„I was one of those who buried the treasure...”

The night of 3rd August, 1942. Izrael Lichtensztajn and his two students are burying boxes with the first part of the documents assembled at the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto.

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Portrait of Izrael Lichtensztajn by his wife Gela Seksztajn  /  Gela Seksztajn

The night of 3rd August, 1942. Warsaw, 68 Nowolipki Street, the building of the Ber Borochov School. Director of the institution, member of Oneg Shabbat and close co-worker of Emanuel Ringelblum, Izrael Lichtensztajn and his two students — Dawid Graber and Nachum Grzywacz — are packing and burying boxes with the first part of the documents assembled at the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Since 22nd July, the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto has been in progress. Everyday, from 6 to 8 thousand Jews are taken to the extermination camp in Treblinka. Around an hour after the departure of the train, they die in gas chambers. „Oneg Shabbat” did not stop their work even though many of their members lost their lives during this time. Tasks were still being fulfilled: they continued gathering documents and making reports. After the beginning of the mass deportation to Treblinka, Emanuel Ringelblum and Hersz Wasser assigned Izrael Lichtenstein to bury the archive.

Eagerly and enthusiastically, I began working with the archival material. I was appointed the guard of the collections. I was the one to hide the material. No one knew except for me. I told about this place only Hersz Wasser, who was my superior. The material is hidden well. Let’s hope it survives. If it does, it will be the best and most beautiful thing we did in these cruel times. (Izrael Lichtenstein, 31st July, 1942)

Lichtensztajn’s two students were his helpers: Dawid Graber and Nachum Grzywacz, young members of the organization. In their testaments, which they attached to other texts of the archive, they describe not only what was happening on the streets of the ghetto during the displacement. There is worry over the loved ones and fear for own life, but also pride in the fulfillment of a mission of great importance, in which they saw the meaning of their last days. Dawid and Nachum died during the liquidation of the ghetto in the summer of 1942.

They are walking: a thousand of rows of three people. More than 3000 people. I can see nurses and the interned, and then 17 carriages with people. So it is over 4000 people from Grzybowska St. Behind them was Pinkiert’s carriage with the first dead ones. I don’t know what happened there. I am writing while I can hear a terrible shooting on the street. I can’t see anything from the balcony. But I am proud of one thing: that during these worst of days, I risked my life. I was one of those who buried the treasure — material on persecutions of the Jewish nation in Nazi Governatore. On the days when dozens of people were being murdered for various offenses, I dug and hid this material so that you can learn about the suffering and murders committed by the Nazi tyranny. (Nachum Grzywacz, 2nd August 1942)

I am writing my testament in a time which I have described here. I am sitting and waiting. We’ve lost contact with all of our friends. Everyone is on their own as there is chaos in the Jewish ghetto. The tree has been cut down and years of true work destroyed. I, comrade Lichtenstein and Graber decided that exactly in such times we would describe current events and we started doing so. Yesterday we stayed up late at night because we did not know whether we would still be alive today, 3rd August, 1942. At 1:40am I am finishing my writing. We want to survive not because of personal issues but because we want to alarm the world. (Nachum Grzywacz, 3rd August 1942)

I am writing my testament while the Jews of Warsaw are being displaced. It has been taking place since 20th July. Now, when I am writing this, one cannot stick one’s nose onto the street. You cannot feel safe in the flats either. It is the 11th day of this terrible operation. We’ve almost lost touch completely with other comrades. Everyone is on their own. Everyone is doing anything they can in order to survive. Only the three of us are left: comrade Lichtenstein, Grzywacz and I. We decided to write out testaments, collect some material from the displacement action and bury it all. We have to hurry as we are not certain of the hour... yesterday we worked on it till late. We were not afraid to risk our lives. We were aware of the fact that we were making history. And it is more important than our lives. What we were unable to shout out to the world, we hid under ground. May this treasure end up in good hands, may it live to see better times, may it alert the world. (Dawid Graber, 3rd August 1942)

The neighboring street is blocked. The atmosphere is horrible. We expect the worst. We are in a hurry. In a second, we will probably be hiding it for the last time. Comrade Lichtenstein is nervous; Grzywacz is a little bit scared. I am indifferent. Subconsciously I can feel that I will be freed from all the misery. Goodbye. Let’s hope we will manage to bury it. Yes, even now we did not forget about it. Till the last minute, we are working. Monday, 3rd August, 4pm (Dawid Graber)

In February 1943, after another displacement action (18–22 January, 1943) the second part of the Archive was put into two milk cans and hid in the basement of the same building at 68 Nowolipki Street. 

The first part of the Archive, ten metal containers glued with clay and tied with a string, were retrieved on 18th September, 1946 among the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. While opening the boxes, among the documents prepared and collected by „Oneg Shabbat”, testaments of the ones who four years earlier buried the Treasure were found. 

Izrael Lichtensztajn (1904–1943) — a teacher, member of Poale Zion-Left, secretary of the editorial board of „Literarisze bleter”. From the beginning of the war, a member of CENTOS (Associations for the Care of Orphans), engaged in secret and overt teaching, which he documented for Oneg Shabbat. Together with his wife Gela Seksztajn and daughter Margolit, he died on one of the first days of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. 

Dawid Graber (1923–1942) was born on 22nd May, 1923 and from 1933 he was a student of the Borochov school. He became a member of Poale Zion, Poale Zion-Left and Komintern. After graduation, he worked as a turner in a factory, simultaneously attending professional courses. From the beginning of the occupation, he worked in the kitchen in his former school and later he re-joined Poale Zion-Left, where he was an instructor.

Nachum Grzywacz (1924–1942) was born on 28th October, 1924 in Warsaw at 87 Gęsia Street. At the age of 11, he began learning at the Borochov School; due to financial reasons he had to give up studying and took up a job in a tailor’s shop. Nachum had joined „Jung Bor” still before the war and during the occupation he worked in a kitchen for children, which was formed at the club of the organisation.

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