On 18 September 1946, from under the ruins of the school at 68 Nowolipki street, located in the former ghetto, ten metal boxes were dug out. The boxes protected a great treasure – the first part of the secret Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, known as the Ringelblum Archive. Unearthing the Archive was possible because Hersz Wasser, a member of the Oneg Shabbat group, survived the Holocaust and knew the location of the treasure.
The idea of the Archive came from Emanuel Ringelblum, a historian and researcher of Polish-Jewish relations. He established the Oneg Shabbat group (Hebrew: „The Joy of Sabbath”), which collected and documented accounts of life in the Ghetto and outside. Harrowing testimonies of Nazi crimes were hidden in the ground soon before the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.
The group’s activity was entirely secret. Its members stemmed from various social groups and milieus, represented various worldviews and interests. Some of them were responsible for documentation and evidence, others collected and edited accounts of people. Some kept track of daily life in the Ghetto, others provided their own accounts, research papers or works of literature. Together, they had created an Archive comprising over 35,000 pages, including: 746 accounts, diaries and memoirs, 380 volumes of official documents, 120 research papers, 88 works of literature, 76 photographs and 54 titles of underground press. The Archive – a unique testimony of life and extermination of Polish Jews – was included in 1999 on UNESCO’s „Memory of the World” list, comprising the most significant documents of written word.
Today, on 18 September 2017, we commemorate exactly 71 years since the first part of the Archive was unearthed.
This date is also a symbolic day for the Jewish Historical Institute, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary on 1 October. The Institute’s location became the building at Tłomackie 5 (current adress Tłomackie 3/5) – renovated edifice of the pre-war Judaistic Sciences Institute and the Central Judaistic Library. This is the place where the Archive was created, and where it remains until present day.
On the anniversary of unearthing the Ringelblum Archive, its heirs – the Association of Jewish Historical Institute of Poland and the Jewish Historical Institute – initiate a long-standing program of activities aimed at popularising knowledge about the Oneg Shabbat group, commemorating its members, and making the Archive resources available in Poland and abroad. We follow the will of the Oneg Shabbat group members, written down by Dawid Graber – one of three people who participated in hiding the first part of the Archive – in his testament:
„ I don’t want thanks. It suffices if future generations will remember our days (…) I would like to live long enough to see the moment in which this great treasure can be unearthed, and the truth can be screamed out. Let the world know. (…) I hope this treasure will find its way into the right hands, that it will survive until better times. May it alert the world about the events of the 20th century”.
18 September 2017 marks a symbolic date of the program launch, but works on the Archive have been continuing since its unearthing. The first phase comprised mainly securing the documents and conservation works, followed by the next stage – critical edition. The complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive – consisting of 36 volumes – is a result of shared efforts of the Jewish Historical Institute researchers and many historians, sociologists, philosophers, literature scholars, editors and renowned translators. Together, they had managed to bring to the light many unclear or previously undecoded documents, which – arranged by subject – provide a source of knowledge about the fate of Jews in occupied Poland. In the future, the Archive will be translated to such languages as English, German and Spanish. The first volume in English, The Warsaw Ghetto, will be published this November.
The original documents are undergoing conservation and digitalization. Currently, all the volumes of the Ringelblum Archive are available online at the Central Jewish Library website – JHI’s digital repository. For early October 2017, we plan to launch the Delet webportal, which will present the most outstanding resources from the Institute’s and Association’s collection, including scans of original documents from the Ringelblum Archive.
The key point of the Oneg Szabat program is opening of the permanent exhibition, What we’ve been unable to shout out to the world, dedicated to the creators of the Ringelblum Archive, planned for November 2017. It will present oryginal documents from this special collection to the public – first time in 70 years. A mobile version of the Archive will be available in the most renowned museums of the world.
By the end of 2017, we will begin works on the Encyclopedia of the Warsaw Ghetto – a long-scale project undertaken by historians. It will be a semantic database, which – using the documents from the Ringelblum Archive – will make available online the most important subjects related to the Warsaw Ghetto, retrace its topography, publish information about people who were living there, their life conditions, terror and the forthcoming Holocaust.
18 September 2017 marks the symbolic launch of the program popularising the Ringelblum Archive, but activities included in the program have been implemented by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland and the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute for many years. Its important part are singular and cyclical cultural and academic events, aimed at promotion and education. The members of the Oneg Shabbat group were commemorated in a special way during the 22 July Memory March this year; the story of the Archive and its creators are told by JHI educators during thematic walks in Warsaw.
The goal of all activities which both institutions have been pursuing for 71 years is to fulfil the will of the Oneg Shabbat members, who – as Emanuel Ringelblum wrote in „The Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto” — „have made the greatest sacrifice”, so that we can acknowledge their effort „on the day of freedom, and reward it with highest possible prizes in free Europe”.
For the first time in history, everyone can contribute to popularisation and commemoration of the Ringelblum Archive. Via the http://onegszabat.org/en/ website, everyone can submit a donation (among others – for the purposes of preservation and translation of the Archive), read the history of the Oneg Shabbat group and the biographies of its members. The multimedia site is available in Polish, English and Hebrew. Collection of funds will last for 12 months.
Further information about the Ringelblum Archive and the Oneg Shabbat group can be found at: http://onegszabat.org/en/ and http://www.jhi.pl/en/ringelblum-archive, as well as on the Oneg Szabat program Facebook and Twitter profiles.
We will keep you informed about further events of our programe. We would also like to invite you to visit a special tab on our website, dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Jewish Historical Institute. You will find there detailed information about the permanent exhibition and the academic session. In the coming weeks, we will also be publishing interesting articles about the history of the Institute, its activity and resources. Stay with us!
[ Sources: AR, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego (Diary from the Warsaw Ghetto), vol. 23, ed. Katarzyna Person, Zofia Trębacz, Michał Trębacz; Emanuel Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego (The Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto), transl.. Adam Rutkowski, Czytelnik, Warsaw 1983.]
The Oneg Szabat Program is implemented by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, within a public-private partnership.