Monday, March 16, 2009

From Beyond The Grave: The Warsaw Ghetto


By Ann Rabinowitz

Very often, resources can reach you in various and diverse ways.  The latest one came via my cousin Natalie Wood by a Facebook communication which she had gotten from her contact Frank Baigel, Chairman of the Jewish Historical Society, Manchester, England. 

It is a link to a story in The Economist, March 12, 2009 edition, which focuses on the research of American historian Samuel D. Kassow, who has written a thoroughly fascinating book “Who Will Write Our History, Rediscovering a Hidden Archive From the Warsaw Ghetto” (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2007).  I remember hearing about the discovery of these buried archives and was pleased to learn that something had now been written about them and their contents.

Recently, Kassow spoke on this topic at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and, again, at the Tenement Museum in New York, where you can hear him on Book TV. Another well-written commentary on the book is found in the February 22, 2009 edition of the Los Angeles Times, available here
The book documents the work of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbes Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.  The Oyneg Shabbes collected, studied and documented the Jewish community of Warsaw.  Approximately sixty collectors, or zamlers, both the well-known and the unknown, were engaged in capturing many forms of Jewish life in the Ghetto.  These documents were buried in tin milk cans.  Subsequently, 25,000 – 30,000 documents, a mere fragment of all that was collected, was found and unearthed after the war and reconstructed.  Only three of the sixty collectors survived the war.

The book has real import for genealogists for it points out the fact that gathering documentary evidence of one’s family and one’s ancestral shtetl is important.  It has lasting significance not only for descendants, but others as well.  Not only should the book be read, but it follows that making use of various modern communication techniques such as listening to the author and reading on-line what has been written about the book is also a very worthwhile enhancement to one’s knowledge of the Warsaw Ghetto and Polish Jewry.

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