Teaching with the Diary

From October 1943 through April 1944, 14-year old Rywka Lipszyc recorded her thoughts, struggles, and hope for the future in her Lodz ghetto diary. The JFCS Holocaust Center has designed a full curriculum based around this remarkable diary text. Teaching with Rywka’s Diary offers students today a unique window into a personal experience of the Holocaust. At the same time, it addresses larger themes, such as racism, ghetto life, dehumanization, and resistance. The timeline below demonstrates how Rywka’s story fits into the larger chronology of Holocaust events.

This project is made possible in part by the generous support of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and the Holocaust Memorial Education Fund of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

Curriculum Sample

Teaching with Rywka’s Diary uses Rywka’s story to address the larger themes of the history of the Holocaust and patterns of genocide. It is designed for students in grades 8-12 that have received a background in the history of the Holocaust.

Many students can relate to Rywka as she struggles through the pitfalls of adolescence—finding her place in the world and negotiating her relationships with her family and friends. Similar to Anne Frank and other youth diarists of the Holocaust, Rywka used her diary as an outlet: to record her struggles and to maintain a sense of self.  Unlike many other diarists, Rywka devoted a significant amount of attention to matters of faith and her religious belief.

Rywka’s diary provides us with a portrait of life in ghettos: the sealed areas for exclusively Jewish residence established by the Nazis. Ghettos were a holding point for Jews before deportation, but they were above all a site where the Nazis perpetuated the key elements of their genocide: dehumanization, mass starvation, and murder.

Teaching with Rywka’s Diary Curriculum Sample >

To receive the complete Teaching with Rywka’s Diary curriculum, please contact Yedida Kanfer, Coordinator of Education Services (YedidaK@jfcs.org) Additional teaching materials on the Holocaust and Patterns of Genocide are also available.

Glossary

Auschwitz-Birkenau — a complex consisting of concentration, extermination, and labor camps in Poland. Auschwitz I was established in 1940 as a concentration camp, mainly for Polish prisoners. Auschwitz-Birkenau (or Auschwitz II), the extermination camp, began operation in 1942.

Chelmno — Beginning its operations in 1941 near Lodz, it was the first camp that used poison gas for mass murder. Victims were sealed in trucks and asphyxiated. An estimated 300,000 people were killed there, mostly Jews from Lodz and the surrounding areas, but also including Roma/Sinti, Poles, and Soviet POWs.

Dehumanization — An preliminary, but necessary, step towards genocide: stripping individuals of all dignity, by treating them as if they were not human.

Deportation — Forced relocation. During World War II groups of Jews were deported from their homes, first to ghettos and later from ghettos to concentration, slave labor, and extermination camps.

“Final Solution” — A code phrase referring to the Nazis’ systematic plan to murder the entire Jewish population of Europe.

Genocide — Defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention as an act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Ghetto — A quarter in a city, especially a thickly populated area, and often economically disadvantaged, inhabited by a minority group or groups. States and cities in Central and Eastern Europe had mandated Jewish residential segregation for centuries, but in the context of the Holocaust, the Nazis began to use ghettos as a tool in implementing the complete extermination of the Jewish population.

Holocaust — the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. The Nazis also targeted other minority and ethnic groups, such as Roma/Sinti, Poles, homosexuals, and peoples with disabilities.

Jewish Council/Judenrat — A council of Jewish “elders” appointed in many ghettos that was responsible for carrying out Nazi directives.

Litzmannstadt — The German name that the Nazis gave to the city of Lodz in Poland. The name came from Karl Litzmann, a German general who occupied the city in World War I.

Lodz (pronounced Woodzh in Polish) — Location of the Lodz ghetto. The city was once referred to as “Lodzh” by the Yiddish-speaking Jews who lived in it.

Mein Kampf (My Struggle) — A book-length manifesto published by Hitler in 1925 that outlined his ideas, beliefs, and plans for the future of Germany based on an ideology of Aryan racial superiority.

Propaganda — Information used to manipulate public opinion, often false or misleading in nature.

Race — A group of persons, animals, or plants connected by common descent or origin. In the nineteenth century, many thinkers in Europe came to believe in the existence of “races,” or groups of people that were defined through their common language, history, religion, spirituality, and land. Nazi thought derived from the false belief that some of these races were on a higher evolutionary plane than others.

Resistance — the refusal to accept or comply with something; an attempt to fight back against a situation or condition.

