Poland Memorial to Shed Light on Warsaw Ghetto During Nazi Occupation

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A unique memorial is in the works dedicated to the archive of Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum, which includes 30,000 documents about life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

Work has recently begun on the memorial, which will consist of an underground concrete pit, dug two meters deep, that is meant to symbolize the cellar where Ringelblum and others collected and hid wartime documents. A copy of each of the documents will be showcased in a glass vitrine placed within the concrete pit.

The memorial is being built on Nowolipki Street in Warsaw, where the rare collection – which was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in 1999 – was hidden in 1942 and 1943. The collection is safeguarded at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which makes it accessible to researchers.

Polish artists conceived the idea and the design for the memorial and also helped raise funds for the project, for which they have waived payment (they are, however, retaining copyrights for the work).

Ringelblum, a doctor of philosophy and activist in the Marxist Zionist Jewish workers movement Poalei Zion, was born in 1900. He was prominent in shaping the Jewish intelligentsia in Poland and also worked with international Jewish institutions. When World War II broke out, he was attending a Zionist meeting in Switzerland, but he returned to his home in Warsaw, via Italy and Hungary, even after the Nazis invaded Poland.

In October of 1939, Ringelblum founded a group called Oneg Shabbat (because it met on the Sabbath), which worked to collect all documents touching on Jewish life in Warsaw under the German occupation, from newspapers to literary works, private letters, photographs, orders from the occupation government and descriptions of ghetto-dwellers' lives. The group also prepared reports on the work of Jewish committees in the ghetto and the activity of the Jewish police.

Along with Adolf Berman, who at the time headed the Jewish National Committee, Ringelblum created a comprehensive account of the fate of Jewish artists and writers in occupied Poland. Today this report can be found at the Jewish Historical Institute in New York and the American PEN club.

After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Ringelblum, his wife and another 30 Jews found refuge outside the ghetto with the help of two Poles, Mieczyslaw Wolski and Janusz Wysocki. A third Pole, 18-year-old Jan Lakinski, turned them over to the Gestapo.

They were arrested on March 7, 1944, and were all shot dead. The informer was identified after the war, tried and sentenced to death by hanging.

The memorial is expected to be completed this summer.

The Warsaw Ghetto.Credit: Wikipedia

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