The BBC broadcast about the situation of Jews in Poland

On 26 June 1942, at 5 PM, British BBC Radio broadcast a program dedicated to the situation of Polish Jews under German occupation. It was an important day for members of the Oneg Shabbat group.

Wide notatki
The note prepared by Emanuel Ringelblum in which he informs about the broadcast aired by the BBC Radio.  /  Source: JHI Archive

On 26 June 1942, at 5 PM, British BBC Radio broadcast a program which informed about crimes committed on the Jewish nation.

We will now present a special broadcast about horrible atrocities committed on the Jews by the Hitlerite occupant. Here in London, we have received detailed information describing the entirety of the cold, calculated system, in which thousands of members of the Jewish community are being shot and cruelly murdered. These inhuman crimes committed on innocent people cry vengeance to heaven. They cry for a fair and strict punishment.

The broadcast was followed directly by a speech in Yiddish given by Szmul Zygielbojm, member of the Polish National Council in London, who confirmed that reports about the Holocaust have reached the free world:

I’m speaking to you, comrades and brothers, horrified by atrocities you are being submitted to. The entire world knows the scope of your suffering, about endless funerals passing through streets, about tens of thousands innocent children end elderly being murdered (…) the world knows about tens of thousands poisoned in Chełmno, about each crime, each horror. The murderers won’t get away with it. If this can bring you any solace, please know that we will pay back for every drop of blood. But the world realizes that you want not only revenge, but also help. Please know that your hands are seen, that your calls are heard.

It was an important moment for Emanuel Ringelblum and for the Oneg Shabbat group, who had been trying to pass information about the situation of Jews in Poland to the international public opinion. The group has prepared reports about the occupant’s policy towards the Jewish nation: The Events in Chełmno, which included information about the Holocaust of Jews from Reichsgau Wartheland, as well as a harrowing account by Szlamek Winer about forced work as a gravedigger in the Chełmno extermination camp (the report was delivered to the Home Army) and Second Stage – a report which alerted that the Germans began a complete a direct extermination of Jews on the occupied territories (the reports was delivered in unknown circumstances to London; its copy is being stored at the Study of the Polish Underground State), and a report from June 1942, Gehenna of Polish Jews under the German Occupation. It’s an extensive synthesis of German anti-Jewish policy since the beginning of the war, suported with many examples from materials collected by Oneg Shabbat. In the part dedicated to the Holocaust, the report includes a statistic of numbers of victims of executions and deportations in particular towns before June 1942. It also includes information about the death camp in Bełżec (four copies of the report have survived until present day; three were stored in the first part of the Ringelblum Archive, fourth one was delivered in Summer 1942 to the authorities of the Polish Underground State and is being stored in the archive of the Government Delegation for Poland in the Archive of Modern Records. It is likely that Gehenna of Polish Jews under the German occupation was also sent in July 1942 to London, but there is no confirmation of this fact in London archives).

The last report by Oneg Shabbat stored in the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto is The Liquidation of Jewish Warsaw, dated 15 November 1942. It tells about the Great Deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto (22 July-21 September 1942) and contains a description of the death camp in Treblinka. The report ends with an appeal to the Government of Poland and Governments of Allied Countries to sent an international commission to Treblinka, in order to research and confirm facts from the report, take actions against perpetrators of the tragedy of Polish Jews and retaliate immediately against Germans present in the Allied States.

After the BBC broadcast, Emanuel Ringelblum wrote in the Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto:

Friday, 26 June 1942,is a day of special events for Oneg Shabbat. Today, before noon, English radio broadcast a program addressed to Polish Jews. Everything we have known about has been mentioned: Słonim and Vilnius, Lviv and Chełmno, and others. For many months, we have been concerned that the world remains deaf and silent in the face of our tragedy, incomparable to anything in history. We were holding a grudge against the Polish public opinion, to those in contact with the Polish government, that they don’t announce [information] about the extermination of Polish Jews, that the world doesn’t know. He accused Polish parties of deliberately silencing our tragedy, so that it doesn’t eclipse their own tragedy. All [our] interventions have seemingly succeeded (…) The Oneg Shabbat group is fulfilling its great historical mission: they alarmed the world about our fate, and maybe saved hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews from perishing. (…) We know one thing: we have fulfilled our obligations. We have faced all the difficulties and achieved our goal.

