translated by Scotia Gilroy
Rachela Auerbach was born on December 18th, 1903, in Łanowce, Galicia. She was the daughter of Kain and Mania Kimelman. She grew up with her brother Asher-Zelig, who died in 1935. Rachela studied at the Adam Mickiewicz High School, and then earned a degree from the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów. She studied psychology, specializing in philosophy and history. Her personal and literary biography can be divided into three main periods, in which historical events play an important role in forming her creative approach.
Her literary and journalistic career began simultaneously in Yiddish and Polish, both of which she spoke fluently. Her first articles were published in 1925 in Chwili [Moments], a Polish newspaper devoted to political and cultural issues, and Najer Morgen , Nowe Jutro [A New Tomorrow] magazine. She worked for numerous publications, primarily editing literary sections, and had an active social life. One of her greatest achievements before the outbreak of World War II was the founding and editing of Cusztajer, a Yiddish-language literary journal devoted to culture and art. Three issues came out in 1931. She edited the journal with two of her friends, the poet Rachela Korn and the prose-writer, poet and art critic Debora Vogel. The aim of this publication was to give a voice to Galician Yiddish-language writers. During this period Rachela was active within a circle of Jewish artists. She translated and published literature in Yiddish, which was important for the development of culture in Galicia. In 1933 she moved to Warsaw, where she continued her literary, academic and cultural activities. She married Itzik Manger, one of the most outstanding Yiddish poets of the 20th century. As a member of the Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Poland, Rachela published many articles in leading newspapers and literary journals in the inter-war period, such as Moment, Haynt, Tog, Naye Folkstsaytung, Literarishe Bleter, Foroys, Shul-Vegn, Nasz Przegląd [Our News], Nowy Dziennik [The New Daily] and Nowe Słowo [The New Word]. The subject matter of these articles touched on a wide range of topics connected with Jewish literature and culture in Eastern Europe. Rachela was interested in literature written in both Polish and Yiddish, education, psychology, folklore, art and theater.
A special place in her wide sphere of interests was dedicated to women artists who were of cultural importance in the inter-war period in Poland, including her friends from her days in Lwów. It was through them that she became acquaintanced with Bruno Schulz, who was just beginning his literary career.
In the summer of 1938 she wrote to him:
...during my next stay in Warsaw I'm going to see you in person and we'll have a chance to talk to our hearts' content. I'm totally counting on the fact that this time you will find a bit of time for an old friend from your Lwów days. I haven't received any news from Korn. You are right in noticing that lately things aren't going so well for her, but I hope that things will soon reach a turning point. Debora's enjoying herself in Skole at the moment, and Korn's daughter is spending her vacation in that area, too. Maybe her mother will visit her while she's there, and then my two friends will be together... Did I already write to you from Przemyśl about how much I like your efforts to write in German and your translations of your writing into German? I'm strongly convinced that your writing could become a world-wide phenomenon, and since you don't write in the language of the Jews and you don't belong in the environment in which you developed, then you should at least belong to the world...I would like, for my part, to translate something into Yiddish.
His writing was never translated into Yiddish, since the war broke out soon afterwards.
During the German occupation Auerbach lived in the Warsaw ghetto and worked at 40 Leszno Street running a kitchen for writers, and later distributing soup to all hungry people. Encouraged by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, she decided to record her personal impressions of events during that period. Compositions titled Two Years in the Ghetto emerged, in which she recorded and analyzed the problem of hunger. During this time she lived with her relatives at 66 Leszno Street. During the first liquidation of the ghetto, both houses became an integral part of a work plant and apartment buildings belonging to the W. C. Tebens Company. Rachela, as the former kitchen manager, continued to work there. Later she was transferred to a candy and artificial honey factory at 30 Franciszkańska Street, which was located at the back of the building which contained a supply plant. Many activists from Ringelblum's circle worked here.
Rachela was given the task of recording the experiences of someone who had escaped from the death camp in Treblinka. After the second liquidation and three years spent in the ghetto, on March 9th, 1943, she crossed into the Aryan side of the city with the help of Teodor Pajewski. Thanks to her Aryan looks and some false documents, she was able to hide her real identity and survive under the name Aniela Dobrucka.
Materials and testimony which became known after the war as the Ringelblum Archives were buried within the area of the ghetto, in a spot known only to a few, including Rachela.
On the Aryan side she continued to help people in the ghetto and worked for Żegota (the Polish Council to Aid Jews). It was during this time that she wrote her poem Izkor, about murdered Jewish youths. During a period of intense persecution she hid in the Warsaw zoo with a group of other Jews, helped by Jan Żabiński (the zookeeper) and his wife.