Who Will Write Our History?

Emanuel Ringelblum, The Warsaw Ghetto, And The Oyneg Shabes Archive

By:  Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Over the past 12 years that I have been writing this column I discussed the Ringelblum Archives numerous times. The first article was when I saw the archives and the efforts to preserve them. I also wrote about them when a portion went on exhibit in New York, as well as when there was a renewed search for the remaining missing parts on the grounds of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.

I have been fascinated by the very idea, contents and testimony to bravery of the archives, and the group that collected the material in the Warsaw Ghetto. However, I have to admit that I know only a small part of the story. 

There are numerous books on the Ringelblum Archives. While they all have sections on Dr. Ringelblum, and the other collectors, most of the work focuses on the collection itself.

Last week the Polish Consulate in N.Y. hosted a book signing and lecture for Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, authored by Samuel D. Kassow. He is considered the foremost expert on Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes underground historical group of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Mr. Kossow's book is the first to concentrate on the story of how the collectors and collection came about.

While Ringelblum is best known for the archives he was also its innovator and involved in many other projects. There were the schools, the soup kitchens and neighborhood-organizing committees. Oyneg Shabes also sponsored essay writing by students, whose entries made their way into the archive.

During the lecture at the Polish Consulate, which was co-sponsored by the American Society for Jewish Heritage in Poland, Kossow quoted the founder of the Yivo Institute, Shimon Dubnow, who as he was being taken away, cried out, "Schrieb (Write)."

He knew it was important that the world know the truth of what happened to the Jews of Poland. Dr. Ringelblum and his fellow zammlers (collectors) took his plea a step further. Writing the history is not enough if it is not preserved for people to read. Dr. Ringelblum believed that the world must hear the truth from the side of Jews, not only the Germans.

During the Shoah the Jews of Warsaw were forced into silence but as David Graber, one of those whose responsibility was to bury the archive, said, "What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world, we buried in the ground.... I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure is dug up and screams the truth to the world."

These words were written as Mr. Garber was preparing to bury the last of the archive, watching the Germans advance, knowing what his ultimate fate would be. That he would not be around to scream the truth to the world. That job he bequeathed to the future generations.

Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabbos Archive, is an important book for all libraries. People of all races and faiths should read this book. The lessons of altruism found within show that good will prevail over evil, and knowledge and memory have to be passed on to the next generation.

Samuel D. Kassow's book, Who Will Write Our History? has been selected by the Jewish Book Council as runner-up for the 2007 National Jewish Book Award. This award is given to books that enlarge the whole enterprise of Jewish scholarship and contribute to informed living, understanding, and entertainment for the entire English-reading world.

Samuel D. Kassow is the Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. He is author of Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia, 1884-1917 and editor (with Edith W. Clowes) of Between Tsar and People: The Search for a Public Identity in Tsarist Russia. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut.

Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive $35.00