Hear, O Is­rael, Save Us


Smithsonian Magazine - - Prologue - by Re­nia Spiegel il­lus­tra­tions by LAU­REN SIMKIN BERKE pho­tographs by CLAIRE ROSEN

Why did I de­cide to start a diary to­day? Has some­thing im

por­tant hap­pened? Have I dis­cov­ered that my friends are keep­ing diaries of

their own? No! I just want a friend. Some­body I can talk to about my ev­ery­day

wor­ries and joys. Some­body who will feel what I feel, be­lieve what I say and

never re­veal my se­crets. No hu­man be­ing could ever be that kind of friend.

To­day, my dear diary, is the be­gin­ning of our deep friend­ship. Who knows

how long it will last? It might even con­tinue un­til the end of our lives.

In any case, I prom­ise to al­ways be hon­est with you. In re­turn, you’ll lis­ten to my thoughts and con­cerns, but you’ll re­main silent like an en­chanted book, locked up with an en­chanted key and hid­den in an en­chanted cas­tle. You will not be­tray me.

First of all, al­low me to in­tro­duce my­self. I’m a stu­dent at the Maria Konop­nicka Mid­dle School for Girls. My name is Re­nia, or at least that is what my friends call me. I have a lit­tle sis­ter, Ari­ana, who wants to be a movie star. (She’s been in some movies al­ready.)

Our mother lives in War­saw. I used to live in a beau­ti­ful manor house on the Dni­ester River. I loved it there. There were storks on old lin­den trees. Ap­ples glis­tened in the or­chard, and I had a gar­den with neat, charm­ing rows of flow­ers. But those days will never re­turn. There is no manor house any­more, no storks on old lin­den trees, no ap­ples or flow­ers. All that re­main are mem­o­ries, sweet and lovely. And the Dni­ester River, which flows, dis­tant, strange and cold—which hums, but not for me any­more.

Now I live in Prze­mysl, at my grand­mother’s house. But the truth is, I have no real home. That’s why some­times I get so sad that I have to cry. I miss my mamma and her warm heart. I miss the house where we all lived to­gether.

Again the need to cry takes over me

When I re­call the days that used to be

The lin­den trees, house, storks and but­ter­flies Far . . . some­where . . . too far for my eyes

I see and hear what I miss

The wind that used to lull old trees

And no­body tells me any­more

About the fog, about the si­lence

The dis­tance and dark­ness out­side the door I will al­ways hear this lul­laby

See our house and pond laid by

And lin­den trees against the sky . . .

But I also have joy­ous mo­ments, and there are so many of them. So many! Let me in­tro­duce some of my class­mates to you.

My best friend, Nora, sits next to me. We share all the same thoughts and opin­ions. At our school, the girls of­ten get “crush- es” on our teach­ers, so Nora and I have a crush, a real one (some girls do it just to but­ter the teach­ers up) on our Latin teacher, Mrs. Wa­le­ria Br­zo­zowska, nee Brühl. We call her “Brühla.” Brühla is the wife of a hand­some of­fi­cer who lives in Lwow. She goes to see him every other Sun­day. We tried to get his ad­dress through the ad­dress bureau, but we didn’t suc­ceed be­cause we don’t know his ac­tual name. (We call him “Zdzisław.”)

The next girl in our row is Belka—fat and stocky like 300 devils! She has an ex­cep­tional tal­ent for aca­demics and an even more ex­cep­tional tal­ent for earn­ing dis­like. Next comes Irka. I don’t like Irka and it’s in my blood. I in­her­ited this ha­tred: My mamma didn’t like Irka’s mother much when they were in mid­dle school. I started dis­lik­ing Irka even more when she be­gan un­der­min­ing me at school. That— com­bined with her dis­gust­ing sweet-talk­ing, ly­ing and in­sin­cer­ity—made me gen­uinely hate her.

We’ve been planning a party for months now. We’ve fought and dis­agreed, but the party is on for this com­ing Satur­day.

Fe­bru­ary 5, 1939

I’m so happy. It was a great party and ev­ery­one, espe­cially Brühla, had a won­der­ful time. But for the umpteenth time, I thought, “I wish Mamma were here.” Irka’s mother, Mrs. Ober­hard, was all over Brühla, sweet-talk­ing her as much as she could, which, of course, would be sure to ben­e­fit Irka and her younger sis­ter in the near fu­ture. Oh, dear diary, if you could only know how hard it is to want some­thing so badly, to work so hard for it and then be de­nied it at the fin­ish­ing line! What was it ac­tu­ally that I wanted? I don’t know. Brühla was quite nice. But I’m still not sat­is­fied.

Fe­bru­ary 11, 1939

It’s rain­ing to­day. On rainy days, I stand by the win­dow and count the tears trick­ling down the win­dow­pane. They all run down, as if they wanted to drop onto the wet, muddy street, as if they wanted to make it even dirt­ier, as if they wanted to make this day ugly, even uglier than it al­ready is. Peo­ple might laugh at me, but some­times I think inan­i­mate ob­jects can talk. Ac­tu­ally, they’re not inan­i­mate at all. They have souls, just like peo­ple. Some­times I think the water in the drain­pipes gig­gles. Other peo­ple call this gig­gle dif­fer­ent names, but it never even crosses their minds that it’s just that: a gig­gle. Or a trash can:

A page came clean

From a film weekly mag­a­zine.

“They only bought me yes­ter­day and I’m al­ready in the trash, no way! At least some­thing you have seen. At least in the world you have been. You led a peace­ful life when you were at a newsagent’s bound

While I had to run around

In the streets, shout­ing all the time. It’s bet­ter to be a weekly

Than a daily that passes quickly.”

March 28, 1939

God, I’m so sad, so very sad. Mamma just left and who knows when I’ll see her again. I’ve been on the outs with Nora for sev­eral days so I need to hang out with Irka, which is not help­ing.

And then there are the mem­o­ries. Even though they break my heart, they’re mem­o­ries of the best time in my life. It’s spring­time al­ready! Spring used to be so good there. Birds were singing, flow­ers were in bloom; it was all sky, heart and hap­pi­ness! Peo­ple there would be think­ing of the hol­i­days now. So tran­quil, warm and friendly; I loved it so much.

On the night of the Passover Seder, I used to wait for Eli­jah. Maybe there was a time when this holy old man came to see happy chil­dren. But he has to come now, when I have noth­ing. Noth­ing apart from mem­o­ries. Grandpa’s un­well. Mamma’s very wor­ried about me. Oh! I’m so un­happy!

April 2, 1939

I’m learn­ing French now and if there’s no war I might go to France. I was sup­posed to go be­fore, but Hitler took over Aus­tria, then Cze­choslo­vakia, and who knows what he’ll do next. In a way, he’s af­fect­ing my life, too. I want to write a poem for Ari­ana. I’ll be re­ally happy if it comes out well.

June 18, 1939

It’s my birth­day to­day. I don’t want to think about any­thing sad. So in­stead I’m think­ing about all the use­ful things I’ve done so far in my life.

A VOICE: “None.”

ME: “I get good grades at school.”

VOICE: “But you don’t work hard to earn those. What else?”

ME: “Noth­ing. I re­ally want to go to France.”

VOICE: “You want to be fa­mous?”

ME: “I’d like to be fa­mous, but I won’t be. So I want to be happy, very happy.”

Tomorrow’s the end of the school year, but I don’t care. About any­thing. Any­thing. Any­thing.

Au­gust 25, 1939

My sum­mer va­ca­tion is al­most over. I went to see my aunt in the coun­try­side, I went to War­saw, I saw Mamma and now I’m back. But you don’t know about any of that. You were ly­ing here, left on your own.

You don’t even know that the Rus­sians have signed a treaty with the Ger­mans. You don’t know that peo­ple are stock­pil­ing food, that ev­ery­body’s on the alert, wait­ing for war. When I was say­ing good­bye to Mamma, I hugged her hard. I wanted to tell her ev­ery­thing with that silent hug. I wanted to take her soul and leave her my own, be­cause—when?

