Polish officials are refusing to return the Holocaust diary of survivor Baruch Milch at the request of his daughter, Israeli composer Ella-Milch Sheriff, citing the diary as an important historical artifact that belongs to the nation. The diary provides a detailed account of the Nazi’s occupation of Poland during World War II as well as Milch’s own harrowing story, including the shooting death of his 3-year-old son. Polish officials claims they are bound by guidelines concerning historical records made by private individuals.
“The diary of Baruch Milch is… an archive document and, as such, cannot be taken from Poland permanently” national archive chief Slawomir Radon said in a statement.
Pre-war Poland was a Jewish cultural mecca and boasted a Jewish population of 3.2 million. Half of Jewish Holocaust victims were Polish, most perishing in the camps the Nazis established in Poland. Milch’s diary dates from July 1943 through March 1944 and recounts his life before the war and the atrocities that took his entire family. Before immigrating to Israel in 1946, Milch left his diary to a Polish Jewish group that records Holocaust history. Milch’s daughter claims that this was a temporary move and that “The only testimony to what happened to his family and friends was there in his diary, and he was afraid that if he took it with him, it would get lost, damaged or destroyed,” according to an article on the AFP.
Milch-Sheriff only found out about the diary when, shortly after her father’s death in 1989, a Polish researcher contacted her about publishing parts of it from the archives. When in 1990 her sister attempted to reclaim the diary, she was only given a copy. According to Bergman, “We are always ready to give a family a copy of documents. But the mission of our institute is to record history, often based on the private notes of individuals.”
After reconciling the Polish and Hebrew texts of the diary, the Hebrew version was published in 1999 and the English one in 2003. Milch-Sheriff is determined to pursue claim, and Polish academic and lawyer Ireneusz Kaminski is considering representing her, explaining that, “To date, there has been no balance between the public good and ownership rights which are disproportionately limited.”