Ringelblum Emanuel (Menachem) (alias Edzio, Menachem) (1900, Buchach – 1944, Warsaw) – Polish historian and pedagogue of Jewish descent, activist of Poale Zion – Left, co-founder of the Jewish Social Self-Help, creator of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto.
In 1912, his family moved to Nowy Sącz, where in 1920 he passed his final examination in a state secondary school. In 1927, he graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw, where he also completed his PhD. In the interwar period, he was an active member of Jewish student organisations. In 1923, he co-founded the Jewish Historians’ Club at the Jewish Academic House in Warsaw. In 1928, the club started to operate under the auspices of the Warsaw branch of YIVO (Yiddish: Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut – Yiddish Scientific Institute). Its members were independent historians and students of various humanistic disciplines. The team published a non-periodic scientific journal entitled Yunger Historiker (Yiddish: Young Historian), co-edited by Ringelblum. He was also a member of the History Department of YIVO in Vilnius. He participated in the activities of the Tsentrale Yidishe Shul Organizatsye (Yiddish: Central Jewish School Organisation, Tsisho). Until 1938, he worked as a teacher in Jewish high schools. He was involved in many social activities, including the cooperation with the Interest-Free Credit Bank (the so-called Cekabe); he also edited the Folkshilf magazine published by this institution. His scientific interests focused on the history of Polish Jews and the relations between Jews and Poles. He was the author of the works Żydzi w Warszawie od czasów najdawniejszych do ich wygnania w 1527 (“Jews in Warsaw from the earliest times to their exile in 1527”; PhD thesis, Warsaw 1932), Żydzi w Powstaniu Kościuszkowskim (“Jews in the Kosciuszko Uprising”; Warsaw 1938). His publications described the complexity of Polish history and discussed factors shaping the mutual sympathy, but also anomosities between the two nations. He remained faithful to his scientific passion until the end of his life.
He came to be known as a socially engaged person. At the end of 1938, when Polish citizens of Jewish descent were deported from the Third Reich and placed in the camp near Zbąszyń, Ringelblum administered aid provided to refugees on behalf of the Polish branch of the American Joint Distribution Committee. He also represented the Joint after the outbreak of the war in September 1939, becoming the coordinator of the social assistance campaign. After the creation of the Jewish Social Self-help, he became the head of its social division. He was given an opportunity to leave occupied Warsaw, but declined to do so. In 1942, he became a member of the Antifascist Committee and took part in the creation of the Jewish Combat Organisation.
From the very beginning of the war, he made notes describing important events of the occupation period and collected documents and materials concerning the current situation. He then created the clandestine Ghetto Archive (now called the Ringelblum Archive), operating under the codename Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew: Joy of Sabbath) or ARG. It documented the life, struggle, and death of Jewish people under German occupation, in Warsaw and beyond. The archive was initially conceived as a documentation centre, a place for collecting materials of various origins. The collected documents, diaries, historical, economic, and literary works, writings about social issues, as well as graphics and paintings are an invaluable source of knowledge about the life, cultural and social resilience, and martyrdom of the Jewish population of the Warsaw Ghetto. Ringelblum’s personal notes and essays covering the period from October 1939 to 18 April 1943 (the day of his return to the ghetto) have also survived.
After the so-called Grossaktion in the ghetto – the deportation of 300,000 Warsaw Jews to the extermination camp in Treblinka in the summer of 1942 – Ringelblum was formally employed in carpentry workshops at 68 Nowolipki Street to avoid being sent away. Two parts of the archived materials, hidden in metal boxes and milk cans, were buried in the basement of the building. At the end of February 1943, together with his wife Judyta and son Urim Ringelblum, he escaped the ghetto and found a hideout in a shelter (‘Krysia’) built by Władysław Wolski in Warsaw’s district of Ochota, at 81 Grójecka Street (84 according to other sources). On the eve of the uprising, he returned to the ghetto and was deported to the SS labour camp in Trawniki. In July 1943, he sent a postcard to Warsaw from the camp. Thanks to the joint efforts of Jewish and Polish underground organisations, he was eventually rescued. The people who broke him out of the camp were railway worker Teodor Pajewski, a liaison officer of the Council for Aid to Jews, and Róża Kossower (Jewess). Ringelblum, in the guise of a railwayman, was transported to Warsaw. For some time, he remained in hiding in Warsaw’s district of Praga, in an apartment at 2 Radzymińska Street (his host was “miss Stacha,” Pajewski’s sister-in-law), which served as underground premises of the Council for Aid to Jews. He soon moved to the shelter at Grójecka Street.
“At one of the tables, near a burning carbide lamp, always sitting in the same place and writing was a taciturn middle-aged man. He wrote almost constantly, whole days and evenings, for hours, not leaving the table piled with papers and books. He was a historian and chronicler, Dr Emanuel Ringelblum. […] he did not vegetate in the shelter like most of its inhabitants, he had a task to complete, willpower and intellect to do it – in the documents that are now part of the history of this period, he was conveying the story of the extermination of Jews and the crimes of Nazi tormentors to future generations. […] he was in ‘Krysia’ only physically, in his mind he was far from there. He did not take any part in the day-to-day life in the shelter; he showed no emotions in moments of horror nor in the moments of relaxation. He kept himself apart, did not participate in discussions or quarrels”.
