66th anniversary of discovering of the second part of the Archive

On December 1st 1950 during the construction works in Muranów, the 2nd part of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto was found.

Wide druga czesc archiwum ringelbluma
Druga część Archiwum Ringelbluma  /  Fotografia ze zbioru Yad Vashem, kopia w zbiorach ŻIH

On December 1st 1950 the Institute of Meteorology and Water Management forecast increasing and changing cloudiness with occasional showers, gale winds and highest temperature of approx. 6 degrees C. Despite coming winter decluttering and construction works in Muranów go at full speed. It is no different in subdivision „Muranów C”, and more precisely on 68 Nowolipki St. where diggers and bulldozers of state-owned construction company building houses for workers are preparing trench under the new building. Suddenly they hit two milk cans containing treasure – 2nd part of Ringelblum Archive burried there in February 1943.

We know from the archival files of Central Jewish Historical Commission that the first attempts to excavate Ringelblum Archive were made in the summer of 1945. Hersz Wasser, former Oneg Shabbat secretary and Holocaust survivor asked the Capital Reconstruction Bureau (Biuro Odbudowy Stolicy – BOS) permission to conduct excavation works on 68 Nowolipki and 34 Świętojerska St. After being granted permission cost estimation was done. According to estimations the works on Nowolipki done by a team of ten workers would take 60 days and on Świętojerska ten days longer. The total cost was expected to be more than 11,000 zlotych and was to be covered by the Central Jewish Historical Commission. However, its coffers were empty. In the postwar reality the Central Committee of Polish Jews was spending money on helping the Survivors rather than on works of historians. When in 1946 engineers Roznorowicz, Markowski and Sobel made an offer on excavation works on Nowolipki cost estimation already mentioned quarter of a milion złotych. Most of this sum – 200,000 – was received from the American Jewish Labor Committee, while the rest was covered by the Central Committee of Polish Jews. On September 18th 1946 during the excavation works done by engineer Sobel ten metal cases containing the first part of Ringelblum Archive were found. Further decluttering works were fruitless and funds for works on Świętojerska ran out.

Year later newly founded Jewish Historical Institute asked CMPJ to finance search for the Archive on the grounds that „Every week of delay has negative impact on the condition of these papers. Given that the materials excavated last year were in danger of being destroyed and some of them are in condition which unables using them (ink dried, paper is crumbling, etc.) we should worry that the part of the Archive which hasn’t been excavated yet won’t survive another winter and will be totally destroyed”. The excavations began in the summer of 1949 thanks to a donation of a milion złotych from the Joint. For couple of months Jan Michalak’s company was decluttering the parcel on Świętojerska St. digging as low as to its basement, but, unfortunately, to no avail. The JHI was at the time excavating on 59 Nowolipie St., less that 400 meters from the site of discovering of the 1st part of the Archive. In June 1949 state-owned construction company building houses for workers found a bunker there used during the Ghetto Uprising. No one knows why the further excavation works on 68 Nowolipki St. were put on hold. It is possible it was thought that the rest of the Archive is located on Świętojerska, or it was believed that given that in 1946 only metal cases were found here no new findings can be made on this location.

However, on December 1st 1950 milk cans containing the 2nd part of the Ringelblum Archive were found. We know from the documents that the person who immediately knew the importance of the discovery was Władysław Wójcik who alerted the manager Władysław Gabiński and then Jewish Historical Society. The manager called the security team which guarded the Archive until the board of directors of the JHI came. The documents from the 2nd part of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto were preserved in much better conditio than those excavated four years earlier in metal boxes for the milk cans were airtight.

Eight days later in the article „In soldered milk cans the Ghetto archive survived” Życie Warszawy reported on the finding stressing it uniqness and importance. It said: „The Jewish Historical Institute sent special group of scientific workers who will work on ordering, filing and cataloging of the saved Archive and making it available for researchers as soon as possible”. In fact this work is still ongoing. New volumes of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive have just been published. They are being translated to number of languages and soon will be made available online through the JHI’s Central Jewish Library.

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