“Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust" (NYC/Exhibition)

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The discipline and determination are half-brilliant, half-mad: in 1940, in Warsaw, the Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum decided that the entire experience of Jewry under Nazi rule should be thoroughly documented. The internment of Jews within the Warsaw ghetto, he wrote (with chilly irony), “provided even greater opportunity for development of the archive.”

A competition was established to select writers, teachers and intellectuals; they would study topics like community life, education, crime, youth, art and religion, while helping to smuggle information into the ghetto. Comprehensiveness and objectivity were meant to eclipse surrounding horrors, documenting them for the future. The secret project was called, in heavily sardonic code, Oyneg Shabbes, using the Yiddish words for a celebration welcoming the Sabbath.

“To our great regret, however, only part of the plan was carried out,” Mr. Ringelblum writes, explaining with hyperbolic understatement: “We lacked the necessary tranquillity for a plan of such scope and volume.” Writers were executed; some were exiled for slave labor; and, in 1942, hundreds of thousands of ghetto residents were deported to death camps. Before the ghetto was consumed in the final conflagrations of an armed rebellion, Mr. Ringelblum’s archive was buried in tin boxes and milk cans that were only partly rediscovered after the war.

This epic is briefly alluded to in the important exhibition “Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust,” opening today at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in association with the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Israel.

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