The archive was founded on the initiative of Mordechaj Tenenbaum (alias Jusuf Tamaroff, 1916–1943), born in Warsaw, activist of the Dror-HeHalutz Zionist youth organisation, co-founder of the Jewish Combat Organisation. In November 1942, he came to Białystok with the task of organising armed resistance in the ghetto. Following his arrival, works commenced on the creation of an underground archive. Tenenbaum's main collaborator in the process of collecting historical material was Cwi (Hirsz) Mersik (1916–1943), originally from Mielnica, member of the Halutz movement.
The founders of the archive encouraged fugitives from other towns and all inhabitants of the ghetto to write down their accounts. Among those whom they managed to persuade were some well-known activists, such as Pesach Kapłan and Mordechaj Chmielnik. Mersik's task was to establish contacts with fugitives from other ghettos and collect material on "liquidation actions" in the region. According to Tenenbaum's account, Mersik contracted typhus during one of these meetings and died a week later, on 28 January 1943. After his passing, his tasks were to be taken over by Gedalia Petluk, a member of Dror from Knyszyn whom Tenenbaum himself recommended for the position during a meeting with the head of the Judenrat, Efraim Barasz. Barasz knew about the archiving project and supported it, for instance by handing over various documents and reportedly providing a room for storage.
The archival materials collected in the Białystok ghetto include reports, letters, studies, personal documents, minutes of Judenrat sessions, and Judenrat announcements. Photographs, poems, literary works, newspaper clippings, and other materials were also collected, but unfortunately not everything has survived. Most documents were written in Yiddish, but there were also some in Polish, Hebrew, and German, as well as individual items in Russian and Lithuanian.
Intensified works on the archive lasted from December 1942 to April 1943, that is for nearly five months. However, some of its contents span beyond this period. The minutes of Judenrat meetings, for example, cover the period from August 1941 – almost the very beginning of the existence of the Białystok ghetto – to November 1942, and the Judenrat announcements – from July 1941 to April 1943.
The archival documents refer to events taking place not only inside the ghetto, but also in other cities and towns of the Białystok District and the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Among the preserved materials there are accounts of fugitives from Slonim, Minsk, Dereczyn (Dziarečyn), Supraśl, Jasionówka, Grodno, and other places. The archive also includes Tenenbaum's journals and other writings, which constitute a detailed source of information on the activities of the underground resistance movement in the Białystok ghetto.
Between March and May 1943, the archive was hidden in three moisture-resistant tin boxes made especially for the preservation of documents. The boxes were buried in batches on the property of an acquainted Pole – Doctor Bolesław Filipowski, a lieutenant in the Home Army who lived at 29 Piasta Street in Białystok. The people involved in the operation on the “Aryan side” were Tenenbaum's close associates: Izrael Blumental and Bronisława Winnicka (later Klibanski); the latter was a liaison officer of the Jewish Combat Organisation on the Aryan side. Winnicka survived the war, and in 1953 left for Israel, where she worked as an archivist in Yad Vashem, among others dealing with documents from the Mersik-Tenenbaum Archive.
There are still many unanswered questions when it comes to the story of discovering the archive. We know that after the war, the documents were in possession of Lejb Blumental, who may have obtained information about the hiding place of the collection from his brother Izrael Blumental. In 1946, the items were handed over to the Central Jewish Historical Commission and to the Dror organisation. The archive has not been preserved in its entirety. Some of the documents were probably destroyed and some may remain in private hands. Tenenbaum most likely continued to work on the archiving project until the final "liquidation" of the Białystok ghetto in August 1943. However, these materials were never found. Surviving documents are now kept in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem, and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum (Beit Lohamei Ha-Getaot) in Israel.
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- The Bialystoker Memorial Book, New York 1982.