- Girl with Two Landscapes: The Wartime Diary of Lena Jedwab, 1941-1945
The genre of wartime diaries is well known in modern literature, and there is a particularly prominent place in it for diaries by witnesses to the Nazi genocide of the European Jews. The best known of these is, of course, that of Anne Frank, but many, many others come to mind. Two that I found particularly interesting were the diary of Moshe Flinker, published in Hebrew as Hana'ar Moshe (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1971) and that of the poet Yitzhak Katznelson, Vittel Diary (English transl. by Myer Cohen, Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta'ot: Ghetto Fighters' House, 1964). Written by individuals profoundly steeped in modern Jewish culture and particularly in the Hebrew language, these diaries serve as important and authentic testimony to the Nazi atrocities and the Jewish struggle for survival. They each attempt to give meaning to that struggle.
Lena Jedwab's diary was written in very different circumstances from theirs. Born in Bialystock in 1924, she was wrenched abruptly from her family and evacuated to an orphanage deep in the Soviet Union when Poland was divided between Hitler and Stalin in 1939. Far from a home that, unbeknownst to her, had disappeared, she used her diary to hold onto the language and the secular Yiddish culture from which, too, she had brutally been separated. At the same time, she describes how, in the orphanage and in the Communist youth movement, she moved quickly from being a refugee outsider to becoming a cultural leader, well versed in and developing a love for Russian literature. [End Page 276]
Nevertheless, Girl with Two Landscapes: The Wartime Diary of Lena Jedwab shares several characteristics with Anne Frank's diary. Both were written on the periphery of the genocide, though they were directly affected by it. Like Anne, Lena's development as a young adolescent with literary talent was disrupted by wartime events. She had to adjust to a social reality that was not conducive to literary activity, and she found in her diary a refuge and outlet. She attempted to understand catastrophic events without having knowledge of them and while contending with issues of personal identity and developing sexuality. Both young women were in some sense on the edge of Jewish culture, though they developed a stronger sense of Jewish identity as a consequence of their circumstances, and both held onto universalistic ideals despite the brutal and disheartening reality with which they were faced. However, Lena, unlike Anne, wrote in a Jewish language. She testifies in her diary that she made great efforts to acquire Yiddish texts such as the works of Y.L. Peretz, which she particularly loved. She even translated some passages into Russian so as to share them with other young Jews who were not acquainted with them.
Loss of freedom, so dominant a theme in Anne Frank's diary, is not Lena's main issue, though she does suffer severe limitations in the Soviet institution. Rather, the underlying themes of her diary are the loss of contact with her family, her lack of a nurturing home, and her continual nagging concern for the fate of her family and friends in Bialystock. They reappear to her in dreams, which she records, and in a clearly autobiographical short story ("Mirl: A Story"), also written at the time, which is appropriately included in this volume. She recalls the past, nostalgically and lovingly recreating scenes and incidents from her previous life in Bialystock, all the while expressing her anguished worry. Like other Jews in the Soviet Union at the time, no information about the Holocaust reached her until near the end of the war.
As in so much other literature of this period, particularly personal diaries, the reader's awareness of the fate of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe turns the reading of this otherwise innocent document by a talented adolescent into a moving, if not agonizing, experience. We know what Lena only suspects. Her oft-expressed hopes to...