Twilight Days: Missing Pages from Avraham Lewin’s Warsaw Ghetto Diary, May-July 1942
Emanuel Ringelblum, creator of the “Oneg Shabbat” Archive in the Warsaw ghetto, called Avraham Lewin’s diary “A valuable document…. Every sentence in the diary is measured. L. has packed the diary not only with everything he has managed to learn about Warsaw, but also with the terrible suffering of the provincial Jews…The clean and compressed style of the diary, its accuracy and precision in relating facts, and its grave content qualify it as an important literary document.” Lewin’s ability to incorporate both his personal experiences and basic issues of major concern to the wartime Jewish public into a single, seamless narrative have made his diary one of the most important testimonies about the fate of Polish Jewry under Nazi occupation generally, and of the Jews of Warsaw specifically. This article introduces extensive excerpts from three parts of Avraham Lewin’s diary that have recently been discovered and identified in the Yad Vashem Archive. Until now, these writings were catalogued as an anonymous diary. Like his other diary entries prior to the mass deportation from Warsaw, these are in Yiddish. The topics that they discuss, as well as the fluid writing style, which makes use of Hebrew sayings, Biblical verses, and literary passages by Hebrew poets, are consistent with his known diary. The previously known parts of Avraham Lewin’s diary were found in the buried collections of the “Oneg Shabbat” archive. However, they were not a single uninterrupted unit. The first, Yiddish part of his diary contains several chronological lacunae: even though Lewin apparently made a point of writing daily, a number of entries are missing from the published diary, such as May 11, 14, and 15, and there is a gap of over a month between the Yiddish first part of the diary and the Hebrew second part. Scholars believed that these sections were lost. The anonymous diary sections discovered in Yad Vashem’s Archive were identified as Avraham Lewin’s based on the writing style and the autobiographical details mentioned in them, and the dates matched missing dates from the known diary. All together, 52 pages were found, for May 14-15, 1942, June 13-15, and June 27-July 10. These documents shed light on the history of the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto on the brink of the mass deportation. Memoirs that were written during the war – and, even more so, after it – focused on the initial mass murder in April 1942, or on the first days of the mass deportation to Treblinka from July 22, 1942. As a result, the writers found it difficult to recount the ever-increasing horror of May, June, and July. Considering the small number and incomplete nature of written records from this period that have survived, Lewin’s writing stands out. He brings home to the reader those terrible days during which the Jews were being crushed on a societal level yet manifested the most extraordinary fortitude as human beings. Lewin’s talents – first and foremost, his deep human insight – resulted in a fascinating document that reveals with immense anguish the overwhelming apprehension that gripped the Jews of Warsaw during the twilight days that led up to the mass deportation in the summer of 1942.