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Pondering freedom

THE DIARY OF MARY BERG, GROWING UP IN THE WARSAW GHETTO

Edited by S.L. Shneiderman, New edition prepared by Susan Lee Pentlin, Phd.; One World Publications

Reviewed by Barbara Flynn

THE Diary of Mary Berg, originally written in her own cryptic shorthand and code, into 12 small spiral-backed books inside the Warsaw Ghetto is of remarkable significance.

First translated from Polish into Yiddish in 1945, the diary or memoirs now is regarded as “one of the most important documents of the Second World War”.

The writings of a teenager (15-19 years), trapped by life’s circumstances for four years with her family, has acceptance among historians, sociologists, academics, archivists and those in position to scrutinise and judge.

It provides authentic and “uniquely illuminating insights” into the processes both political and sociological, that determined the lives of thousands of Jewish people. It is a source of enlightenment and truth.

Mary writes with sensitivity, touches of humour at times, and an incredible gift of “entering into the lives of others” not simply to observe but to experience with.

Her indomitable spirit does not become entrapped in the ugliness of the circumstances around her. As a teenager she records reality: romances, use of privilege (one group over another), self-help organisations and networks, entertainment and family celebration of some Jewish religious practices.

Mary wrote sometimes daily, at other times at well-spaced intervals. For her it was therapy, a way of coping with the uncertainty of life around her during four years of incarceration.

The diary is a private journey and shows forth great courage, hope and trust in God.

In 1943, at the height of an extremely difficult period inside the Ghetto, Mary wrote: “What good does it do to write: who is interested in my diary? I have thought of burning it several times, but some inner voice forbades me to do it.”

The content of this remarkable diary, a unique “heart-rending memorial” to thousands of Jewish people, verified against other available historical data, is found to be amazingly accurate in its reporting of the sequences of events and the deceit and intrigue which operated daily to the disadvantaged of many.

After her repatriation to the USA in 1944, through allied prisoner exchange, Mary, aged 19, met S.L. Shneiderman, a journalist, and an exchange prisoner.

In casual conversation, Mary referred to the 12 notebooks which she had secreted in her valise.

Realising their significance to a world, blind to the truth of the fate of thousands of Jewish people on the European continent, Shneiderman and Mary worked together for several months to make the first translation into Yiddish.

The Diary of Mary Berg, a 250-page book, was made public to a worldwide audience in 2007.

It has substantial end-notes providing verification to much that Mary wrote, an extensive bibliography, a chronology of events in Germany (1933-1945) and website references.

It is obtainable from St Paul’s Book Centre. I recommend Mary’s Diary and suggest it has a place in secondary school libraries.

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