Scholars argue about whether the Holocaust was unprecedented. It’s a difficult question. On the one hand, slaughters litter the pages of history. On the other hand, none of them seem quite as calculated, systematic and horribly efficient as the Nazi murder of the Jews and other “Untermenchen.” One thing, however, is certain: the Holocaust is doubtless the best documented instance of mass murder in world history. The perpetrators were meticulous record keepers, and at the conclusion of the war many of their archives fell into Allied hands. The German record, however, is not the only record of the Holocaust. As Samuel Kassow shows in his moving Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Indiana UP, 2007), the victims themselves made an concerted effort to document what was being done to them at the hands of the Nazis. Kassow tells the story of a group of Warsaw-based Jewish activists who built a secret organization–Oyneg Shabes–to collect and archive information about Jewish life (and death) under Nazi rule. Knowing that they would eventually be found out or killed, the members of Oyneg Shabes buried their archives so that they might be found after the war. As it happened, almost all of them were murdered. Yet their brave plan worked: some of the hidden archives were found. And in them we can hear them tell their own story. Thanks to Samuel Kassow for giving them voice in this excellent book.
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