Septem­ber 6, 1939

War has bro­ken out! Since last week, Poland has been fight­ing with Ger­many. Eng­land and France also de­clared war on Hitler and sur­rounded him on three sides. But he isn’t sit­ting idly. Enemy planes keep fly­ing over Prze­mysl, and every now and then there’s an air raid siren. But, thank God, no bombs have fallen on our city so far. Other cities like Krakow, Lwow, Czesto­chowa and War­saw have been par­tially de­stroyed.

But we’re all fight­ing, from young girls to sol­diers. I’ve been tak­ing part in fe­male mil­i­tary train­ing— dig­ging air raid trenches, sewing gas masks. I’ve been serv­ing as a run­ner. I have shifts serv­ing tea to the sol­diers. I walk around and col­lect food for the sol­diers. In a word, I’m fight­ing along­side the rest of the Pol­ish na­tion. I’m fight­ing and I’ll win!

Septem­ber 10, 1939

Oh, God! My God! We’ve been on the road for three days now. Prze­mysl was at­tacked. We had to flee. The three of us es­caped: me, Ari­ana and Grandpa. We left the burn­ing city in the mid­dle of the night on foot, car­ry­ing our bags. Granny stayed be­hind. Lord, please pro­tect her. We heard on the road that Prze­mysl was be­ing de­stroyed.

Septem­ber 18, 1939

We’ve been in Lwow for al­most a week. The city is sur­rounded. Food is in short sup­ply. Some­times I get up at dawn and stand in a long line to get bread. Apart from that, we’ve been spend­ing all day in a bunker, lis­ten­ing to the ter­ri­ble whistling of bul­lets and ex­plo­sions of bombs. God, please save us. Some bombs de­stroyed sev­eral ten­e­ment houses, and three days later they dug peo­ple out from the rub­ble, alive. Some peo­ple are sleep­ing in the bunkers; those brave enough to sleep at home have to wake up sev­eral times each night and run down­stairs to their cel­lars. This life is ter­ri­ble. We’re yel­low, pale, from this cel­lar life—from the lack of water, com­fort­able beds and sleep.

But the hor­ri­ble thoughts are much worse. Granny stayed in Prze­mysl, Daddy’s in Zaleszczyki and Mamma, my mamma, is in War­saw. War­saw is sur­rounded, de­fend­ing it­self bravely, re­sist­ing at­tack again and again. We Poles are fight­ing like knights in an open field where the enemy and God can see us. Not like the Ger­mans, who bom­bard civil­ians’ homes, who turn churches to ashes, who poi­son lit­tle chil­dren with toxic candy (con­tam­i­nated with cholera and ty­phus) and bal­loons filled with mus­tard gas. We de­fend our­selves and we’re win­ning, just like War­saw, like the cities of Lwow and Prze­mysl.

Mamma’s in War­saw. I love her the most in the world, my dear­est soul, my most pre­cious. I know if she sees chil­dren cling­ing to their moth­ers in bunkers, she must be feel­ing the same way we feel when we see it. Oh my God! The great­est, the one and only. God, please save Mamma, give her faith that we’re alive. Mer­ci­ful God, please make the war stop, make all peo­ple good and happy. Amen.

Septem­ber 22, 1939

My dear diary! I had a strange day to­day. Lwow sur­ren­dered. Not to Ger­many, but to Rus­sia. The Pol­ish sol­diers were dis­armed in the streets. Some, with tears in their eyes, just dropped their bay­o­nets to the ground and watched the Rus­sians break their ri­fles. I feel such grief, such great grief. Only a small hand­ful are still fight­ing. De­spite the or­der, de­fend­ers of Lwow are con­tin­u­ing their heroic fight to die for their home­land.

Septem­ber 28, 1939

Rus­sians have en­tered the city. There are still short­ages of food, cloth­ing, shoes, ev­ery­thing. Long lines are form­ing in front of every shop. The Rus­sians are espe­cially ea­ger to buy things. They’ve been or­ga­niz­ing raids to get watches, fab­rics, shoes, etc.

This Red Army is strange. You can’t tell a pri­vate from an of­fi­cer. They all wear the same gray­ish-brown uni­forms. They all speak the lan­guage I can’t un­der­stand. They call each other “To­var­ishch” [“Com­rade”]. Some­times the of­fi­cers’ faces are more in­tel­li­gent, though. Poland has been to­tally flooded by the Ger­man and Rus­sian armies. The only is­land still fight­ing is War­saw. Our gov­ern-

ment has fled the coun­try. And I had so much faith.

Where is Mamma? What’s hap­pened to her? God! You lis­tened to my prayer and there is no war any­more (or at least I can’t see it). Please lis­ten to the first part of my prayer, too, and pro­tect Mamma from evil. Wher­ever she is, what­ever is hap­pen­ing to her, please keep an eye on her and on us and help us in all our needs! Amen.

Oc­to­ber 27, 1939

I’ve been back in Prze­mysl for a while now. Life has gone back to its ev­ery­day rou­tine, but at the same time it’s dif­fer­ent, so sad. There is no Mamma. We haven’t heard from her. I had a ter­ri­ble dream that she’s dead. I know it’s not pos­si­ble. I cry all the time. If only I knew that I would see her in two months’ time, even a year, as long as I knew I would see her for sure. No, let me die. Holy God, please give me an easy death.

Oc­to­ber 28, 1939

Pol­ish women riot when they hear peo­ple salut­ing Stalin. They refuse to join in. They write se­cret mes­sages say­ing “Poland has not yet per­ished,” even though, to be hon­est, it per­ished a long time ago. Now we’re un­der the rule of com­mu­nism, where ev­ery­body is equal. It hurts them that they can’t say “You lousy Yid.” They still say it, but in se­cret.

Those Rus­sians are such cute boys (though not all of them). One of them was de­ter­mined to marry me. France and Eng­land are fight­ing with the Ger­mans and some­thing’s brew­ing here, but what do I care? I just want Mamma to come be with us. Then I can face all my tri­als and tribu­la­tions.

Novem­ber 1, 1939

There’s a new club here now. Lots of boys and girls have been go­ing there. I don’t have a crush on Brühla any­more. I fi­nally told Nora about it, and she told me she feels the same way. Now, ac­cord­ing to the stages of a girl’s de­vel­op­ment I should “fall in love” with a boy. I like Jurek. But Jurek doesn’t know about it and won’t ever fig­ure it out.

The first day at the club was fun, but to­day I felt like a fish out of water. Peo­ple played this flirt­ing game and I didn’t get even one card. I’m em­bar­rassed to ad­mit it even to you. Some boy named Julek (not Jurek) sup­pos­edly likes me, but why? Maybe be­cause I’m so dif­fer­ent from my girl­friends. I’m not say­ing that’s a good thing—it could even be a bad thing—but I’m very dif­fer­ent from them. I don’t even know how to laugh in a flir­ta­tious way. When I laugh, it’s for real. I don’t know how to “be­have” around boys. That’s why I miss the old days, when Mamma was still with me, when I had my own home, when there was peace in the world, when ev­ery­thing was blue, bright, serene.

Jan­uary 9, 1940

We’ve mov­ing out of our school. Now we’re go­ing to be at a school with boys. Ugh, hor­ri­ble. I hate ev­ery­thing. I still live in fear of searches, of vi­o­lence. And now this whole thing of go­ing to school with boys! Well, let’s wait and see how that works out. The tor­ture starts on the 11th. Bye, my dear diary. Keep your fin­gers crossed for me. Let’s hope it goes well!!!

Jan­uary 12, 1940

The boys are such innocent young things; they don’t know much and they’re very po­lite. They aren’t par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive, with the ex­cep­tion of one very cute Lud­wik P. and sweet Ma­jorko S. You know, I go through these dif­fer­ent phases where I choose dif­fer­ent hus­bands. I must have had about 60 of those phases in my life al­ready. Bye, kisses, Re­nia

Fe­bru­ary 17, 1940

Daddy came here (he brought us pro­vi­sions) and now he’s gone again. A let­ter from Mamma ar­rived. She might be in France al­ready. I’ve en­rolled my­self in pi­ano lessons.

Mean­while, I’m not in love with Lud­wik any­more. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like him, but I also like

Mamma, what are you do­ing there? Are you think­ing about us, too, about our torn hearts?

