Hersh Wasser (13 June 1910, Suwałki – 1980) – accountant; secretary at “Oneg Shabbat”
Hersh Wasser was son of Lejb and Estera née Podlaska. He graduated from the Laor High School in 1929, and in 1932 he graduated from the Warsaw School of Economics (now SGH Warsaw School of Economics) with a master’s degree in economics. After graduation, he settled in Łódź, where he worked as an accountant. He belonged to Poale Zion-Left and managed the party library in Łódź named after Ber Borochow. From 1934 to 1939 he was secretary of the economic and statistical section of the Łódź branch of the Institute for Jewish Research (YIWO).
In December 1939 Wasser married Bluma Kirszenfeld and they moved to Warsaw. In the spring of 1940, he was elected secretary of “Oneg Shabbat”. His tasks included handling the day-to-day affairs of the group, including acquiring and cataloguing documents, recruiting staff, and purchasing writing materials. In the Archive’s collection, Wasser left behind administrative documents, cash books and notes from interviews with refugees. Together with Ringelbum and Elijah Gutkowski, he worked on preparing research plans, handouts and questionnaires. The three of them coordinated work on the Oneg Shabbat Bulletins, which contained reports on German crimes.
In his Pisma, Ringelblum wrote about Wasser:
“Hersh W[asser] was appointed by the committee of that time to be the secretary of the ‘O[neg] Sh[abat]’ and he still holds this position today. W., himself a refugee from Łódź, had acquired the necessary understanding for this type of work through his social and political activities. His daily contacts with hundreds of delegations of refugees from all corners of the country made it possible to produce hundreds of city monographs, which constitute the most valuable treasure of the “O[neg] Sh[abat]”[1.1].
In January 1941, he became secretary of the Central Refugee Commission in Warsaw. As part of his work, he collected accounts and letters from refugees for the Archive. He also engaged his wife in the work.
During his stay in the ghetto, he kept a diary from 1 December 1940 to 10 July 1942, in which he described the ghetto reality around him. On the other hand, he did not include personal elements, which he justified in a note dated 3 December 1940: “One does not want to write about oneself – I am just happy to pass the day at active social work”[1.2]. It was preserved in the first part of the Archive hidden on 3 August 1942. In addition, a household accounts book – a list of the Wassers’ daily household expenses from their time in the ghetto – was preserved in the Archive, hidden in the first part of the Archive.
In addition to his work for the Oneg Shabbat group, Wasser continued his political work and was a member of the underground Central Committee of Poale Zion-Left in the Warsaw Ghetto. He helped to publish newspapers. After the Grossaktion, in the second half of 1942, he represented the party at meetings concerning the establishment of the Jewish Combat Organisation.
In the summer of 1942, together with other members of “Oneg Shabbat”, he found employment in a carpentry shop belonging to the Ostdeutsche Bautischlerei-Werkstaetten GmbH, which was headed by Dr Lejb Landau.
In early 1943, Bluma and Hersh Wasser made their way to the “Aryan side”. He and his wife continued to work for “Oneg Shabbat”. In April 1943, he managed to escape from a transport to a labour camp in Trawniki. Then, under the protection of Żydowski Komitet Narodowy (ŻKN – Jewish National Committee), he and his wife went into hiding in Warsaw as Henryk and Halina Wodnicki. They hid in a bunker on Suwalska Street in Bródno (together with Pola Elster, Hersh Berliński and Eliahu Ehrlich). It was discovered by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising on 26 September 1944. The Wassers were the only ones among those hiding there to survive. They then left Warsaw and lived to see liberation in the village of Łętownia in Małopolska. Among Ringelblum’s collaborators, apart from the Wassers, Rachela Auerbach also lived to see the end of the war. Only Hersh Wasser knew where the first two parts of the Archive were hidden.
After the end of the war, Wasser worked to rebuild the life of the Jewish community in Poland. He became a member of the authorities of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻwP), was chairman of the Emigration Department and the Department of Landsmannschaft of the CKŻwP, and became head of the Warsaw branch of the Central Jewish Historical Commission. He worked on topics concerning the hiding of Jews by Poles, and prepared expert reports for future trials of war criminals. On behalf of Poale Zion-Left, he was elected to the Capital City National Council. In the meantime, he led the work on the search for the Archive. And, after the first part was found on 18 September 1946, he organised work to verify and identify the content of the Archive. All the time he was making efforts to leave Poland. In the summer of 1946, he signed a contract with the YIVO Institute in New York, which guaranteed him employment upon his arrival in the United States of America. While waiting for permission to leave, he began working with the institute. Having found the first part of the Archive, from 1947 onwards, fearing for its further fate, he secretly sent 244 documents to YIVO by registered letters, not all of which were from the “Oneg Shabbat” collection. They were never returned to Poland. They are part of the “Wasser Collection” (Hersh Wasser Collection, 1939-1946; ref. RG 225) at the YIVO Archives[1.3]. They were published in print in volume 14 as part of the edition of Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy.
The Wassers emigrated from Poland to Israel in 1950. Hersz Wasser became director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Institute for Research on the Jewish Workers’ Movement in Tel Aviv, which he founded, and later became director of I. L. Peretz Ferlag (the publishing house of I.L. Peretz).
He died in 1980 in Israel.
Dr. Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 7: Spuścizny, comp. K. Person, Warsaw 2012 (part II: Materiały Hersza Wassera).
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 11: Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat”, comp. A. Bańkowska, T. Epsztein, Warsaw 2013.
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 14: Kolekcja Hersza Wassera, comp. K. Person, Warsaw 2014.
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 29: Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z getta, comp. J. Nalewajko-Kulikov, Warsaw 2018.
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 29a: Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z bunkra, comp. E. Bergman, T. Epsztein, M. Siek, Warsaw 2018.
- Icchak “Antek” Cukierman, Nadmiar pamięci. Siedem owych lat. Wspomnienia 1939–1946, Warsaw 2020.
- S.D. Kassow, Kto napisze naszą historię? Ukryte Archiwum Emanuela Ringelbluma, Warsaw 2017.
- K. Person, Hersz Wasser. Sekretarz Archiwum, “Zagłada Żydów. Studia i materiały” 2014, no. 10, pp. 297–303.
- B. Temkin-Bermanowa, Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000.
- [1.1] Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 29: Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z getta, comp. J. Nalewajko-Kulikov, Warsaw 2018, p. 497.
- [1.2] Dziennik Hersza Wassera, [in:] Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, volt. 14: Kolekcja Hersza Wassera, comp. K. Person, Warsaw 2014, p. 3.
- [1.3] See: yivoarchives.org [online] http://www.yivoarchives.org/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=32605 [accessed: 31/03/2023].