Non­fic­tion

Rywka’s Diary: The Writ­ings of a Jew­ish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto

Rywka Lip­szyc and Ani­ta Friedman
  • Review
By – June 29, 2015

Dis­cov­ered at Auschwitz but unpub­lished for 70 years, the jour­nal that forms the cen­ter­piece of Rywka’s Diary unfolds as if new­ly told today.

More than just anoth­er obscure Holo­caust doc­u­ment, due to both its sear­ing emo­tion­al­i­ty and the ease with which one can iden­ti­fy with the coura­geous Rywka, the book details life in the Lodz ghet­to, the sec­ond largest ghet­to in Poland, from the per­spec­tive of a young woman com­ing of age. Rywka suf­fers from hunger and fear and the loss of her par­ents and sib­lings, yet she con­tin­ues to find the ener­gy and dri­ve to write clan­des­tine­ly in an old school note­book and hold onto her faith in human­i­ty. The diary cov­ers the time between Octo­ber 1943, when she had just turned 14, and April 1944, when it ends, quite lit­er­al­ly, in mid-sentence.

In addi­tion to chron­i­cling the phys­i­cal hard­ships of her dai­ly life and her emo­tion­al strug­gle with her incar­cer­a­tion, Rywka exam­ines her feel­ings and beliefs about her place in the world, her rela­tion­ship to God, and her close ties to the Ortho­dox Judaism she was taught at home. Her words are made even more mean­ing­ful by the inclu­sion of archival pho­tos, news clips, and maps. The essays fol­low­ing the text of the diary fur­ther illu­mi­nate her views and expe­ri­ences, as we hear from not only Holo­caust schol­ars but also her own sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives, but it is Rywka’s strong voice that speaks to the heart most direct­ly: I can always and every­where rely on God, but I have to help a lit­tle since noth­ing is going to hap­pen by itself! But I do know that God will take care of me! Oh, it’s good that I am a Jew­ish girl, that I was taught to love God[…] I am grate­ful for all this.”

Rywka’s diary was found in the ruins of the cre­ma­to­ria at Auschwitz-Birke­nau in 1945 by a physi­cian from the lib­er­at­ing Red Army. The doc­tor took the diary with her when she returned home to Rus­sia. There it passed through the hands of sev­er­al fam­i­ly mem­bers until 1995, when it reached the doctor’s grand­daugh­ter. A Russ­ian émi­gré liv­ing in San Fran­cis­co, she instant­ly rec­og­nized its val­ue and soon piqued the inter­est of a num­ber of Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and Holo­caust scholars.

The diary itself was orig­i­nal­ly edit­ed and pub­lished in 2014 in a dif­fer­ent form by the Jew­ish Fam­i­ly and Children’s Ser­vices of San Fran­cis­co. This revised and expand­ed ver­sion offers addi­tion­al insight and crit­i­cal com­men­tary, pro­vid­ing us with an expla­na­tion of how the jour­nal of a girl in the Lodz ghet­to end­ed up at Auschwitz — and, most impor­tant­ly, how the voice of a young, unknown girl gained the pow­er to speak with truth and clar­i­ty across time and through the generations.

Relat­ed Content:

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

Discussion Questions