A letter from the historian of the Warsaw Ghetto

A secret central Yiddish archive was created under the innocent name of “Oneg Shabbos.”

Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-44) (photo credit: Courtesy)
Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-44)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-44), a scholar, teacher and social worker, resided in Warsaw, Poland and, with his family, was confined to the Warsaw ghetto following the Nazi invasion of Poland. Devoted not only to his people but to the Yiddish language, he chronicled the fate of the Jews in the ghetto, particularly during the period of deportation (July-September 1942) as well as the first gassings at the death camp in Chelmno. This information was passed to the Polish Underground who forwarded it to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London and thus word of Nazi atrocities were brought to the outside world.
As a historian, Ringelblum kept a record of daily life in the ghetto and was instrumental in organizing as much communal and educational programing, especially for children, as was possible. His records were hidden in milk cans and metal boxes and buried under buildings before the destruction of the ghetto, with the hope that they would be recovered after the war. As such, they would act as an undeniable historical archive showing the brutality of the Nazis and the strength of the Jewish people. Two sections of the archive were recovered in 1946 and 1950. The third section has never been recovered.
In March 1943, Ringelblum and his family were smuggled out of the ghetto and lived on the “aryan” side of Warsaw. He returned, by himself, to the ghetto to participate in the uprising and its ultimate destruction in April 1943, was captured, sent to a labor camp, smuggled out and returned to Warsaw and his family, who were still in hiding. In March 1944, he and his family’s location were betrayed by a Pole. They were arrested by the Nazis and ultimately executed in Pawiak prison.
This is a part of a letter written on March 1, 1944 by Ringelblum, the historian of the Warsaw Ghetto, to YIVO (Institute for Jewish Research) and the Yiddish Pen Club. In it, he describes the spiritual resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The watchword of Jewish social activism was “life with honor and death with honor.” An example of this was the cultural work that had developed, despite the terror, the hunger and the need, which grew until the martyr’s death of Polish Jewry.
There developed an underground cultural organization with the name “ICOR” (Yiddish Culture Organization). It organized cycles of educational lectures, anniversary celebrations (honoring Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Mendele, Borochov and others) and literary and artistic performances.
Under the concealment of children’s kitchens and homes administered by “Centos” (Central Organization for the Care of Orphans), a network of underground schools of various political persuasions was created.
A secret central Yiddish archive was created under the innocent name of “Oneg Shabbos.”
A lively underground cultural work program was run by almost all of the parties and ideological organizations, particulalry the youth organizations. Through almost the entire time in which the ghetto existed there was an underground press, magazines were published, as were books.
With the help of a staff of teachers, educators and artists, hundreds of performances for children were organized and took place in dormitories and clubs where the children lived and slept. There was also a central library organized for children, a theater and courses in Yiddish language and literature.
Even in the concentration camps where the SS sent a number of Jews from Warsaw and other cities, our social and cultural activities did not cease. The organization was not breached nor did it stop serving the community. While in Panytov and Trovniki, as well as in other camps, a clandestine self-help society arose. From time to time there were even secret performances and celebrations, etc. The flow of social and cutural work continued for as long as there was a pulse in the Jewish collective society. You should know that the last activists, who remained alive, remained true, to the very end, to the ideals of our culture.
The Yiddish text of the above letter, translated by the writer, appeared in the 2018 Summer-Fall Edition of the magazine Afn Shvel published by the League For Yiddish, New York, NY.