Born on September 14, 1929, Rywka Lipsycz (pronounced “Rivka Lipschitz”) was the oldest of four children. She was raised in the Polish city of Lodz, where a large Jewish community had thrived for centuries before World War II. After the Nazis invaded, however, Rywka was among roughly 160,000 Jews who were forced into the Lodz ghetto, a crammed and overbearing environment where starvation, disease, and forced labor created a living hell. Refusing to succumb to despair, Rywka found salvation in her diary.
As evidenced by her writing, Rywka maintained a steadfast belief in God and a strong Jewish identity, even as she was oppressed for her religion. She also had a love for learning, literature, nature, and her family, all of which she clung to for inspiration in the darkest times. Her passionate and creative personality found wings in her diary, but also led her into conflict—she recorded instances when others labeled her as “stubborn” or “hysterical,” threatening to cut off her access to food and shelter. Her own biggest critic, Rywka struggled to mature even as she was deprived of the most basic necessities in life.
At the time when Rywka wrote her diary, she had already suffered the deaths of both of her parents and two of her three siblings. She saw it as her duty to raise and protect her only remaining family member, her 10-year-old sister Cipka. It is easy to picture Rywka giving her daily ration of bread to her younger sister, as she writes: “Nowadays I’m hungrier when Cipka doesn’t eat and fuller when she does.”
Rywka’s story forces us to see the human toll of genocide, allowing us to encounter her not as a statistic, but as a distinct, fiery, and expressive individual.
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2017 Copyright Yoav Potash