Hidden in milk cans

The exhibition has been design in a way which aims to synthetically show what the Ringelblum Archive is.

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Preparing the exhibition

Today, the Holocaust, one of the most important experiences of 20th century history, talks to us in the language of traces, as a visual snapshot, material shred or an echo of the traumatic memory. This whole rest which survived is the text of the Holocaust on a par with written testimonies. Being a testimony to the crime, the text of the Holocaust was at risk of being destroyed, just as its author. Therefore, the need to protect the text, depositing it, burying it in the ground increased its condition as a record entrusted to unpredictable forces.

The Jewish Historical Institute, the depository of the Ringelblum Archive, for many years has been working on spreading the knowledge of this unique collection of testimonies of life and the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Our latest undertaking, prepared specially on the 70th death anniversary of Emanuel Ringelblum (1900–1944), is a temporary exhibition presenting part of the Archive in a place where its creators met regularly: at 3/5 Tłomackie Street in Warsaw.

The exhibition has been design in a way which aims to synthetically show what the Ringelblum Archive is. Its particular parts will explain who the creators of the Archive were; which methods they used while collecting the materials; and what kinds of testimonies were best for depicting everyday life of Jews in that period.

Gathered around Emanuel Ringelblum, the devoted group of people who wrote, collected and stored historical materials on the Holocaust, differed in terms of their attitude towards the historical time. On the contrary to current curators and archivists of the Holocaust, the Endlösung archivists collected pieces of their everyday lives, their own Jetztzeit in its traumatic going-by and turning into a part of broadly understood reality becoming the finality.

The exposition, presenting only a small fragment of this unique collection, in the future will be replaced by a permanent exhibition, allowing the visitors to familiarize themselves with all of the Archive’s touching treasures. The Ringelblum Archive is comprised of different types of documents: diaries, letters, literary works, photos, posters, announcements, all collected meticulously and methodically by Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew for „the joy of Saturday”): a group appointed especially for this purpose. As Ringelblum wrote, „The co-workers of Oneg Shabbat constituted, and still do, a homogeneous corporation animated by one spirit, filled with one idea. Oneg Shabbat is not an association of academics competing with and fighting each other, but a homogeneous corporation, a brotherly union, where everybody helps each other and has mutual goals. (...) Every co-worker of Oneg Shabbat knew that their toil and torment; efforts and suffering; the fact that they endangered themselves 24 hours a day while doing dangerous job of carrying the materials from one place to another served a higher purpose (...) Oneg Shabbat was a fraternity, a brotherly union, whose flag said that they were ready to sacrifice their lives and stay faithful serving the society.

Apart from the documents and photographs, the exhibition also presents five original works by artist Gela Szeksztajn: her auto-portrait; a portrait of husband Izrael Lichtensztajn, three water-colour paintings depicting children.

We present, inter alia, the manuscript of a poem by Władysław Szlengel, the most eminent poet of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose 100th birthday falls this year.

You also have a unique opportunity to have a closer look at two milk cans in which the second part of the Archive was stored (hidden in February 1943 in the basement of a building at 68 Nowolipki Street, found in December 1950). You will have a chance to see how exhibition space changes the ordinary milk cans from „material shred”, „text of the Holocaust” into precious items which protected the truth about the murdered Nation.

The quotes used in the text are from a book by Bożena Shallcross „Rzeczy i Zagłada” and from Emanuel Ringelblum’s Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, September 1939 — January 1943.

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