A page from Rywka Lipszyc’s diary. The exhibit will feature reproductions, enlargements and translated sections of Rywka’s diary.
A page from Rywka Lipszyc’s diary. The exhibit will feature reproductions, enlargements and translated sections of Rywka’s diary.

While Anne Frank writes about an Amsterdam family in hiding together, Rywka Lipszyc writes about the separation of her Polish family as she grapples with the devastation experienced during confinement in the Lodz Ghetto before being moved into the camps.

Almost 70 years after Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was first published, The Diary of Rywka Lipszyc appeared on bookshelves to reveal the tragic experiences of yet another teenager descending into conditions forced by the Holocaust.

While Anne Frank writes about an Amsterdam family in hiding together, Rywka (pronounced Rivka) Lipszyc writes about the separation of her Polish family as she grapples with the devastation experienced during confinement in the Lodz Ghetto before being moved into the camps.

The information presented in the Lipszyc journal, found in Auschwitz and published by San Francisco’s JFCS (Jewish Family and Children’s Services) Holocaust Center in partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica, has been supplemented through an exhibition developed by the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, Poland: “The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Lodz Ghetto.”

A thimble found on the site of the Kulmhof (Chelmo) Death Camp.
A thimble found on the site of the Kulmhof (Chelmo) Death Camp. Holocaust Memorial Center

Traveling the United States, the exhibition will be on display through Dec. 30 at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills, where visitors will view translated text, commentaries, associated artifacts and ghetto photographs taken in secret and including images of girls close in age to Rywka. 

To expand on the diary contents and the ghetto environment, there will be a talk Wednesday, Sept. 1, by Derek Hastings, Oakland University associate professor of history.

Love of Judaism

“The exhibit offers the perspective of an Orthodox girl whose devotion to God and faith is very visible throughout the entire diary,” said Jakub Nowakowski, director of the Galicia Jewish Museum and exhibit curator working with a team. “Although Rywka lost her siblings and parents, she still said she was thankful for being Jewish.

“The diary shows that the longing of Rywka and many others was for Palestine, for a new home. There are lots we can take out from her story in her writing about hunger, fear and hope. What’s so helpful about her perspective is that it’s about daily living and the daily difficulties she faced.”

Expert commentary explains and contextualizes parts of the diary. For instance, diary sections about hunger and starvation are joined with descriptions of ghetto conditions, food rations and prohibitions against holiday celebrations. Rabbis, historians, psychologists, doctors — all women — provide the additional information.

An emblem from a sewing workshop in the Lodz Ghetto.
An emblem from a sewing workshop in the Lodz Ghetto. Holocaust Memorial Center

“Rywka was Orthodox, and her diary describes spending time among girlfriends and women,” Nowakowski said. “There are no men other than her brothers and father in the text. Because we wanted to honor this very special environment, all the other voices in this exhibition are from women.

“There are sensitivities in her diary that are missing in the texts created by men, who are focusing on politics and the situation. Entries coming from men are more precise in terms of numbers and information. Rywka notes her feelings and emotions, which are missing in the diaries created by men.”

Lodz Ghetto Artifacts

Artifacts on display, assembled from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., include personal items of those in the ghetto, such as children’s shoes made in a Lodz workshop, as well as newspapers and maps.

Baby shoes manufactured at a sewing workshop in the Lodz Ghetto.
Baby shoes manufactured at a sewing workshop in the Lodz Ghetto. Holocaust Memorial Center

The traveling exhibit is supplemented by materials supplied by local Lodz Ghetto survivors. An anonymous donor provided German sewing needles used by Jews making textiles and leather goods for Germans in ghetto workshops. A Polish family photo album was donated by the late Miriam Zack Garvil, who resettled in Ann Arbor. 

“We always try to bring a Michigan element into our space where we are allowed so we can focus on survivors who ended up in Michigan,” said Mark Mulder, HMC manager of curatorial affairs who partnered with the Special Events Department to choose the exhibit. 

“I am a great admirer of the Galicia Jewish Museum, so I was familiar with this exhibit. I saw it on the web from there and also from Milwaukee. It’s a perspective that we don’t see as often, specifically that of a religiously observant young woman, and I appreciate the interpretation of women to keep that perspective. That’s a powerful and unique approach to Holocaust storytelling.”

Numerous text panels give detailed outlines of the significance of the ghetto, the significance of what happened to Rywka and interviews with her cousins who are still alive. The documentation goes to the last-known reference of Rywka and the paper trail relatives followed for her.

List of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp inmates liberated by the British army. Rywka Lipszyc is on the list. Emaciated and ill, she likely died soon after liberation.
List of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp inmates liberated by the British army. Rywka Lipszyc is on the list. Emaciated and ill, she likely died soon after liberation. CegeSoma, Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society

“The most heart-wrenching part is the story of her cousins,” Mulder said. “They assumed she had passed until research on her began in earnest relatively recently, and there’s a very profound emotional impact.” 

Hastings, whose talk also will be available digitally, will cover the historical background and context of the Lodz Ghetto, everyday life in the ghetto and the broader historical significance of central themes raised in the diary.

“I have read Rykwa’s diary multiple times and read extensively about the exhibition,” said Hastings, a frequent HMC speaker who teaches courses on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in addition to writing two books: Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism and Nationalism in Modern Europe. 

“My presentation will strive to provide broader historical contextualization,” Hastings said. “Hopefully, that will deepen and enrich attendees’ understanding of Rykwa’s experiences.” 

Details

“The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Lodz Ghetto” will be on display through Dec. 30 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. Free with admission ($5-$8). Derek Hastings will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1. $10 Nonmembers. (248) 553-2400. holocaustcenter.org. 

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.