Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Metaphysical Nationality in the
Warsaw Ghetto

NON-JEWS IN THE WARTIME WRITINGS
OF RABBI KALONIMUS KALMISH SHAPIRO
HENRY ABRAMSON

One of the most unusual documents to survive the Holocaust is the collection of sermons delivered in the Warsaw ghetto by Rabbi Kalonimus Kalmish Shapiro between September 1939 and July 1942, with annotations dating to January 1943. Discovered in a metal milk container by a construction worker clearing the rubble of the ruined Warsaw ghetto, the writings were transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute and then found by Baruch Duvdevani, an employee of the Jewish Agency who traveled to Poland in 1956 with the express purpose of discovering Hebrew manuscripts. The text was brought to Israel and published in 1960 under the Hebrew title Esh kodesh (Holy Fire). 1 It remains one of the few resources for understanding how the large Orthodox Jewish population of Eastern Europe responded to the challenge of the Nazi onslaught.

In this regard, Esh kodesh has several advantages over other documents authored by Orthodox Jews relating to the Holocaust. Unlike a memoir, often written long after the war, Esh kodesh does not suffer the distortions of hindsight, as Rabbi Shapiro's growing realization of the enormity of the Holocaust is hesitatingly revealed in each successive weekly entry. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is the entry for Hanukah 1941 (15–22 December, p. 138– 139), in which he argues that despite the terrible suffering in the ghetto, “those people who say that such persecutions never befell the Jews are in error—during the time of the destruction of the Temples, at Betar, etc., we had [persecutions] such as these.” A year later, on 15 December 1942, Rabbi Shapiro added the

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