The Oneg Shabbat group preserved the memory of Jews enslaved in the Warsaw Ghetto and their deaths in the extermination camps. It began a struggle with the Germans through intellectual resistance and work. Its Ringelblum Archive (Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto) is the most significant testimony of the Holocaust.
To continue the mission of Ringelblum’s associates — to preserve the memory of Polish Jews, the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, along with the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland established the ONEG SZABAT PROGRAM. As its coordinators, we want the knowledge of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto and its creators to become common place. The Ringelblum Archive belongs to the „Memory of the World”, and the Oneg Shabbat group has been honored for ethical leadership.
Memory of the World
In 1999, only three documents were listed on the UNESCO „Memory of the World” register: the autograph of Nicolaus Copernicus, the manuscripts of Fryderyk Chopin and the Ringelblum Archive.
In the justification of the selection the Polish UNESCO Committee pointed out: The underground archive of the Warsaw Ghetto is a unique collection both because it concerns the largest ghetto established by the Nazis (also containing materials relating to the fate of the Jewish community in various other areas of the Nazi occupation), as well as due to the circumstances of its creation. It was created by a team operating underground, of whom almost all of its members including the founder, historian Emanuel Ringelblum, died as Holocaust victims.
If we look at this choice from a perspective of general knowledge of documents chosen by UNESCO, this is initially a surprise: the works of Copernicus and Chopin are known to the world, but the history of the Ringelblum Archive is only known to a few persons. The second is a call to action — the Ghetto Archives was created for “future generations”, and those who created and preserved them, believed that this treasure would alarm the world about what happened in the 20th century.
Everyone understood the significance of the work. They understood how important it is that the vestige of the tragedy of the Polish Jews remained for future generations, Ringelblum wrote about his colleagues.
19-year-old Dawid Graber, who was hiding in the cellar of the ghetto with a trunk filled with documents, wrote in his Testament:
What we could not shout out to the world, we buried in the ground. I do not want acknowledgements. That is not why I gave up my life, my energy. I would like to live to the day we are able to dig up this great treasure and reveal the truth. Let the world know, let those who did not have to experience it enjoy life.
Dawid died the following day, 3 August 1942. His colleague and comrade placed the following words into another trunk: I do not know my fate. I do not know if I can tell you about what happened afterwards. Remember, my name is Nachum Grzywacz.
We established the Oneg Szabat Program to remember
The Archive survived. It survived the fire of the burnt city; it did not give in to water that found its way into the trunk. It was found and extracted from a sea of rubble in Warsaw. For 70 years, employees of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute have been leaning over the documents left by the Oneg Shabbat group. They protect them from destruction; compile them and make them available to researchers.
Last year, a team of several dozen translators and editors, historians, sociologists and linguists under the scientific editorial supervision of Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein completed many years’ work on the publication of a thirty-seven volume, full edition of the Ringelblum Archive.
We have started work on its translation into English. We have published the first volume: Warsaw Ghetto. Everyday Life, edited by Katarzyna Person, PhD. Translating the full edition of the Ringelblum Archive and publishing translations online is a great task that has spread over several years. This year, we would like to publish two more volumes.
The JHI’s digitalization department staff have scanned and published the documents of the Ghetto Archive on the website ’Delet’. Today, everyone has access to them.
In the future, we will link the Polish and English compilations with digital copies of the original documents. Based on their content, a team of JHI researchers, under the supervision of prof. Andrzej Żbikowski, will develop a virtual Encyclopedia of the Ghetto containing the most important concepts related to the Warsaw Ghetto and the topography of its streets.
In November 2017, we opened a permanent exhibition, “What we were unable to shout out to the world”, which provides access to the Archive documents and commemorates the members of the Oneg Shabbat group. The curator of the exhibition is Prof. Paweł Śpiewak. It is accompanied by the book “Letters to Oneg Shabbat”. Today we are working on a catalog for the exhibition.
We are preparing an educational programme addressed to Polish and foreign pupils and students. In March we established a new project — Ambassadors of Oneg Szabat Program — and invited a group of students from Penn Hillel in Philadelphia, who by participating in workshops and meetings with educators, learned about the history of the uprising and the contents of the Ghetto Archive. The task of the Ambassadors is to disseminate knowledge about the Oneg Shabbat at their home universities.
We want to organize a travelling exhibition that will tell people about the Oneg Shabbat and the contents of the Archive in selected museums across the world.
In March 2018, Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat group were posthumously honored with the 2018 Awards for Ethical Leadership granted by the New York organization Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE). The creators of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Gnetto were honored for courage and predictability. These ethically operating documentalists of the time risked their lives to provide reports that are accurate and irrefutable proof of the catastrophic events of their era.
By disseminating knowledge of the Ringelblum Archive, we want to tell the story of the ethical leadership of the Oneg Shabbat members — the cooperation, opposition, courage and trust needed to act and work in the deepest secrecy.
The Ringelblum Archive is a great archive of many people, consisting of nearly 800 accounts, 88 literary works, 120 scientific studies, over 350 files of official documents and 55 titles of underground press published in the ghetto. The collection has more than 35,000 pages.
We know that a single scream is sometimes the loudest, and therefore, we want to publish selected documents so that readers may become acquainted with them all over the world.
Jolanta Hercog, Krzysztof Rozen
All information about the Oneg Szabat Program — the Ringelblum Archive, Oneg Shabbat group and the particular projects — can be found on the new Oneg Szabat Program website.
The Oneg Szabat Program was implemented by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, within a public-private partnership.