Throughout the 1930’s, Emanuel works as a teacher and contributes to the efforts of the JDC. In 1938, as Jews with Polish citizenship are being expelled from Germany, Ringelblum is appointed to establish a refugee camp for displaced people in Zbąszyń, a town on the Polish-German border.
One month before the war begins, in August 1939, he takes part in the 21st Zionist Congress in Geneva. Despite receiving invitations to stay in Western Europe, he returns to Poland to organize support. He will later write in the “Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto”: Our decision to return to the country was dictated by civic duty.
During the early days of World War II, Ringelblum coordinates civil defense in Jewish neighborhoods of Warsaw. The city, which surrenders to the German forces on September 27, is constantly bombarded, leaving much of its infrastructure in ruins.
After the occupation begins, he becomes actively involved in social work on behalf of the JDC and the Central Committee for Help, which will later evolve into Jewish Social Self-Help. He assists citizens of Warsaw and refugees from surrounding towns and villages in finding accommodation, arranging employment, and securing food. As early as October 1939, Ringelblum begins to systematically collect their stories.
When the Warsaw Ghetto is sealed by German authorities in November 1940, Ringelblum’s apartment, located at 18 Leszno Street, ends up inside the closed district. Ringelblum assembles a small group of friends and colleagues to assist him in the collection of testimonies, diaries, and documents. The clandestine Oneg Shabbat organization is thus established.
In late 1942, Emanuel Ringelblum becomes a member of the armed resistance, joins the Antifascists Block and participates in the founding of the Jewish Combat Organization. He also remains in contact with the Jewish Military Union, and starting in 1943, with the Jewish National Committee.
In February 1943, Ringelblum and his family manage to escape from the ghetto. Later, together with 34 other Jews, they find refuge in a bunker belonging to a Polish family.
To attend his organizations’ meetings, Ringelblum occasionally leaves his hiding place. On the eve of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943, he is caught and sent to the Trawniki labor camp. Four months later, two members of the Polish Underground rescue him from the camp. He immediately makes his way back to Warsaw.
Emanuel Ringelblum remains in hiding in the bunker, continuing his research and writing a seminal essay on Polish–Jewish relations during World War II.
Almost a year later, a Polish woman reports the bunker to the Germans. As a result, on March 7 1944, Emanuel, Judyta, and Uri, along with the 38 refugees and the Polish owner of the bunker, are taken by the Gestapo to the notorious Pawiak prison. Several days later, they are executed by the Germans in the ruins of the Judenrat’s last headquarters. Today, the POLIN Museum stands in the very same place.