On January 18, 1943, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto arose in violent rebellion against further deportations. The struggle lasted an incredible three months. On April 19th, the Nazis began their final assault. Four days later, with their weapons depleted and the Nazis progressively blowing up blocks of the ghetto, the Jewish resistance was overcome. By mid-May, the Warsaw Ghetto was no more, its tens of thousands of residents mercilessly murdered. Beneath the rubble, however, remained profound exhibits of the courage, faith and strength of the Jewish people.

The greatest cache of documents from the ghetto were collected and preserved by Emanuel Ringelbaum (1900-1944), a Polish-Jewish historian born in Buchach (then in Austia-Hungary, now in Ukraine) who did not survive the war. When Ringelbaum and his family were “relocated” to the Warsaw Ghetto, he initiated Operation Oneg Shabbat (“Sabbath Delight”), organizing members of the ghetto to collect diaries, newspapers, posters, documents, etc. His goal was to preserve a record of life in the ghetto for the future. Realistic about their slim chances of survival, these documents were stored in metal canisters and three large milk cans, which were buried throughout the ghetto.

Ringelbaum and his family escaped the ghetto but were found by the Gestapo and executed in March 1944. Ten of the metal canisters were uncovered in 1946, and two of the milk cans in December 1950.

Like Ringelbaum, the Piasetzener Rebbe, Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943), buried his work, the now famous Aish Kodesh (Holy Flame, so titled when published posthumously in 1960) – a compilation of his sermons, many of which deal with questions in faith faced by the Jews in the ghetto. Although he survived the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, Rabbi Shapira was shot to death at the Trawniki work camp in November 1943.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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