Rumkowski, Mordechai Chaim (1877-1944) — The chairman of the Jewish Council in the Lodz ghetto. With his dictatorial style, Rumkowski was a controversial figure. He became known by his slogan that “our only path to survival is through work,” an argument that the importance of Lodz manufacturing to the German war effort would save the ghetto from premature liquidation. When the Lodz ghetto was finally liquidated in August 1944, Rumkowski was deported to Auschwitz and was killed there.

Spiritual Resistance — the attempt to maintain individual dignity and self-worth in the face of persecution and dehumanization.

Wartheland/Warthegau — the area of eastern Germany and western Poland annexed to the German Reich after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Yiddish — the everyday language that the majority of East European Jews spoke before the Holocaust. Yiddish has roots in Germanic and Slavic languages, as well as Hebrew.

 

Sources

Dobroszycki, Lucjan, ed. The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto 1941-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Horwitz, Gordon J. Ghettostadt: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Trunk, Isaiah. Lodz Ghetto: A History. Translated by Robert Moses Shapiro. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia [Online].

The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 1st ed. New Haven., CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Oral History Guide for Educators

Note: This guide is recommended for use with JFCS Holocaust Center’s Teaching with Rywka’s Diary curriculum. To request the complete Teaching with Rywka’s Diary curriculum, please email Coordinator of Education Services, Yedida Kanfer (YedidaK@jfcs.org).

“We look at this wonderful world, this beautiful spring, and at the same time we see ourselves in the ghetto deprived of everything…we don’t have the smallest joy, because, unfortunately, we’re machines with well developed animal instincts.”—Rywka Lipszyc

“Reactions in the ghetto were strange. They were not your norm. They were not the reactions you would expect out of a normal human being. You become callous, you become selfish, you become like a thing without feelings. Because it hurts too much to feel.”—Lucille E.

As young girls, Rywka Lipszyc and Lucille E. lived in the same 1.5 sq. miles of the Lodz ghetto. Did they know each other? Probably not. Yet the experience of Lucille E., who survived the war, helps us to shed further light on Rywka’s story.

What are “oral histories”?

Oral histories are testimonies of Holocaust survivors, recorded on audio and video tape. These personal stories provide us with an immediate way to grasp the horrors of the Holocaust, complementing the written words of diarists such as Rywka Lipszyc.

The oral history clips on this site are excerpts from testimonies in the JFCS Holocaust Center collection. They have now been digitized and will shortly be released as an integrated collection within the larger USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA). This website makes them available for the first time in their digital form.

Educators and students may use these clips for any appropriate Holocaust education project. However, each excerpt has been chosen to correspond to a particular lesson from the Teaching with Rywka’s Diary curriculum. Below, you will find a short description of each oral history clip and the corresponding lesson from the Rywka diary curriculum.

Lesson 1: Introduction

Oral history clip: Benjamin S. The city of Lodz was one of the industrial centers of Poland. Benjamin S. describes the industrial importance of the Lodz ghetto.

Lesson 3: The Ghetto

Oral history clip 1: Rivka S. “If you work good, nothing’s going to happen to you.” Rivka S. tells of her first impressions of the Lodz ghetto.
Oral history clip 2: Nathan M. Nathan M. describes everyday life in the Lodz ghetto.

Lesson 4: Dehumanization

Oral history Clip 1: Erwin L. “Humans were pulling the wagons.” Erwin L.’s first impressions of the Lodz ghetto.
Oral History Clip 2: Lucille E. Lucille E. tells of the ghetto’s impact on self and humanity.

Lesson 5: Spiritual Resistance

Oral history clip: Lucille E. “And we buried her: no tears, no prayers…” Lucille E. describes how the ghetto deprived individuals of dignity—both in life and in death. She then describes her response.

A PDF version of this guide may be downloaded here.

Industry in Lodz
The city of Lodz was one of the industrial centers of Poland. Benjamin S. describes the industrial importance of the Lodz ghetto.
First Impressions of the Lodz Ghetto
“If you work good, nothing’s going to happen to you”: Rivka S. tells of her first impressions of the Lodz ghetto.
Life in the Lodz Ghetto
Nathan M. describes everyday life in the Lodz ghetto
First Impressions of the Lodz Ghetto
“Humans were pulling the wagons”: Erwin L.’s first impressions of the Lodz ghetto.
Dehumanization in the Lodz Ghetto
Lucille E. tells of the ghetto’s impact on self and humanity.
Life in the Lodz Ghetto
“And we buried her: no tears, no prayers…” Lucille E. describes how the ghetto deprived individuals of dignity—both in life and in death.