Remembering the Past – Finding a Direction for the Future

Some thoughts as Tisha B’Av passes by…

This is a time to remember.  Tisha B’Av is also the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, as it was the day of the destruction of both the First and Second Temple.  In addition, the Nazis, in their warped ideology, decided it would be a suitable day for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.  This was the time of Korczak’s famous last march, two days after he penned his last diary entry.

Shamor v zachor – observe and remember.  It’s uniquely Jewish and it’s a mitzvah, a moral duty.  Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Do remember the past, but do not be held captive by it.”  Learn from the past; don’t dwell on it, but use it to take the right direction, to do good deeds.

With both themes in mind, it is good to reflect on the life of Emmanuel Ringelblum.  Like Korczak, Ringelblum had the opportunity to flee the Warsaw Ghetto but saw it was his duty to remain for a purpose.  Knowing that an event of historic importance was taking place and fearing that nobody would be around to write it, Ringelblum assembled a staff of historians and witnesses to record what they saw.  This information he used for his own journal, to be published as Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto and for an archive.  He called his project and group of witnesses “Oyneg Shabes,” normally a term denoting the joy, oneg, of celebrating Shabbat; these priceless documents telling of the suffering of hundreds of thousands he hid in milk containers buried beneath the rubble.  The Nazis eventually found and executed Ringelblum but were not successful in silencing the voice of the Warsaw Jews.  Historian Samuel Kassov tells of this tragic story in his brilliant, compelling book, Who Will Write Our History?

Both books will be reviewed in this space in greater depth.  For now, let us take the time to remember those who remembered, history guarding memory to tell history.

Emmanuel Ringelblum Warsaw Ghetto Journal

Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum. First English-language hardcover edition. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

 

Kassow Warsaw Ghetto Ringelblum Oyneg Shabes archive history

Samuel D. Kassow, “Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto.” New York: Vintage, 2007.

 

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