Rywka’s Biography

There are thousands of memoirs and testimonies about the Holocaust – deeply harrowing records of the demise of basic rights and rules, of fight for survival, and of unimaginable suffering. Many of those accounts found in archives, museums, research centers were written by survivors after the Holocaust. The memories of survivors demonstrate what human beings are capable of while driven by murderous ideologies.
The writings and and diaries written by those imprisoned in the ghettos or in forced into hiding constitute another branch of Holocaust documentation. Examples of this kind of documentation include both the famous Ringelblum Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, a work translated into dozens of languages and read around the globe.
Other, less famous Holocaust diaries exist.
In 2008, another diary was brought to the light. Written in Łódź Ghetto, this document consisted of 112 yellowed pages. Its author remained anonymous for a long time, but thanks to joint efforts of historians and researchers from the US, Poland and Israel, her identity was finally revealed: her name was Rywka Lipszyc. Rywka was born in Łódź on 15 April 1929, as the first child of Yankel Lipszyc and Miriam nee Zelwer. Rywka had three younger siblings: Abram Ber (born 13 January 1932), Tsipora Haya (born 9 October 1933) and Esther, called Tamarcia by the family (born 13 November 1937). The Lipszyc family lived on Południowa Street 43; like all city residents, they witnessed the German invasion to Łódź on September 8th, 1939. From that day forward, they lived in terror of both German brutality towards Jewish people in the city and the cruel system of restrictions the Germans enforced.
The war interrupted Rywka’s education when she was barely 11 years old. In February of 1940, the German occupying authorities forced all of the city’s Jews to live in the newly formed ghetto. Rywka’s family moved to an apartment at 22 Wolborska Street. From their first days in the ghetto, extremely cramped conditions, shortage of food and the brutality of German administrators took their toll on the family. Rywka’s father was the first to succumb to these inhumane conditions – brutally beaten by the Germans and suffering from lungs disease, he died on the 2nd of June, 1941. A year later, Rywka and her siblings became orphans – their mother died on 8th of June, 1942. The children went into the care of their uncle, Yohanan Lipszyc (Yankel’s brother), a member of rabbinical council. In September 1942, another tragedy hit the family. Uncle Yohanan and two of the children – Abram and Esther–were deported to Chełmno death camp as part of an action known as Wielka Szpera (from Allgemeine Gespehrre – prohibition of leaving homes). They were murdered in Chełmno along with over 15,000 Jews from Łódź Ghetto.

