Monday, December 13, 2010
The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto 2007 An annotated, revised edition with a new introduction
Mary Wattenberg first published this diary in the United States in 1945 as Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, shortening her last name to Berg presumably to protect the privacy of her family. She had just turned 15 years old when she wrote her first entry in October of 1939 from Warsaw. She wrote her last entry at the age of 19 ½ in March of 1944 when she, along with her parents and sister, were on board the ship that took them to America. Because her father had been a wealthy art dealer in Lodz, but primarily because her mother had been born in America, Mary and her family were able to survive in the ghetto without extreme deprivation, and to make it to America. Of course ingenuity and luck also helped the family survive intact.
Mary Wattenberg at one point said that she had hoped to be a novelist. Her writing talent is evident throughout the diary where she describes in vivid detail the life of the ghetto and its social structure. A lot of the time she is proud of what she reports. She writes that in large part the Jewish community pulled together and operated within the ghetto as a community, defying the Nazi orders when possible. They organized underground schools, smuggled in goods to augment the little they had, did what they could to help the destitute, kept each other informed by circulating banned newspapers and the news from banned but hidden radios, and created vibrant cultural institutions.
But she also reports quite candidly about the chasm between rich and poor, and who within the Jewish community had power and who didn’t. There were governing bodies whose members gave out jobs, jobs that ghetto residents hoped would protect them from deportation. Jobs went to those who were well connected or who had the money to bribe officials. But in the end, access protected very few. Many died doing back-breaking labor. Others were deported to the death camps when the Gestapo decided they didn’t need them anymore.
Wattenberg describes in horrifying detail the deteriorating conditions from year to year. Each year she wrote a special entry about what she did on her birthday, comparing the previous birthdays in the ghetto to the one she’s writing about at the moment. Much of diary consists of the graphic details of what she witnessed when she watched the streets from her apartment window and when she made frightening forays into the streets to go to classes or to meet with friends.
Wattenberg felt guilty that her father’s money and her mother’s status offered her family a measure of protection. Eventually they became part of a contingent of ghetto residents with American, British and South American passports (many forged or bought) who were exchanged for German prisoners-of-war. Miraculously, they left on the train out of the Warsaw ghetto one day before the start of the ghetto uprising which, though valiant in its effort, brought death to most of those who were still in the ghetto.
Publishing history: In the diary Mary Berg despairs. She wonders where the foreign correspondents are. Why is no one reporting on what’s going on? Where are the Allies? She wrote the diary in Polish in an abbreviated form so that if it were seized it would not reveal itself for what it was. S.L Schneiderman, a fellow Polish Jew already in the United States, met her when she arrived and helped her reconstruct her diary. A Yiddish version was serialized in a Yiddish periodical; the English translation was published in 1945 before the war was over and gained a lot of publicity. In the 1950’s it fell out of print. This 2007 edition brings back into circulation an important memoir written by a prisoner of the Warsaw Ghetto.
This edition includes the original introduction written by S.L. Schneiderman as well as a new and informative introduction by Susan Pentlin. There is also a helpful timeline and an index. .
To read an article that discusses the evolution of the publication of the diary and its reception, written on occasion of the publication of this recent edition, click here.
To read a short history of the Warsaw Ghetto and to follow other relevant links, click here.
To read a New York Times article published on 11/10/14 about the disposal of some of Mary Berg's effects click here.
Shya and Lena Wattenberg – author’s parents
Mary Wattenberg (Berg) – daughter of Shya and Lena; author
Anna Wattenberg – daughter of Shya and Lena
Abe – Lena’s brother
Percy – Lena’s brother; married to Lucia
Felicia Markusfeld – a cousin
Friends and Acquaintances in the Warsaw Ghetto
Edzia Piaskowska – married Zelig Zylberberg
Roman Kantor – Edzia’s uncle by marriage
Romek Kowalski - relative of Engineer M. Lichtenbaum listed below
Marysia Kowalski – sister of Romek
Marysia Eisenstadt (daughter of director of ghetto symphony orchestra)
The brothers Leibermann (nephews of Max Leibermann)
Eva Grynberg – Haniek’s sister
Julia Tarnowska – his daughter
Jewish officials and other personnnel in the Warsaw Ghetto mentioned, some with only title and last name:
Colonel Szerynski, Hendel, Lejkin, Firstenberg, Commissar Szternfeld, Ganewajch, Roland Szpunt, Szajer (has son Tadek), Engineer Stickgold, Professor Hilf, Professor Griefenberg, Professor Engineer Goldberg, Janusz Korczak ( ) Engineer Czerniakow, Engineer Jaszunski, Abraham Gepner, Vera Gran, Engineer Mieczyslaw and Marek Lichtenbaum, Professor Kellerman, Engineer Plonskier, Engineer Sapoczynski, Kohn and Heller, Rigelski, Dr. Poznanski, Kramsztyk, Gepner, Police Commissioners Leikin and Czerniakow, Rumkowski (Lodz), Dr. Miechowski (Treblinka), Mr. Rakow, Mrs. Minc, Police Captain Hertz, bakers Epstein and Wagner, Blajman, Mr. Przygoda, Administrator Chaskelberg, First, Erlich, and Markowicz
People with Mary in the Vittel Internment Camp
Those active in publishing Mary Berg’s memoir and their family members mentioned in the acknowledgements and in Susan Pentlin’s introduction
Samuel L. Schneiderman – married to Eileen Szymin
Ben Schneiderman and Helen Sarid – their children
David Seymour – brother of Eileen Schneiderman
Sylvia Glass Goldfrank
Walter and David Goldfrank – her sons
Warsaw ghetto, Poland
Lodz ghetto, Poland
Cracow ghetto, Poland
Lublin ghetto, Poland
Treblinka Concentration Camp, Poland
Majdanec Concentration Camp, Poland
Pawiak prison, Poland
Vittel Internment Camp, France