June 12, 1941 - Mary Berg


June 12, 1941


Warsaw Ghetto in Poland

The Diary of Mary Berg

Mary Berg was 15 years old when she began her diary account of her experiences during the German occupation of Poland. She spent most of that time in the Warsaw Ghetto. Mary had a keen eye for detail and kept an extensive record of her observations. She was in a privileged position in the ghetto. Her mother was a citizen of the United States, so she was in a protected category. The Germans held out the possibility of exchanging Americans for captured German soldiers. Although her life was not in as much danger as other ghetto prisoners, she was still able to observe the horrifying conditions.  


On June 12th, 1941, Mary wrote about one of the greatest dangers facing the ghetto; the starvation and sickness that resulted from massive overcrowding. She wrote, “The ghetto is becoming more and more crowded; there is a constant stream of new refugees. These are Jews from the provinces who have been robbed of all their possessions. Upon their arrival the scene is always the same: the guard at the gate checks the identity of the refugee, and when he finds out he is a Jew, gives him a push with the butt of his rifle as a sign that he may enter our Paradise. […] These people are ragged and barefoot, with the tragic eyes of those who are starving. Most of them are women and children. They become charges of the community, which sets them up in so-called homes.  There they die sooner or later.”


“The community is helpless.”

There were many aspects of the German occupation that outwardly seemed to be more brutal, but the physical conditions imposed on the ghetto through overcrowding were just as deadly. Mary was able to observe the beginning of this phase of the Nazi’s destructive program and recognized what the results would be. She went on to conclude, “Mortality is increasing.  Starvation alone kills from forty to fifty people a day. But there are always hundreds of new refugees to take their places. The community is helpless.”


Learn more about the Warsaw ghetto.