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A Battle for Memory: Documentary About Warsaw Ghetto Archives

Almost no one knows about the secret group of intellectuals that documented life in the Warsaw Ghetto and buried the documents on the eve of the uprising. Thousands of those documents were recovered in 1946 and 1950 but were largely untranslated and little known for decades, until historian Samuel Kassow’s 2007 book Who Will Write Our History? A documentary film of the same title is currently underway. Watch a six-minute trailer here, and read more about the project below. Targum Shlishi awarded a grant to support work on this film, which is directed by Roberta Grossman and produced by Nancy Spielberg. To learn more or to make a donation to support the film, visit the website.

The idea to document life in the ghetto was the brainchild of Polish history Emanuel Ringelblum, who understood the importance of this task but realized it needed to be a collective effort. In all, he recruited more than sixty members as part of a secret group, the Oyneg Shabes. They wrote, collected artifacts, and in all produced thousands of pages of materials. The group members knew that they might not survive, but they hoped the documentation would. As one of the group members wrote, “We understood that we were creating a piece of history.” The archive was buried in three caches, two of which were discovered after the war and then housed in the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw in poor condition. In 1990 preservation techniques began to be applied to the materials. Historian Kassow notes of the archive, “You don’t really need guns to fight. You could fight with paper and pen.”

The documentary is expected to be completed in 2018. Among those involved in the project are two major actors who will read from the documents: Adrien Brody will voice Emanuel Ringelblum’s words, and Joan Allen will do the same for Rachel Auerbach, a member of the Polish-Jewish literary elite who survived the war and helped to find and preserve the archive.

Images and video courtesy of Who Will Write Our History?, Katahdin Productions

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