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What we could not shout out to the world, we buried in the ground. The Underground Ghetto Archive

‘What we could not shout out to the world, we buried in the ground.’

[Dawid Graber, Relacja pt. Kilka wrażeń i wspomnień (Narrative entitled ‘A few impressions and recollections’, [in:] Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy (Ringelblum Archive, Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto) vol. 23: Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego (Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto) , edited by K. Person, Z. Trębacz, M. Trębacz, Warsaw 2015, page 384; more: Dawid Graber]

‘Standing on the verge between life and death, convinced that I would rather die than live, I want to say farewell to my friends and my works’.

[Gela Seksztajn, What can I say and ask for at such a moment? [in:] Ringelblum archive. Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, vol. 4: Life and work of Gela Seksztajn, edited by M. Tarnowska, Warsaw 2011, page 19; more: Gela Seksztajn]

13th Day of Great Action – 3 August, round-ups and removals ‘to the East’ are in full swing and no one knows if and when it will all end. More and more people are voluntarily reporting at the Umschlagplatz – hungry, resigned, wanting to end their lives in fear and uncertainty of the next day. At that time, members of the ‘Oneg Shabbat’ group led by Dr Emanuel Ringelblum decide to hide part of the collected and edited Archive (the so called Ringelblum Archive), documenting the murderous German policy towards Polish Jews. They hope that when the war is over, someone will find it and will learn the truth.


Metal boxes and milk churns used by the Oneg Szabat team to hide the first and second part of the Warsaw ghetto archive, after 1950, public domain   

The first part of the Underground Archive of the Ghetto is buried by members of the Oneg Shabbat, Nachum Grzywacz, Israel Lichtensztejn and Dawid Graber, in the basement of the tenement house 68 Nowolipki Street.

To the boxes they are about to hide they add their testaments describing the motifs for concealing documents, and also the words of hope that someone will someday dig them out...

‘I would like to live to the time when it will be possible to dig up this great treasure and shout out the truth. Let the world know, let them rejoice who did not have to go through it. We would feel like veterans [...] with medals on our hearts.’

[Dawid Graber, page 385]

They race against time, not knowing the moment when they can be also among those taken to the Umschlagplatz. ‘One of the neighbouring streets is already blocked. Terrible moods. We expect the worst. We are in a hurry. We will probably bury the last part soon. Comrade Lichtensztajn is agitated, Grzywacz is a little afraid. I'm indifferent. Subconsciously I feel that I will be freed from all miseries. Farewell. That we only have enough time to bury... Even at such a time we have not forgotten anything... We are at work until the last moment’ [Dawid Graber, page 385].

The second part of the Archive is hidden in milk churns in February 1943 and the third probably – the night before the outbreak of the ghetto uprising.


Gela Seksztajn, Self-portrait, Jewish Historical Institute   

After the war, Hersz Wasser, one of the few surviving closest collaborators of Emanuel Ringelblum, gets involved in the search for the Underground Archive of the Ghetto, later named after his creator, the Ringelblum Archive. In October 1946 the first part of the Archive is found – in one hiding place – eight boxes, in the second – two. Unfortunately, as the boxes were un-brazed, part of the documentation got stained with mould.

In one of them was hidden, among other documents, the testament of Gela Seksztajn (Majn cawoe), her autobiography and drawings, as well as the will of her husband, Izrael Lichtensztajn (Lichtensztejn) (1904-1943).


Gela Seksztajn, Portrait of Izrael Lichtensztajn, Jewish Historical Institute   

 ‘Ten years of work – I collected, tore to shreds and worked again. I was preparing an exhibition of my paintings, and especially an exhibition of my portraits of a Jewish child. Now I try to save what I can and as much as can fit into that space. I leave the rest at the mercy of fate […].

I do not ask for praise, but just to preserve the memory of myself and of my daughter. This talented girl is called Margolit Lichtensztejn (bears the name of my husband Izrael Lichtensztejn), and at the age of 20 months she shows painterly abilities. She is a Jewish girl who speaks beautiful Yiddish and is splendidly developed, spiritually and physically.

I donate my works to the Jewish museum that will be established in the future so as to rekindle the pre-war Jewish cultural life as it was back before 1939 and to facilitate the study of the immense tragedy that befell the Jewish community in Poland during the war.

I cannot convey details about our terrible fate, the great tragedy of our people. I leave it to my colleagues, Jewish writers.

I ask everyone who finds my works to take into account the fact that I had to reduce their format and adjust to the existing circumstances. […]

Now I am calm. I have to die but I have done my thing. I would like that the memory of my paintings survive.

Farewell, my colleagues and friends, farewell the Jewish nation! Never let that happen again.

August 1, 1942.

Gela Seksztajn’.

[Gela Seksztajn, page 19]

The second part of the Archive was found by workers during the earth works on December 1, 1950. The third has not been found yet despite the search.

Thanks to the efforts of the Committee for Commemoration of the Ringelblum Archive and the funding obtained from the Participatory Budget, the revitalization of the square where the Archive was hidden is planned for 2018.

* * *

The Great Action also decimated the ranks of the ‘Oneg Shabat’ group. When commemorating the Ringelblum Archive, we should also bring them to our memory. Among the perished were: Szmuel Bresław (1920 Moscow – September 3, 1942 Warsaw), Daniel Fligelman (? – summer 1942, Treblinka II), Szymon Huberband (April 19, 1909 Chęciny – August 18, 1942 Treblinka II), Gustawa Jarecka (1908 Kalisz – August 1942 Warsaw), Józef Kapłan (1913 Kalisz – September 11, 1942 Warsaw), Aron Koniński, Menachem Linder (1901 Śniatyń – 1942 Warsaw), Henryka Wanda Łazowertówna (June 19, 1909 Warsaw – August 1942 Treblinka II), Cecylia Słapakowa (ca 1900 – summer 1942?).

Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat


  • Ringelblum Archive. Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, vol. 4: Życie i twórczość Geli Seksztajn (Life and work of Gela Seksztajn), edited by M. Tarnowska, Warsaw, 2011.
  • Ringelblum Archive, Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, vol. 11: Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat” (Oneg Szabat’ – people and works), edited by A. Bańkowska, T. Epsztein, Warsaw 2013.
  • Ringelblum Archive, Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, vol. 23: Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego (Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto), edited by K. Person, Z. Trębacz, M. Trębacz, Warsaw, 2015.
  • M. Borwicz, Archiwum pod gruzami (Archive under rubble), [in:] Męczeńśtwo i zagłada Żydów w zapisach literatury polskiej (Martyrdom and the annihilation of Jews in Polish literature), selection and editing by I. Maciejewska, Warsaw 1988, pages 317-319.


About the place of hiding Ringelblum Archive please read here:

Here are the links to our articles about the project of a monument commemorating Ringelblum Archive and about the place of its extraction: