"It must all be recorded with not a single fact omitted. And when the time comes – as it surely will – let the world read and know what the murderers have done."
The “Oneg Shabbat” Archive, also known as the Ringelblum Archive, is one of the most impressive and unique projects initiated by the Jews during the Holocaust. This underground archive was established and run by historian and community figure Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, with the express purpose of documenting the reality of life under Nazi occupation.
Ringelblum recruited people from all points of the political,religious and ideological spectrum of Jewish society, who documented the influence of German occupation on private life and Jewish society in Warsaw and its environs.
Ringelblum and his colleagues believed their principal mission to be the creation of a documentary infrastructure that would provide a description of the fate of Jewish society on all levels. For this reason, they were careful to gather testimonies that expressed the different perspectives of Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. They went to educators and asked them to write essays on Jewish education in the Warsaw Ghetto, but at the same time, they also gathered testimonies from children, in order to gain the child’s perspective. Amongst the documentation, there are texts written by men and women, orthodox Jews and free thinkers, philosophers and ordinary people, all of which reflect the diversity and vitality of Jewish society in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Furthermore, although the Oneg Shabbat archive focused on the fate of the Jews of Warsaw, it also includes tens of reports and testimonies documenting the fate of the Jews throughout Poland. A considerable number of these documents were collected thanks to the archive members’ involvement in the self-help activities run in the ghetto, through which they met the ghetto’s refugee population. In the course of their work with the refugees who filled the city, testimonies were gathered, and alongside them, detailed reports were written about events occurring in different places during the war.
In time, the archive also started keeping documents that were published by the ghetto’s official institutions, together with orders and decrees issued by the German authorities. In addition, the archive preserved many copies of the official and underground newspapers that were published in the ghetto, and interred tens of photographs and a number of works of art.
The Oneg Shabbat staff had intended to collate all the material into an organized format towards the end of 1941, but changed their plans in light of the information about the murder of Polish Jewry that was filtering through to the ghetto. This information spurred the archive staff to concentrate on gathering documents dealing with deportation and extermination, to make this knowledge known to the Jews in the ghetto, and to find ways to bring it to the attention of the free world. Their work did not stop even when hundreds of thousands of Jews – including several members of the archive itself - were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. During those days, the documentation gathered thus far was buried underground, and in January and April 1943, more sections of the archive were interred. Tragically, only the first two parts of the archive were found after the war. They are preserved in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and constitute one of the most important collections of documentation about the fate of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust.
The many documents gathered by the archive staff constitute vital testimony both to the depth of suffering, and to the rich quality of life led by the Jews of Poland as a whole, and the Jews of Warsaw in particular, under Nazi occupation. They testify to the fact that alongside the hunger, crowding and constant distress, the Jews lived a rich spiritual life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Despite the closure of political, social and cultural institutions and the many decrees against the Jewish community, religion and culture, as well as political activism and membership in different movements were significant elements in their lives. At the same time, they testify to the indomitable spirit of the archive staff, who made such tremendous efforts to ensure that future generations would have an accurate picture of Jewish life During the Holocaust.
Dr. Havi Dreifuss
Ringelblum - The Man and the Historian
Ringelblum was born in Buczacz, Poland (now Ukraine) in 1900. He earned a doctorate in history at the University of Warsaw in 1927. From a young age, Ringelblum belonged to the Po'alei Zion and was active in public affairs. For a while he taught high school and subsequently commenced working for the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland. In November 1938 the JDC sent him to the border town of Zbaszyn, where 6,000 Jewish refugees from Germany were gathered. These people had been forced out of Germany and not allowed into Poland. Ringelblum spent 5 weeks in Zbaszyn as the person in charge of the refugees and his experiences there had a great impact on him.
After the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, Ringelblum continued working for the JDC. He ran welfare programs and soup kitchens for the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. He instituted House Committees, which attempted to deal with the growing deprivation within the ghetto. Along with his friend Menahem Linder, Ringelblum also founded a society for the advancement of Yiddish culture (Yidishe Kultur Organizatsye) in the ghetto.
