“It makes some sense that academic research started with the Nazi regime and ideology, but it went for decades not looking at the Jewish experiences, Jewish sources,” said Laura Jockusch, a professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University and the author of “Collect and Record!: Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe.” Today, she said, “we can see the value in the types of questions the commission raised as well as the sources they studied.”
The commission only lasted a few years before being dissolved by the Polish government who created the Jewish Historical Institute in 1947, centralizing all Holocaust research. Blumental was appointed its first director. But the work was constrained by the Communist Party’s demands, and most of the original members left Poland, including Blumental, who immigrated to Israel in 1950. For the rest of his life, he devoted himself to Holocaust research, working at a number of institutions, including Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial center.
His personal papers, which YIVO plans to digitize and make available, were acquired from Miron Blumental, Blumental’s son who was born in 1954, 11 years to the day after Ariel Blumental was killed. It’s a coincidence that has haunted Miron. Over the past three decades, his father’s papers have moved with him from Israel to London to Vancouver, where he lives and works as an international tax lawyer.
What he sees in the files and thousands of note cards is a man battling his own helplessness, grasping at any shred of evidence, even the most ephemeral of things — the words.
“Everything he knew had disappeared,” Miron said. “He was hanging on to all these details as the proof that they existed. That was his memorial, what he could do. He couldn’t achieve anything else, in real terms. He couldn’t bring any of it back.”
Follow Gal Beckerman on Twitter: @galbeckerman.