Later in 1942, Rywka was obligated to work. The ghetto was gradually transformed into a giant slave labor camp, bringing financial profits for the Third Reich.
In March 1943 Rywka’s aunt and caretaker, Hadassah died. In accordance with the policies of the Judenrat, Rywka and Tsipora got adopted by their eldest cousin – Esther.
In October 1943, Rywka started writing a diary, having received encouragement from her school teacher and mentor Fajga Zelicka and her friend Sarah Zelwer. The reader gets a sense of Rywka’s individuality from her diary’s first pages, densely covered with beautiful handwriting. The entries in the diary show great maturity of the author and her ability to raise important, difficult questions. Rywka reflects on deep philosophical issues relating to human condition. Her intellectual skills and maturity were surprising for Dr. Anita Friedman, one of the first readers of Rywka’s diary. Dr. A. Friedman of The Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center in San Francisco wrote: “How could such a beautiful manuscript be produced by a child whose formal education was ended by the Nazi invasion when she was about 11 years old? The secret is in its complete, intimate honesty. Rywka speaks unguardedly about the pleasures and pains of adolescence, her yearnings and vanishing dreams, deep family tensions and her feeling of being entirely alone in a murderous world.”
In her diary, Rywka described everyday struggle in appalling conditions of the Łódź Ghetto. Hard work, hunger, diseases and fear about the loved ones – particularly her only surviving sister – Tsipora… In those passages Rywka’s mature insight also comes forward, as stated Dr. Magdalena Budziszewska, a psychologist from the University of Warsaw:
“All the emotions Rywka describes are simple, strong, and explicit, as if there was an exclamation point. Despite her young age, Rywka reflects on who and how she loves, rather than if she is being loved. During a time of immense suffering, Rywka still manages to be preoccupied with the well-being of others. She demonstrates significant emotional maturity, visiting the sick and worrying about her sister going hungry. She considers her own behavior in the context of internalized moral values… Her idealism, emotionalism, precise and firm belief in principles, focus on “I” (natural for the form of diary) accompanied by altruism — these are all typical traits of adolescence.”
Perhaps even more striking, Rywka Lipszyc’s diary recounts the life of a deeply religious, observant person. Rywka was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family, where every holiday, every Shabbat were of great importance, and celebrated accordingly. This religiosity acted as a major determinant of the young girl’s identity. Throughout the traumatic times she lived through, she remains immersed in religious tradition and practice. One could claim that she lives from one Shabbat to another, a view reinforced in her diary; the perspective of lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday night helps her to overcome the difficult moments. On the other hand, religious tradition becomes a painful reminder of family life that is irretrievably gone – these memories increase her pain, feelings of loss, and longing for parents and siblings. The question of faith in Rywka’s life was analyzed by Rabbi Michelle C. Greenberg:
“It is through her devotion to faith that Rywka finds ways to survive the ghetto. It is the structures of the commandments and the rituals that provided her security and safety. In being forced to desecrate Shabbat through work, Rywka betrays another part of herself. This shame could have been debilitating – just another defilement by the Nazis. But for me, I see Rywka finding alternatives. Even when not able to observe Shabbat as a traditional Jew, she marks it. In her mind she thinks on what she would do could she have observed. She acknowledges the unique nature of this particular Shabbat having unique prayers for the Jewish month starting the following week. Rywka felt agony in having to work. It must have been painful to look around the workshop and assume those around her had no idea of the import of the day. How alienated she must have felt. But even in that darkness, she made a prayer of sorts, “Saturday, Saturday” she repeated again and again. Even when we can’t observe as we would wish, or be among those whom we love, or be free, we too can pull a bit of the sacred into our minds. Rywka’s prayer, “Shabbat, Shabbat” is a beacon. Though her liberties and rights were taken from her, she fought to maintain her identity. And she did.”
The last entry from Rywka’s diary, was written on the 13th of April, 1944, the day German authorities decided to liquidate the Łódź. In August of 1944, Rywka, her sister, and three cousins were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tsipora was sent to gas chambers after the selection. A month later, during the partial evacuation of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners, Rywka, Mina, Chana and Esther are transferred to Christianstadt labor camp (a branch of Gross-Rosen concentration camp). In February of 1945, they are taken in six weeks-long Death March to Bergen-Belsen. The four girls lived to see the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by Allied forces on 15 April 1945. Sadly, on that same day one of the cousins – Chana died of exhaustion. Rywka herself was in critical condition. Archival documents confirm that Rywka could not have survived travel to Sweden for medical treatment and recovery. Being in better health, Esther and Mina left Germany for Sweden. In June 1945, they saw Rywka for the last time, convinced that she didn’t survive. There are only three further documents enabling us to reconstruct Rywka’s fate. The list of patients of hospital in Niendorf in Northern Germany dating to 23 July 1945 includes Rywka Lipszyc and a note “too ill to be evacuated to Sweden.” The list of prisoners liberated in Bergen-Belsen created in August 1945 also included Rywka Lipszyc. But probably the most important piece of evidence is the signed Displaced Person registration card with her personal data including country of origin and desired destination country (Palestine). Unfortunately, this is the last trace of Rywka Lipszyc: her fate remains a mystery. We don’t know if she managed to fulfill her dreams, whether she returned to Poland or emigrated to Palestine or if she died of exhaustion and diseases from her imprisonment in concentration camps.
This website is devoted to the story of Rywka Lipszyc and her diary. Like the exhibition “The Girl in the Diary,” it is a tribute to the outstanding diarist from Łódź Ghetto, who remained unknown until 2008. Rywka’s story reminds of the fate of millions of women, men and children murdered in the Holocaust, as well as the survivors burdened with the memories of unimaginable suffering. In the words of Dr. Friedman: “Rywka’s voice is the voice of them all.”

Bartosz Duszyński

The quotes from experts’ commentaries were drawn from the temporary exhibition The Girl in the Diary created by the Galicia Jewish Museum.