Maria Lewitt

Title: Come Spring
Author: Maria Lewitt
Publisher: Scribe
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 1980
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Lodz, Warsaw Ghetto, Zielonka, Warsaw
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Lewitt presents an autobiographical account of her experiences in Poland during the Second World War: some 30 pages deal with the exodus from her hometown Lodz shortly after the beginning of war and her brief stay in the Warsaw ghetto; while the remaining 155 pages recount her time in Zielonka where she remained until the war’s end. Lewitt’s autobiography was written whilst she was in her early fifties and was published in 1980 by independent publisher Scribe Publications. Excerpts from the book have also been published in various literary magazines.

The start of the book introduces the author as a teenager living in Poland just prior to the commencement of war. Born in Poland in 1924, the second child of a Polish gentile woman and her Jewish husband, Lewitt attended high school until the outbreak of war, studying thereafter in underground schools whenever possible. After only a few weeks of war, Lewitt’s father was fatally beaten by an SS officer who had accused him of being a ‘lazy Jew.’ Lewitt along with her mother and sister consequently moved briefly to their uncle’s country house in Zielonka before making the move into the Warsaw Ghetto where they remained for a short period of time with some friends.

In early 1941, under the pressure of a concerned aunt, they moved out of the Ghetto and into a rented flat in Warsaw. After residing there for some time their safety and anonymity were compromised forcing them to abandon the flat and return to the house in Zielonka, 16 kilometres east of Warsaw. While there, they hid four of their close Jewish relatives in the cellar, at times narrowly avoiding detection and denunciation as Germans repeatedly stormed their house during raids. Throughout this the author managed to survive on her mother’s Aryan ‘good looks’ and fake identity papers obtained with the help of ‘Jew friendly’ administrative clerks. Lewitt’s mother and her aunt were employed by the local branch of the Polish underground, the Armia Krajowa, as couriers and their house was used for the storage of documents and munitions. They survived constant barrages of bombs, shells and rockets as the war’s front line moved closer to their own front yard, with the family finally liberated by the Russian army as the Germans retreated.

Lewitt’s descriptive account of a world in turmoil, through the eyes of a teenager, captures superbly the often comedic moments of dialogue between people under the stresses of war, despite the sombre period of the story’s setting. Lewitt’s discussion is mainly concerned with personal experiences including family life and what survival entailed. Lewitt offers numerous character sketches, mainly of family members and friends, but also descriptions of German and Russian soldiers, a member of the Polish underground, as well as poignant vignettes involving incidents with the general public. One such case describes a widowed neighbour across the adjacent meadow, who along with her four sons, organised a ‘rescue’ scheme for Jews whereby they would take them in and offer sanctuary, only to kill them a few days later in order to retain possession of their belongings.