Holocaust survivor’s diary brought to life by Yad Vashem

About a decade ago, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum received the tattered journal of Alfred Zielony, a Polish Jew who chronicled his life at the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. Zielony died in 1956.

Since the writing was barely discernible, Yad Vashem’s conservation laboratory faced a daunting challenge. “The journal was in terrible condition,” Haim Gertner, head of the Yad Vashem Archives Division, said. “It was nothing more than a collection worn out pages; we handled it with great care, tapping the expertise of the conservation laboratory. The first thing we did was to carefully separate the pages and then to restore them as much as possible.”

Yad Vashem received the journal with 16 pages, but only 12 were intact. “Some of words and sentence fragments are intelligible, but the overall context is difficult to decipher,” Gertner said. “We couldn’t even determine when it was written, or at what place during the war. We applied cutting edge technology to deciphering the words but we couldn’t; nevertheless, we were still happy that the journal itself had survived.”

Earlier this month, there was an important development: Zielony’s son, Wlodek Tabaczynski, visited the lab to get a first-hand look. Tabaczynski’s daughter Zosia came with him.

The son was very excited to see the journal, as this was the first time he was able to view each page separately. He then told the experts about his father, who studied law and worked as a journalist. “He loved to write,” Tabaczynski said. Tabaczynski then asked to touch the pages. “I have to, it is like touching my father again,” he said.

Tabaczynski was able to help the experts read certain words in the diary as he was familiar with his father’s handwriting and for the first time, several lines could be read in full, shedding light on the daily life in the ghetto and the inhumane conditions Jews had to cope with.