Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
The Lodz Ghetto
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak
Dawid's diary begins on 28 June 1939, just before his fifteenth birthday, and comes to an abrupt end on 15 April 1943. Dawid himself died later in August 1943, "presumably" of tuberculosis; however, many others in the ghetto (including his sister) would have to endure another full year of torment before the ghetto’s final liquidation and the deportation of the remaining Jews to Auschwitz.
Although we don’t know why Dawid stopped keeping his diary during the last four months of his life, the entries that he did write reveal the harshness and suffering the ghetto inhabitants faced almost daily. The text presents the reader with a sombre look into what it meant to exist in a community ravaged by never-ending starvation, constant fear, terrible sickness, and inevitable death.
In similar fashion to Anne Frank’s Diary, with which Dawid's diary is often compared, his writing presents events within the context of the times, and also offers the viewpoint of someone who was there when the events really happened, as seen through the eyes of a young boy desperately struggling to become a man.
Dawid was an astute young man with idealist Marxist beliefs of a utopian society, but his entries also reveal his more practical side - one of sharp indignation and protest at the many class divisions that existed amidst the ghetto hierarchy. When Dawid visits with the family of one of the ghetto “Big-Wigs” to tutor their children he comments:
“They eat better in the ghetto than my family did before the war,”
When served a thin, watery soup by that same family he writes:
“I wish I could burn up that whole gang!”
Dawid’s entries reveal his ever changing moods throughout his existence in the ghetto. Yet his writing still reflects his resolve and his determination to report on the plight of his people. In one entry, as the Germans begin deporting those deemed unfit to work, Dawid writes the following:
“Nobody knows what the Germans do with the children and those unable to work”
However soon after, when large numbers of Jews arrive in Lodz from Vienna and parts of Bohemia-Moravia, and they are not added to the labour force of the ghetto but instead are allegedly shipped to work camps near Poznan, Dawid comments:
The Diaries Live On
The diary was discovered by a Polish gentile, Waclaw Szkudlarek, who originally lived in one of the apartments that was evacuated to create the ghetto. Szkudlarek only returned to his home after the Russians liberated the city five years later. It was then, as he prepared to light the iron stove with some paper trash, that he came across the pile of notebooks lying nearby.
Szkudlarek told officials documenting the history of Nazi crimes in Lodz.
“Someone must have been using them to keep the fire burning because many pages were torn out. They contained stories, poems and other notes. ”
At least two of the notebooks that Dawid kept as his diary have been lost. It is believed they were burned by occupants of the apartment during the winter of 1945 when there was no heating fuel available in the devastated city.
The first two notebooks were published in Poland in 1960, edited by Holocaust scholar Lucjan Dobroszycki, himself a survivor of the Lodz ghetto. In 1967 a leading Lodz journalist, Konrad Turowski, purchased the three surviving notebooks and was preparing then for publication when an outbreak of anti-Semitism under the then Communist regime in Poland blocked the publication. Years passed before a full version of all five surviving notebooks was finally published and made available to the public.
Alan Adelson, in association with various Jewish groups in Poland, Israel and the USA, managed to compile and edit a comprehensive version of the texts as translated by Kamil Turowski.
Passages from the Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak:
Wednesday, 26 July 1939-Lodz.
We arrive after six in the morning. I take the luggage, and “under fire” from a terrible downpour, I go to a street-car with my heavy bag. On the way I meet Mom. God, what Joy! At home the same with father and sister. I eat, go to bed, and sleep almost all day.
Tuesday, 22 August 1939-Lodz.
Terrible, interesting, strange news! The Germans are concluding a twenty-five year nonaggression pact with the Soviets! What a turnabout! What a capitulation of Nazi ideology! The Soviets apparently do not want to interfere in European politics…
Friday, 15 December 1939-Lodz.
Worse and worse. Last evening Jews were thrown out of several places in the Baluty district and were deported to the Reich. Nobody knows what happened to them or exactly where they are. Everyone everywhere has their backpacks ready, packed, with underclothes and essentials, everyone is extremely nervous.
Sunday, 6 April 6 1941–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
I’m beginning a new notebook of my diary, and thus dare to express the wish that it will become the start of a new, brighter, and better period in my life than the one I covered in the preceding notebook. That seems just another pipe dream though. In spite of a gorgeous, (and expensive) holiday food ration the situation remains as tragic as before… There is no hope for improvement.
Sunday, 15 June 15 1941–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
The sadist-moron Rumkowski is doing horrible things. He fired two teachers, Communists, from their jobs. The overt reason: They organized resistance among teachers against the installation as commissioner –Superior Principal- Mrs. Weichselfisz. The probable reason: alleged communist activities in the school….
Monday, 18 August 1941–Litzmannstadt Ghetto –Lodz
Our grades were read to us. I got the best grade in the class: all A’s and B’s. But what good are they when I’m still hungry and keep feeling so terribly exhausted?...
