“Who Will Write Our History” is a 2018 documentary about the Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum group “Oyneg Shabbos” that collected evidence of daily life in the Warsaw during World War Two. It is based on the book “Who Will Write Our History?” by Samuel Kassow, PhD.
The film, “Who Will Write Our History” has no question mark in its title. It is a statement, a directive, a declaration.
It is directed by Roberta Grossman and executive produced by Nancy Spielberg. They previously made the documentary “Above and Beyond” about the American pilots who created and served in the Israeli Air Force in 1948.
“Who Will Write Our History” combines archival footage and theatrical re-creations by Yiddish speaking actors. Narration is provided by actors and historians.
The film is a witness to the depth and intensity of the pre-war Jewish life in Warsaw, one-third of whose citizens and residents were Jews. The city was home to Jewish writers, artists and scholars.
The Germans captured Warsaw in September 1939 and within weeks Jews began to see the loss of their world. A brick wall was constructed, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Jews in 3.4 sq. mile ghetto. And then the starvation began. The Nazis took photographs and movies of the increasing distress of the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto in order to show them as sub-human. We see raggedy children, hands out, their oversized heads resting on skeletal bodies. People lay in the streets, insensate, dying and dead. The images of loneliness, homelessness, fear, violence and death are overwhelming.
Armed resistance began in 1943. The Nazis eventually brought in flamethrowers and burned down block after block of Warsaw. As the survivors straggled out of the sewers and cellars, they were shot. The Soviets liberated Warsaw in August, 1944, too late for the estimated 400,000 Jewish victims.
Three members of the Oyneg Shabbos group survived the war. One returned to Warsaw and was able to direct searchers to the site where the archives had been buried. They are presently held in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Another cache is believed to be under a building used as the Chinese Embassy.
As Dr. Kassow, one of the narrators of “Who Will Write Our History” points out, the Ringelblum Archives were not only a defense against the Nazi atrocities, they were an indictment.
It is clear that the Archives are an indictment to which there is no defense.
The destruction of over nine hundred years of Jewish life in Poland in five years, cannot be answered.
There is only silence, reverence and acceptance of the duty to tell future generations of the acts of the perpetrators and those who recorded them.