Oneg Szabat Group

JOY OF SABBATH

WHO WERE THE CREATORS OF THE WARSAW GHETTO UNDERGROUND ARCHIVE?

This story began on a Saturday. In Autumn 1940, a group of several dozen people living in the Warsaw Ghetto began to collect and edit an extensive account of the fate of Polish Jews under German occupation. At that time they weren’t yet aware that increasing persecution will develop into mass extermination of their nation, and that the work which they decided to pursue will become the most important testimony of the Holocaust. They held their meetings on Saturdays, hence the name Oneg Shabbat – „the joy of Sabbath” in Hebrew.

They were meeting in the building at 3/5 Tłomackie Street, right next to the Great Synagogue, where the Main Judaistic Library and the Institute for Judaistic Sciences were located. Today, the building is the home of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, and the place where the Archive is stored.

The secret organization was led by Emanuel Ringelblum. „The brotherhood” included people from various backgrounds and social groups: journalists, writers, teachers, economists, businesspeople, craftsmen, students – people with various interests and worldviews, sharing a common need to create a multi-faceted picture of the life of Jews during the war. As Ringelblum emphasised: „Versatility was the main principle of our activity. Objectivism was our second rule”.

Each member completed their assigned task. Some associates were responsible for documentation and evidence, other collected and edited personal accounts. Others recorded the daily life of people, while others were responsible with creative work – submitting their own scientific papers, personal accounts, works of literature.

The Archive also includes accounts provided by many anonymous people. On the „address list”, created by Hersz Wasser, we can find – next to the group’s associates – names of their relatives and people we don’t know anything about (who may be unidentified authors or copyists).

From people we know the names of, only three had survived: Hersz Wasser – Ringelblum’s secretary, his wife Bluma and Rachela Auerbach. Thanks to Hersz Wasser’s instructions, the first part of the Archive was found in September 1946 at Nowolipki Street. The second part was found by accident in December 1950.

Members of the Oneg Shabbat group risked their lives every day, struggling with all possible means to leave a testimony of themselves, their community and their shared suffering, for the world and for different times. It was a mission. For many, this duty became stronger than the need to save their own lives.

ALERT THE WORLD ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST!

When first news about mass murders committed on Jews began to reach Warsaw in early 1942, the Oneg Shabbat group decided about a shift in their activity. Instead of collecting materials to a vast monograph about the life of the Jewish community in Poland, the group dedicated themselves to documenting the extermination of Jewish communities, and to making this knowledge public. The organization remained in contact with Polish resistance movement (e.g. with the Government Delegation to Poland) and passed to them facsimiles of collected documents. In 1942, via Polish and Jewish organizations, Oneg Shabbat’s reports about the Holocaust reached the West.