Jurek Nowak. Irka has started go­ing af­ter Lud­wik in an im­pos­si­ble way. Since I sit right near them, I can see and hear ev­ery­thing. For ex­am­ple: “Irka, stop pinch­ing me or I’ll pinch you back hard.” They flirt with each other like crazy. Our class is the best class in our school, though our at­ten­dance is ter­ri­ble. We’ve al­ready skipped out on physics three times.

Mamma said in her let­ter that she thought of us all day long on her birth­day. She said she was sorry she hasn’t been get­ting any of my po­ems. I haven’t been writ­ing any; I’m so aw­ful. Granny and Grandpa are good to me, but it’s so hard be­ing left on my own with my own thoughts.

March 1, 1940

Wed­nes­day was a beau­ti­ful day, so our class played tru­ant at 11 a.m. and es­caped to the cas­tle. We threw snow­balls, sang songs and com­posed po­etry. I wrote a poem that’s al­ready in the school pa­per. Our class is re­ally nice and sweet. We’ve be­come re­ally close.

March 16, 1940

Nora and I have de­cided that ten years from to­day, wher­ever we are, whether we’re still friends or an­gry at each other, in good health or bad health, we’re go­ing to meet or write to each other and com­pare what’s changed in our lives. So remember: March 16, 1950.

I’ve started lik­ing a boy named Holen­der. We’ve been in­tro­duced to each other, but he’s al­ready for­got­ten me. He’s well-built and broad-shoul­dered. He has pretty black eyes and fal­con-like eye­brows. He’s beau­ti­ful.

April 24, 1940

Ter­ri­ble things have been hap­pen­ing. There were un­ex­pected night­time raids that lasted three days. Peo­ple were rounded up and sent some­where deep in­side Rus­sia. So many ac­quain­tances of ours were taken away. There was ter­ri­ble scream­ing at school. Girls were cry­ing. They say 50 peo­ple were packed into one cargo train car. You could only stand or lie on bunks. Ev­ery­body was singing “Poland has not yet per­ished.”

About that Holen­der boy I men­tioned: I fell in love, I chased him like a mad­woman, but he was in­ter­ested in some girl named Ba­sia. De­spite that, I still like him, prob­a­bly more than any other boy I know. Some­times I feel this pow­er­ful, over­whelm­ing need . . . maybe it’s just my tem­per­a­ment. I should get mar­ried early so I can with­stand it.

May 1, 1940

I would never have thought a year ago that I would be march­ing not on May 3 [Poland’s Con­sti­tu­tion Day] but May 1 [In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Day] in­stead. Only two days apart, but those two days mean so much. It means I’m not in Poland but in the USSR. It means ev­ery­thing is so . . . I’m so crazy for Holen­der! He’s divine, adorable; he’s amaz­ing! But what does that mat­ter, since I don’t know him? Tell me, will I ever be con­tented? Will I ever have happy news to re­port to you about some boy? Oh, please God. I’m al­ways so dis­grun­tled!

June 17, 1940

It’s my birth­day tomorrow. I’m turn­ing 16. This is sup­posed to be the best time in my life. Peo­ple al­ways say, “Oh, to be 16 again!” But I’m so un­happy! France has ca­pit­u­lated. Hitler’s army is flood­ing Europe. Amer­ica is re­fus­ing to help. Who knows, they might even start a war with Rus­sia?

I’m here on my own, with­out Mamma or Daddy, with­out a home. Oh, God, why did such a hor­ri­ble birth­day have to come? Wouldn’t it be bet­ter to die? Then I’d have a long, sad fu­neral. They might cry. They wouldn’t treat me with dis­dain. I’d only feel sorry for my mamma, my mamma, my mamma . . . Why are you so far from me, so far away?

July 6, 1940

What a ter­ri­ble night! Hor­ri­ble! Dread­ful. I lay there with my eyes wide open, my heart pound­ing, shiv­er­ing like I had a fever. I could hear the clank­ing of wheels again. Oh, Lord God, please help us! A truck rolled by. I could hear a car horn beep­ing. Was it com­ing for us? Or for some­one else? I lis­tened, strain­ing so hard it felt like ev­ery­thing in me was about to burst.

I heard the jan­gling of keys, a gate be­ing opened. They went in. I waited some more. Then they came out, tak­ing loads of peo­ple with them, chil­dren, old peo­ple. One lady was shak­ing so much she couldn’t stand, couldn’t sit down. The ar­rests were led by some fat hag who kept yelling in Rus­sian, “Sit, sit down now!” She loaded chil­dren onto the wagon. The whole night was hor­rific. I couldn’t wait for the dawn to come.

Some of the peo­ple were cry­ing. Most of the chil­dren were ask­ing for bread. They were told the jour­ney would take four weeks. Poor chil­dren, par­ents, old peo­ple. Their eyes were filled with in­sane fear, de­spair, aban­don. They took what­ever they were able to carry on their slen­der backs. They are be­ing taken to Biro­bidzhan. They will travel in closed, dark car­riages, 50 peo­ple in each. They will travel in air­less, dirty, in­fested con­di­tions. They might even be hun­gry. They’ll travel for many long weeks, chil­dren dy­ing as they pass through a sup­pos­edly happy, free coun­try.

And how many will reach their des­ti­na­tion? How many will die on the way from ill­ness, in­fes­ta­tion, long­ing? When they fi­nally reach the end of this de­por­tees’ route some­where far into Asia, they will be stuck in rot­ting mud huts, hun­gry, ex­hausted, iron­i­cally forced to ad­mire the happy work­ers’ par­adise and sing this song:

Au­gust 8, 1940

Our visit to Daddy has been put off day af­ter day. Now we don’t have much sum­mer va­ca­tion left, but we’re still go­ing.

What does it mat­ter that they have torn lands apart, that they have di­vided brothers, sent chil­dren far away from their moth­ers? What does it mat­ter that they say “This is mine” or “The bor­der is here”? The clouds, the birds and the sun laugh at these borders, at hu­man be­ings, at their guns. They go back and forth, smug­gling rain, blades of grass, rays of sun­shine. And no one even thinks of ban­ning them. If they even tried, the sun would burst out with bright laugh­ter and they’d have to close their eyes. The clouds, birds, and wind would fol­low. So would one small hu­man soul, and plenty of my thoughts.

Au­gust 21, 1940

Daddy came to pick us up from Horo­denka. We had to ride four hours in a horse-drawn cart. I’ve missed him so much. You can’t call it any­thing else but long­ing. I’ve been pin­ing for some­body close! I’m en­gulfed by this strange ten­der­ness.

Au­gust 22, 1940

I spent half the night cry­ing. I feel so sorry for Daddy, even though he keeps whistling cheer­fully. I told him, al­most cry­ing, “I know, Daddy, that you had the best dreams, but this is not your home.”

Septem­ber 21, 1940

I met a boy named Zyg­munt S. to­day. Nora ad­mit­ted she liked him, but since she knew he was my type, she let it go. Nora has cute, sweet Natek and Irka has Maciek. And? I don’t know how it’s go­ing to go and I don’t re­ally have much con­fi­dence in my­self.

Oc­to­ber 12, 1940

To­day is Yom Kip­pur, the Day of Atone­ment. Yes­ter­day ev­ery­body left the house; I was on my own with burn­ing can­dles on the ta­ble in a huge, brass can­dle­holder. Ah, a sin­gle mo­ment of soli­tude. I was able to think about all the things that get lost in the daily whirl­wind.

I asked my­self the same ques­tion I asked last year: Mamma, when will I see you again? When will I hug you and tell you about what hap­pened and tell you, Bu­lus [Re­nia’s nick­name for her mother], how

ter­ri­ble I’m feel­ing? And you will tell me, “Don’t worry, Renuska!” Only you can say my name in such a warm, ten­der way.

Mamma, I’m los­ing hope. I stared into those burn­ing can­dles—Mamma, what are you do­ing there? Are you think­ing about us, too, about our torn hearts?

We see the boys out in town. We’re close. We see Maciek al­most every day. Zy­gus walked back from school with us to­day. He looked right at me. He has very pow­er­ful eyes and I went red in the face and didn’t say any­thing. We’re planning to go to a party soon—will I have fun? Nora is more likely to have fun than I am, since some­one is in love with her. I don’t be­lieve in any­thing. Un­less Bu­lus comes?

