Discovered at Auschwitz but unpublished for 70 years, the journal that forms the centerpiece of Rywka’s Diary unfolds as if newly told today.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