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Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307455866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307455864
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“This may be the most important book about history that anyone will ever read.”
The New Republic

“Brilliant. . . . Illuminating and heartbreaking. . . . A heroic act of synthesis and contextualization. . . . Kassow honors the efforts and restores the names of men and women who wrote though they knew their lives and those of their families and even their culture were doomed.”
Los Angeles Times

“A rich and complicated study. . . . Surprising and extraordinarily moving.”

“Magnificent. . . . A stellar exploration of how history . . . can and should be preserved.”
–Deborah Lipstadt, author of History on Trial

“If there is one book that should be read this year (or any year) about the Holocaust it is Who Will Write Our History?
Jewish Book World

“A gripping biography. . . . We should be grateful to Professor Kassow for allowing us to share in Ringelblum’s heroic efforts.”
Jewish Ledger

“One of the most important books I’ve ever read. . . . Kassow has created a stunning and brilliant social history.”
Reform Judaism

“One of the most important studies on the Holocaust to have appeared in years.”
–Zachary Baker, Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections, Stanford University

“A stunning revelation of the enduring spirit of the decimated residents of the Warsaw Ghetto.”
NUVO Weekly (Indianapolis)

“Without the faux romanticism or faux spirituality that often accompanies Holocaust historiography, Kassow is able to bring to life the tragic and moving story of these Jews doomed by Nazi fanaticism.”

About the Author

Samuel D. Kassow is the Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. He is author of Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia, 1884-1917 and editor (with Edith W. Clowes and James L. West) of Between Tsar and People: The Search for a Public Identity in Tsarist Russia. He has lectured on Russian and Jewish history in many countries, including Israel, Russia, and Poland.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By curiouser on October 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
This fine book is a difficult, but rewarding read. The second half of the book describes the work of the Oyneg Shabes, the organization founded by Emanuel Ringelblum and other ghetto residents to document the life of the Warsaw ghetto, which then turned to documenting the Nazi program of extermination. The first half of the book attempts to set Ringelblum's work in the ghetto in the context of his life before the war: his historical training and activities and his political commitments.

The first portion of the book is, as other reviewers have noted, slow going for non-specialists: it is difficult to keep track of the ideologically charged battles between religious and secular Jews; between Zionists and non-Zionists; between proponents of Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew; and between different flavors of Jewish left-wing politics in interwar Poland. Nonetheless, Ringelblum's commitments become fairly clear. Politically, he belonged to the Left Paolei Zion, a party which endorsed Marxist-style historical materialism, but combined it (with some tension) with a deep commitment to Yiddish and to radical change in the Diaspora. Ringelblum's approach to history was in keeping with his political commitments: following his senior colleague Isaac Schiper, he wished to write the history of ordinary Jews. Ringelblum's early work focused on the relationship between Jews and Poles, in particular on the economic position of the Jews and the lives of poor Jews in Poland. The Jewish historian's mission was to defend the historical role of Jews in Polish society by objective presentation of the evidence. (p.89)

Even before WWII, Ringelblum combined his historical research and teaching with work in social organizations that served the Warsaw Jewish community.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Hank Bradley on August 9, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A detailed report on the life, education and activities of Emmanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes organization he headed, culminating in their detailed gathering of the history of Polish Jews throughout the course of the establishment and ultimate destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. Despite fearsome hardships, and the transportation and murder of most of the hundreds of thousands of ghetto inhabitants who managed to survive starvation and disease, Ringelblum and his associates collected and preserved every sort of historical information they could obtain, commissioning hundreds of personal articles and testimonies by writers from all stations in life, and buried the records in three locations shortly before their own murder. Through the efforts of a very few survivors, the records were recovered from two of those locations after the war, and shine a painfully clear light on one example of the mechanics of inhumanity, as systematically chronicled by some of the intended victims of the Hitler regime. This volume is encyclopedic in scope, and has lovingly rendered in meticulous detail the history of the history-collection, and of the daily lives within the ghetto of those who accomplished it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tom on April 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I first became familiar with Emanuel Ringelblum when I read his excellent "Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War." Historian Ringelblum was the leader of the Oyneg Shabbos Archive group which documented the suffering and ultimate destruction of the Jewish inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto. "Who will write our history?" is an extremely well-researched history of Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbos Archive and their heroic effort to record the hellish existence of the ghetto's victims. Samuel Kassow's book is an important and moving contribution to Holocaust literature.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Lerner on March 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
Kassow provided an interesting look at the Warsaw Ghetto, and the efforts of Emanuel Ringelblum, a Jewish historian, to chronicle what happened in it througout the Second World War through a collaboration with other Jews in an archive known as the Oyneg Shabes. The first third of the book details Ringelums pre-war life, including his political views, and was quite tedious to read, as it felt to be rather repetitive. After all, there is only so much that can be written about a historian, even if he has radical political and cultural views (which Ringelblum did to an extent). After that, it quickly increases pace, as the Oyneg Shabes works to record every aspect of the Warsaw Ghetto, from the smugglers who crossed the walls, to the way soup kitchens operated, even the types of music the Ghetto produced. It provides excellent details on anything to deal with the Ghetto, and has extensive footnotes and bibliography, totalling nearly 100 pages, for further research.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Henry Greenspan on May 31, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Others have summarized the main themes of Sam Kassow's book. I will not try to recreate that here.

What I believe is most important to say that this remarkable work is far more than an account of Ringelblum and his archive. That history is contextualized within the interwar politics and circumstances of Polish Jewry and Ringelblum's particular perspective as a devoted member of the LPZ. Kassow traces the enormously complex ways that Ringelblum's political commitments did and did not complement his wider mission as historian/documentarian, his responses to the escalating destruction, and his understanding of the need for solidarity (or some semblance of it) at critical moments. Anyone who has devoted their lives to such overlapping, and often conflicting, commitments, will relate to Ringelblum's dilemmas. Kassow has the gift of presenting these clearly and without dumbing down the complexity involved. This is rare indeed.

Along with Ringelblum himself, we become acquainted with other members of the core group devoted to the archive, both known and relatively unknown. We also become acquainted with their own inevitable blind spots,insights,and everything in between.

While its subject is very specific, this book also teaches us important things about what it means to be a human being within a world in horrific dissolution. In different terms, it teaches us about integrity--not in a sentimental sense--but as actually realized (and not realized) in the most extreme circumstances. It teaches us about taking life seriously. If we come away inspired, and haunted, it is because we have become acquainted with the complexity that results. As in the greatest works of art, and notwithstanding radical differences in fate, we recognize aspects of ourselves for the first time.

One of the most important books I've ever read.
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