Reading Oneg Shabbos 70 years after the Liberation of Auschwitz
This past week, I paid my respect by honoring the memories of Holocaust victims in a special way. In light of the 70 year anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I chose to read articles from Ringelblum’s Oneg Shabbos.
For those who don’t know: for 3 ½ years, the Warsaw Ghetto archive was run in secret by a group known as the Oneg Shabbos (“Enjoyment of Shabbat” in Yiddish). I chose to read the selected articles from David Rockies’s Jewish Response to the Holocaust.
Oneg Shabbos began with a 1939 backdrop. Fear in the Warsaw Jewish community of political reprisals and mass arrests ran rampant early on. This fear dragged on, as the Germans were not looking for criminals but instead aimed to damage the collective.
The fear culminated in 1940. 1940 marks the year of mass arrests and the exodus of much of the intelligencia. It also marks a time when the Jewish police began stealing gold and other valuables from the upper echelons of the Warsaw Jewish community.
The searches in the Ghettos were baseless. People were afraid to write about and document events; however, some still did—many kept diaries.
As early as 1939, Ringelblum began collecting material for Oneg Shabbos. Within several months, he acquired the cooperation of both a young historian, Rabbi Shimon Huberband, and Hirsh Wasser.
Eventually, belief began to shift from fear in the Ghetto. The popular belief began to grow that Germans cared little about what Jews did among themselves. Within the Ghettos, Jews began to carry out plays, concerts, and newspaper publications. Meanwhile, Jewish informers and the police were more concerned with wealthy Jews. They, under the watchful eye of the Germans, took little interest in policing politics. Following the mass arrests of 1940, there was a return to a brief sense of normalcy in the ghetto
At this time, the Oneg Shabbos needed to circumnavigate legal sanctions against published work. To legitimize the paper and get legal sanction, the Oneg Shabbos advertised contests and monetary prizes
The Oneg Shabbos lay out a 2 ½ Year plan. The plan was a summation of the various problems and important phenomena in Jewish Ghetto life. Never finished, its progress was stifled by a lack of peace and worsening conditions. It surveyed Jewish life for 2 ½ years during the war in Warsaw. The plan included 3–4 sections: a General section, an Economic Section, a Cultural-Scientic section, and a Social welfare section.
Nearing the 3rd Year, a catastrophe struck the Ghetto: the great deportation. The deportation of 300,000 victims disrupted Oneg Shabbos. Only a few continued to write daily at this time. Many writers were exposed to typhoid and fell sick, exposed to the diseased and dying while following stories of survivors who returned from labor camps.
The writing style of Oneg Shabbos is extremely important when studying Holocaust remembrance. Its focus is on comprehensiveness vs. objectivity. The articles aimed to report the voices of the everyday Jew. Not selective, it included the voice of academics, reporters, and journalists. Atrocities dominated the work. Some articles revealed the humanity of the Germans. Oneg Shabbos also touched upon Polish-Jewish relations.
There was an extreme cautiousness in the staff for preserving secrecy, even with a policy on entering into relationships and researching backgrounds. Material preserved included treasured monographs on cities and towns and accounts of Tales of Wandering.
There was a section on labor camps section entitled “Experiences in Prisons and Concentration Camps.” Since few returned to tell stories, this section was frequently empty. For the prison section, prisoners were intimidated to say anything to everyone; as a result, very little was transcribed from this section also.
Oneg Shabbos also preserved stories from the 1939 German–Polish War, highlighting Jewish-Polish relations. It covered the large-scale smuggling of food operation of food which saved countless Jewish and Polish lives.
Oneg Shabbos is noted as being somewhat unsuccessful in the economic field. Very few outlines were executed, and the section didn’t have the material or ideas upon which to expand; however, there were some exceptions, including articles from Comrade Winkler and Gutkowski.
Opochinski rather famously describes in Oneg Shabbos Jewish relations between the mailmen who collected the tax for their neighbors. These are some of the most treasured works of the paper.
A few articles focused on sanitation; for instance, Peretz’s work focused on the history of a Warsaw Tenement during the War. Oneg Shabbos also included records from House Committees. The House Committee was known for transforming social welfare organizations into public.
The social welfare section included works from Rachel Auerbach, who wrote about the soup kitchens that failed to provide adequate nutrients for survival.
Diaries were highly treasured publications. Chaim Kaplan and Adam Czerniakow were writers of works among the work preserved in Oneg Shabbos. The diary accounts have become treasured works for anyone studying Holocaust Studies.
The deportations of 1942 changed the paper unimaginably. With the growing fears of deportation, Treblinka writers became increasingly fearful of transcribing stories. Ringelblum was offered safety several times (via the Polish underground) throughout the German occupation. He chose to stay in the Ghetto and eventually fled into hiding, only to be killed before the end of the war.
Upon reflection, the day spent reading was valuable. More and more, my generation and the millennials are becoming removed from the tragedy of the Holocaust. Oneg Shabbos speaks to everyone, because its writers include Jews from all walks of life, unfiltered. It’s a valuable piece for Holocaust Remembrance.