Oc­to­ber 19, 1940

We sat op­po­site each other at the Rus­sian club this week. He stared at me, I stared at him. As soon as I turned my eyes away from him, I could feel his eyes on me. Then, when he said two words to me, I felt crazy, filled with hope. I felt as if a dream was com­ing true, as if the gob­let was right by my lips.

But the gob­let’s still far away. A lot can hap­pen be­fore lips touch lips. So many things can hap­pen to stop them from touch­ing. This is the clos­est I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced to real love, be­cause my vic­tim is ac­tu­ally look­ing at me and say­ing two words. (By the way, Holen­der’s get­ting mar­ried!! Well, I’m not in­ter­ested in him any­more. I haven’t been for a while.)

Oc­to­ber 23, 1940

This is a com­pe­ti­tion week, so I’m think­ing about that more than about Zy­gus. I haven’t been lucky with him, but if all else fails, I’ll al­ways have you!

Novem­ber 6, 1940

I won first place in the com­pe­ti­tion! Zy­gus con­grat­u­lated me. He was sim­ply beau­ti­ful. All my hopes re­ver­ber­ated in me. Oh, what a tri­umph.

Then I went to that wretched party. I stood there on my own while Nora was danc­ing. I left. I walked through the wet streets, try­ing not to cry loudly. I thought: “This evening I won on the spir­i­tual level, but I lost in life.” I vowed I would never go to a party again. But no, I will! Shy or not, I need to win in this other arena. Even if it means my soul will lose, let life win!!!

Novem­ber 18, 1940

To­day I’m un­der the spell of a film called Young Pushkin. Pushkin is my new hero. I’m start­ing to won­der if maybe it’s bet­ter to be fa­mous than happy af­ter all.

When Pushkin was in high school, he didn’t study at all. He went on ren­dezvous with the other kids, went on moon­light walks on fra­grant nights, picked white wa­terlilies for his lover. He pined, dreamed, loved. Pushkin! One ut­ters his name with rev­er­ence.

But I could never be­come fa­mous like that. I’ve been like a street urchin for four years now. All I see are gray, cracked cob­ble­stones and cracked, thirsty lips. I don’t see the sky, be­cause the sky is just a moldy, dusty scrap of clouds. All I see are ashes and soot that choke, that cor­rode the eyes, that sti­fle breath­ing. No revo­lu­tion will ever be able to fix this. Noth­ing will.

[Later that day]

My ro­mance seems to be over. What a stupid, crude, ar­ro­gant id­iot. He likes play­ing with me. But you know what? He’s not worth writ­ing about.

Novem­ber 20, 1940

I’ve had my re­venge to­day. I wrote him an of­fen­sive poem. He got an­noyed. Now he’ll leave me alone. I can’t stand him. “Rhymester” is what he called me to­day. I wish I were dead! No, it doesn’t mat­ter. I’m so low . . . so very low.

De­cem­ber 8, 1940

Sud­denly, I love him like crazy. Just think, ev­ery­thing was about to go dor­mant and to­day it sprung back to life. Noth­ing hap­pened—but still so much!

Have I lost my mind? I’m wan­der­ing around, day­dream­ing, ru­mi­nat­ing.

He played with my hood, stroked it, came closer! Won­der­ful Zy­gus, won­der­ful, so won­der­ful!!!

Hey, let’s drink our wine

Let’s drink from our lips

And when the cup runs dry

Let’s switch to drink­ing blood Want­ing and yearn­ing

In­spi­ra­tion and love burn­ing

Let them start a fire

Let rage burn like pyre

But remember, girl, that flames travel in your veins that blood can burst you from in­side Want­ing and yearn­ing

In­spi­ra­tion and love burn­ing

Let them start a fire

Let rage burn like pyre

Both wine and lips are red

One life be­fore you are dead

Our hearts are hun­gry, young, on fire Only for each other beat.

Remember, girl, that flames travel in your veins

De­cem­ber 10, 1940

You know, when I see Zy­gus, I have this bliss­ful, pleas­ant feel­ing that’s un­pleas­ant at the same time. Some­thing par­a­lyzes me. Ah, that id­iot, if he only knew how much I love him. There’s an in­vis­i­ble thread con­nect­ing us. It can break, but no . . . If we could re­ally be to­gether, it would be won­der­ful and ter­ri­ble at the same time! I don’t know. I have no idea what’s hap­pen­ing to me.

De­cem­ber 25, 1940

It was your birth­day yes­ter­day. Bu­lus. This was the sec­ond birth­day of yours that we didn’t spend to­gether. When will this tor­ture fi­nally end?! My long­ing gets stronger, I feel worse and worse. Some­times I feel so empty that it’s like my life is al­most over— when, in fact, my life is just be­gin­ning. I can’t see any­thing ahead of me. There’s noth­ing, just suf­fer­ing and fight­ing, and it’s all go­ing to end in de­feat. I laugh dur­ing the day­time, but it’s just a mask (peo­ple don’t like tears).

De­cem­ber 28, 1940

Zy­gus is go­ing to be in the va­ri­ety show! In fact, he and I are go­ing to be in the same scene, read­ing from the same page. Irka says he lis­tened ad­mir­ingly when I sang cou­plets. (I thought the op­po­site, but oh well!)

When we headed to class, he took my hand! It felt like my hand didn’t quite be­long to me. Or it did, but it felt to­tally dif­fer­ent from my other hand. Some very nice shivers went up and down it. Ear­lier, when he was stand­ing there read­ing his part, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his won­der­ful red lips, I’m em­bar­rassed to ad­mit.

De­cem­ber 31, 1940

New Year’s Eve! We put on the va­ri­ety show. I got a great re­sponse from the au­di­ence. Back­stage, Zy­gus took my cape off and un­tan­gled my hair. He’s so won­der­ful, divine, so charm­ing. When I was about to leave, he ran up to me and asked if I would go to a party with him tomorrow. It was so ex­cit­ing; I told Nora ev­ery­thing. But she and Maciek aren’t so close any­more, so she en­vies me. I feel sorry for her.

To­day is the last day of 1940. Tomorrow is the be­gin­ning of a new year, which will bring new re­grets, new laugh­ter (per­haps), new wor­ries, new strug­gles. My dear­est wish is to get my poor beloved mamma back. I also wish for good po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions and for “some­thing” to hap­pen with Zy­gus. I want this new year to be cheer­ful and happy.

Jan­uary 3, 1941

So how was the party? Ev­ery­thing was sweet. What was the best mo­ment? Was it when he spoke to me while we were danc­ing? Or when he draped his arm around me as I stum­bled dur­ing a waltz? Or when he smiled won­der­fully and asked, “Re­nia, why are you run­ning away from me?” He smelled so amaz­ing! And when he touched me ... brrr ... ah ... so great! So sweet, so good! We sat and talked to­gether. What an evening.

It’s been snow­ing all day long. But I’d go through any bliz­zard, snow­storm, hur­ri­cane, down­pour with him—as long as we were to­gether. My won­der­ful, my golden boy, my lover. I have to fin­ish a pa­per to turn in tomorrow, but I just want to see Zy­gus. I’m go­ing crazy. And at the same I don’t want to see him, be­cause I’m so scared that some­thing will go wrong, that this won­der­ful, sweet, fra­grant mem­ory will get spoiled.

Jan­uary 9, 1941

To­day a ball hit my won­der­ful, dear Zy­gus on the jaw; it was so bad he crouched down in pain. My poor dar­ling! Af­ter­ward, I told him I’d been up­set dur­ing the match. He asked, “Why?” I said, “Just be­cause.” He per­sisted: “Why?” I said, “I was just up­set. Let me be!”

He was up­beat the whole time, mum­bling some­thing in Yid­dish. He’s planning to study medicine and he said, “Re­nia, what are we go­ing to do next year? You’ll come to Lwow and we’ll study to­gether.” If only Mamma were here—I could eas­ily count these days as my hap­pi­est so far. (He’s only just slightly naughty, not like other boys, who are vul­gar.)