According to Maria Ferenc Piotrowska and Franciszek Zakrzewski in their introduction to the 22nd volume of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive (The Press of the Warsaw Ghetto: news from radio monitoring), Ringelblum’s notes indicate that he identified information in the broadcast as sourced from Oneg Shabbat. The report Gehenna of Polish Jews under the German Occupation was in fact delivered that summer to the Polish Underground State authorities, but it must have happened after 26 June, and the broadcast was based on earlier reports sent by Bund to London.

Echoes of the broadcast appeared in Polish undeground press, in such periodicals as „Biuletyn Informacyjny”, „Agencja Radiowa, „Rzeczpospolita Polska”, „Wytrwamy”, „Orzeł Biały”, „Jutro PN”, „Dziennik Polski”.

A journalist of Bundist daily „Szturm” wrote in a commentary from 5 July 1942, „The world hears us in a similar tone”: Above seas, rivers and land, above the walls of our giant prison, we can hear a voice which gives us courage, which announced that our pain and suffering will be avenged

This certainty was not shared by Eliasz Gutkowski, a member of Oneg Shabbat, who wondered in his diary (Ringelblum Archive, Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto, volume 23):

Sensational news have reached the Ghetto today: on Friday, at five o’clock, London radio broadcast a special program dedicated to the disappearance of Jews on Polish and Russian territories (…) The program ended with an address to the Jewish community and with a profound faith that the moment of deliverance and revenge is coming. It means that our horrible suffering and pain, and that [information] about our uncountable victims have reached the public opinion of the world! Can we hope now that our situation will improve at least a little? That the massacres and deportations of thousands of our brothers and sisters „in an unknown direction” will stop? Maybe... This is not very likely (…) regardless, we are a toy in the hands of murderers.

Regardless of the fact that informing the public opinion about the Holocaust of Jews in Poland didn’t stop Hitler from continuing his murderous policy towards the Jewish nation, the words of consolation which were broadcast on 26 June by the BBC radio were a short moment of triumph for Oneg Shabbat and for Emanuel Ringelblum, who wrote in his diary: Even our death won’t be futile, as with the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. We struck a blow against the enemy. We have revealed his evil plan of secret extermination of Polish Jews. We have undercut his calculations and revealed his cards.

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On the permanent exhibition we present to the public – for the first time – documents collected by the secret group Oneg Shabbat. The exhibition is one of the key elements of the Oneg Szabat program.

The temporary exhibibion „Shmuel Zygielbojm. I can neither be silent nor live” is dedicated to Shmuel Zygielbojm, a member of the National Council of the Polish Government in Exile in London, who informed the world about the tragic fate of Polish Jews under German occupation. Facing defeat of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and above all — as a sign of protest against world’s indifference towards the Holocaust of the Jews — he committed suicide on 12 May 1943.


Bibliography:

Archiwum Ringelbluma, tom 11, Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat”, opr. Aleksandra Bańkowska, Tadeusz Epsztein, WUW, Warszawa 2013,

Archiwum Ringelbluma, tom 22, Prasa getta warszawskiego: wiadomości z nasłuchu radiowego, opr. Maria Ferenc Piotrowska, Franciszek Zakrzewski, ŻIH, Warszawa 2016,

Archiwum Ringelbluma, tom 22, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, opr. Katarzyna Person, Zofia Trębacz, Michał Trębacz, WUW, Warszawa 2015,

Adam Puławski, W obliczu zagłady: Rząd RP na Uchodźstwie, Delegatura Rządu RP na Kraj, ZWZ-AK wobec deportacji Żydów do obozów zagłady (1941–1942), IPN, Lublin 2009,

Emanuel Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego, przeł. Adam Rutkowski, Czytelnik, Warszawa 1983,

Ruta Sakowska, „Wiadomości” ARG i raporty o Zagładzie. Status Archiwum Ringelbluma w getcie szczątkowym Warszawy, Kwartalnik Historii Żydów, marzec 2005, nr 1 (213).


The permanent exhibition is one of the key events of the Oneg Szabat program – a multiannual program of events commemorating the Ringelblum Archive and the Oneg Shabbat group, launched by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. The program is implemented within a public-private partnership.









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