BY DAN BERKOWITZ CHAIR, THE HOLOCAUST LEARNING CENTER
In 1940, in the Jewish ghetto of Nazi-occupied Warsaw, the Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum established a clandestine scholarly organization called the Oyneg Shabes to record the experiences of the ghetto’s inhabitants. For three years, Oyneg Shabes worked in secret to chronicle the lives of hundreds of thousands as they suffered starvation, disease, and deportation by the Nazis. Shortly before the Warsaw ghetto was emptied and razed in 1943, Oyneg Shabes buried thousands of documents from this massive archive in milk cans and tin boxes, ensuring the voice and culture of a doomed people would outlast the efforts of their enemies to silence them. Impeccably researched and thoroughly compelling, Samuel D. Kassow’s “Who Will Write Our History?” tells the tragic story of Ringelblum and his heroic determination to use historical scholarship to preserve the memory of a threatened people.
“I didn’t have a normal childhood,” said Kassow in a remarkable case of understatement. The Trinity College history professor was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany to two Holocaust survivors. As a child of survivors, Kassow was very much affected by his background and developed an interest in Jewish history from a young age. After graduating from college in 1966, he took a Fulbright in England at the London School of Economics and studied at Oxford until eventually deciding to get his PhD in history at Princeton. In 1972, he went back to Trinity as a professor, where he has been teaching ever since.
In addition to teaching, Kassow has published several books, traveled all over the world, and helped create an exhibit for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews located at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. Most recently, he worked with Nancy Spielberg and Roberta Grossman as a consultant to the film “Who Will Write our History?” based on his book.
Using newsreels, voice-overs, and re-enactments, Grossman, the documentary’s director, paints a comprehensive portrait of the times and of the risks taken by Ringelblum and his group. According to the film, of some 60 members of the Oyneg Shabes, only three survived until the end of World War II. Portions of the archive had to be excavated from underneath tons of rubble after the war. Parts are still missing.
The Holocaust Learning Center and the Adult Education committee of WJC are proud to present both the distinguished author and film, both with the same title, “Who Will Write Our History” at our annual Shoa commemoration on May 31 at 10:00am sharp. Weather permitting, the program will begin outside, near our Holocaust memorial, with a brief Service led by Rabbi J. Arnowitz. We will then have a brunch followed by our speaker and film.