Fe­bru­ary 20, 1941

I dreamed about Mamma all night long. Zy­gus and I were res­cu­ing her, look­ing for her in War­saw. To­day I re­mem­bered all those painful, burn­ing things. I’m wor­ried about the week­end; things al­ways go wrong then. Help me, God Almighty. Help me, my one and only true friend, my won­der­ful, dis­tant and close Mamma ...

Fe­bru­ary 26, 1941

I shouldn’t doubt him any­more. Didn’t he ask me to­day, so sweetly, if I was go­ing to the club? Didn’t he come only be­cause I was go­ing, too? Didn’t he carry my school bag and help me down the stairs? Didn’t he wait out­side the school? When I shared my hal­vah with him, he took a piece with­out ask­ing—it was so in­ti­mate. But do you know what I like think­ing of the most? A sweet mo­ment when my Zy­gus bought me a bagel and put a piece of it into my mouth. Apart from the sweetness, there was some­thing so mas­cu­line about it, so hus­band-like.

Mamma and you, won­der­ful God, lead me.

March 7, 1941

To­day af­ter class, he pushed me (gently) against a wall and brought his lips close to mine. He said, “What shall I do with those eyes?” I told him to get me sun­glasses. He asked why I was so evil. I said, “What, Zy­gus? I am evil?” He took my hands and re­peated sweetly no, no, no! And he asked about my plans for tomorrow.

I feel strange. I might go to his place. Will it all work out, at least a lit­tle bit? I pray to God and Bu­lus. I ask you earnestly to take care of me.

March 18, 1941

Zy­gus picked me up at 6 p.m. to­day. First we went to the So­cial­ist Club, then to Irka’s, then back home. It felt as though there was some­thing hang­ing be­tween us, some­thing elu­sive, some­thing un­spo­ken. I kept think­ing about an un­fin­ished sym­phony.

I’m barely able to con­trol my­self. I’m boil­ing, I’m broil­ing, I can barely stop my­self from . . . ah, I’m so shame­lessly vul­gar! Z. said, “I for­get about ev­ery­thing when I look into your eyes.” He made a lit­tle pout with his won­der­ful lips—so, so, so sweet! Will the sym­phony ever be fin­ished?

March 19, 1941

I’m feel­ing guilty. I can feel some­thing pow­er­ful swelling up in­side of me. I need to con­fess it to some­body or I’ll go crazy. All my senses are churn­ing:

I feel so fierce, so fierce with love hot blood is boil­ing in my veins

I am so drunk with close­ness hot-headed, dazed with de­sirous flames my senses send me writhing they’re ty­ing me, en­tan­gling

I know I’m like a beast

My self-re­spect has de­creased

I de­spise, I de­grade my­self so much

But still I un­der­stand that like a dog, like a wounded lynx, I can’t budge

My heart twitches, I howl in­side, agog in no time I will jump up and go sav­age shake ev­ery­thing off and snort and bel­low. Those red lips will by my lips get rav­aged.

I’m in a frenzy, my urge and fear are not mel­low I’m alive now, I’m not gone and I want . . .

I can’t go on . . .

This is dis­gust­ing, re­pul­sive, an­i­mal­is­tic.

March 28, 1941

To­day we went for a long walk. It was so good—we just talked, talked, talked. He told me we would go to the Riviera to­gether one day, some­where far away from other peo­ple, with “azure sky”—to which I added, “and azure sea”—and he fin­ished, “and azure eyes.” A long, friendly walk like this is per­haps even bet­ter than ... But what do I know?

April 27, 1941

Mamma, I’m so low. You know, some­times I find ex­cuses for Zy­gus. For ex­am­ple, he didn’t come to see me and I said it was just be­cause he was feel­ing shy (he is eas­ily em­bar­rassed!). To­day, poor, dear Granny made a clumsy at­tempt to help me feel bet­ter, but in­stead she only lac­er­ated my al­ready bleed­ing heart. It will take a while for it to heal. I don’t know why this day feels so dirty.

April 30, 1941

I am the un­hap­pi­est of un­happy peo­ple. Why did Zy­gus ar­range to take Irka to a party? Why does he want to spite me? You know, I’m go­ing to go any­way. I’ll let my­self be tor­tured. I can’t just give up al­to­gether.

May 10, 1941

Long live May! I’m feel­ing it again. We went to the movies and sat closely en­twined. Zy­gus likes to study my po­ems. He threat­ens that he’s go­ing to get them pub­lished. He’s gen­er­ally mar­velous and I love him! So much it chokes me up.

May 13, 1941

My whole life is swelling up in me, all 17 years of it. All my emo­tions are pil­ing up into one heap of dry leaves, and May is like fuel poured on that heap. And it’s grow­ing, grow­ing, just one spark and it will erupt, flames will burst high in the sky. Let the heart, brain, mind, body catch fire, let there be only con­fla­gra­tion

and heat—and de­sire for burn­ing, red-hot lips . . .

Have I lost my mind? There are only three days left un­til the end of term! I’m wan­der­ing around, day­dream­ing, ru­mi­nat­ing. I’m not study­ing for my ex­ams at all. I just can’t! Zy­gus’s eyes are green, but his lips are the most beau­ti­ful. Such amaz­ing lips!

May 18, 1941

I’ve had the most won­der­ful May evening. We climbed up high into the hills, along the paths. The San was flow­ing—pow­er­ful, glim­mer­ing, red in the sun­set. Our spir­its were so con­nected that I’m not sure any phys­i­cal con­tact could have brought us closer. It’s hard to even remember what we talked about. I only know that when I men­tioned some­thing about his rep­u­ta­tion, he replied, “So you wouldn’t want a fa­mous hus­band?”

I’m re­ally at a loss for words, so just pic­ture si­lence, green­ery, May, sun­set and fire­works, and the two of us, in love.

You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

June 11, 1941

Zy­gus passed his fi­nal school exam to­day! He was so won­der­ful to­day! Very, very ten­der and very dar­ling.

June 20, 1941

We had an­other won­der­ful evening. The stars started to emerge, and the moon floated up, and we sat next to each other and talked. When we left, it was dark; we couldn’t find the way. We got lost. It was all so sud­den and un­ex­pected and sweet and in­tim­i­dat­ing—he said, “Renuska, give me a kiss,” and be­fore I knew it, it hap­pened. He wanted more later, but I couldn’t, I was shak­ing all over.

Z. said, “We can do this again now, or tomorrow.” I feel so strange and nice. It was so light, elu­sive, ethe­real, del­i­cate. How did it hap­pen? No more now, I need to think and dream.

June 21, 1941

I love those green eyes. We kissed for the sec­ond time to­day. It felt so nice, but you know, it wasn’t

fiery or wild, but some­how del­i­cate and care­ful, al­most fear­ful—as if we didn’t want to ex­tin­guish some­thing that was grow­ing be­tween us. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

June 26, 1941

I can’t write. I’m weak with fear. War again, war be­tween Rus­sia and Ger­many. The Ger­mans were here, then they re­treated. Hor­ri­ble days in the base­ment. Dear Lord, give me my Mamma, save all of us who have stayed here and those who es­caped the city this morn­ing. Save us, save Zy­gus.

I want to live so badly. I’m hum­bling my­self be­fore you and beg­ging on be­half of us all. Tonight is go­ing to be ter­ri­ble. I’m scared. I be­lieve that you will hear me, that you won’t leave me in this aw­ful hour. You saved me be­fore, save me now. God, thank you for sav­ing me.

I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen to us. Al­most the whole city is in ru­ins. A piece of shrap­nel fell into our house. These have been hor­rific days. Why even try to de­scribe them? Words are just words. They can’t ex­press what it feels like when your whole soul at­taches it­self to a whizzing bul­let. When your whole will, your whole mind and all your senses hang from the fly­ing mis­siles and beg: “Not this house!” You’re self­ish and you for­get that the mis­sile that misses you is go­ing to hit some­one else.

Dear diary! How pre­cious you are to me! How hor­ri­ble were the mo­ments when I hugged you to my heart!

And where is Zy­gus? I don’t know. I be­lieve, fer­vently, that no harm has come to him. Pro­tect him, good God, from all evil. All of this started four hours af­ter the mo­ment he blew me the last kiss up to the bal­cony. First, we heard a shot, then an alarm, and then a howl of de­struc­tion and death. I don’t know where Irka and Nora are, ei­ther, where any­one is.

