently, when North Korean-Soviet relations reached their lowest point in the first half of the 1960s, it was also the worst time for contacts between Poland and the DPRK. The Soviet Union and its satellites were perceived as “revisionist” and unreliable partners, mainly because of Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin’s crimes and the cult of personality.

In the second half of the 1960s, mutual relations warmed. It could be said that for almost the next two decades, Polish-North Korean relations were cordial but not very close. The Poles, following Soviet steps, criticized the DPRK for its self-reliance politics and for not discussing its internal and foreign policies with Moscow.

The Sino-Soviet Split

Another factor that affected mutual relations was the Sino-Soviet split. North Korea tried to balance between the two conflicted communist states, but there were periods when it seemed to have better relations with Beijing than with Moscow (and vice versa). Consequently, because Poland sided with the Soviet Union, its relations with North Korea declined whenever Pyongyang moved closer to China. For instance, in September 1978, Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia postponed a visit of the North Korean Minister of Defense, initially planned for October 1978, due to Soviet pressure. The Soviets explained to their satellites that the DPRK acted hostilely toward the USSR by publishing the Chinese stance on Sino-Soviet border clash of May 1978.

On the other hand, in less tense times, Poland tried to build links with North Korea in order to strengthen its connection with the Soviet zone and weaken ties with China.

For example in January 1972, the Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Olszowski explained to Prime Minister Piotr Jaroszewicz that the Polish Ministry of National Defense should meet DPRK expectations and organize a visit of its Minister to North Korea. He stressed that the awaited trip could be a good tool to strengthen North Korean ties with the Eastern Bloc and neutralize Chinese influence in the DPRK. (It is worth mentioning that the invitation for the Defense Minister was sent to Poland in 1967.)

Polish-North Korean Exchanges (and Non-Exchanges)

When it was useful, North Korea seems to have tried not to treat the whole Eastern Bloc as a united structure. The DPRK made efforts to have close ties with certain countries when it could profit from this type of contacts.

Poland, however, stayed loyal to the USSR and was not interested in sharing a special relationship with Pyongyang. This kind of attitude among the Poles is suggested by its non-response to the invitation sent in 1972 by Kim Il Sung to First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party, Edward Gierek. It was again extended in 1978 but Gierek did not travel to the DPRK. The North Koreans had to wait until 1986 for the first visit of the leader of communist Poland. General Wojciech Jaruzelski visited the DPRK, a return visit following the second trip of Kim Il Sung to Poland in 1984 (his first visit was in 1956).

These exchanges by the leaders of both states lifted Polish-North Korean relations to their highest levels. During Jaruzelski’s 1986 visit, a Declaration of Friendship and Cooperation was signed.

Simultaneous with the deepening of political ties, North Korea wanted to develop economic cooperation. Among others projects, the DPRK asked Poland to establish an Mi-2 helicopter factory—although this never happened due to North Korea’s financial problems.

Intelligence Cooperation

In the second half of the 1980s, the DPRK also pursued closer collaboration between the Polish and North Korean security institutions and intelligence services.

In mid-1989, the chief of Polish military intelligence, General Roman Misztal, visited Pyongyang and received a list of wishes from his counterpart. Principally, they wanted the DPRK’s intelligence officers to be free to operate against South Koreans in Poland, after the expected recognition of ROK by the Polish government.

Moreover, the North Koreans wanted the Polish members of the NNSC and other Polish representatives with access to South Korean territory to conduct intelligence operations in favor of the DPRK. In his report to the chief of the General Staff, Misztal suggested accepting the DPRK’s requests. We do not know what happened next because, by this time, the democratic reforms in Poland had already begun, and documents subsequently produced by intelligence services are still classified today.

North Korea probably felt betrayed by Poland’s democratization. However, both countries have maintained mutual diplomatic relations at the Ambassador’s level. For 17 years, the post of the DPRK Ambassador to Poland was even held by Kim Jong Il’s half-brother, Kim Pyong-il (from 1998 until 2015). Document No. 22 mentions his increasing role inside the ruling regime in the late 1980s.

Searching for Korea-related Documents in Poland

I have selected 24 documents about North Korea from Poland’s Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (14 of them) and the Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance (10 documents) for translation and publication on the Wilson Center’s Digital Archive.