Oma Jaguar – Irena Grodzińska, Bunkier “Krysia”, Łódź 1997, pp. 33–34.
Together with his family and other people, Ringelblum stayed in the shelter until 7 March 1944. The shelter was eventually denounced to the Germans, and all the people hidden there (24 women and 16 men), as well as Poles helping them (the Marczak family and Mieczysław Wolski) were taken to the Pawiak prison and later executed in the ruins of the ghetto.
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Just like the documents collected in the archives, two works written by Ringelblum are an invaluable source of knowledge about the situation in the ghetto: Kronika getta warszawskiego. Wrzesień 1939 – styczeń 1943 (“The chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto. September 1939 – January 1943”; preface and editing by A. Eisenbach, Warsaw 1988; written in the Warsaw Ghetto) and Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w czasie drugiej wojny światowej. Uwagi i spostrzeżenia (“Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War. Notes and observations”; preface and editing by A. Eisenbach, Warsaw 1988; written during the stay in ‘Krysia’). In a matter-of-fact style of a historian, Ringelblum described all the minutiae of everyday life without unnecessary exaltation, but with full awareness of the hellfire which engulfed his generation. He left behind a description of his stay in the hideout:
“When the deportation of Jews from Warsaw began, and with it the search for a refuge on the Aryan side, a certain social group turned to the M. [Marczak] family with a plea to build a shelter. [...] Mr and Mrs M. had selflessly lodged a Jewess, a seamstress of limited means, whom they treated as their own child. It was therefore assumed that the M. family had all the moral virtues necessary to be entrusted with the lives of several dozen people. [...] The helm of the shelter is held by the “boss,” Mr Władysław M., 37 years old, a gardener by trade. He decided to save dozens of Jews in spite of the occupier who had sentenced them to death. Mr W. has devoted his body and soul to his dearest mistress, Ms ‘Krysia’ (that’s how the shelter was called, from the word ‘kryjówka’ [‘hideout’]). [...] And here are other problems: how to provide food to dozens of people, so as not to attract anyone’s attention? But the ingenious Mr M. and his no less resourceful sisters found a way. They have rented a grocery store, and now purchases for ‘Krysia’ are made on its account. [...] For her [the hideout], Mr W. had to break off many friendly relations and commercial contacts. He cannot allow too many guests or customers to come to the garden, because every guest may notice something that shouldn’t be seen, something unforeseen even in the best-prepared plan of the shelter. [...] Mrs M. is the heart of ‘Krysia’, Mr Władysław is her brain, and Mrs M.’s grandson, Mariusz, is her eyes, ‘Krysia’s’ guardian angel, her inseparable companion. His function is very simple, but the lives of 34 people depend on it. Mr M. brings food to ‘Krysia,’ takes away the buckets, etc., but most importantly, he watches over her all day long, so that no one gets too close to her. [...] He must manoeuvre and manage work in the garden so that no strangers come close to the shelter, he must constantly control whether any of the ‘Krysia’ lodgers can be seen from the roofs of the neighbouring houses, he must solve such problems as finding a place for garbage, for dishwater, for faeces, etc. These matters are mundane, but they are of great importance for 34 living people. [...] When the ghetto was burning in April, when the modern Nerons were burning torches made of living humans, when red posters were shouting from all the walls: ‘Poles! Woe to each of you who hides Jews. We will do the same with you as with the Jews’; at that time ‘Krysia’ was immersed in black despair. [...] When those with weak spirits got scared of German threats and refused to lodge Jews, thus condemning them to certain doom, the M. family continued in their determination to save Jews.”
Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w czasie drugiej wojny światowej. Uwagi i spostrzeżenia, preface and editing by A. Eisenbach, Warsaw 1988, pp. 159–164.
Prepared by Dr Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat
- Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 1: Listy o zagładzie, compiled by R. Sakowska, Warsaw 1997;
- Cała A., Zalewska G., “Ringelblum Emanuel,” [in] Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik, eds. A. Cała, H. Węgrzynek, G. Zalewska, Warsaw 2000, p. 281.
- Kassow S., Kto napisze naszą historię? Ostatni rozdział zagłady warszawskiego getta. Ukryte Archiwum Emanuela Ringelbluma, Warsaw 2010.
- Mahler R., “Ringelblum, the Historian of Polish Jewry,” [in] A Commemoratives Symposium in Honor of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his “Oyneg Shabbat” Underground Archives, Jerusalem 1983.
- Ringelblum E., Kronika getta warszawskiego. Wrzesień 1939 – styczeń 1943, preface and editing by A. Eisenbach, Warsaw 1988.
- Żebrowski R., “Ringelblum Emanuel,” [in] Polski słownik judaistyczny, vol. 2, eds. Z. Borzymińska, R. Żebrowski, Warsaw 2003, pp. 423–424.