Professor Kassow and Who Will Write Our History?

 

Written by: Brendan W. Clark (History, Class of 2021)


Samuel Kassow, the Charles H. Northam Professor of History and a member of the Trinity College History Department since 1972 is presently involved in seeing his book Who Will Write Our History? materialize as a documentary film directed by Robert Grossman and executively produced by Nancy Spielberg. In September of 2017, Adrian Brody signed on to serve as the voice of Ringelblum in the documentary.

Kassow, who was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Stuttgart, Germany. Kassow is a consultant to the Museum of History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland and is a well-regarded scholar of Ashkenazi Jewry. Kassow teaches on Jewish History, World War II history, and modern Russian history. His wife, Lisa, works as the director of Zach’s Hillel House.

Kassow wrote his book about the incredible story of Emanuel Ringelblum, a young Jewish historian who worked to preserve the memory and the history of the Jewish people in Poland while interred in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Ringelblum, who recognized that the ultimate goal of the Nazi regime was the very destruction of Jewish culture, sought to preserve the history of the Jewish people and bring attention to the atrocities of the Nazi regime by collecting personal correspondence, historical documents, and testimony from many of those in the Ghetto.

Ringelblum formed The Oyneg Shabes in late 1940, a group of more than 60 clandestine members who undertook the project during the ensuing years of the Ghetto’s existence. In 1942, as the first rounds of deportations to concentration camps began, Ringelblum began to bury the archives throughout the Ghetto. Only three members of The Oyneg Shabes survived the war: Rachel Auerbach, the secretary of the organization Hersh Wasser, and his wife Bluma.

Portions of the archive were unearthed in 1946 under the direction of Wasser and contained more than 25,540 pages of documents: “scholarly essays on hunger, women, and children in the Ghetto, photographs, poems, underground newspapers, armbands, invitations to a play at a Ghetto orphanage, food ration cards showing the starvation rations of the Ghetto—a real-time, unfiltered record of Warsaw Jewry’s struggle to survive in Hell,” according to the documentary’s website. Kassow’s book brings new light to the largely forgotten archive; Wasser had campaigned for the archive’s recognition for the remainder of his life.

“When your enemy wants to destroy your culture, you are fighting for your memory,” added Kassow, whose book has been published in eight languages. Who Will Write Our History? has been lauded by many for its discussion an important narrative which defines, from the perspective of those who endured it directly, the struggle of the Jewish people throughout World War II. “It is a tale about why history matters and why it is worth dying for. It’s the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and [the Oyneg Shabes Archive], the astonishing secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto that was his creation,” said Peter N. Miller in New Republic.

What makes this story unique is that Ringelblum, as a historian, understood that you can “fight back against intolerance not just with weapons, but with a pen,” said Kassow. The documentary Who Will Write Our History?, based on Professor Kassow’s book, is scheduled to be released in 2018.

The author owes a tremendous debt to the time of Professor Kassow for sitting down and discussing the book, the documentary, and the experiences of Ringelblum and those who lost their lives to the ineffable subjugation of the Nazi regime. For more information about the documentary, please visit http://whowillwriteourhistory.com/index.html.

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