Mary Berg was an American trapped in Poland during much of World War II. Though her mother was a U.S. citizen, she and her family were living in Poland when the war broke out on September 1, 1939. In October of that same year, Mary began keeping her diary. The next year, she was forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto. Though she witnessed the terrible conditions and many deplorable events, she was somewhat protected by her citizenship status. The possibility existed that her family might be exchanged for German POW’s, so she had a source of hope not available to the average ghetto dweller.
Mary was a keen observer and wrote about the many dangers that existed within the ghetto. She recorded outbreaks of epidemics and the constant deprivations that came from too little access to the basic necessities of life. There was little that escaped her observation in chronicling the enormous struggles of day to day life.
On February 27 1942, Mary wrote about one of the worst scourges of the ghetto; the random cruelty of some of the German soldiers guarding the ghetto entrances. “Shootings have now become very frequent at the ghetto exits. Usually, they are perpetrated by some guard who wants to amuse himself. Every day, morning and afternoon, when I go to school, I am not sure whether I will return alive. I have to go past two of the most dangerous German sentry posts… At the latter place there is usually a guard who has been nicknamed ‘Frankenstein,’ because of his notorious cruelty. Apparently this soldier cannot go to sleep unless he has a few victims to his credit; he is a real sadist. When I see him from a distance, I shudder.”
Clearly, the ghetto faced multiple problems. In addition to the conditions of starvation and sickness, people had to contend with the arbitrary nature of Germany’s rule. It gave permission to the occupying forces to indulge in sadistic cruelty on a whim and left no protection for those who would be its victims. Mary witnessed many examples and faithfully kept a record that we can use to understand this aspect of the Holocaust more clearly.
You may learn more about the diary of Mary Berg and also read excerpts here.
For a detailed exploration of the Warsaw Ghetto, you may visit the website of the Jewish Virtual Library.
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FORUM Using art, music and drama as part of Holocaust education
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