Josh had Friday off for semester break and we were looking for something inside to do since the weather was crummy. I had seen that a new exhibit was arriving at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum and asked him if he would like to attend the opening of The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Łódź Ghetto at the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee with me. He just finished studying the Holocaust in American History class and was eager to see this new exhibit.
How long will The Girl in the Diary be at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum?
The exhibit opened January 24th, 2020 and will remain until May 17th, 2020. It is being shown for a little longer than the usual exhibits.
Where did The Girl in the Diary Exhibit come from?
The exhibit is on loan from the Galicia Museum in Kraków, Poland. Its arrival in Milwaukee marks the first time it has been shown in the United States.
Where did the diary come from?
When Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, a Soviet doctor found a 112-page notebook in the rubble. She brought the diary home with her and it remained in an envelope for over 60 years and changed hands several times.
When the doctor’s granddaughter took possession of the diary, she went about having it translated. The translation revealed that it was the diary of a 14-year-old girl written over a six month period while she was living in the Łódź Ghetto between October 1943 and April 1944. It provides insight into a place and period that not a lot was known about.
What makes up The Girl in the Diary Exhibit?
Friday was the first day the exhibit was open so there was a tour available that isn’t a regular thing. We were very fortunate to be able to take the tour as our tour guide was FABULOUS and really helped to bring the exhibit to life. The exhibit is divided into three sections (which are clearly numbered).
The first section of the exhibit shows where the Łódź Ghetto was and reviews the events that led to its creation via newspapers and maps.
The second part of the exhibit features excerpts from Rywka’s diary recreated and illuminated on a large table. Between diary translations are artifacts from the ghetto and concentration camps. Photos are projected on the walls, alternating between “official” German propaganda photos and photos that were taken secretly by residents of the ghetto. This section of the exhibit really brings home the human aspects of the Holocaust. Seeing the faces of the families that lived in the Łódź Ghetto is painful, as it should be. Hearing the voice of 14-year-old Rywka come through in the diary translations makes the experience even more human.
The last section of the exhibit explores what may have happened to Rywka. I won’t spoil the ending by saying too much about it because the exhibit walks you through the different theories and the evidence that came to light years later to either support or contradict those theories.
Should kids attend The Girl in the Diary Exhibit?
In my opinion – yes. As more and more years pass between the Holocaust and present day, we lose more and more of the people who survived to bear witness to the atrocities that took place. We are in danger of the next generation seeing the Holocaust as just an event that they read about in school. We need to make a conscious effort to make sure that the humanity is not lost in the retelling of the stories of these people, the victims. Stories like Rywka’s can keep that from happening. In the same way that The Diary of Anne Frank shone a light on what it was like for an adolescent girl to live in hiding, Rywka’s diary shines a light on life in the ghetto.
One of the things I really love is that the museum gives attendees the opportunity to respond to what they have experienced while they are there. There are opportunities to create videos in the main part of the museum as well as a chance to respond in writing within the Diary Exhibit.
I highly encourage anyone who is able to visit the exhibit. If you are not able to, you can read a translation of Rywka’s diary in the book The Diary of Rywka Lipszyc. (I grabbed a copy at the museum but haven’t read it yet.) Learn more about the exhibit and the Jewish Museum on their website.