Even before the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto (1940-1943) knew of the "Final Solution," they understood that their story needed to be preserved. Under the leadership of Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum, a clandestine organization of about 60 researchers with the code name Oyneg Shabes ("the joy of Shabbat") compiled and documented the experiences of the Jews of Warsaw under Nazi occupation. "It was an extraordinary act of civil resistance," says historian Samuel Kassow, author of Who Will Write Our History: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from, the Warsaw Ghetto. "The Jews knew that the Germans wanted to control and determine how they would be remembered. They were determined to write their own history."
Their goals evolved over time. When the project began in 1940, the researchers--a group that included historians, writers, artists, rabbis and social workers--simply wanted to collect information about the nearly 500,000 people imprisoned in the ghetto. They gathered diaries, essays, wills, photographs, poetry, paintings and items such as menus, concert tickets and candy wrappers to help record everyday life. But in 1941, as their fate became more evident, they distributed surveys that included questions on everything from the lives of Jewish women to corruption to religious life. The plan was to produce a book that would help people after the war learn from, and not repeat, the past. But on July 22, 1942, the deportations to the concentration camp Treblinka began, and Ringelblum hastily ordered the researchers to turn in everything they had in hand.
On August 2, 6,276 Jews were seized from the ghetto. Very early the next morning, the first part of the archive was buried in ten metal boxes in the brick foundation of an old school building at 68 Nowolipki Street. David Graber, age 19, placed a note inside the top of one box that read, "I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure will be dug up and scream the truth at the world. May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened... in the 20th century.... May history be our witness." Just hours later, 6,458 more Jews were deported, including Graber, who perished in Treblinka.
To get word out about the genocide, the remaining members of Oyneg Shabes smuggled four reports to the Polish resistance that were shared with the British and American governments. The reports included detailed documentation of the mass...