Here I stand in my historical haven; surrounded by a tawny sea of locked file cabinets in an air controlled secure archive room with my classmates and a curator. Within these cabinets are the preserved lives of survivors and victims. Rarely seen by visitors except for within film or educational texts. Passports of hopeful Jews trying to reach Palestine or America and documents from the SS with information of the Jew person's work and history. The vast array of countless Jews with stories I couldn't even fathom are held within these corridors. It is amazing to be in its presence and to see the conservation done of documents that we are so lucky to still have for studies by future generations.
One of the stories that it is most prominent for is the original copy of the "Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto," by Emmanuel Ringelblum. Part of the UNESCO "Memory of the World" registered archives; the notes provide thourough information on the life of Jews in Poland throughout Nazi occupation and detailed information on events and the state of the Warsaw ghetto. It is a piece of literature originally designed for future generations and IS used by generations now and preserved for future ones to come. The notes provide an outlet for the stories of the perished victims to reach generations today as the writers had desired.
“ From some time in October until about six weeks ago, the Swedish consulate accepted messages for transmittal to America. Lately, many people have received questionnaires from America asking how they were; you could send a personal reply of up to twenty- five words. Communicating with one’s relatives abroad is enormously important. There are thousands on thousands of families here that used to be supported by their relatives abroad. But now all foreign contacts have been broken. The despair of people.
Community activity has completely ceased. Everyone looks after himself, first and foremost. We-re afraid to walk in the street, for fear a press gang might pick us up for forced labor. That saying of someone’s [Hitler] that the next world war… would see an end to the Jewish people is frequently quoted. Those words of prophecy seem about to be fulfilled, particularly since no one sees any prospect for improvement. The hope placed in battalions of…petitions has passed.
Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes From The Warsaw Ghetto, (pg.9)
This quote resonated deeply with me. Ringelblum's striking account of this shift in the culture and how it is developing provides the perfect imagery for these scenes of suffering in places where the setting no longer exists such as the Warsaw Ghetto where the Institute is. It is almost an instrumental map to the life and geography of the ghetto before and after it was built. How Ringelblum maintains his calm demeanor in explaining these scenarios is incredible. Therefore, the Jewish Historical Institute's dedication to the preservation of artifacts such as this book is a wonderful feat and an amazing thing to witness as a student.
photo credit to my fellow student Dylan Meyer