The sound of bombs makes the air tremble

Mary Berg
Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Mary Berg, much like Anne Frank, was a young girl who chronicled the horrors of the Holocaust through the pages of her diary. However, while Anne’s ended when her family was in their Amsterdam hideout and was sent to a concentration camp, Mary’s extended until after her liberation from the Warsaw Ghetto. Thanks to her mother’s American citizenship, Mary was able to escape Poland two years after writing the following entry; she later emigrated to the United States, where she remained until her death in 2013 at the age of 88. Her diary, published just after the war in 1945, was one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the Holocaust to reach the English-speaking world.

The Diary Entry

July 10, 1941

The Russian fliers frequently “visit” the environs of Warsaw, and the sound of bombs makes the air tremble. I often hear the drone of the Russian planes, which spare the ghetto. For that reason we no longer go to the cellar so often when we hear the alarm. The heat is terrible now, and I often sit on the balcony of our second-floor apartment. The tomatoes, peas, carrots, and radishes in the window boxes are thriving. Overhead the sunny blue sky is the only reminder of freedom. I come here very frequently with my friend Lutka Leder, who lives on the sixth floor, and we discuss plans for our future. Lutka is here with her stepmother and younger sister. Her father is in Russian-occupied Poland, and, since the German invasion of Russia, she has not heard from him. Lutka is a middle-sized plumpish brunette, eighteen years of age. Vera Neuman and Mickie Rubin often come here, too.

We breathe the fresh air and for a while forget the sad world around us. But one glance at the yard, divided by a wall, suffices to dispel our sweet dreams. Our balcony faces the “Aryan” side of Zlota Street. From a window on the fifth floor come the sounds of piano playing, usually the same tune, Schumann’s Traumerei. I often think that some noble Christian soul is trying, with the help of this tender melody, to comfort the unfortunate inhabitants of the ghetto locked up behind gates, and that perhaps she is even expressing a sort of regret at the fact that stones are often thrown into the ghetto from the “Aryan” side. This melody of Schumann’s transports each of us into a different world.

Lutka dreams of her beloved Kazik Briliant, who lives only one house away. She never stops thinking or speaking about him, but, unfortunately, he is completely indifferent to her. Mickie Rubin’s thoughts are always of her native Leipzig where she spent the best years of her youth. She is very sentimental and remembers the most insignificant incidents of her life in the German city, from which she was deported to the ghetto. Despite the bitter injustice she suffered there and the injuries the Germans inflicted upon her, she cannot forget the country where she and her parents were born.

I am full of dire forebodings. During the last few nights, I have had terrible nightmares. I saw Warsaw drowning in blood; together with my sisters and my parents, I walked over prostrate corpses. I wanted to flee, but could not, and awoke in a cold sweat, terrified and exhausted. The golden sun and the blue sky only irritate my shaken nerves.

Further Reading

Mary Berg’s original diaries haven’t survived, but some of her papers and photographs are now held at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They can be viewed online here and here.

Her diary was originally published in 1945 with the title Warsaw Ghetto, and that edition, long out of print, can be read at the Internet Archive. A new edition was published decades later, edited by Susan Lee Pentlin and titled, The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto.

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