New Diary Offers Glimpse of Life in Nazi Grip

Undated photo of Rutka Laskier i

Rutka Laskier, a 14-year-old Polish Jewish girl, has been dubbed the "Polish Anne Frank." Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images
Undated photo of Rutka Laskier

Rutka Laskier, a 14-year-old Polish Jewish girl, has been dubbed the "Polish Anne Frank."

Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images
Cover of Rutka's Notebook i

Rutka hid the notebook beneath some stairs in her home. Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images
Cover of Rutka's Notebook

Rutka hid the notebook beneath some stairs in her home.

Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images
Rutka's handwritten diary entries i

In her penciled entries, Rutka describes an unbearable life under Nazi oppression. Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images
Rutka's handwritten diary entries

In her penciled entries, Rutka describes an unbearable life under Nazi oppression.

Gali Tibbon, AFP/Getty Images

Like many teenage girls, 14-year-old Rutka Laskier kept a diary of her hopes, her dreams and her disappointments. She wrote a lot about boys — the ones she liked and the ones she didn't — and her friends. She wrote in pencil in a spiral notebook, offering a glimpse of life in the Polish town of Bedzin during three months in 1943, under the growing oppression of the Holocaust.

As the Nazis tightened their grip on Poland, Rutka asked her non-Jewish neighbor, Stanislava Shapinska, where she should hide the diary if she had to leave home suddenly. They agreed she should leave it hidden beneath some stairs in Rutka's house.

A 60-Year Secret

When Rutka didn't return after the war, Shapinska went to the hiding place to retrieve the diary, which she kept for more than 60 years. Last year, for reasons that are unclear, the now 80-year-old Shapinska brought it to the Mayor of Bedzin. The diary was first published in Polish, and earlier this month, Yad Vashem, an Israeli group tasked with documenting Jewish history during the Holocaust period, published it in Hebrew and English.

Lia Roshkovsky, of the education department of Yad Vashem, says a personal diary like this one helps students focus on individual lives among the many who died in the Holocaust.

"You have to get the individuals out of the piles of bodies. We don't let them stay in the piles of bodies with no names and no faces," Roshkovsky says.

The Power of Personal Accounts

Bella Gutterman, editor-in-chief of Yad Vashem Publications, says Rutka's diary offers much more than a history book can offer.

"She knew how to describe things. She was very gifted in writing, and the story about her everyday life, such banal things get a special impact when you know she was living under the German rule with the danger. Every day people were missing," Gutterman says. "This is something. You feel like she was talking to you."

In this excerpt dated Feb. 5, 1943, Rutka describes how all of the Jews in her town were being forced to move to a ghetto. Also, Jews were not allowed to leave their homes without a yellow star sewn to their clothing:

"The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter. Next month there should already be a ghetto, a real one, surrounded by walls. In the summer it will be unbearable to sit in a gray locked cage without being able to see fields and flowers. I simply can't believe that one day I'll be able to leave the house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day."

Diaries like Ruska's take on added significance as Holocaust survivors are aging. One day, there will be no survivors left to give first-person accounts of life during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem is training teachers to use the diary in junior high schools beginning next year.

Lost Faith, Lost Life

Another excerpt from Feb. 5, 1943:

"The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If G-d existed, he would certainly not permit that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces and the heads of little toddlers be smashed by the butt of guns."

During the Holocaust, 6 million Jews, among them one-and-a-half million children, were killed. In this diary excerpt from Feb. 20, 1943, as German soldiers conducted a raid, or aktion, in her town, it seems that Rutka had some idea of her fate:

"I have a feeling that I'm writing for the last time. There is an aktion in my town. I'm not allowed to go out, and I'm going crazy, imprisoned in my house ... I wish it would end already, this torment, this hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you only need to die once ... but I can't because despite all these atrocities, I want to live and wait for the following day."

In August 1943, Rutka and her family were taken to Auschwitz. She and her mother were killed immediately. Her father survived the war and eventually moved to Israel, where he remarried and had a daughter named Zahava.

Excerpt: 'Rutka's Notebook'

by Rutka Laskier

January 19, 1943

I cannot grasp that it is already 1943, four years since this hell began. The days pass by quickly; each day looks just like the previous one. Every day it's the same frozen and oppressive boredom. There is great excitement in town. A lot of people are about to leave for "the land of our forefathers," to Palestine. Among these happy people are Syma, Bomek and Ran. I don't know how to explain the feeling that overcame me when I learned about it. It must have been mixed feelings of joy and jealousy. We too live in the hope of getting papers. I think that if this happens, I will be extremely sad to leave Bedzin. As if I am unconsciously curious to know what will happen here ... I am now reading a wonderful book called Julian [A]Postata and The Grave of the Unknown Soldier by Strug. This book reflects my thoughts. I want to completely immerse myself in books, in good, philosophical books. One of the books that really got on my nerves was The Golem by Gustav Meyerink. It was a story about the visions of Golem, a man who had lost his mind. I don't really know whether I believe in ghosts or not. In moments of great anxiety, faith in things that are beyond this world is my rock I can lean on. I like to think about matters concerning the afterlife and other mysterious thoughts.

January 27, 1943

I already had my photo taken. I wonder if it looks good. Although usually I don't look pretty in photographs, in reality I am very beautiful. I'll give you a detailed description of my body. Well, I'm tall, thin, with pretty nice legs, very thin at the waist, I've got elongated hands but ugly, or more accurately, uncared-for fingernails. I have big black eyes, thick brown eyebrows and long eyelashes, even very long. Black hair, trimmed short and combed back, small but pug nose, nicely outlined lips, snow-white teeth — and there's my portrait. I would like to pour out on paper all the turmoil I am feeling inside, but I'm absolutely incapable...

February 20, 1943

I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time. There is an Aktion in town. I'm not allowed to go out and I'm going crazy, imprisoned in my own house... For a few days, something's in the air... The town is breathlessly waiting in anticipation, and this anticipation is the worst of all. I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies...

April 5, 1943

Well, I've started working. The days go by; every day it's the same, grizzly days. I work from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's tolerable. The work is quite easy, it's working out somehow. I'm extremely tired, and I feel like sleeping all the time. Jumek has been deported; Mietek saw him and sent me his regards. I feel very sorry for him. He was a good guy. I don't feel like writing anymore.

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