Poetry in Hell
July 23, 2010 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Poetry in Hell contains a complete collection of poems recovered from the Warsaw Ghetto's Ringelblum Archives. The project, which took ten years to complete, gives English translations of poems that are shown in their original Yiddish.

Background on the Ringelblum Oneg Shabbat Archives
During the Holocaust, dozens of Jewish men and women trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto chose a special form of resistance: they chronicled their path to doom for future generations. Led by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, an historian, 35,000 paper documents were collected that showed how the Nazis had deprived Warsaw's Jews of their rights, then tormented and finally killed them in the death camps. On Aug. 2, 1942, while German soldiers combed the streets outside, two young men buried 10 metal boxes and several metal milk cans containing this extraordinary archive in the basement of an elementary school inside the ghetto. They were recovered from the rubble in 1946 and 1950. Approximately 25,000 of the documents survived and are now housed in the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland and the United States Holocaust Museum.
"The Archives comprise government documents, materials concerning the ghetto resistance, testimonies of the fate of Jewish communities during the Holocaust, literature, works of art and private correspondence collected by victims of the Holocaust in order to pass on information about the Holocaust to future generations. This collection is absolutely unique, both in terms of its origin and its historic value. It mainly concerns the largest ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe (approximately 500,000 inhabitants), but in fact it covers the whole of occupied Poland, documenting the Shoah, the fate of its Jewish community of 3.500,000 people. Nearly all the creators of the Ringelblum Archives perished, either in the ghetto or in the extermination camps."
The archive recovery and restoration efforts were documented in a 2007 book by American historian Samuel Kassow: "Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto". Some of it is available to view online at Google books, here.

Book reviews and background on the recovery project:
* Video: C-Span Book TV with Samuel Kassow
* Los Angeles Times
* Spiegel International
* The Guardian
* New Jersey Jewish News

Background on the Poetry in Hell Project
* Preface
* Forward
* Author's Note
* Interview with Dr. Sarah Traister Moskovitz on J-Wire: "Warsaw Ghetto Poetry Now Online"
posted by zarq (9 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The New Republic reviewed Kassow's book in 2008. It's quite extensive, and discusses both the historical importance of the Archive and the life of Dr. Ringelblum.
posted by zarq at 6:41 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Now this is a textbook example of an amazing FPP.

"David Graber was 19 when he hurriedly scribbled his farewell letter. "I would be overjoyed to experience the moment when this great treasure is unearthed and the world is confronted with the truth," he wrote.

While German soldiers combed the streets outside, Graber and his friend Nahum Grzywacz buried 10 metal boxes in the basement of an elementary school on Nowolipki Street in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto. It was Aug. 2, 1942.

The boxes were dug up more than four years later. By then, Graber and Grzywacz were long dead, murdered like almost all of their roughly 50 collaborators."

I wish I could go back to the point that he wrote that and tell him, "You have succeeded. It worked, you are heard across the years. People know."
posted by Zack_Replica at 7:37 PM on July 23, 2010

Absolutely amazing. chilling.

Tears, tears, tears falling on the black ashes of history.

The way these poems were preserved reminds me of the dead sea scrolls. But not born out of the mystery of time and the beginning of things, rather born out of a horror, a fundamental mystery of death and cruelty, pulled from a canister.
posted by kuatto at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2010

This makes for chilling reading indeed! To know ther is no way out and yet to go to special trouble to leave a record is actually pretty remarkable.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:02 PM on July 23, 2010

This is amazing. I was a little familiar with Ringelblum, but I wasn't aware of the Poetry in Hell project.

Thre are so many devastating details, like this note from the preface:
"...as Rachel Auerbach noted, the Oyneg Shabes had better luck saving documents than in saving its own people."

The very first poem I read, which I picked out at random, contains the line, "I go about a forgotten one..."

This remembers him. Kudos to Moskovitz for this spectacular translation project. And I'm glad they post the original Yiddish alongside the translations.

(I'm related to Ringelblum's biographer; he's so unassuming that most of our family barely knows half of what he's involved with. Like this spinoff of his research into Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes archives. So thank you for posting this.)
posted by bassjump at 10:26 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Great post, zarq. You're on something of a roll these days.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:49 AM on July 24, 2010

Very moving, thank you for sharing these excellent links. I (of course) was immediately reminded of the oft-(mis?)quoted phrase from Adorno that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. Burying those poems with almost certain knowledge of imminent death can also be read as a broader statement about the centrally human nature of the transmission of ideas down through the generations, with the context of our inhumanity to ourselves underscoring the ultimate futility, and thus absolute necessity, of culture and its transmission through time. If I am not expressing myself clearly it is because I am a bit overcome by the horror and the awe of this. Thank you again.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2010

Littera Scripta Manet.

Thank you for this.
posted by jokeefe at 2:57 PM on July 24, 2010

I dread reviewing this, but cannot thank you enough for posting it, zarq. Once again, you did a simply incredible job.
posted by bearwife at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2010

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