Jewish Self-Help in Zbąszyń and its Legacies

A letter from Emanuel Ringelblum to Raphael Mahler

Dear Raphael,

I am now in Środborów to rest. I have been working for five weeks in Zbąszyń. […] During these five weeks, we (originally Giterman, 11Isaac Giterman (1889-1943) was the Director of JDC Operations in Poland from 1926-1939. Forced to flee Warsaw in 1939, he returned in 1940 and served as one of the four JDC Directors in Warsaw during World War II. After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto, he provided for the needs of the ghetto residents, supported cultural activities in the ghetto, and helped the underground resistance groups. He refused all opportunities to escape. Giterman was murdered by SS soldiers in 1943 while on his way to a secret bunker in his apartment building. Source: JDC Archives: In Memoriam. Isaac Giterman, https://archives.jdc.org/exhibits/in-memoriam/isaac-giterman/ (25.01.2020) Ginzberg and I, and then after ten days me and Ginzberg) built up an entire municipality with supply departments, medical care, carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking, books, a legal department, a migration office and our own post office (with 53 employees), a welfare office, a court of arbitration, an organizing committee and a secret control service, a cleaning service and comprehensive sanitary facilities, etc. […] The most important thing is that this is not a situation where some give and others receive. The refugees see us as their brothers who have come to help them in times of need and tragedy. Almost all responsible tasks are taken over by fugitives. […] There is no mouldy spirit of philanthropy here that could have so easily crept into our work. […] No one was humiliated. […]

Please accept my warmest good wishes and kisses,

Emanuel

    Footnotes

  • 1Isaac Giterman (1889-1943) was the Director of JDC Operations in Poland from 1926-1939. Forced to flee Warsaw in 1939, he returned in 1940 and served as one of the four JDC Directors in Warsaw during World War II. After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto, he provided for the needs of the ghetto residents, supported cultural activities in the ghetto, and helped the underground resistance groups. He refused all opportunities to escape. Giterman was murdered by SS soldiers in 1943 while on his way to a secret bunker in his apartment building. Source: JDC Archives: In Memoriam. Isaac Giterman, https://archives.jdc.org/exhibits/in-memoriam/isaac-giterman/ (25.01.2020)

Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944) was a Jewish-Polish historian, political activist, contributor in aid organisations and director and chronicler of the secret Warsaw Ghetto Archive. As a historian, he was mainly concerned with the history of Polish Jews, especially in Warsaw. In researching their history – and thus their historical participation in Polish society – Ringelblum also wanted to strengthen the political integration of Polish Jews. He was also involved in Yiddish cultural associations. During the Second World War Ringelblum worked for Jewish aid organizations. In particular, he founded a secret archive in 1940 to document life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Until his assassination by the Nazis in 1944, Ringelblum continued to write historical works that also documented the extermination of the Jewish population of Poland during the Second World War. 11Kassow, Samuel: Ringelblum, Emanuel, in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ringelblum_Emanuel (17.10.2019)

The letter is addressed to Ringelblum’s friend and mentor Raphael Mahler (1899-1977), a Polish Jewish historian. Together with Emanuel Ringelblum he founded the Circle of Young Jewish Historians, which eventually affiliated with the History Department of the Yidishn visnshaftlekhn Institut (YIVO). He was actively involved as a researcher and editor of the Institute’s own journal. As a historian, he published his historical studies in Yiddish, Polish, German, Hebrew and English. His major work Divre yeme Yisra’el: Dorot aḥaronim (History of the Jewish People in Modern Times; 1952-1979) is unfinished with seven published volumes and is available in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. In 1937 Mahler emigrated to the United States, where he taught at YIVO and the Jewish Teachers’ College in New York. In 1950 he moved on to Israel, where his work was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1977. 22Shapiro, Robert Moses: Mahler, Raphael, in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Mahler_Raphael

    Footnotes

  • 1Kassow, Samuel: Ringelblum, Emanuel, in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ringelblum_Emanuel (17.10.2019)
  • 2Shapiro, Robert Moses: Mahler, Raphael, in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Mahler_Raphael

Document 1-1: Letter from Emanuel Ringelblum, Środborów, Poland, to Raphael Mahler, New York City, December 6, 1938, Moreshet Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Archive D.1.4927 (original in Yiddish). English translation in: Alexandria Garbarini/Emil Kerenji/Jan Lambertz/Avinoam Patt (eds.), 2011. Jewish Responses to Persecution, Vol. II, 1938–1940. Lanham: AltaMira, pp. 6–7.

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