The documents form the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, founded by Emanuel Ringelblum, historian and social activist. He gathered together a group of people who documented the life and death of the Warsaw Ghetto. When they realized that the Ghetto will be liquidated, and themselves – along with others – will be transported to a death camp, they buried the documents in a basement of the Borokhov school at Nowolipki 68. They survived in hiding from 1946 and 1950, when the second part of the archives was found. The documents were rediscovered and recovered from the remains of the Ghetto only thanks to the fact that Hersz Wasser, one of the people who knew the location, survived the Holocaust.
The Archive is one of the most important testimonies about the Holocaust of Polish Jews – not only due to diversity and documentary value of collected materials. More than anything, it is a record of the Holocaust as seen by its victims. As Paweł Śpiewak, Director of the JHI and curator of the exhibition, says: „They wrote the first history of the Holocaust. They were writing it every day, despite living in conditions of extreme indignity, living in fear of transports and death in a gas chamber, living in grief after loved ones”.
The title of the exhibition was taken from the testament left by Dawid Graber, who belonged to a group of people hiding the first part of the Archive. He wrote: „What we were unable to shout out to the world, we buried in the ground”. Dawid Graber was 19, and while hiding in a hurry last remaining boxes and milk cans with documents, he had one hope: „that future generations will recall our suffering and pain, that during the fall, there were also people who had the courage to do this work”.
The main subject of the exihibition will be activity of particular members of the group and the story of the Archive they created together – from its beginning until today. By a wooden table, which symbolizes a space of physical, intellectual and spiritual – as written by Emanuel Ringelblum — „kindred union” — we will present biographies of particular members and their contribution to the Archive. Selected fragments from diaries will illustrate the motivations of the Oneg Shabbat group; we will see, among others, original testaments left by Izrael Lichtensztajn, Gela Seksztajn, Nachum Grzywacz and Dawid Graber.
The documents-testimonies of the Holocaust will be presented in chronological order, which will illustrate the looming apocalypse – and the apocalypse happening. It will include materials about the extermination action in the Warsaw Ghetto and documents about the Treblinka death camp.
A separate part of the exhibition will be dedicated to the history of the group – from the moment of hiding the Archive until present day. We will display documents which describe the efforts of hiding the Archive, of its recovery and following stages of preservation, cataloguing. analysis, edition of the documents, up until including the Archive in the „Memory of the World” UNESCO register in 1999. We pay special attention to showing the physical dimension of documentation (damages, disappearing ink etc.), as well as to methods of reconstruction of damaged text – such as comparing subsequent copies of documents of hyperspectral imaging.
„We owe a great debt to these people. Their work is a testimony of courage and unique resistance. It wasn’t military resistance – it couldn’t have been. They had no rifles. They had enough imagination, enough awareness, to collect all documents of the Holocaust. The work of Oneg Shabbat allows us today to understand the fate of Jews in weeks, hours before death; to see the history from the perspective of the victims. To understand their despair, loneliness, fear. This is a special testimony”, says Professor Paweł Śpiewak.
On 16 November, the words of Dawid Graber, Nachum Grzywacz, Gela Seksztajn, Gustawa Jarecka and many others, who had no hope for living anymore, but still had hope for truth, will be heard at Tłomackie street again. As Emanuel Ringelblum wrote: „The world will ask: what did the people from the Warsaw Ghetto think about, when they already knew that they won’t escape death?”
The exhibition is curated by Professor Paweł Śpiewak.
Between 16 November and 8 December 2017, the exhibition is available free of charge.
The exhibition is one of the key elements of the Oneg Szabat Program, realised by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. The goal of the program is to commemorate and popularize the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto (the Ringelblum Archive) and to commemorate the members of the Oneg Shabbat group.
The Oneg Szabat program has been initiated on the 70th anniversary of the JHI. It is being realised by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland within a public-private partnership.