Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust

Oh, good Lord. Well, Rutka, you've probably gone completely crazy. You are calling upon God as if He exists. The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butts of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death...It sounds like a fairy tale. Those who haven't seen this would never believe it. But it's not a legend; it's the truth. Or the time when they beat an old man until he became unconscious, becaue he didn't cross the street properly...The end...When will it come?... (pp. 22-24)

These words were written on February 5, 1943 by 14 year old Rutka Laskier who has come to be known as the Polish Anne Frank. During the months when Rutka wrote her diary entries, she lived with her family members in the Bedzin ghetto in south-western Poland, near Krakow.

I learn something new with each book that I read on the Holocaust. I was amazed when I read the diary entry quoted above. This was 1943. Rutka was in a camp in Poland. They KNEW. They knew that humans were being systematically murdered. Rudolf Vrba* and Alfred Wetzler were the first Jewish prisoners to escape from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944. They told officials in the United States, Great Britain, and Rome the truth about the gas chambers and murders. How in the world did Rutka and her group of young people know with such conviction a year earlier? And, of course, the question then becomes - why go to their certain deaths? I know the answer, but it breaks my heart.

According to Rutka's friend, 20 year old Stanislawa Sapinska (in whose house Rutka and her parents lived - the Germans forced the Sapinskas to move out of the ghetto), Rutka was well informed of the course of the war and the status of the military forces, as well of the fate of the deported Jews (p. 2). Stanislawa also indicated that she believed Rutka had contact with the anti-German underground. During her time in the ghetto Rutka told Stanislawa that she felt she would not survive the war and that she would hide her diary under the staircase and hoped that Stanislawa would retrieve it after the war. The ghetto was liquidated in August 1943 (although it is believed that Rutka left in April 1943 and was sent to Auschwitz and murdered shortly thereafter) and Stanislawa kept her word to her friend. She kept the diary hidden for sixty years, taking it out to read on occassion. When she was eighty years old, she decided she should give the diary to the world and presented it to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Here is a picture of Rutka's Christian friend on the day she presented the diary to the world:

*(If you would like to read about Vrba and Wetzler's experience, read I Cannot Forgive by Vrba. It is excellent.)

To read the article which went along with the photo, click here. There is also an insightful 2007 interview on NPR. The article includes some excerpts from the diary.

TITLE: Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Rutka Laskier (1929-1943) and Daniella Zaidman-Mauer (editor)
TYPE: Holocaust diary and commentary
RECOMMEND: This book is an excellent resource. In addition to the diary, the reader is provided with considerable discussion on the significance of this young girl's written words. A nice bibliography is also included.

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