Today we commemorate the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust at the hands of Nazi Germany and its co-conspirators. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a national memorial day in Israel that is also a day to pay tribute to the Jewish resistance that took place during the Holocaust.
We share with you an excerpt from a letter of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, a department head of JDC Warsaw who played a major role in providing assistance in wartime Poland and in the Warsaw Ghetto. Ringelblum headed the underground “Oneg Shabbat” archival group that recorded every aspect of ghetto life. Ringelblum was murdered by the Germans in March 1944.
“From the day that Polish Jewry fell under the horrible Hitlerite yoke, the more active elements of the Jewish population began conducting a social program on a large scale with the rallying call of self-help and resistance. Through the active and generous aid of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a large net of institutions for communal welfare was spread throughout Warsaw and in the country. Foremost among them was the Jewish Society for Social Welfare (ZTOS), the Central Organization for the Protection of Children and Orphans (CENTOS), and the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population (TOZ). The ORT, too, carried on considerable work.
Tens of thousands of children and adults were able to survive for a longer period because of the help of these institutions and because of the ramified network of house committees which cooperated with them. These organizations conducted their self-sacrificing work up to the last minute, as long as even the slightest spark of life still burned in the Jewish group. Under their cloak all the political parties and ideological trends conducted their clandestine activities. Under their cover practically all the cultural activities were organized.
The watchword of the organized groups of the Jewish community was ‘To live with honor and die with honor.’ We made every effort to carry out this watchword in the ghettos and concentration camps. An expression thereof was the wide scope of the cultural work which was undertaken notwithstanding the horrible terror, hunger and poverty, and which grew and spread until the martyred death of Polish Jewry.”
For more information about these men and other JDC heroes who lost their lives in service to JDC and to the Jewish people, see our In Memoriam exhibit.