One of the most moving accounts of life and death in a Jewish ghetto under Nazi occupation was written by Dawid Sierakowiak, a teenager from Lodz. Dawid recorded his diary in five notebooks, beginning a few months before the war and continuing through April 15, 1943. He wrote about a wide variety of subjects of importance to the ghetto residents as they struggled to survive the harsh conditions imposed by lack of food, medicine and other basic necessities.
Dawid experienced three pleasant surprises on February 19, 1943. He had recently been having a rough time, due mainly to his father’s recent injury, and these bits of good fortune helped to cheer him up – at least for a while. The first bit of good news came in the form of a newspaper report confirming that the German army had retreated from Kharkov. This major setback for Nazi Germany was evidence that they were losing the war. The second occasion for celebration came when Dawid received the news that his application for a loan had been approved. With his father temporarily unable to work, the loan was particularly welcome. The final bit of luck came when Dawid ran into an old school acquaintance. He described the situation in his diary.
“In the shop I noticed an old school friend of mine… Elek Opatowski, sitting by a table. The youth has become involved in all kinds of underground activities, and in the beginning of the ghetto he was famous as a tough guy and a golden lad of shady character. Nevertheless, he is a guy with a heart of gold, which he proved today. The moment I saw him, he was eating quite a piece of bread on which he was spreading lard… Without saying a word, he cut a piece of bread for me, spread lard on it, and literally forced me to eat it up. We had a long conversation, and when we were leaving the joint, he slipped 10 RM into my hand because he was moved by my situation and Father’s illness. ‘You’ll return it when you have enough.’ In a moment he was gone.”
Dawid was shocked by the generosity displayed by this young man who had a reputation as a tough person of low moral character. Dawid ended his diary entry hoping that he would someday be able to repay this kindness and with the observation that it was interesting how there were different kinds of people in the ghetto. Dawid was not the only writer to notice that people of sterling reputation often fell short of expectations, while moral heroes emerged unlooked for in the least likely places.
You may read more about Dawid Sierakowiak and how his diary came to be published on the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team website.
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