Meet the heroes who ensured the Holocaust would never be forgotten
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Meet the heroes who ensured the Holocaust would never be forgotten

Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers at The Wiener Library highlights stories of those who gathered eye-witness testimonies and evidence of genocide

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Dr Louis de Jong, founder of NIOD (the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam) is among those featured in The Wiener Library's new exhibition
Dr Louis de Jong, founder of NIOD (the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam) is among those featured in The Wiener Library's new exhibition

From first-hand accounts and diaries to drawings, posters and scribbled notes, the members of the Oyneg Shabbos organisation diligently recorded life from inside the Warsaw Ghetto for posterity.

Hidden in milk cans and metal boxes, which were then carefully secreted away in basements and within the foundations of buildings, some 6,000 documents provided a trove of evidence about the atrocities of the Holocaust and later helped pave the way for the pursuit of justice.

Now the substantial efforts of these individuals and others have been brought to the fore in a fascinating new exhibition, Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers, which opened at The Wiener Library last week.

Among the small collection of exhibits on display is an extract from the writings of historian Emanuel Ringelblum, leader of the Oyneg Shabbos collective, which also included writers, rabbis and social workers, who were committed to collecting documents and soliciting testimonies from those living behind the ghetto walls, from 1939 to 1943.

Tragically, Ringelblum and his family were discovered after escaping from the ghetto and executed in 1944, but fellow group member Rachel Auerbach, who survived the war, returned in 1945 to retrieve two canisters and ten boxes containing thousands of documents.

Intriguingly, a third cache has never been found, but the retrieved documents resulted in vital evidence later used for war crime trials, including Auerbach’s own collection of testimonies relating to Treblinka, which were published in 1947 and can be seen on display.

First edition of Oyf di Felder fun Treblinke (In the Fields of Treblinka), by Rachel Auerbach, 1947, Wiener Library Collections

Other exhibits highlight the work of Louis de Jong, founder of NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, Raphael Lemkin, who developed the legal concept of genocide, and Vasily Grossman, a Red Army journalist who documented the extermination of Soviet Jews.

Simon Wiesenthal, who dedicated his life to tracking down war criminals and Filip Mueller, who helped smuggle out evidence of crimes committed in Auschwitz also feature, alongside Alfred Wiener, founder of The Wiener Library, who collected and disseminated evidence of Nazi activities from the 1920s onwards, as well as the Library’s Eva Reichmann, who launched one of the earliest projects to collect eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust.

Together, they provided historians and investigators with the very first solid pieces of evidence about the Holocaust.

Filip Mueller, who collected evidence of crimes committed in Auschwitz and helped smuggle the documents out to alert the world about the Holocaust

“Thanks to their efforts, the Holocaust is today a very well-documented event and even now, more evidence continues to be uncovered,” says exhibition curator Barbara Warnock.

“The documents helped in the pursuit of justice, but were also crucial in enhancing our understanding of history and in commemorating those who did not survive.”

Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers runs until 17 May at The Wiener Library, Russell Square, London. Details: wienerlibrary.co.uk

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