Tuesday, 30 September 1941–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
A transport of deportees from Lubranciec near Wloclawek and from Brzesc Kujawski arrived at our former school building. They look great, have luggage, and say they used to live well. What’s interesting is that they know practically nothing about the conditions in this place, and show a considerable degree of optimism. They are in good humour and even make jokes. They are mostly women of various ages. All their men in their prime or boys are in work camps. Lubraniec residents wear a triangle patch on their backs, while others big Magen Dawids on their left breast. You can see that we have been marked in various ways. They say they have brought a lot of food with them, but the Jewish police stole it from them. In any case, they’ve been treated like cattle. Of course the sick, children, and old people have been driven to hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the aged, but the rest are lying in empty houses on straw mats provided by the administration or on their own bedding. They complain about food and drink, yet if everybody in the ghetto had meals like the ones they’ve been given to eat, there wouldn’t be so many fresh graves in the cemetery and such horrible-looking people. I talked to them for over an hour and came to the conclusion that these people have won two years of the war and haven’t experienced the worst yet.
Wednesday, 18 March 1942–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
Our bread ration has been reduced, and vegetables don’t arrive anymore. Hunger is ever more terrifying. The less there is to eat, the more the people talk about covered tables and reminisce about the good old days before the war. At work the only topic of conversation is: food we had before the war. Nadzia was told to come to Chopin Street to work in the leather workshop. She will probably start on Sunday.
Thursday, 26 March 1942–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
Rumkowski posted announcements cautioning against believing rumours that say the deportations have stopped, because they are continuing. Again total confusion. The deportations are in progress, while the workshops are receiving huge orders, and there is enough work for several months.
Tuesday, 28 July 1942–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
The daily ration of bread has been reduced again! The mood in the ghetto is horrible. To make matters worse, there are no vegetables, and the soup in the workshop is awful. Even though a new ration of sausage and meat (10 dkg per person) has been issued, it doesn’t console anyone. There is no political news. Constant hopelessness, stifling silence.
Tuesday, 1 September 1942–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
The first day of the new year of the war brought horrible news early in the morning that all the hospitals in the ghetto were being emptied by the Germans. In the morning all the areas around the hospitals were surrounded by guards and all the sick, without exception, were loaded onto trucks and driven out of the ghetto. Because we already know from the stories told by those brought into the ghetto how the Germans “deal with the sick” a great panic has risen in the city. Scenes from Dante took place when the sick were being loaded. People knew that they were going to their deaths! They even fought the Germans and had to be thrown onto the trucks by force…
People are already beginning to fear for their children and the elderly…
Tuesday, 1 December 1942–Litzmannstadt Ghetto –Lodz
The last month of 1942. Dreams of the war ending this year belong to the past now. We are up to our ears in winter, which has barely begun. Father has finally received an official dismissal statement from the Leder-und-Sattler. Tomorrow I will try to get him a job assignment. Maybe this time it will work out?
Wednesday, 24 February 1943–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
Today I was tormented with shame at the office because of my black hands. However I slept well and had no itching all night. The hunger is intensifying at home. We don’t have any food left from the latest ration and our soups are really meagre. I told Nadzia to buy an additional 40 dkg of sauerkraut for 6.40 RM. The hundred RM I received from the Bande have already been used up, and I’ve made the first bite into the 80 from the loan. Father is feeling much worse, and there is no help for us from anywhere. Bande hasn’t yet acted on my application for a food coupon for father.
Saturday, 13 March 1943 –Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
Nadzia bought the rations today, so there is a bit of food to give us a dose of new strength. I limp again very badly because under my right knee I’ve got a lot of scabs with some matter under them. The fever has eased up a bit. I’ve noticed that I feel better outside, getting some exercise, than cooped up in a closed room…
The final entry from Dawid’s Diary:
Thursday, 15 April 1943–Litzmannstadt Ghetto–Lodz
It turns out that, indeed, Moniek had asked Mrs. Wolkow for a job in the bakery for me and she settled it favourably with the president “in a moment of his grace and good mood”. Moniek has promised me that he will try to arrange a laundry coupon for us so that we can wash our clothes.
Meanwhile, I am completely sick, and I have a high fever. I bought a Bayer medication for the flu, fever, and cold, for Nadzia and me. Nadzia stays in bed, and I think she will remain there for another day or two.
Mrs. Deutsch came to see me today. She’s been assigned to cook Matzoh. It is very fortunate for her, since she looks as if she were dead, and she was in seventh heaven hearing about my probable bakery job. I think she is the most devoted friend I have in the ghetto, or anywhere else for that matter.
In the evening I had to prepare food and cook supper, which exhausted me totally. In politics there’s absolutely nothing new. Again, out of impatience I feel myself beginning to fall into melancholy. There is really no way out of this for us.
Dawid died 4 months later on 8 August 1943
The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak Oxford University Press Alan Adelson (Editor) The Jewish Heritage Project and Kamil Turowski
The Lodz Ghetto Compiled by Alan Adelson & Robert Lapides Penguin Books
Posters: Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH). Translations by MVL
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2007