Ghetto Records: Racing Time

Archivists at the Museum of the Ghetto Fighters are working frantically to find remains of Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. A call to Anglos.

Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 11:01 PM

Page of burned diary from Warsaw Ghetto
Page of burned diary from Warsaw Ghetto
Israel news photo: courtesy of Museum of House of Ghetto Fighters

This news article is also a call to English speakers around the world to join the project launched in Israel.

Archivists at the Museum of the House of the Ghetto Fighters are working patiently, yet frantically, to save whatever remnants of evidence might still remain that shows what life was like in the Warsaw Ghetto before and during the Ghetto Uprising in World War II.

Within hours of the launch of “Operation Attic” – a nationwide project to save documents, letters, diaries, photographs and other Holocaust-era items from attics, basements and warehouses – dozens had already volunteered to bring in documents and other articles they had in their possession.

Yossi Shavit, director of the museum’s archive, told Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew news service that there are many documents, photographs and albums in Israel recounting the stories of those who suffered through the Holocaust. However, he said, “Many of them are unfortunately ending up in trash cans. Many merchants in the flea markets come to us and tell us about diaries written in Russian or Yiddish that have fallen into their hands.  A young art dealer called us and gave us two diaries that had been tossed out – they contained a rare document written by a prisoner in Bergen-Belsen,” Shavit said.

“It’s not deliberate,” he continued. “But their descendants don’t realize that what we are dealing with is really a treasure of the Jewish People. After their parents die, they try to dispose of the contents of the home without understanding the significance of the rare items they may be dealing with.”

Shavit is asking anyone with a parent who survived the Holocaust, alive today or not, to check and see whether he or she left behind any written documents.

“Check the attic, the storage areas, everywhere you can think of. See if you can find letters in a foreign language, original diplomas or certificates of any kind, and let us know if you do. Sometimes the survivors themselves have already forgotten about what they have. There are also many who recoil from dealing with anything having to do with the Holocaust,” he said.

The Museum of the House of the Ghetto Fighters is working hard to restore the documents that are received, and to translate them into Hebrew for posterity. “We carefully restore the physical paper,” said Shavit, “photograph it for microfilm and photograph it once again. Then we send the document for translation into Hebrew.” Everything is published on the museum’s website, but “only with the permission of the family,” he said.

Many of the diaries have shed new light on the history of the Jews, Shavit added. “We have a diary that was written by a fighter in the [Warsaw] Ghetto during the actual battle. [In the diary] it is written, ‘G-d help us, send us grenades.’

“At the beginning of this year, the sister of the woman who wrote this diary passed away,” he explained. “Vanda Rottenberg left a large literary estate, and the diaries written by her sister, who fought in the ghetto, were bequeathed to us. Three of them reveal things that were previously unknown.”