It was a very emotional meeting today at the Yad Vashem Archives as Yad Vashem staff met with relatives, friends, researchers and historians who have been investigating the fate of 14-year-old Rywka Lipszyc.
Born in 1929 to a rabbinical family, Rwyka, kept a diary while she was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto. When her parents and siblings were murdered, Rywka spent the remainder of the war with her cousins, Mina and Esther Lipszyc. After surviving the hunger of the Lodz ghetto, the horrors of Auschwitz and a grueling death march, the three cousins arrived at Bergen Belsen, weak and very sick. Esther last saw Rywka on her deathbed in the hospital ward. She and Mina slowly recuperated in Sweden, but never heard from their cousin again.
Meanwhile, Rywka's diary had been eventually discovered in the ashes of the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau in early 1945 by Zinaida Berezovskaya, a doctor who arrived at the camp with the liberating Red Army. The diary (in Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew) documented Rywka's daily life, along with her hopes, dreams and deepest emotions. Berezovskaya stored it in an envelope, along with a newspaper clipping about the liberation of Auschwitz. For over half a century it remained untouched, until Berezovskaya's granddaughter discovered it among her father's effects in June 1995 and was deposited in the archives of Holocaust Center of Northern California, (relocated in 2010 to Jewish Family and Children's Services (JFCS) to form the Holocaust Center in San Francisco)
Judy Janec, archivist at the center immediately began to investigate the identity and fate of the diary's author, which ultimately led to the discovery the Page of Testimony commemorating Rywka submitted by Mina Boyer in 1955 (updated in 2000). Yad Vashem staff assisted by contacting Hadassah Halamish, Minsa's daughter. The family was deeply moved to learn of the diary's discovery so many years later.
Recently (Sept 3, 2015), the family donated the diary to Yad Vashem for preservation. This week, Rywka's cousin, Hadassah Halamish, visited Yad Vashem together with researcher Judy Janec, Anastasia Berezovskaya, the granddaughter of Zinaida Berezovskaya; Dr. Ewa Wiatr, an historian from Poland who specializes in research on the Lodz ghetto and who assisted in the translation and annotation of the diary from Polish to English, her 14 year old daughter Tosia; and friends hosting them in Israel.
Yad Vashem Archives Director Dr. Haim Gertner hosted a behind-the-scenes tour of the archival facilities and explained the process of how Rywka's diary will be repaired, carefully preserved, protected, and then digitized – in order to make it accessible to interested parties all over the world. It was a meaningful experience for everyone. Hadassah, who has a deep emotional and personal connection to the diary said, "I know that the diary is in the right place."
Judy Janec agreed. "It feels redemptive to have the diary at Yad Vashem. It belongs in a repository that has the resources to preserve and make it accessible to the public. Now I know that it's safe. It is where it should be." According to a Displaced Persons registration card discovered through Judy Janec's research Rywka indicated that she would like to relocate/emigrate to "Eretz Israel" after she recuperated. "So now at least her diary is in Israel even if she couldn't be."
Yad Vashem’s Gathering the Fragments national campaign to rescue personal items from the Holocaust era is now continuing into its fifth year. The campaign encourages people with Holocaust related material in their possession to bring them to Yad Vashem, where they will be protected for posterity, along with the stories behind the items. Since the beginning of the program in 2011, some 165,000 items have been brought to Yad Vashem, including photos, documents and artifacts. People who want to donate material should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02-644 3888.