Emanuel Ringelblum was a historian, pedagogue and social activist. He founded the Underground Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto (also known as the Ringelblum Archives). He was born on 21st November 1900 in Buczacz, Eastern Galicia, and he died in Warsaw on 7th March 1944.
Historian, pedagogue and social activist, the initiator of the Underground Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.
He was born in Buczacz, Eastern Galicia. His father was a teacher and his mother died when he was 12 years old. During World War I, his family moved to Nowy Sącz. In 1920, he graduated from the State Gymnasium. In 1922, he enrolled himself in the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Warsaw, where he studied history under Marcel Handelsman. His doctoral supervisor was Professor Jan Karol Kochanowski. On 20th May 1927, he was awarded a doctoral title in philosophy after completing his dissertation entitled Jews of Warsaw from its Earliest History until 1527.
In 1923, Ringelblum, along with several other Jewish historians, formed the Jewish History Seminar in Poland. It then became the core of the Committee of Jewish History in Poland – a Warsaw branch of the Institute for Jewish Research in Vilnus (Yidisher Visenshaftlikher Institut, YIVO). From the moment it was established in 1925, it was a research centre that dealt with the Jewish language (Yiddish), as well as economics, sociology, ethnography and the history of the Jews. One of the committee's academic supervisors and Ringelblum’s mentor was Icchak (Ignacy) Schiper, a pioneer of research on the socio-economic history of Jews and a member of the Polish Parliament in 1919-28. The committee's group of historians in Poland including Ringelblum, published two academic journals: Yunger historiker (that came out in two volumes) and next its continuation Bleter far geshikhte (1934, 1938).
In 1928, Ringleblum received a diploma that allowed him to teach in secondary schools. For several years, he taught history in the Yehudiya Jewish secondary school for girls, yet his true passion was historical research based on original sources. As a result of this, he published numerous articles and two books: the previously mentioned doctoral dissertation in 1932 and a monograph, Jews in the Kościuszko Uprising, which was published in Yiddish in 1937 and in Polish in 1938. Like his academic teachers, he was an advocate of the idea that the history of Jews in Poland was an integral component of the history of the country. He authored over 120 articles in Polish and Yiddish.
While still a student, he became a member of the Po’alei Zion Left. He was involved in activities of the Jewish workers' movement. He collaborated with the Central Organization for Jewish Education, which ran secular schools with Yiddish as the language of instruction. In 1938, he began to work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). He was sent to direct relief for stranded refugees – Jews and Polish citizens – who had been expelled from Nazi Germany and held in horrific conditions in a camp in Zbąszyń.
Since September 1939, Ringelblum had spent his time helping the homeless and starving in besieged Warsaw, then in the Ghetto, under an openly operating Jewish Social Aid company. This social work turned out to be inseparably intertwined with his research interests, therefore he began to establish a centre of historic documentation, whose aim was to develop a comprehensive documentation of the history of Jews under Nazi occupation and chronicling life in the Ghetto.
On 22nd November 1940, a week after the closing of the Warsaw Ghetto, there was an inaugural meeting of the clandestine research group code-named Oneg Shabbos, which took place in Ringelblum’s apartment on 18 Leszno street. Recognition of Hitler’s plan and methods of exterminating Jews gradually led to the transformation of Oneg Shabbos into an information centre as well as means of preparing for armed resistance, in collaboration with other conspiracy organizations, both Jewish and Polish.
After several Nazi exterminations of Jews in the Ghetto (in the summer of 1942 and then in January 1943) Ringelblum decided to hide outside of the Ghetto with his family in a shelter organized by a Polish family, where 34 other Jewish refugees where hiding. On 18th April 1943, the day preceding the outbreak of the Uprising in the Ghetto, Ringelblum left the shelter and entered the Ghetto, yet was captured and sent to the Trawniki labour camp. After four months, due to collaboration with the Polish Underground, he was smuggled back to Warsaw. He returned to the shelter where he wrote his last work entitled Polish–Jewish Relations during the Second World War. On 7th March 1944 their hideout was discovered and the Gestapo took both Jews that were hiding and the owners of the land they were hiding on to prison. Soon after they were all shot on the ruins of the Ghetto, Ringelblum, his wife Judyta and son Uri as well.
Author: Eleonora Bergman, courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, 19.04.2013, Translated by: Zuzanna Wiśniewska, August 2015