Professor discusses hidden Holocaust-era archive

Dr. Samuel D. Kassow describes the efforts taken to preserve Jewish history and resist Nazi oppression in a lecture hosted by UConn's Center for Judaic Studies at Konover on Monday, April 24. Professor Kassow is a historian and professor at Trinity College.  (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Dr. Samuel D. Kassow describes the efforts taken to preserve Jewish history and resist Nazi oppression in a lecture hosted by UConn's Center for Judaic Studies at Konover on Monday, April 24. Professor Kassow is a historian and professor at Trinity College.  (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

For the annual Academic Convocation of the Holocaust at the Doris and Simon Konover auditorium Monday evening, Northam Professor of History at Trinity College Samuel Kassow shared a presentation about the Warsaw archive.

The archive is a collection of documents and writings that were hidden in three caches beneath the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II. These caches remained hidden from Nazi Germany throughout the war, and contained cultural and historical knowledge about Jewish life in Poland during Nazi occupation.

Kassow’s presentation, entitled “Time Capsules in the Rubble: the Secret Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto,” told the story of the Oyneg Shabes, a group of Jews who buried the more than 35,000 pages of writings and photographs.

The Oyneg Shabes was an underground group of 60 individuals led by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, the founder and leader of the group. Ringelblum was executed by the Nazis and there were only three surviving members after the war ended. The survivors were able to help recover more than half of the hidden documents that had been hidden. The three survivors were a journalist named Rachel Auerbach, a typist Bluma Wassar and her husband, Hersch Wassar.

The archive is a collection of documents and writings that were hidden in three caches beneath the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II.  (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

The archive is a collection of documents and writings that were hidden in three caches beneath the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II.  (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Kassow wrote a book, entitled “Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Oyneg Shabes Archives.” His book details the life of Ringelblum and he also documents the efforts taken by Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes to resist the Nazis, according the University of Connectitcut’s Center for Judaic Studies.

If one considers the ruined state that Warsaw was in following World War II, these documents may have very well never been found.

Kassow affirmed during his presentation that Ringelblum was driven to tell “the quiet heroism of the ordinary Jew.” According to Kassow, Ringelblum feared that the truth of the history would have been lost. He said that Ringelblum believed that if the Nazis won World War II they would write a version of history that would have bypassed the truth of what happened in the Warsaw Ghettos, a narrative that would have obfuscated the inhumane struggle of the more than 500,000 Jews in Poland.

To this day, only two thirds of the Oyneg Shabes records have been found. The first cache was found in 1946 in ten metal containers. Warsaw was in complete ruin and took the combined efforts of the three survivors, a team of surveyors and engineers, pre-war aerial pictures and surviving landmarks to find them.

The second cache was found in 1950 by a group of Polish construction workers.

The third and final cache has never been found. There was an expedition in 2003 near the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw. It was believed that the cache was there. Upon excavation however, only a single burnt diary was found.


Matthew Gilbert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.