Rywka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto by Anita Friedman and Rywka Lipszyc

rywkaPerhaps a better title would have been: Where is Rywka? It is certainly the question I was left with after reading this book.

The diary of Rywka Lipszyc has been verified as one of the many manuscripts hidden or buried by some of the unfortunate individuals on the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz.

Those brave men hid detailed manuscripts, diaries and other written accounts of concentration camp victims in an attempt to retain some kind of evidence.

Evidence of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their many collaborators. As we now know, they were right to think there would be a highly organised attempt to cover up everything that took place during the Holocaust.

It’s interesting to note that a lot of the pictures of the Lodz Ghetto used in the book are actually propaganda photos (much like the ones taken in the Warsaw Ghetto) taken by the Nazis themselves in an attempt to manipulate what the world thought was going on in the ghettos. Instead of the truth they presented healthy and glorified images of the situations, which is why many of the photos seemingly portray happy workers and healthy people.

The truth was and still is an indicator of the abysmal deeds the human race is capable of.

Holocaust survivors are plagues by survivor guilt, pain, despair, anger and feelings of helplessness. Is it any word the majority of them choose to bury the memories of this period in their lives in a deep dark locked box, hidden away in the back of their minds. Some of them never speak of their experiences at all, others changed their identities and even religion, which means the people around them may never know what their loved ones went through in the Holocaust.

Rywka’s diary is much like that of any other young girl, full of emotional turmoil and personal drama. It often seems as if she chooses not to reveal the entire despair and pain she feels. Keeping an element of denial and in doing so a steady level of normality in her dismal world.¬†She tries not to acknowledge the truth about her baby brother and sister, although her subconscious and the truth slip through now and again in her writing.

Mina had to make a choice between Rywka and Esther. Her decision was the most logical and one all of us would have made. Regardless of that fact I think she still feels a certain amount of guilt because of her choice. She based it on information given to her by the doctor treating Rywka,

Perhaps we will never know what really happened to Rywka. If she is alive then perhaps the trauma has caused some sort of amnesia, maybe she feels resentment towards her cousins or being with them could bring back memories she doesn’t want to relive. The reality and the more probable scenario is that Rywka didn’t survive very long after the cousins were separated, and she is buried somewhere under a wrong name or in a completely different place.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Holocaust, history and eyewitness accounts of that particular era.
I received a copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher, via Edelweiss.

Bloodhound: Searching for my Father by Ramona Koval

Bloodhound

You can definitely feel and read Koval’s career or literary background in this book. Her thirst for answers, searching in every nook and cranny, and not leaving any stone unturned. Even stones that have nothing to do with anything at all.

It isn’t just her quest to find out who her father is, it is also the search for answers in her parents, and would be parents past. Learning about their personal journeys before, during and after the Holocaust.

The way people, who have lived through the Holocaust, differentiate between Holocaust survivors and Holocaust refugees. Most importantly how each one of them has changed, due to the traumatic experiences in the time of mass extermination and expulsion of Jews and other persona non-grata before and during World War II.

The psychological trauma, post traumatic stress and emotional scars are there, but the layer of silence they have laid upon themselves, makes healing almost impossible. Then again can you ever forget, forgive or heal from the reality of the Holocaust?

Regardless of whether they have learnt to survive under the most dire and brutal of circumstances or survived outside of the concentration camps, their experiences have changed them forever. The chapters describing the need of survivors to talk after their release from the camps, and then the inability to do so, is just so poignant. Like open-mouthed screams of silence.

I can honestly say I have come away with a lot from this personal journey. Koval presents her personal experience with a strong mixture of historical fact, witness statements, court documents and autobiographical excerpts. I have made a list of books to read, mentioned and quoted from by Koval in Bloodhound.

Kudos to her for pointing the finger at Poland. For some reason their part in the atrocities, always seems to be downplayed, as just being the country where they built concentration camps. The fact that Poland helped the Nazi’s to kill almost all their Jewish population barring a few survivors, and then had the audacity to murder all but a few of the survivors returning from the camps. No, that doesn’t get a enough attention at all.

Although I completely understand her journey and her obsession, and yes I do believe it had become an obsession, I am not sure she completely understood the implications for herself and those around her. Changing the family dynamics by changing what was previously assumed to be the truth about her parentage, and that of her sister.

When she goes deeper into the origins of her DNA ancestry, it has a slight tinge of elitism, which to be fair she does acknowledge. Other than satisfying a base curiosity those results are merely a distraction in her actual pursuit of the truth.

In the end I wonder if the lack of result or confirmation of the truth, whatever that truth may be, is exactly what Koval wanted to achieve. Perhaps not knowing and dwelling on possible scenarios is better than having to accept a truth and reality she would rather not accept.
I received a copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher, via Edelweiss.