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Who Will Write Our History?

Rob Attar finds that the nightmare of the Warsaw Ghetto is brought to life by the records of those trapped inside

Published: August 7, 2009 at 9:51 am

Reviewed by: Rob Attar
Author: Samuel Kassow
Publisher: Penguin
Price (RRP): £10.99


Hundreds of thousands of Jews were herded into the tiny Warsaw Ghetto by the German occupiers in 1940. Among them was a group of intellectuals who decided to produce a detailed record of their experiences for posterity.

The collective, known as Oyneg Shabes, was led by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum and under his stewardship a vast archive was created containing some 35,000 documents. They included letters, interviews, photos and poems as well as several thought-provoking pieces of scholarship on ghetto conditions.


At the end of the war almost all the Jews in the Ghetto had been murdered but much of the archive survived, hidden in boxes and cans under the city. Kassow’s book is one of the first to provide a detailed analysis of Oyneg Shabes and the archive. The result is a work of great power. By quoting extensively from the documents, Kassow reveals the ghetto in the vivid present, not the mournful past, with its humour, hopes and squabbles alongside the suffering and death.


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