That’s it for tonight; it’s get­ting dark. God, save us all. Make it so Mamma comes and let there be no more mis­ery.

July 1, 1941

We’re all alive and well. All of us, Nora, Irka, Zy­gus, my friends, my fam­ily. Tomorrow, along with all the other Jews, I’ll have to start wear­ing a white arm­band. To you I will al­ways re­main the same Re­nia, but to oth­ers I’ll be­come some­one in­fe­rior: a girl wear­ing a white arm­band with a blue star. I will be a Jude.

I’m not cry­ing or com­plain­ing. I’ve re­signed my­self to my fate. It just feels so strange and sor­row­ful. My school va­ca­tion and my dates with Zy­gus are com­ing to an end. I don’t know when I’ll see him next. No news about Mamma. God pro­tect us all.

Good­bye, dear diary. I’m writ­ing this while I’m still in­de­pen­dent and free. Tomorrow I’ll be some­one else—but only on the out­side. And per­haps one day I’ll greet you as some­one else still. Grant me that, Lord God, I be­lieve in you.

July 3, 1941

Noth­ing new so far. We wear the arm­bands, lis­ten to ter­ri­fy­ing and con­sol­ing news and worry about be­ing sealed off in a ghetto.

He vis­ited me to­day! I thought I’d go mad with joy, and . . . con­fu­sion. He’s work­ing at the clinic, dress­ing wounds. He’s sweet and won­der­ful, as al­ways. It’s a shame he can’t go to uni­ver­sity now. He’d be an ex­cel­lent doc­tor. But he’ll be one any­way, you’ll see. We’ve ar­ranged to meet tomorrow at the clinic. It seems a lit­tle strange, but why not? Even now that we’re wear­ing these arm­bands—the thing is to be with him.

I want Bu­lus to come with my whole heart. God, bring Mamma, let her be with us for bet­ter and for worse. Zyg­munt’s won­der­ful. You will help me, Bu­lus and God!

Oc­to­ber 9, 1941

I was just with Mamma and it seemed so won­der­ful, so ex­tra­or­di­nary. For other girls, it’s nat­u­ral to spend time with their moth­ers. But then again, my mother is also dif­fer­ent. She’s like a friend, a peer. Now I’m back on the other side, long­ing for her again.

I be­lieve in God, in you and in Mamma. I be­lieve it will be like Zy­gus says. We’ll sur­vive this war some­how, and later . . . ah, will it re­ally be like he says?

I’m just one of mil­lions of girls walk­ing through this world—uglier than some, pret­tier than oth­ers, but still, dif­fer­ent from all of them. Zy­gus is also dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­one else. He’s so sub­tle and sen­si­tive. Mamma, why do you tell me I shouldn’t drown in his green eyes? Can’t you see I’ve al­ready drowned?

Novem­ber 7, 1941

Ghetto! That word is ring­ing in our ears. We don’t know what will hap­pen to us, where they’ll take us. We were ordered to leave our apart­ments be­fore 2 p.m. with 25 kilo­grams of pos­ses­sions. Maybe there will be a ghetto, but it seems that we will def­i­nitely have to move out of the main streets ei­ther way.

At 10:30 last night, sud­denly the door­bell rang, and who was there? The po­lice! I pressed my hands to my face then and I called you, oh God, and you heard me. It was a po­lice­man from our old vil­lage and he let him­self be bribed. I re­minded him of the good times, the friends, the rev­els, and some­how it worked. And now I’m ask­ing you, oh Great One, I’m ask­ing you—I, a speck of dust, I, with­out a father or mother here . . . lis­ten to my call!

Novem­ber 24, 1941

Bu­lus came on Fri­day and left to­day! She doesn’t like Zy­gus, maybe be­cause she’d rather he were Aryan. She warned me not to take this re­la­tion­ship too seri-

ously. It’s strange but af­ter those lec­tures, I feel that I’m grow­ing apart from him, that I just don’t like him and am afraid of him. Some­times Bu­lus is wrong, and she doesn’t know him. But some­times she’s right! Be­cause won’t his as­sertive na­ture—which I find so at­trac­tive now—tor­ment me one day? Won’t he do what­ever he pleases with me and with him­self ? Won’t some Halina or Lidka poi­son my life? It would be all over then. I’d only have one more home to look for­ward to: the grave.

Why am I so an­gry, re­ally? Is it be­cause of what Bu­lus said? No, I do still want him to be my hus­band. Mamma says you mustn’t want any­thing that much be­cause you might not get it. I think per­haps God will lis­ten to my heart­felt, girl­ish re­quest. Yes, may it hap­pen! God, may my dreams keep com­ing true. I’ll be so ap­pre­cia­tive. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

Novem­ber 26, 1941

Af­ter Bu­lus left, I dreamed I had an all-night ar­gu­ment with Zy­gus. I don’t even know what I was an­gry about. Z. was very sweet and ten­der to­day and I was an­noyed with my­self. Or maybe it’s like Mamma says. Maybe I will be un­happy. But am I ready to give up on my dream?

Jan­uary 19, 1942

It was his birth­day to­day. I gave him a col­lec­tion of po­ems and he was so touched! I didn’t know it would please him so much. I asked him what he’d like me to wish him. He said for us to sur­vive this war with­out split­ting up. Do I want that, too? I don’t want us to ever split up at all. As Z. put it, the po­ems con­nect us. How good that he un­der­stands this. Po­ems con­nect souls and el­e­vate love. God, thank you and may my dreams come true.

March 25, 1942

They are clos­ing our quar­ter; they are mov­ing peo­ple out of town; there are per­se­cu­tions, un­law­ful­ness. And on top of that—there’s spring, kisses, sweet ca­resses, which make me for­get about the whole world.

April 20, 1942

To­day is the Führer’s birth­day. I want to scream with all my might.

How can you be in love for 18 months? Ev­ery­thing is real, pul­sat­ing, seething with life and love and

youth. I feel as though I were rid­ing a char­iot or rac­ing into the wind and rain. I can’t catch my breath, I can’t find words. I might dis­solve in my own ten­der­ness, my own af­fec­tion. To­day I was re­ally ready to stran­gle him, but what would I do then? Zy­gus, I’m re­ally writ­ing this for you and you only! I’ve opened my heart to you and you’re so very dear to me! I’m happy, happy and light and . . . Dreams! Stupid, mad, won­der­ful dreams!

May 11, 1942

I spent the day with Nora to­day. Her at­ti­tude to­ward love is light, while mine is se­ri­ous. She says that will make me un­happy. Per­haps, but I know I can’t do it any other way. Af­ter our con­ver­sa­tion, I was ex­hausted and had a headache. And this ghetto, this sit­u­a­tion, this war. . . . You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

May 12, 1942

Some kind of fever has taken over the city. The specter of the ghetto has re­turned. I’m glad I’m cry­ing now, when no­body can see me. I shouted to­day, “Oh, God, I want the mo­ment to come al­ready when they take me away!”

No, I don’t want that! Lord, for­give me. But my soul was so em­bit­tered that I felt like maybe that would be for the best. Mamma writes us that chil­dren are be­ing taken away into forced la­bor. She told me to pack. She wants to be with us and at the same time she wants to send Daddy an of­fi­cial let­ter ask­ing for di­vorce.

They will never patch it up. Mamma will re­marry and I will never, ever again come to the door of my par­ents’ home. Her hus­band will be a stranger. And Daddy wrote to me that he was not sure if he would ever see me again! Daddy, you are an un­lucky Jew, just like me, locked away in the ghetto. Holy God, can you save me? Can you save them? All of them. Oh, please, work a mir­a­cle!

Life is so mis­er­able. But my heart still fills with sor­row, when I think . . . will I die? What awaits us in the fu­ture? Oh, God Almighty! So many times, I’ve asked you and you’ve lis­tened to me—please bring an end to our mis­ery. I feel bet­ter now; it’s so good to have a cry. Peo­ple say now food’s the most im­por­tant thing. I had a good, fill­ing din­ner—and I feel so ter­ri­ble. I’m not hun­gry, but I’m hun­gry for some­body’s car­ing pro­tec­tion.

