Jewish historian, politician and social worker, Emanuel Ringelblum is best known for “Ringelblum’s Archives”, a collection of documents and testimonies describing life in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Together with other Jewish writers, scientists and ordinary people, Ringelblum set about collecting these records in a secret operation code-named Oyneg Shabbos (Yiddish for "Sabbath delight"). The materials were preserved in three milk cans and ten metal boxes, which were buried in three separate locations in the Ghetto for safekeeping. Two of these archive treasures, including two milk cans, were recovered after the war, but the rest the archive has never been found.
Ringelblum escaped the Warsaw Ghetto with his wife Yehudit and 13-year-old son Uri in 1943, and took refuge in an underground bunker within an “Aryan” part of Warsaw. Tragically, the bunker’s location was betrayed to the Gestapo (the secret police of Nazi Germany) and they were captured on 7 March 1944. Emanuel Ringelblum, his family, and the other Jews hiding in the bunker were all executed.
The Warsaw Ghetto was established by Nazi Germany in 1940 to confine approximately 400,000 Jews to a small area of Poland’s capital. The ghetto was surrounded by a brick wall topped with barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers. Inside, a foot bridge divided the ghetto into two sections – a small ghetto where richer Jews resided, and a large ghetto where less fortunate Jews endured harsher conditions. Disease, starvation and unemployment were rife, and in 1942 Nazi soldiers began mass deportations of Jewish people to death camps, in particular the Treblinka extermination camp. When the Germans attempted to carry out another deportation in January 1943, Jewish fighters put up resistance in what is now known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A final battle on the eve of Passover on 19 April 1943 resulted in Nazi forces burning and blowing up buildings, and killing or deporting anyone they could capture. The Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed.
Emanuel Feuermann was an internationally renowned cellist from Vienna. After moving to Leipzig in 1917 and studying with celebrated cellist Julius Klengel, Feuermann took a position at the Gürzenich Conservatory in Cologne, became principal cellist for the Gürzenich Orchestra, and played cello for the Bram Elderling Quartet. In 1929 he took on the role of professor at the Musikhochschule in Berlin, but four years later Nazism had begun to take hold and he was dismissed due to his Jewish background.
Feuermann moved to London and toured Japan and New York City, before returning to Europe to marry Eva Reifenberg in 1935 and settle in Zurich. At the time of the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany, Feuermann was in Vienna. Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman helped him and his family escape to British Palestine, and from there they moved to the United States in 1937. Feuermann met an untimely death in 1942 when he died of complications from a haemorrhoid operation.
Isaac Babel was a Russian author, playwright and journalist born in the Soviet suburb of Moldavanka, Odessa, in 1894. He is best known for writing Story of My Dovecote, Tales of Odessa, and the Red Cavalry, a collection of short stories based on his experience in the 1920 Polish-Soviet War.
Babel married and had two children by Yevgenia Gronfein, but the marriage didn’t last. He had several other romantic relationships resulting in two more children, but it was his affair with the wife of NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov that led him to be placed under NKVD surveillance. In 1939, Babel was arrested and interrogated under torture until he confessed to "deliberate sabotage and a refusal to write". Declared a nonperson in the Soviet Union, Babel had his name removed from literary dictionaries, encyclopedias, and school and university programmes, and any mention of him in public was forbidden. After a subsequent interrogation, in which Babel denied his previous confession, the writer was convicted of spying for the French and Austrian governments, participating in an anti-Soviet organisation, and being part of a terrorist conspiracy. He was sentenced to death by firing squad in 1940.
The Negev is a rocky desert in southern Israel that spans more than half the country’s land area. Three enormous canyons, called Makhtesh Ramon, Makhtesh Gadol, and Makhtesh Katan, are among the Negev’s most notable geographical features.
Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman, and printmaker who achieved international acclaim after winning the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1962. Prior to his death four years later, Giacometti exhibited his work throughout Europe and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He died of heart disease and chronic bronchitis aged 64, but his art lives on in public collections around the globe.
Tenzing Norgay was a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer who shot to fame after he and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first two people to reach the 8,500 m summit of Mount Everest (the highest point on earth) on 29 May 1953. In honour of their successful expedition, he received the George Medal (GM) and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal from Queen Elizabeth II.
Norgay continued his mountaineering career and, in 1978, founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, which provided guided treks in the Himalayas. Norgay died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1986, aged 71.
Sir Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer who wrote himself into the history books when he and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to conquer the summit of Mount Everest – the highest point on earth. Their amazing feat took place on 29 May 1953, when Hillary was just 33 years of age.
Born in 1919, Hillary grew up in the rural community of Tuakau, south of Auckland in New Zealand, and his passion for climbing began after a visit to Mount Ruapehu as a teenager. Following the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, Hillary served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator, but returned to climbing after the war ended.
After several expeditions, which included New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, and a British reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1951, Hillary joined the 1953 Everest expedition led by John Hunt. Hillary and Tenzing pushed for the summit on 29 May and made it at 11.30 that morning. They spent 15 minutes together on top of the world before making a careful descent and being met by fellow climber and lifelong friend of Hillary’s, George Lowe, at which point Hillary’s first words were, “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”
After Everest, Hillary continued his explorations in the Himalayas and Antarctica, and founded the Himalayan Trust to help the Sherpa people of Nepal. In recognition of his achievements, Hillary was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1953; member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) in 1995. His image also appears on the New Zealand five dollar note. Hillary died on 11 January 2008 of heart failure.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer and aviator who is renowned for his novella The Little Prince, which is mentioned by the young Alma in The History of Love. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Saint-Exupéry (also referred to as Saint-Ex in The History of Love) worked as a commercial pilot and pioneered international postal flights during the 1920s. He also published several other books including L'Aviateur (The Aviator), Courrier Sud (Southern Mail), and Vol de nuit (Night Flight), which one the Prix Femina (a coveted French literary prize).
During World War II, Saint-Exupéry flew with American forces and then with the Free French Forces as a reconnaissance pilot. His final mission was to collect intelligence about German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley in southern France in the lead up to its invasion by Allied forces. He took off on the evening of 31 July 1944 and never returned. His silver identity bracelet and plane wreckage were eventually recovered off the coast of Marseille and it is believed that an unidentifiable body wearing French colours found in the area several days later and buried in Carqueiranne that September was that of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, although this has never been confirmed.