Samuel Kassow: Discusses Jewish History

Historians in the News

"Hello? Can you hear me?" said Samuel Kassow, as he took the podium in the softly-lit auditorium.

Kassow, a professor of history at Trinity College in Hartford, gave his lecture, "A Historian in the Ghetto: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archives," Tuesday in the Konover Auditorium at the Dodd Center. The lecture, which was part of the Ivry lecture series, focused on the collection and recording efforts of the Oyneg Shabes resistance group in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust, and particularly the efforts of one man: Emanuel Ringelblum.

Ringelblum was a political radical, social worker and historian prior to the outbreak of war in Europe. He was heavily involved with the efforts of YIVO, the Jewish Scientific Institute, to document the history and social fabric of European Jews - a history that was marginalized by the governments of the time.

"If the Jews know about themselves," Kassow said, describing the philosophy behind YIVO's information gathering, "they'll acquire the determination to fight against discrimination." This knowledge required the collaboration of the scholar and the ordinary person, Kassow continued, a methodology which shaped the actions of Oyneg Shabes during the war.

The efforts of Oyneg Shabes, which numbered 60 members at its peak, were directed toward a similar goal: the gathering and preserving of history, and not just the history of massed resistance and dramatic movements. The history of the everyday Jew in the ghetto was the focus of the group, whose name means "joy of the Sabbath" in Yiddish. The artifacts of common living became priceless treasures to the underground historians of Oyneg Shabes, whether they were diaries and photographs or ticket stubs and candy bar wrappers. These collections were eventually buried, in milk cans and tin boxes, in the hopes that one day they would be found....
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