And Zy­gus? Yes, that might be why I don’t want to say good­bye to life. Mamma, don’t hold it against me. You’re go­ing to have your own life now. You might even have more chil­dren. I didn’t re­ally count on us hav­ing a home to­gether in the fu­ture; I just had this timid, naive dream. I’m not re­ally dis­ap­pointed, I just looked around at the world and it scared me with its empti­ness.

And Mamma, so dear, will be with some man who is a stranger to me. I’m not cry­ing any­more. The man I will be with will be a stranger to her. Life brings peo­ple to­gether and then sep­a­rates them.

May 20, 1942

Yes­ter­day Z. came to pick me up from my job at the fac­tory and we walked out hold­ing hands. Or­chards are in blos­som, May is shin­ing with its blue skies and I’m shin­ing, too, with joy. I feel like his lit­tle daugh­ter and I like it oh so much!

May 23, 1942

Some­thing has been both­er­ing me ter­ri­bly the last few days. I know Nora is think­ing about what it’s go­ing to be like when my ro­mance ends. She’s ac­cus­ing me of tak­ing it too se­ri­ously and (does she have a clear­headed view of it?) she makes my heart ache. I know she doubts whether Z. re­ally loves me. I know it; I can feel it.

And Zy­gus some­times says some­thing with­out re­al­iz­ing it and it hurts me so badly. Some­times, when it both­ers me too much, I think about run­ning away. But when I hold him tightly, when he’s near, so very near, I feel I wouldn’t be able to part with him for all the trea­sures in the world. That would mean giv­ing up my soul.

Nora, you are wrong. You’re dif­fer­ent, but I’d be left with noth­ing.

When Z. is good to me, ev­ery­thing is good and bright and full of sun­shine. Such a shame the month is about to pass. The nights are filled with stars. They’re so in­fat­u­at­ing and I dream so much, I dream, I dream.

June 2, 1942

Now I know what the word ec­stasy means. It’s in­de­scrib­able; it’s the best thing two lov­ing crea­tures can achieve. For the first time, I felt this long­ing to be­come one, to be one body and . . . well . . . to feel more, I could say. To bite and kiss and squeeze un­til blood shows. And Zy­gus talked about a house and a car and about be­ing the best man for me.

Lord God, I’m so grate­ful to you for this af­fec­tion and love and hap­pi­ness! I’m writ­ing these words dif­fer­ently, whis­per­ing them in my mind so I don’t scare them away or blow them out. I don’t want to think about any­thing, I just want to de­sire so badly, so pas­sion­ately like . . . you know. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

June 6, 1942

I de­sire with every tiny bit of my body, my thoughts, my imag­i­na­tion. Even the most innocent book stirs me up. Ah, I strug­gle with such dis­gust­ing dreams. I haven’t seen Zy­gus to­day, he’s over­worked, tired and weak. It’s very lucky, be­cause right now I’m brim­ming with en­ergy. My greed for life makes me fierce. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

You’ve kept me safe from bul­lets and bombs, from grenades.

June 7, 1942

I’m at peace. Nora and I went for a long walk deep into the quar­ter and we talked. She was the first per­son I told. I re­al­ized that bur­den was what had been tor­ment­ing me. I felt at peace.

Wher­ever I look, there is blood­shed. Such ter­ri­ble pogroms. There is killing, mur­der­ing. God Almighty, for the umpteenth time I hum­ble my­self in front of you, help us, save us! Lord God, let us live, I beg You, I want to live! I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced so lit­tle of life. I don’t want to die. I’m scared of death. It’s all so stupid, so petty, so unim­por­tant, so small. To­day I’m wor­ried about be­ing ugly; tomorrow I might stop think­ing for­ever.

Think, tomorrow we might not be

A cold, steel knife

Will slide be­tween us, you see

But to­day there is still time for life Tomorrow the sun might be eclipsed

Bul­lets might crack and rip

And howl, pave­ments awash

With blood, with dirty, stinky slag, pig­wash To­day you are alive

There is still time to sur­vive

Let’s blend our blood

When the song still moves ahead

The song of the wild and fu­ri­ous flood Brought by the liv­ing dead

Lis­ten, my every mus­cle trem­bles

My body for your close­ness fum­bles

It’s sup­posed to be a throt­tling game, this is Not enough eter­nity for all the kisses.

June 14, 1942

It’s dark, I can’t write. Panic in the city. We fear a pogrom; we fear de­por­ta­tions. Oh God Almighty! Help us! Take care of us; give us your bless­ing. We will per­se­vere, Zy­gus and I, please let us sur­vive the war. Take care of all of us, of the moth­ers and chil­dren. Amen.

June 19, 1942

God saved Zy­gus. Oh, I’m be­side my­self. They were tak­ing peo­ple away all night long. They rounded up 1,260 boys. There are so many vic­tims, fathers, moth­ers, brothers. For­give us our tres­passes, lis­ten to us, Lord God! This was a ter­ri­ble night, too ter­ri­ble to de­scribe. But Zy­gus was here, my sweet one, sweet and lov­ing. It was so good; we cud­dled and kissed end­lessly. It re­ally was so de­light­fully pleas­ant that it was worth all the suf­fer­ing. But some­times I think it isn’t worth it, that a lov­ing woman has to pay too high a price. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

June 23, 1942

Yes­ter­day there was a kind of pogrom in our quar­ter. Bu­lus wrote and told me to leave the city with Zy­gus. She wrote “to­gether.” “To­gether”! It would be so de­light­ful, so sweet! Though it’s ab­surd for now. But nowa­days even the big­gest ab­sur­dity can come true.

June 27, 1942

Good, peace­ful, quiet, blessed Satur­day evening. My soul has calmed down. Why? Be­cause I snug­gled against him, he ca­ressed me and made me feel like his tiny lit­tle daugh­ter. I for­got ev­ery­thing bad. It’s a shame that Zy­gus is gone now. I could lie snug­gled against him for a long, long time.

June 29, 1942

Zy­gus tells me bad things. He tells me sweet things, too. I’m al­ways pret­tier af­ter­ward—with shin­ing eyes, with burn­ing lips and flushed cheeks. Zy­gus is also at his most beau­ti­ful then. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

July 5, 1942

We feared it and then it fi­nally hap­pened. The ghetto. The no­tices went out to­day. Sup­pos­edly, they’re planning to de­port half the peo­ple. Great Lord God, have mercy. My thoughts are so dark, it’s a sin to even think them.

I saw a happy-look­ing cou­ple to­day. They’d been

Help me sur­vive!

on an out­ing; they were on their way back, amused and happy. Zy­gus, my dar­ling, when will we go on an out­ing like theirs? I love you as much as she loves him. I would look at you the same way. But she’s so much hap­pier, that’s the only thing I know. Or per­haps—oh, Holy God, you are full of mercy—our chil­dren will say one day, “Our mother and father lived in the ghetto.” Oh, I strongly be­lieve it.

July 15, 1942

Remember this day; remember it well. You will tell gen­er­a­tions to come. Since 8 o’clock to­day we have been shut away in the ghetto. I live here now. The world is separated from me and I’m separated from the world. The days are ter­ri­ble and the nights are not at all bet­ter. Every day brings more ca­su­al­ties and I keep pray­ing to you, God Almighty, to let me kiss my dear mamma.

Oh, Great One, give us health and strength. Let us live. Hope is shriv­el­ing so fast. There are fra­grant flow­ers in front of the house, but who needs flow­ers? And Zyg­munt—I saw him from a dis­tance to­day, but he hasn’t come over yet. Lord, please pro­tect his dear head. But why can’t I cud­dle up next to him? God, let me hug my dear mamma.

July 16, 1942

You prob­a­bly want to know what a closed-off ghetto looks like. Pretty or­di­nary. Barbed wire all around, with guards watch­ing the gates (a Ger­man po­lice­man and Jewish po­lice). Leav­ing the ghetto with­out a pass is pun­ish­able by death. In­side, there are only our peo­ple, close ones, dear ones. Out­side, there are strangers. My soul is so very sad. My heart is seized with ter­ror.

