Who Will Write Our Story?

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Who Will Write Our Story?

“What we were unable to shout out to the world, we hid underground. May this treasure end up in good hands, may it live to see better times, may it alert the world.”Dawid Graber -one of the people who buried the archive

During the darkest period in their history, Emanuel Ringleblum a historian,  gathered a group of scholars and intellectuals and formed the Oyneg Shabes. (named that because they usually met on Saturday) It is one of the most astonishing research projects in history. Ringleblum believed that writing history from “within the event” instead of after from memory would give a clearer picture of what was happening.

It started as an attempt to collect as much diverse information about Jewish life during this period. They handed out notebooks to people in the Warsaw Ghetto to write their stories within the event and time frame. They reached out to other cities in Poland as well. They collected and wrote diaries, journals, reports, art, literature and studies of life in the ghetto. They also saved newspapers,  ration tickets, letters and postcards, German orders, invitations to ghetto events, theatre posters, fliers, schoolwork, tram tickets and candy wrappers. 

I read one book that was recommended for the trip entitled Who Will Write Our History? by Samuel Kassow. I did not realize that in Warsaw, the Jewish Historical Institute  housed this archive and I would actually be able to see it.

The project changed when news of the mass murders began and the group started documenting the destruction of the Jewish people in Poland. One of the earliest reports about the Nazi extermination of the Jews to reach London and the West was about the Chelmo Extermination Camp. It came from the Oyneg Shabes.

The materials from the Ringelblum Archive were buried in ten metal boxes and two milk cans. The first cache was hidden in August 1942 during the Great Deportation. The other in February 1943 a few months before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The fear at this point was that none of the two hundred members would survive to know where to dig it up but three of them survived. Emanual Ringleblum and his family did not. 

Reading excerpts from the 6,OOO documents was harrowing and heartbreaking but seeing it displayed at the Jewish Historical Institute made their heroism real for me.

They say that history is written by the victors. Poet and Oyneg Shabes member Gustawa Jarecka,  described it as” a ‘stone hurled under history’s wheel to stop it.’ It could not stop it but it gave a voice to the victims and a clear picture of the destruction. ( calculations of deportations)

The first cache was unearthed shortly after the war in September 1946, while the discovery of the second trove came in December 1950.

There was also a third cache which has not been found. Rachel Auerbach who was one of the survivors says that “If the third part of the Ringelblum archive is ever found, it will include my papers  turned over after the deportations began, it will include a ticket from the ghetto’s laundry with a poem  by Yisroel Shtern about a tree in the ghetto.”

Fly safe,

JAZ

Cemeteries In Poland

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Cemeteries In Poland

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R.Tolkien The Fellowiship Of The Ring

“We were here. We are what is left of what was once a thriving civilization.” This is what the headstones in the Jewish cemeteries in Poland say to me. (Lodz)

Over half a century after the Holocaust, the headstones and their fragments in the Jewish cemeteries personalize the tragedy of the three and a half million Jews killed in Poland. ( Warsaw)

Jews had been in Poland since the Middle Ages. The oldest Jewish grave is in Wroclaw and is dated  1203. In the tangled paths and ruined stones, there is the history of Jewish life in Poland. (Lodz)

In the cemeteries, I feel the ghosts that I did not feel at Auschwitz. Maybe the crime at Auschwitz is too big and too much to comprehend. In the silence of the dead, I wonder if I am doing enough good in this life that I am so lucky to have. (Lodz)

The first cemetery we visit is the Old Cemetery at the Remuh Synagogue in Krakow. It is the oldest cemetery in Poland. It was founded in 1553 and the last burial was in 1800. The cemetery was used as a garbage dump in World War Two and pretty much destroyed.

The gravestone of a famous rabbi – Rabbi Moses Isserles survived and people come to worship there. In 1959, the cemetery was renovated. The fragments of the broken tombstones were cemented together to form a wall.

The Jewish Cemetery created in 1892  in Lodz  was once the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.

After the German occupation in 1939, the cemetery became a part of the Lodz ghetto.

Between 1940 and 1944, about 43,000 burials took place in the spare part of the cemetery that became known as the Ghetto Field.

The cemetery was the site of mass executions of Jews, Roma gypsies, and non-Jewish Poles. The graves of the Polish scouts and soldiers are found there.

The ghetto was liquidated in August 1944 and about 830 Jews were left as a clean-up crew. They were forced to dig large holes for their own graves near the cemetery wall. The Nazis did not have enough time to kill them, and the empty holes have been left as a remembrance.

The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw was established in 1806.  Among the notable people buried at the Okopowa Street cemetery are the writers Y.L.Peretz and S. Ansky, the actress Ester Rachel Kaminska; Ludwik Zamenhof, the creator of the Esperanto language; Adam Czerniakow, the chairman of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto and many notable rabbis.

It also has memorials and the mass graves of fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

During the Second World War, the Germans used it as a place for executions and mass burials of victims from the Warsaw Ghetto. 

The cemetery sustained extensive damage when the Germans decided to bomb all the surrounding buildings after the  Jewish Uprising.

The small Jewish community left in Warsaw are trying to diligently preserve and protect the cemetery.

In the Warsaw Cemetery, there is a  memorial for the one million children killed in the Holocaust.

Another memorial is in memory of the Polish-Jewish pediatrician and children’s author Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw from 1940 to 1942. He was deported with his children in 1942 after he refused to abandon them. He was most likely murdered after his arrival in Treblinka.

There were more Jews in Warsaw than in any other European capital before the war, and the cemetery bears silent witness to this rich and vibrant civilization that made Poland the most Jewish of nations in Europe.

Most of the graves in the cemeteries are abandoned. There is no one left to visit them and tend to them.(Lodz)

In every cemetery, I put stones on as many graves as I can. I don’t have enough time  or enough stones. I try to get to the graves that are further away. The graveyards get messy and overgrown with grass and moss. It’s hard to know where I am stepping so I walk on my toes.(Lodz)

  Putting a stone on a grave has different interpretations. For me it means, I was there. I saw your headstone even though the people who remember you are gone.(Krakow)

 

On Yom Kippur, I light memorial candles for my parents, a friend and one for the people who have no one to light one for them. This year I will light an extra one for the 3.5 million  Jews who died in Poland during World War Two. (Lodz)

Fly safe,

JAZ