Ruined Materials

Previous article: How The Materials of the Ringelblum Archives Were Conserved

Rachel Auerbach
Arbeter Vort 110  (130)  July ll, 1947, page 4

Mrs. Dr. Eikhorn registers the Polish (papers) and Hirsh Wasser’s wife, friend Blume – his faithful helper in the Oneg Shabbes times, the now active participant in the Warsaw Historical Commission  –  registers the Yiddish papers but I forgot to mention the other thing: before being put into the inventory, the more damaged papers go through another healing treatment. Our friend Moshe Shteyn sits at a group table of a group. He has very capable hands and he “repairs” the papers. With the help of glue, (paste)  and very transparent parchment paper, he reinforces the damaged papers, pastes underneath pieces and patches them together.

Those are torn papers. Worse than that is the story of papers that are sometimes strong and in perfect condition, but they are either totally blank or covered over with something, a fog of old color, or they are concealed with regular lines of writing that is totally blurred, unreadable. This is the saddest view of writing that is risen from the dead. We have it and we don’t have it at all. The wetness, the time, the abandonment has drunk all the words, perhaps the woeful cries of a human who had in his power only the alphabet, and now we can’t read the letters and that is very painful. It is fortunate that unreadable papers are few. According to a superficial estimate, at most five percent are lost. We don’t, of course throw these papers away. Professor Leonard says we will still have to try reading them with the help of x-rays.

A remarkable thing: though we have a certain amount of papers written with ink that are lost in this way, that is almost never the case with manuscripts written in pencil! And that is true both for chemically (graphite) as well as for ordinary lead pencil. Even the palest and oldest written years before the war, handwritten with pencil have glowingly come through and endured the underground ordeal. They allow us to read them one hundred percent.

This doesn’t change the fact that we will have to get up to speed to copy or photograph the writing because it could be irreparably harmed by being now exposed to the air.

Blume Wasser looks upon the unreadable notepads – turns page after page of the unreadable pasted together lines and says, “These pages put a wave of sadness over me. It is as if they would be…blind. We coin the phrase, “Blind pages”.

And an even sadder impression is made by the “blind” photographs.

We came upon a few packets of photographs in the tins. We read a few of the titles on the packets and read “Begging Children”, “Smuggling Scenes”. The body of these packets are100 percent lost. They are stuck together and cannot be separated. And when we soak them in water and try to separate them, the photo disintegrates, disappears. The emulsion in which the photographs once emerged in a photochemical process could not survive being buried in the ground.

Together with my papers that I gave over to be hidden in 1942 in the Archive, I find also a whole box of my own family photographs. I took out several clumps of those photos, knowing that there inside them were magically the last traces of the faces closest to me. And I could do nothing. I have lost once again my close ones one more time. This time forever.

Next article: A Look Into The Papers of the Ringelblum Archives

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