Mary Berg: October 15, 1939

Mary Berg kept her diary throughout almost all of the years of World War II. Her first entry was written on October 10 1939, less than six weeks after the German invasion of Poland. The last entry was composed in March of 1944 as her ship of escape brought her to New York harbor and freedom in the United States. In between, she recorded the terrible events she witnessed and experienced in Poland under the persecution of the Nazi regime. Her diary is one of the few to offer a first-hand account that spans such a lengthy period.

On October 15 1939, Mary wrote one of her first diary entries. Her family had been in Lodz at the beginning of the war, but had fled to Warsaw in an attempt to stay ahead of the fighting. Instead, they ended up experiencing the final days of the conflict in which the capitol was besieged and bombarded until it could no longer hold out. After the surrender Mary and her family returned to Lodz, arriving on October 13th. She wrote, “We are again in Lodz. We found our store and our apartment completely looted; the thieves had cut the larger pictures out of their frames. […] We have been here in Lodz for only two days, but we now know that it was a mistake to return here. The Nazis are beginning to intensify their acts of terrorism against the native population, especially the Jews. Last week they set fire to the great synagogue, the pride of the Lodz community. They forbade the Jews to remove the sacred books, and the ‘shames’ or beadle who wanted to save the holy relics was locked up inside the temple and died in the flames. My mother cannot forgive herself for having persuaded my father to bring us back here.”

Mary’s mother need not have felt guilty for wanting to go home in a time of crisis. It is a normal human impulse to do so. Furthermore, there was no option that was obviously better. In the early days of the German occupation, it was impossible to know what to do with any certainty. Any choice, to stay or to flee or to hide, was fraught with danger. What seemed like a promising strategy at first might quickly turn out to have been a deadly mistake. What worked for one person or family may have failed for another. Such was the chaotic nature of the times. Mary’s mother and father did the best they could under the circumstances. It was all that was possible at the time.

Click here to read more about the German invasion of Poland in the fall of 1939.

The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing Up in the Warsaw Ghetto has been made available since 2007 by Oneworld Publications. It was originally published in February 1945, just over two months before the end of World War II. Excerpts from Mary’s diary may also be found in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday.

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