The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny or ŻIH) in Warsaw is a leading center for documenting Polish Jewish history and especially the history of the Holocaust.
ŻIH (or JHI in English) was established in 1947 by the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland (Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna or CŻKH), itself formed in the summer of 1944 by historian Philip Friedman. In 1945, the Historical Commission began collecting Holocaust testimonies through various local historical commissions; by the end of the war they had over 1,300 such testimonies. It also sought out Emanuel Ringelblum’s Warsaw ghetto archives, Oyneg Shabes; two of the three caches, stored in milk canisters, were discovered in 1946 and 1950 respectively. These materials were the basis for most of ŻIH’s publications for many decades. The group also brought together materials from the Łódź and Białystok ghetto archives and documentation on prewar Jewish life in Poland provided by state archives.
In 1947, the CŻKH moved its headquarters from Łódź to Warsaw where it became the more centralized Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH). Under Bernard (Ber) Mark, who had spent the war years in the USSR and subsequently directed the institute from 1949 to 1966, ŻIH worked to publish historical materials relating to the struggle against fascism (i.e. in service of the communist state’s political agenda and in line with the wider politicization of Polish historiography in this period).
Today, ŻIH holds significant historical materials relating to both the Holocaust and also Jewish life in Poland before and after the Second World War. ŻIH’s collections include:
- Records of the former Jewish communal archive in Wroclaw (Breslau). Formed in 1924 by the rabbi Aron Heppner, and later with the assistance of Bernhard Brilling, it grew into an archive of the Jews of Silesia at large. It contains records of numerous Jewish communities.
- Other materials relating to pre-war Polish Jewish life including in Krakow, Lwow, and elsewhere, back tot he 1910s.
- A large collection of Holocaust testimonies, around 7,000 total.
- Records of the Ringelblum archive and other ghetto archives.
- Important collections including ŻIH’s internal files, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, and the records of the American Joint Distribution Committee in Poland. These records are of particular interest relating to Jewish life in postwar Poland, especially in the period 1945-1950, as many Jewish organizations’ files were transferred to ŻIH when they were dissolved around this time.
- ŻIH also has an extensive art collection.
The institute also has a museum with a permanent exhibit using the Ringelblum archive as its basis.
Many of the files have been digitized and are available in the reading room of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Some files have also been digitized and are available through the ZIH website.
The reading room has a collection of recent Polish-language work in Jewish studies as well as yizker bikher (memorial books of communities).
Researchers can order files on the same day. ŻIH also has a coffee shop, and wifi.
Additional details and research notes contributed by Sarah Zarrow.
- Feliks Tych, “Zeugnisse vom Holocaust-Überlebenden im Archiv des Jüdischen Historischen Instituts Warschau und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung,” in Jüdisches Archivwesen: Beiträge zum Kolloquium aus Anlass des 100. Jahrestags der Gründung des Gesamtarchivs der deutschen Juden, ed. Frank M. Bischoff and Peter Honigmann (Archivschule Marburg, 2007), 177-191.
- Sven-Erik Rose. “The Oyneg Shabes Archive and the Cold War: The Case of Yehoshue Perle’s Khurbn Varshe.” New German Critique 38, no. 1 (2011): 181–215.
- Stach, Stephan. “‘The Spirit of the Time Left Its Stamp on These 185 Works’: Writing the History of the Shoah at the Jewish Historical Institute in Stalinist Poland.” Remembrance and Solidarity, no. 5 (December 2016): 185–212.