In 1923, several Jewish historians in Poland had formed a historical society, with Ringelblum as one of its leaders and prominent scholars. The group was eventually associated with the Institute for Jewish Research (Yidisher Visenshaftlikher Institut, YIVO). Ringelblum was one of the editors of the society's publications, and by 1939, he himself had published 126 scholarly articles. His efforts within that group were just a preview of what he would later accomplish in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Within the first few months of the war, Ringelblum launched his greatest feat: the secret Oneg Shabbat Archive. The name means "Sabbath pleasure," and usually refers to cultural gatherings taking place on Sabbath. Thus, Ringelblum's archive was aptly named because its members met in secret on Saturday afternoons. Initially, the archivists would collect reports and testimonies by Jews who had come to the ghetto to seek help from the self aid organizations.
Ringelblum would collect information during the day, and write notes at night. He knew that what was happening to the Jews was unprecedented, and he was determined to record a complete description of the time and place for future historians. He and his colleagues collected data and wrote articles about towns, villages, the ghetto, and the resistance movement. They also documented the deportation and extermination of Polish Jewry. Near the end of the ghetto's existence, the archivists sent every bit of information they had about the murders, to the Polish underground, which in turn smuggled it out of the country. Thus, Ringelblum helped expose the Nazis' atrocities.
The Oneg Shabbat materials were preserved in three milk cans. One of the sites was uncovered in 1946 and a second in 1950; the other has yet to be located. The archive materials and Ringelblum's own written chronicles constitute the most comprehensive and valuable source of information we have, concerning the Jews in German-occupied Poland and the significance of the events taking place.
In March 1943, Ringelblum and his family escaped the ghetto and went into hiding in the non-Jewish area of Warsaw. During Passover of that year, he returned to the ghetto, which was in the midst of an uprising. He was deported to the Trawniki labor camp, but escaped with the help of a Polish man and Jewish woman. He went back into hiding with his family, however, in March 1944 their hideout was discovered. Soon after, Ringelblum, his family, and the other Jews he had been hiding with were taken to the ruins of the ghetto and murdered.
Prof. Israel Gutman
"Ringelblum was a witness to this human tragedy of families, children, adults and old. Later on, when his relatives suggested he should leave Warsaw and flee from the Germans, he rejected the idea. For him, fulfilling his duty as a Jew was most crucial at that time."
Israel Gutman was born in Warsaw in 1923. His parents and older sister perished in the ghetto, and his younger sister was a member of Janusz Korczak’s orphanage. As a member of the Jewish Underground in the Warsaw ghetto, Israel Gutman was wounded in the uprising. From Warsaw he was taken to Majdanek, and from there to Auschwitz. In May 1945 he was sent on the death march to Mauthausen. Gutman spent two years in the camps. After the war, he was hospitalized in Austria. He escaped and joined the Jewish Brigade in Italy. He helped in the rehabilitation of survivors, was active in the Bericha movement, and immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1946. He joined Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan where he raised a family and was a member of the kibbutz for 25 years. In 1961 he gave testimony during the Eichmann trial.
In 1975 Israel received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University for his thesis The Resistance Movement and the Armed Uprising of the Jews of Warsaw In the Context of Life in the Ghetto, 1939-1943. Beginning his academic career at the Hebrew University, he later headed Hebrew University’s Department for the Study of Contemporary Jewry. One of his main projects was the comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Israel was a founder of Moreshet, A Testimonial Center in memory of Mordecai Anielewicz, and served as its director and the editor of its journal Yalkut Moreshet.
Prof. Gutman was an advisor to the Polish government on Jewish Affairs, Judaism and Holocaust Commemoration. From 1993-1996 he headed the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem. Between 1996-2000 he served as Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian. Since 2000 Prof. Gutman has been the Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem. He was a member of the Yad Vashem Council, the International Institute for Holocaust Research’s administration, Yad Vashem’s Scientific Board, and a member of the editorial staff of Yad Vashem Studies. Some of the numerous awards his work has received are the Salonika Prize for Literature, the Yitzchak Sadeh prize for Military Studies, and the Polish Unification Prize.
Prof. Israel Gutman passed away in Jerusalem, Israel on October 1, 2013.