May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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One of the most recognized faces in the world is that of Anne Frank. Her father, Otto, was a well-to-do businessman who loved photography and took many pictures of his younger daughter and her winsome smile. She and her sister, Margot, didn’t survive the Holocaust after they were deported from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen. Otto had been too weak to leave Auschwitz on the forced death march. Ironically that, plus the will to live and reunite with his family, saved him.

We know about Anne from her diary. When the eight inhabitants in the top floor of the factory Otto owned were discovered on August 4, 1944, the policeman who led the arrest gathered the group’s cash and valuables. Seeing a briefcase, he dumped its cache of papers on the floor and used it to stash the looted items.

After the roundup, Otto’s employee Miepe Geiss, who had daily helped hide the eight Jews, snuck up to the attic. She had visited them often to supply them with food, news and books, and was aware of what the diary meant to Anne, the youngest member of the group. She gathered the scattered papers, which were the revised pages Anne had worked on, and saved them, hoping to return them to the spirited young girl who had spent a considerable amount of her life in crowded confinement. Otto, the only one in the group to survive the war, became the recipient.

Determined to fulfill his daughter’s wish for publication, he found a publisher, who then produced a limited number of books on very cheap paper. Paper had become a scarce and valuable commodity after the war. Little did anyone suspect that Anne’s diary would become a classic.

However, Anne was hardly the only girl to keep a diary during the Holocaust. One who is just becoming known is Rivka Lifshitz of Lodz. She kept a diary at the behest of a teacher in one of the ghetto’s secret schools.

These schools were risky, but education was so valued and people were so eager to have a means to forget about the multitude of miseries they were forced to endure, they attended. Parents also sent their children to school because despite the risks, it seemed a safer option than letting them out on the streets of crowded ghettos.

Not every student continued to maintain the diary beyond a few entries, but Rivka kept it for more than a year. She had lost her parents and other siblings and the ability to express her hopes, anger, frustrations and concerns must have served to comfort her.

Unfortunately, she too wound up in Bergen-Belsen. Born into a poverty-stricken but very religious home, she was better equipped to cope with hunger and cold than the Franks. Rivka survived until British soldiers liberated the camp where they encountered hills of corpses among those who were barely alive. Rivka was one of the latter, deemed too ill to be transported to Sweden where hospitals were available to try to save the inmates and restore them to health.

Somehow, however, Rivka was sent to a hospital in Germany.

That’s where the trail stops. Whether she survived remains an unsolved mystery. Had she lived, it’s more than likely that she would have reconnected with the Jewish community, given that in her diary, she expressed her spiritual nature and strong belief in God. When her teacher asked the student diarists to write about Zionism, Rivka revealed that she was dubious about leaving Poland, for fear that she would not be able to visit her parents’ graves.

However strange things happened after the Shoah. Rivka may have been nursed back to health by nuns and decided to convert or become a nun. Or she may have regained her health but lost her faith, married a British, American or Russian soldier, had children and never revealed that she was Jewish. Some did exactly that.

One can imagine many scenarios, but will we ever know the truth? We do not even know what Rivka Lifschitz looked like. If she was photographed, and she may never have been given that the family was both very poor and very religious, no photos of her have surfaced. In that sense, she is every unidentified girl who was among the 1.5 million children murdered in the Shoah.

As Tisha B’av approaches, we might remember the faceless girl who showed so much potential and promise despite the horrors she endured. And we might reflect on how many children and grandchildren she and others might have brought into the world to enrich us all. May she, no less than Anne Frank, live forever in our hearts.


Barbara Wind is a writer, speaker and Holocaust related independent scholar, curator and consultant.

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