Saturday, February 02, 2013

Warsaw Ghetto: The story of its secret archive

Street market in Warsaw ghetto

Throughout the bitter days of the Warsaw Ghetto, a clandestine group of researchers compiled a vast archive detailing every aspect of life in this prison city built and then obliterated by the Nazis. Led by a historian, Emanuel Ringelblum, the group then buried the archive for for future generations.
On the hot night of 3 August 1942, 19-year-old David Graber signed his name on a piece of paper and put it inside a metal box at 68 Nowolipki Street, in the heart of the Warsaw Ghetto.
"I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure will be dug up and scream the truth at the world," he wrote. "May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened… in the 20th Century… May history be our witness."
David knew that he might have only hours, or minutes. German soldiers had arrived in the next street. Two weeks before, they had begun to drive the half-million Jewish men, women and children living in the ghetto into trains taking them to the new death camp at Treblinka.
On 2 August, 6,276 people had been taken. On 3 August, another 6,458 were seized.

With David was another teenager, Nahum Grzywacz, and a teacher, Israel Lichtensztajn. The three were part of a colossal, secret attempt to record every detail of ghetto life in an archive - David's "great treasure". The codename for this project was Oyneg Shabbes (Joy of the Sabbath).
The Oyneg Shabbes collaborators had amassed tens of thousands of documents by August 1942. Some were written, in the form of diaries, essays and commissioned surveys, poetry and precise reportage in Yiddish, Polish and other European languages.
Others were gathered. Hundreds of paintings, sketches, maps, tram tickets, recipes and even photographs secretly developed in the ghetto were carefully wrapped in paper and stored.

Unearthed from the archive 
food coupons Food coupons and an official ration card - rations were limited to 189 calories a day, and a quarter of the ghetto population starved to death
sweet wrapper Sweet wrappers such as this were collected by the Oyges Shabbes group - a ghetto workshop made caramels and artificial honey from saccharine
painting by Gele Sekstajn 'Portrait of a Girl with a Ball', one of 300 watercolours by Gele Sekstajn who died in 1943 - "I think I am the last surviving Jewish painter," she wrote
poem 'Song of the Rebbe of Radzyn', a poem by Yitzhok Katzenelson, exploring responses to death - the poet also ran an underground children's school
concert flyer Concert poster - many musicans were imprisoned in the ghetto, and a symphony orchestra, choirs and chamber groups often performed

The researchers filled 10 of the metal boxes, bound them with cord and hid them inside the brick foundations of 68 Nowolipki, an old school building.
"I only wish to be remembered," reads Lichtenstzajn's last note on behalf of himself and his wife, a well-known artist. "I wish my wife to be remembered, Gele Seksztajn. I wish my little daughter to be remembered. Margalit is 20 months old today."
The man behind the Oyneg Shabbes was a historian and social activist, Emanuel Ringelblum. 

Read the full article

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