I missed Zy­gus so much to­day. I thought about him all the time. I’ve longed so much for his ca­resses, no­body knows how much. Af­ter all, we face such a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

July 18, 1942

Days go by. They’re all the same, like drops of rain. Evenings are the most pleas­ant. We sit in the yard in front of the house, we talk, joke and—breath­ing in the fra­grance of the gar­den—I man­age to for­get that I live in the ghetto, that I have so many wor­ries, that I feel lonely and poor, that Z. is a stranger to me, that de­spite all my long­ing I can­not get closer to him.

Here, in the yard, doves coo. The moon’s cres­cent silently floats into the sky. I was on the verge of tears three times to­day. I blamed the liv­ing con­di­tions, but love can flour­ish any­where. And yet, shad­ows al­ways flit on my path. Where do those shad­ows come from? My heart aches so badly.

I don’t want to ask God for any­thing else, only for our sur­vival. I dream about put­ting my head on Mamma’s bo­som and cry­ing so sweetly. Mamma’s not here. Nora is, so I’ll go to her and cry my eyes out. She’s a dear soul, she’ll un­der­stand. I don’t want to see any other friends. Irka said she would stop by. What for? I can’t stand her. It’s all stupid, cal­cu­lated, con­trived. Bye, dear diary, my heart is heavy, like it’s made of lead. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

July 19, 1942

Zy­gus, my beloved Zy­gus, is my beat­ing heart again; he’s so de­light­fully sweet. The world is good to us, even in the ghetto. So to­day I’m much calmer. Now I will have sweet thoughts about ev­ery­thing! Tomorrow Nora is turn­ing 18. I’d like to give her some­thing more than an al­bum and flow­ers, some­thing no­body else will give her. I promised to buy her a won­der­ful cam­era when we leave here and to go hik­ing in the moun­tains, to make my friend happy. That would make me happy, too.

July 22, 1942

I have to write to si­lence the pain. Such a ter­ri­ble, grim time. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We ex­pect fam­i­lies to be taken away. Not a word from Mamma or Daddy. It’s not good with Zyg­munt, ei­ther. I re­ally didn’t want to ad­mit that I’m seething with venom. But I can’t stop my­self. I have tears in my eyes from grief and the tips of my fin­gers are tin­gling with anger.

I don’t want to write about the de­tails, as I might write surly, clam­or­ing words, and what’s the point? It will al­ways be the same. I’m re­sent­ful and help­lessly

in love. When I think about it, I get so fu­ri­ous that I don’t want to see him ever again. I’ve had enough of it all. I cover my ears with my hands and close my eyes. I’d like to use my suf­fer­ing to cre­ate suf­fer­ing, to make my­self ill.

But in my dreams, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent. My dreams are sweet. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

July 24, 1942

Dear God, help us. We need to pay our con­tri­bu­tion by 12 o’clock tomorrow. The city is in dan­ger. But I still have faith. My faith is deep and I beg you. You will help us, Bu­lus and God.

July 25, 1942

The Jewish Ghetto Po­lice came last night. We haven’t paid ev­ery­thing yet. Oh! Why can’t money rain down from the sky? It’s peo­ple’s lives, af­ter all. Ter­ri­ble times have come. Mamma, you have no idea how ter­ri­ble. But Lord God looks af­ter us and, though I’m hor­ri­bly fright­ened, I have trust in him.

I trust, be­cause this morn­ing a bright ray of sun­shine came through all this dark­ness. It was sent by my Mamma in a let­ter, in the form of a won­der­ful pho­to­graph of her. And when she smiled at me from the photo, I thought that Holy God has us in his care! Even in the dark­est mo­ments there is some­thing that can make us smile. Mamma, pray for us. I send you lots of kisses. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

In the evening!

My dear diary, my good, beloved friend! We’ve gone through such ter­ri­ble times to­gether and now the worst mo­ment is upon us. I could be afraid now. But the One who didn’t leave us then will help us to­day too. He’ll save us. Hear, O, Is­rael, save us, help us. You’ve kept me safe from bul­lets and bombs, from grenades. Help me sur­vive! And you, my dear mamma, pray for us to­day, pray hard. Think about us and may your thoughts be blessed. Mamma! My dear­est, one and only, such ter­ri­ble times are com­ing. I love you with all my heart. I love you; we will be to­gether again. God, pro­tect us all and Zyg­munt and my grandparents and Ari­ana. God, into Your hands I com­mit my­self. You will help me, Bu­lus and God.

Zyg­munt’s Notes

July 27, 1942

It’s done! First of all, dear diary, please for­give me for wan­der­ing into your pages and try­ing to carry on the work of some­body I’m not wor­thy of. Let me tell you that Renuska didn’t get the work per­mit stamp she needed to avoid be­ing de­ported, so she has to stay in hid­ing. My dear par­ents have also been re­fused work per­mit stamps. I swear to God and his­tory that I will save the three peo­ple who are dear­est to me, even if it costs me my own life. You will help me, God!

July 28, 1942

My par­ents were lucky to get into the city. They’re hid­ing at the ceme­tery. Re­nia had to leave the fac­tory. I had to find her a hid­ing place at any cost. I was in the city un­til 8 o’clock. I have fi­nally suc­ceeded.

July 29, 1942

The Ak­tion [mass de­por­ta­tion] was pre­vented be­cause of a dis­pute be­tween the army and the Gestapo. I can­not de­scribe ev­ery­thing that has gone on for the last three days. I have no en­ergy for that af­ter 12 hours of run­ning around the city. These events have shaken me to my core, but they haven’t bro­ken me. I have a ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult task. I have to save so many peo­ple with­out hav­ing any pro­tec­tion for my­self, or any help from oth­ers. This bur­den rests on my shoul­ders alone. I have taken Ari­ana to the other side.

July 30, 1942

To­day ev­ery­thing will be de­cided. I will gather all my men­tal and phys­i­cal strength and I will achieve my goals. Or I will die try­ing.

5 o’clock

At mid­day they took away our cards for stamp­ing (along with wives’ cards). I de­cided to risk my doc­u­ment, be­cause I thought it was my last chance to save Renuska. No luck! They threat­ened to send me to the Gestapo. Af­ter a lot of beg­ging, they fi­nally with­drew that threat. But that forgery cost me my job man­ag­ing mil­i­tary quar­ters. At 8 o’clock, I’ll find out whether or not I’m go­ing to stay.

In the night

Oh, gods! Such hor­ror! It was all for noth­ing! The drama lasted one hour. I didn’t get my card. Have I just slaugh­tered my­self?! Now I am on my own. What will hap­pen to me? I wanted to save my par­ents and Re­nia, but in­stead I just got into more trou­ble my­self. It looks like the end of the world is here. I still have hope.

July 31, 1942

Three shots! Three lives lost! It hap­pened last night at 10:30 p.m. Fate de­cided to take my dear­est ones away from me. My life is over. All I can hear are shots, shots shots. . . . My dear­est Renu­sia, the last chap­ter of your diary is com­plete.

Jan­uary 31, 1939 The Prze­mysl Ghetto, 1942

Ger­many and the USSR an­nexedPoland in 1939, re­duc­ing its ter­ri­tory (in­set). Nazi oc­cu­piers soon con­fined Pol­ish Jews in hun­dreds of ghet­tos. In July 1942, Re­nia was de­tained in the Prze­mysl ghetto; Nazis killed most of its res­i­dents or sent them to death camps.

A man stands as the mas­ter Over his vast Moth­er­landNazis forced Jews liv­ing on the Ger­man sideof Prze­mysl to cross the railway bridge over the San River andre­lo­cate to the Rus­sianoc­cu­pied side.

Re­nia in­ter­spersed her diary en­tries not only with po­ems but also with doo­dles, in­clud­ing dreamy teenage sym­bols like this heart be­ing un­locked with a key.

Re­nia with Zyg­munt Sch­warzer. “I’m now called Mrs. Sch­warzer all the time, even in front of Zyg­munt,” she wrote hap­pily in 1941.

Zyg­munt af­ter his lib­er­a­tion from Lager Buch­berg in Bavaria in the spring of 1945. Later in life, his son says, he ob­scured thetat­tooed num­bers onhis arm.

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