26 March 2008

Warsaw Ghetto: Oyneg Shabes Archives

Historian Deborah Lipstadt's blog details an article by Peter N. Miller, "What We Know About Murdered Peoples," in the New Republic (April 9, 2008). It is a review of "Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive," by Samuel D. Kassow (Indiana University Press, 523 pp., $34.95).

Miller is a professor and the chair of academic programs at the Bard Graduate Center in New York.

The Oyneg Shabes project was completed at the beginning of April 1943, when the final trove of materials was buried. When the Uprising broke out on April 19, Ringelblum was captured and sent to the Trawniki labor camp. He was there until August 1943, when he was smuggled out by the Jewish-Polish underground, brought back to Warsaw, and sent into hiding on the Aryan side. There, in a bunker seven meters long by five meters wide that he shared with thirty-nine other Jews, including his wife and son, Ringelblum completed four major works: a detailed study of the Trawniki camp, perhaps the first study ever made of the concentrationary universe; a report on Jewish armed resistance; a treatment of the Jewish intelligentsia; and a survey of Polish-Jewish relations during World War II. The first two were lost, the latter two survived. Ringelblum himself did not. The bunker was eventually betrayed, and its occupants were taken away. In prison his fellow inmates again sought to save him, but he refused to abandon his boy, and soon afterward he was executed.

In the ghetto, the archive was not the only thing buried in the earth. But only the archive rose up from it. Biondo Flavio's fifteenth-century words describing the fragmentary survival of the ancient world, later repeated by Francis Bacon, come to mind when contemplating what has come down to us from Ringelblum's world: "like planks from a shipwreck."

Miller offers with examples what he terms Ringelblum's Rules:

Seriousness of purpose is crucial.
Words are powerful.
Facts matter.
Nothing is unimportant.
Understanding the past is an inter-generational project.
All collectivities are made up of individuals, and every individual is a world.

Writes Miller:

In the Warsaw Ghetto, and elsewhere across Europe, thousands of individual Jews put pen to paper, often amid panic and terror, to record details of their existence for readers in the future that they still believed in. The Oyneg Shabes Archive is a collection of such individual voices. It will stand as the outstanding twentieth-century rebuttal to impersonal forms of social science.

Read the complete review here.

1 comment:

  1. Other than this book by Samuel Kassow, has there been any other index, publication or translation you know of? Has JewishGen had access to this information?