Vox Tablet

Inside the Ringelblum Archive

A guided tour of Polish Jewry’s greatest treasure, once buried in the rubble of Warsaw

April 19, 2013
Agnieszka Reszka, the head of the Ringelbum Archives, shows a poster from 1941.(Julie Subrin)
Agnieszka Reszka, the head of the Ringelbum Archives, shows a poster from 1941.(Julie Subrin)

This week, Tablet is reporting from Warsaw, which is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, opening today after formal ceremonies, is a spectacular glass-and-concrete structure—still empty, for the most part—that has been 20 years in the making, at a cost of more than 100 million dollars.

Proponents of the museum believe it represents a huge step forward in healing Polish-Jewish relations. Critics say it’s too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that, like it or not, this museum—which will rely on multimedia exhibits to tell its story—is not, and will never be, a home to artifacts. Yet about a mile away, on a slightly run-down side street, sits an archive that has been collecting Polish Jewish artifacts continually from before the war to the present.

Reopened in 1947, Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute is essentially a continuation of an institute started in 1928. Today it holds what is arguably one of the most precious collections of Jewish life: the contents of 10 metal boxes and two milk canisters dug up shortly after the war and then several years later, in near-miraculous survivals of documents, letters, and other records of daily life from the annihilated Warsaw Ghetto.

Vox Tablet’s Julie Subrin went to visit this archive earlier in the week. With her was Agnieszka Reszka, the head of the archive, and Samuel Kassow, an American historian who wrote a book on the archive and its creator, Emanuel Ringelblum. For Reszka and Kassow, the archive offers us the opportunity to breathe new life into a lost world. [Running time: 14:26.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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