The first institution preserves materials produced by the Polish diplomatic service after 1944. The second archive contains documents produced by the communist security apparatus and intelligence services between 1944 and 1990. In general, these two repositories are the most meaningful Polish archives when it comes to searching for documents related to North Korean affairs.

While selecting the documents, I assumed that the most interesting and informative documents for readers were probably not those that solely dealt with Polish-North Korean relations. I strove to select sources that presented a wider scope of events and facts. So only one document exclusively concerns bilateral ties between the two states. It describes the DPRK attitude toward the introduction of Martial Law in Poland in December 1981. 

A Brief Look at the Documents

Because of the fact that the civil intelligence of communist Poland did not have a station in North Korea, from time to time the stations in Japan and China were ordered to write reports concerning Korean affairs.

In the case of Document No. 14 the situation was very specific, because an analysis of Hua Guofeng’s visit to Pyongyang in May 1978 was written by a Polish intelligence officer in Tokyo at the request of the KGB resident. Document No. 15, produced by an intelligence station in Beijing, deals with the simultaneous visits of North Korean and Cambodian delegations to China in the summer of 1978—apparently to ease any concerns both countries had about the planned signing of Chinese-Japanese treaty.  

On the other hand, Poland’s military intelligence had representatives in North Korea: the military attaché and his subordinate officers, and some officers under the cover of the NNSC.

Several of the documents in this collection are reports written by military attaches during the so called Second Korean War. They do not refer only to North-South tensions (Document No. 8) and its consequences for the Korean People’s Army (Document No. 10), but also mention the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions (Document No. 4 and Document No. 7) and North Korea-China relations (Document No. 5 and Document No. 9). The last document produced by a Polish military attaché in Pyongyang (Document No. 11) is a record of a conversation between Marshal Matvei Zakharov and Kim Il Sung during Zakharov’s visit to the DPRK in June 1970. They mainly discussed DPRK-China relations.

China is prominently discussed in many published documents produced not only by the above mentioned military attaches, but also by Poland’s diplomats. Document No. 12 concerns Kim Il Sung’s visit to Beijing in April 1975. Document No. 20 depicts the temporary cooling of DPRK-China relations in late 1980s, mostly because of China’s openness for contacts with South Korea. And last but not least, Document No. 24 describes the North Korean leaderships’ opinion about the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown.

Another issue explored in several translated documents is DPRK-USSR relations. Document No. 1 and Document No. 3 refer to the early 1960s, when mutual relations declined and the Soviets were perceived as “revisionists.” Document No. 19 describes talks between Kim Il Sung and Soviet officials during Kim’s visit to USSR in May 1984, when bilateral contacts were definitely much better than two decades earlier.  

As mentioned above, dependence on the USSR also influenced Polish foreign policy. Sometimes this resulted in asking Soviet officials about its assessment of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, such as in April 1976 (Document No. 13) or February 1984 (Document No. 18).

Two documents provide some information on North Korean contacts with the Middle East in the final period of the Cold War. Document No. 21 deals with Yasser Arafat’s trip to the DPRK in mid-1989 and his wish to strengthen ties with North Korea. Document No. 23 comments on Kim Yong-nam’s visit to Iran and its possible consequences (such as the import of oil) and also cooperation in uranium exploration in North Korea.

Finally I would like to underline, that this is only a fraction of the valuable Polish documents touching upon North Korean affairs. There are many more of them, especially in the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the Cold War, Polish diplomats in Pyongyang as well as officers serving in the NNSC and intelligence officers carefully monitored the situation in North Korea. This resulted in numerous reports and records that are unknown, but relatively easily accessible, to the majority of researchers interested in North Korea.

