They didn’t wait for the war to end.
In August 1944, as soon as Soviet troop s swept the Nazis out of eastern Poland, a group of Jewish intellectuals rushed to cities like Lublin and Lodz to begin collecting and recording, scouring for any trace of the still fresh horror that had taken their own loved ones. They wanted evidence. Among them was Nachman Blumental, a philologist obsessed with the uses and misuses of language. He had escaped into the Soviet Union and now returned to find that his wife, Maria, and young son, Ariel, had been killed. Places once teeming with Jewish life were gutted. His whole world had effectively vanished. To make some sense of it all, Blumental got to work. Along with an assortment of historians, ethnographers and linguists, he established the Central Jewish Historical Commission. They transcribed 3,000 survivor testimonies between 1944 and 1947, scavenged for Nazi paperwork in abandoned Gestapo offices and meticulously preserved fragments of day-to-day ghetto life — a child’s school notebook or a food ration ticket.
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