The history of the publication of Daghani’s diary is almost as depressing as the diary itself which, after a brief introduction, is the first part of this fascinating study. Entitled “The Grave is in the Cherry Orchard” the history describes in terse yet poetic detail life in the slave labor camp of Mikhailowka during 1942 and 1943, where the Romanian artist and his wife, Anisoara, whom he calls Nanino, are sent from their home in Czernowitz to build a strategic road for the Germans. During that year, besides the unbearable hardships they endured, Daghani, who had brought his paints and brushes with him (at the suggestion of the arresting officer), records both in English shorthand and, visually, in genre-like paintings, cruelty, occasional kindnesses, as well as portraits and interior scenes commissioned by his captors. Making their escape in 1943, the Daghanis carried the works above their heads as they waded across the Bug river and managed to get to a ghetto in Transnistria where they survived until the end of the war. The saga of the publication of this dual testament then begins. Though written in English, it was first published in Romanian in 1947. The Daghanis were then living in Bucharest. It was not until 1961 that the journal Adam: International Review published it in England in its original English. (The year before, it had been turned down by a literary agent whose comment was “good, but too few atrocities!”) Daghani’s paintings and writings would be concerned throughout his life with the fate of his fellow prisoners, most of whom were brutally murdered in Mikhailowka, and with the aftermath of the war. He testified and his works were inserted as evidence in trials that took place in the decades following. Rather bizarrely, he established contact with several of his captors, excerpts of whose letters to Daghani and depositions for a war crime investigation prompted by the publication in 1960 of a German translation of his diary are included. Essays dealing with the Daghanis’ lives after the war, “mapping” his testimony with others of the same time and place, plus the color illustrations of his work make this much more than a diary/memoir of the Holocaust. “Roll- Call: Memorial List of those who Perished in Mikhailowka” is particularly chilling. The editors, Schultz and Timms, write in non-academic style so the text is readable and absorbing. The ultimate home of Daghani’s works is the University of Sussex, which is committed to the collection as an important historical and artistic record, and to promoting its continued availability for scholarly research. Some of Daghani’s paintings are in Yad Vashem and at YIVO in New York City. Sadly, although offered, neither Yad Vashem nor the Israel Museum would accept his complete works. Bibliography, illustrations, index.
Esther Nussbaum, the head librarian of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now education and special projects coordinator of the Halachic Organ Donor Society. A past editor of Jewish Book World, she continues to review for this and other publications.