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.
By: Dr. Havi Ben-Sasson