The Girl in the Diary. Searching for Rywka from the Łódź Ghetto

  • judaica
  • holocaust
  • history
  • artefact
  • film/video
  • photography

In 1945 a Soviet doctor found a school notebook in the liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp. It was a diary written by the teenaged Rywka Lipszyc in the Łódź Ghetto between October 1943 and April 1944 — the testament of a Jewish girl who lost her siblings and parents, but never lost hope despite moments of doubt. More than 60 years after its discovery, the diary traveled to the United States, where it was translated from Polish, supplemented with commentaries and published in book form.

Rywka Lipszyc’s diary, a moving memoir of life and adolescence in the Łódź Ghetto, is the starting point for this exhibition. Selected excerpts of the diary are supplemented by expert commentary from historians, doctors, psychologists and rabbis. These commentaries help us to understand the context of the times and events Rywka refers to in her diary.

The exhibition also includes unique historical artifacts and documents from museums in Poland, the USA, Israel, Germany and Belgium. The beads, thimbles, and toys are a moving testament documenting the personal dimensions of the Holocaust, which are so easily overlooked when teaching the Holocaust.

The story presented in the exhibition The Girl from the Diary: In Search of Rywka Lipszyc is mainly, but not exclusively, the story of women. Most of the wartime narratives and memories of the German occupation concentrate of the fate of men — soldiers, politicians, leaders. In Rywka’s world, the perspective is the opposite. Men appear in the diary, but remain in the shadows, in the background. They are present, but not dominant.

The world we get to know from Rywka’s diary is populated by women and its structure is created by relations between them. It is filled with their pain and longing, their courage and daily battles, their fear.

The exhibition concentrates on this aspect, bringing visitors into the world of the women Rywka describes in her diary. In order to not interfere with this unique narrative, all of the commentaries used to supplement the text of the diary were also prepared by women. The idea for commentaries itself strongly refers to the Jewish tradition of explaining and interpreting sacred texts. In this symbolic way, the exhibition also refers to Rywka’s devotion to the tradition in which she grew up, to her unwavering faith in God and God’s care.

The archival photographs illustrating the story of Rywka Lipszyc are the work of the three most famous photographers of the Łódź Ghetto, Henryk Ross, Mendel Grossman and Walter Genewein, who preserved the realities of ghetto life on color slides. Stored in closed containers, underground, in hiding, many have suffered partial damage. They present only part of picture captured on the slide. They are fragmentary, just like the whole story of Rywka, which — like these negatives — had to wait many years to be brought to light.

Learn more about the exhibit here.