Monday, March 31, 2008

Bummed out

Spent too much time this morning trying to convince the TNR website to reveal the fabulous article I saw in their current print edition about the Oyneg Shabes archive. For those not in the know Oyneg Shabes is a collection of some 35,000 pages of documents written in Polish and Yiddish about life in the Warsaw Ghetto. The archive was hidden in tin boxes and milk cans before the ghetto was liquadated, and unocovered after the war.

Update: Found it! Deborah Lipstat blogged the TNR article, allowing me to provide you with this money quote:
What was the Oyneg Shabes project? In the first instance, it was people. About fifty or sixty of them, to be precise, nearly all intellectuals. Before the war they had been professors, journalists, writers, poets. In the ghetto, they participated in [Emanuel] Ringelblum's project from their particular vantage points, documenting house committees, soup kitchens, or postal routes, so as to interview, study, analyze, and record daily life in that purgatory. Their essays were then copied over by a second group of collaborators. There was a third group, the executive committee, that provided funding--typically, well-to- do Jews whose surviving wealth was spent on everything from pen and ink to the medicines needed to keep valuable contributors alive. Ringelblum also took advantage of his position in the Jewish self-help umbrella organization in the Warsaw Ghetto. The soup kitchens run by the Aleynhilf fed his writers.

It was called Oyneg Shabes, or Sabbath Joy, because its board met on Saturday afternoons. But its content was secret. Besides Ringelblum and his closest secretaries, no one had contact with the three people whose task was to store and, on the appropriate signal, to bury the archive. They lived entirely cut off from the collective project, so that if the ring were broken they would not be compromised. Revolutionary organizations had used a cellular structure of this sort to protect the lives of killers; here it was adopted to protect documents from the killers. Not lives, but documents: everyone in Oyneg Shabes, at least by the autumn of 1942, knew what their fate would be. (Only three survived the war, including one who knew the location of the hiding place.)
There's much more good and interesting stuff in the article, written by Peter N. Miller. We learn more about Rigelbaum and his project, about daily life in the Ghetto, and about the importance and significance of the study of history.

The close, however, is a chiller:
On August 3, 1942, with the Germans only a block away from the building at 68 Nowolipki Street, under which he was to bury the first cache of the archive, Israel Lichtenstein hurriedly deposited his testament--and in that instant gained his eternity. "I do not ask for any thanks, for any memorial, for any praise. I only wish to be remembered.... I wish my wife to be remembered, Gele Sekstein.... I wish my little daughter to be remembered. Margalit is 20 months old today.... She too deserves to be remembered." Working with him were two teenagers, David Graber and Nahum Grzywacz. They, too, left little reminders of themselves in the archive that they were burying. Grzywacz was eighteen years old, and when he heard that the Germans had blockaded his parents' building, he wrote, "I am going to run to my parents and see if they are all right. I don't know what's going to happen to me. Remember, my name is Nahum Grzywacz." The emphasis is in the original.
Read the rest of it here

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