List of Documents

Document No. 1
E. Sagała, 'Record of Conversations conducted on 4 April of This Year at a Reception to Celebrate the National Holiday of the People's Republic of Hungary,' 7 April 1962
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 10/66, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 2
Embassy of the People's Republic of Poland in Pyongyang, 'Report regarding the Current DPRK Policy concerning the Reunification of the Country,' 10 April 1962
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 10/66, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 3
Józef Dryglas, 'Record of Conversation with USSR Ambassador V. Moskovsky,' 1 November 1962
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 10/66, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 4
Lt. Col. J. Załuska, 'Report: Information from GDR Military Attaché Lt. Col. Schafer,' 14 January 1968
[Source: AIPN, 2602/7974. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 5
Lt. Col. J. Załuska, 'Record of a Conversation with SRR Military Attaché Lt. Cmdr Voicu during a Reception with the USSR Military Attaché and Subsequent Ones,' 1 February 1968
[Source: AIPN, 2602/7974. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 6
Lt. Col. J. Załuska, 'Record: Information received from Military Attaché Col. Goch (CSSR),' 4 February 1968
[Source: AIPN, 2602/7974. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 7
Lt. Col. J. Załuska, 'Record: Information from CSSR Military Attaché, Col. Goch, Obtained during a Hunt,’ 5 February 1968
[Source: AIPN, 2602/7974. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 8
Col. Mieczysław Białek, 'Record of Conversation at the Military Attaché Office and with the Ambassador of Soviet Union in Pyongyang, Comrade Sudarikov,' 3 October 1968
[Source: AIPN, 2602/7974. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 9
Col. Mieczysław Białek, 'Record of Conversation with RSR Military Attaché Office,' 24 March 1969
[Source: AIPN, 2602/8420. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 10
Col. Mieczysław Białek, 'Record of Conversation conducted by Col. Białek with USSR Military Attaché Col. Latishev,' 28 April 1969
[Source: AIPN, 2602/8420. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 11
Col. Mieczysław Białek, 'Record of Conversation of the Marshall of the Soviet Union Com. Zakharov with Com. Kim Il Sung during Com. Zakharov's Visit in the DPRK,' 10 June 1970
[Source: AIPN, 2602/8901. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 12
Record regarding Kim Il Sung's visit in Beijing (18-26 April 1975), April 1975
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 56/78, w. 6. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 13
Wasilewski, 'Urgent Report regarding the Current Situation in the DPRK, on the Korean Peninsula,' 29 April 1976
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 12/79, w. 1. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 14
Untitled report from Brun, Polish Intelligence Station Tokyo, concerning Hua Guofeng’s visit to Pyongyang, 12 May 1978
[Source: AIPN, 02011/600/D. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 15
Untitled report from Wolt, Polish Intelligence Station Beijing, concerning the mutual visit of Cambodian and North Korean delegations in China, 12 August 1978
[Source: AIPN, 02011/600/D. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 16
Untitled report from Leon Tomaszewski, Polish Ambassador in Pyongyang, describing his conversation with Kim Il Sung that took place on December 30th, 1981, 2 January 1982
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 43/86, w. 2. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 17
Untitled report from Stanisław Jewdoszuk, Polish Diplomat in Pyongyang, 29 July 1982
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 43/86, w. 2. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 18
Stanisław Kramarz, 'Record of a Conversation of the Embassy Councillor-Minister Com. A. Juniewicz with Deputy Director of the Far East Department of the MOFA of the USSR, Com. Fadeev,' 4 March 1984
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 30/87, w. 5. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 19
Untitled report the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Stefan Olszowski concerning his meeting with the Soviet Ambassador Aleksandr Aksionau in Poland, 4 June 1984
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 30/87, w. 5. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 20
Untitled report from Mieczysław Dedo, Polish Ambassador to the DPRK, following his conversation with the Chinese ambassador in North Korea, 25 March 1988
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 25/92, w. 4. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 21
Untitled report from Mieczysław Dedo, Polish Ambassador to the DPRK, concerning the visit of Yasser Arafat in North Korea (25-26 June 1989), 27 June 1989
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 3/94, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 22
Untitled report from Mieczysław Dedo, Polish Ambassador to the DPRK, concerning succession after Kim Il Sung, 12 October 1988
[Source: AMSZ, Department II 25/92, w. 4. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 23
Untitled report from Mieczysław Dedo, Polish Ambassador to the DPRK, concerning the results of Kim Jong Nam’s visit to Iran, 9 January 1989
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 3/94, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Document No. 24
Untitled report from Mieczysław Dedo, Polish Ambassador to the DPRK, concerning North Korea’s attitude towards Tiananmen Square protests, 9 June 1989
[Source: AMSZ, Department II, 3/94, w. 3. Obtained by Marek Hańderek and translated by Jerzy Giebułtowski.]

Dr Marek Hańderek is a lecturer in the Institute of the Middle and Far East of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and researcher in the Historical Research Office of the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.
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