Theme 5: Tradition, Faith, Protest

It is a remarkable testament to the faith and commitment of ghetto inhabitants, who despite the wretched conditions in which they lived, kept educational efforts in behalf of children and youth alive in secret. We have several examples of these efforts that were buried in the Ringelblum Archives. These examples represent different ends of the broad spectrum of Jewish religious and socio-political orientations in the ghetto. The first example is from the traditional Torah centered schooling of Agudas Yisroel – Keren Hatorah / Wise Sayings.

It is interesting to note that the two milk cans dug up after the war that contained much of the Ringelblum Archive poetry material were buried under the Ber Borokhov School in Warsaw. This was a Labor Zionist school in which return to the homeland in Israel was the ideal to be worked for and made a reality. Hebrew language and pioneering ideals of respect for labor and cooperative kibbutz life were taught.

From the buried “Notebook for Grade 3” of the Borokhov Zionist school, we have many examples of poems that foster faith in the ideals of working together, sharing what we have, and making a better world. Several of the poems from this notebook are included here such as Rifke Galin’s poem about two children who share “One pair of Shoes”. We include also the Class “A” Hymn which underscores becoming physically strong and willing to work for ideals. For youths who surely lost family and friends in the ghetto actions and upheavals, the group relationships, ideals and shared hopes for the kibbutz life in the future could have provided inspiration and support for going forward.

For younger children, the respite in a classroom with a kind teacher may have helped ease some strain of overcrowded apartment life, with illness, hunger and worry about people who have disappeared.

The song “Our School” included here helps remind children of industriousness and happiness of more normal circumstances. The last of these “Notebook 3” items included here is “Thoughts are Free” (Di Gedanken Zind Fray) a song of resistance against Nazism which was sung world wide in many languages during WWII.

There are several poems about biblical characters by Itzik Manger. The one of Sarah in conversation with Abraham about her longing to have a child is both touching and funny. In addition to the motivation of Rachel Auerbach to place the Manger biblical poems in the Ringelblum Archives because she was close to the writer, she might also have had the desire to preserve this creative work related to stories handed down for centuries about old familiar archetypal figures in Jewish tradition- Abraham, Sarah, Eliezer, Isaac. In the same vein Kadie Molodovsky’s poem “For Poor Brides” brings back Mother Leah to care for the poor brides. In Manger’s poem about the Podolyer Rabbi, he gives us a true hero spiritually and physically for when he is about to be hung, and stands at the gallows, he invites all the downhearted people who are witnessing the tragedy to join in to sing a psalm with him about Jerusalem.

In the group of poems in this section, where the authors are unknown, we find a poem that honors and appreciates “The Mothers of our Generation” and one that wrestles with the difficult question “Where is God?”

The two poems by Kalman Lis toward the end of this section contrast with each other. In the first he expresses joy in the act of writing with verses flowing fresh and new and from the point of view of a deer, bringing solace to the world. But in the second poem “Why Are You Silent World?”, Lis apologizes for his dark view by saying the sights he now sees have brought him words that come from “a crucified heart”.

It is understandable that given the increasingly disheartening ghetto circumstances, Yitzhok Katzenelson would have been drawn to reflect on the biblical character of Job. Writing in the Warsaw Ghetto, Katzenelson did in fact create a play in poetry in the voice of Job. In the fragments included here, he expresses his deep faith, devotion and despair at all he sees. And we also hear him ask “why?” and question why all the suffering and why God allows his creations to be destroyed. He asks “Do you scorn the work of your own hands?” Still Katzenelson expresses the hope of a tree: “Even when already cut and felled, it grows again and blooms without end – the budding never stops”. Unfortunately, Lis and Katzenelson, as so many others felled did not survive to see the cut tree grow and bloom again…

And in the last poem about the Radzyner Rabbi, Katzenelson tells us a true story about the rabbi, Shlomo Leiner, who was a hero of a different kind, without guns or sword. This hero performs a great traditional duty for Jews who can never thank him. He does this despite struggling with his disappointment in God and the shock of realizing that he, the rabbi has to comfort the God.

Poems in this section include: