The story of the Archive

Hersh Wasser, Bluma Wasser, and Rachel Auerbach were the only survivors among those who created The Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, documenting the annihilation of Polish Jews. They returned to Warsaw, reduced to rubble.

Hersh Wasser knew where the documents had been hidden. But the search wasn’t easy. Resources were scant and excavations had to be conducted in the ruins of a destroyed city.

„Remember, there is a national treasure buried under the rubble. It’s the Ringelblum Archive. We must not rest until we find the Archive (…) even if there are five layers of ruins over it, we have to find the Archive”.

Rachela Auerbach

In 10 metal boxes (15x30x50 cms), Izrael Lichtensztajn and two of his students – Dawid Graber and Nachum Grzywacz – had stored over 20 thousand pages, including drawings and photographs. In late July and early August 1942, during the first deportations in the Warsaw Ghetto, they buried the entire collection in an underground storage in the basement of the building at 68 Nowolipki Street, a typical Warsaw tenement house with a single courtyard. A secret Ber Borochov school functioned there until July 1942. They placed their wills in the last box.

1946

1946 – on 18 September, at 68 Nowolipki Street in the former ghetto area, 10 metal boxes were found in the ruins. The paper in the boxes was wet, difficult to separate, partly damaged by mould, with traces of rust from paperclips. Hersz Wasser dug the boxes out himself. Five days later, they were opened, and the process of writing down the documents began.

1950 – On December 1, the diggers and bulldozers of the State Construction Enterprise are conducting earthworks at 68 Nowolipki Street in the new Muranów C estate. The workers come upon two sealed milk cans. They contain a treasure whose worth and significance the finders are yet to discover.

Like time capsules, these milk cans protected the memory of a murdered nation. It is in these cans that the second part of the Warsaw ghetto underground archive was kept. This cache was buried in February 1943 in the cellars of 68 Nowolipki Street.

1950

In 2012, Jewish Historical Institute received a grant from the National Humanities Development Program, which significantly accelerated work on the complete edition of the Archive. Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein became the scientific editor, while dr Eleonora Bergman (in 2015 replaced by dr Katarzyna Person) became the manager of the project. The efforts of a vast array of historians, sociologists, philosophers, literature researchers, editors and exceptional translators resulted in a 37-volume edition. Our next pursuit is translation of all the volumes into English. The first volume, „The Ringelblum Archive. Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto”, was published in print in November 2017.

In 2016, the editorial team of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive was granted the editorial award of the Juliusz Żuławski Polish Pen Club.