On International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto

Sam Rafowitz, left, and Regina Kugler, right.
Left: Sam Rafowitz, born May 22, 1925, in Warsaw, Poland. In October 1940 the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, forcing 400,000 Jews into a small area of the city. At 15, Rafowitz was assigned to a work detail. One day he never came home. Sam was picked up by the SS and began an ordeal that spanned five years through five different camps. Right: Regina Kugler, born July 15, 1928, in Siemiatycze, Poland. Kugler and her family boarded trains for what they were told were "labor camps." But as the train pulled from the station her father, Abraham recognized that the route led to the Treblinka extermination camp. At the urging of her father, Regina joined 12 others and jumped from the train. She made it to safety in the dense forest but the rest of her family died in the crematorium of Treblinka.
David Sherman | JCRC

“Voices from the Ghetto” tells the story of a remarkable secret project conducted inside the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Codenamed Oyneg Shabbat (Joy of the Sabbath), a team of 'researchers' wrote and collected documents detailing life and death inside the ghetto.

The archive began as the Germans created the grotesque prison city of the ghetto, separating the Jewish population of Warsaw from their Catholic neighbors and destroying the city both physically and as the center of eastern European Jewish life.

Led by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, the archive included surveys on schooling, smuggling, the life of the streets, the bitter jokes, the price of bread. Members of the project gathered posters, songs, newspapers, pamphlets and even tram tickets that together convey the essence of the Ghetto.

As the community was pulled from its apartments, transported to Treblinka and murdered, these researchers collected scraps of testimony scribbled in notebooks and thrown from train windows. This colossal and perilous enterprise was intended to create a people's history to both warn the world and preserve the memory of a community clinging to life, belief and hope on the brink of destruction. Nearly all those who worked on the project were murdered, including Ringelblum himself.

But in the final days of the Ghetto and the uprising that followed, the archive was buried in the ruins and was recovered after the war. Drawing on the words of the Oyneg Shabbat project and the memories of Janina Davidowicz, then a child who escaped the Ghetto just before its destruction, this program marks the time behind the walls when people lived and struggled for another life, using rare recordings to reimagine the sounds of an extinguished world.

BBC presenter: Monica Whitlock. Producer: Mark Burman and Monica Whitlock.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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