Yesterday, the fourth of June, 2007, Yad Vashem introduced the world to another teenager from Europe, another voice from a newly-forgotten past. Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is the site of the Holocaust Museum, the Garden of the Righteous, museum, archive and Hall of Names.
"Located on Har Hazikaron, the Mount of Remembrance, in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is a vast, sprawling complex of tree-studded walkways leading to museums, exhibits, archives, monuments, sculptures, and memorials." They introduced the newly acquired and verified notebook.
Fourteen-year-old Rutka Laskier kept a diary in a notebook. She wrote of teen-girl things, love and growth, and she wrote vividly of the world that had gone mad around her.
She described the sight of a German soldier tearing a child from his mother and killing him. Like the Dutch teenager, Anne Frank, she wrote of newly experienced feelings about love and mixed that with the reality of wanting to live — she was 14 in the winter and spring of 1943 — and knowing that she was waiting to die.
Although the Germans had worked hard to keep mass gassings and extermination plans a secret, her ghetto of Bedzin was not that far from Auschwitz. She wrote, "I simply can't believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy …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 gun butts or shoved into sacks and gassed to death." That was early in 1943.
The next day she wrote of a hoped-for first kiss and a crush on a boy named Janek.
Her family had moved into a house in the Bedzin Ghetto that had been owned by a Christian family and confiscated by the Germans. She became very close friends with the owner's daughter, Stanislawa Sapinska, when the Sapinskas came to look over their house.
She told her pal, Stanislawa, of the diary she had written from January into April of 1943. She asked Sapinska, who is now in her eighties, to "save the diary" when her survival became fearfully questionable. "She said 'I don't know if I will survive, but I want the diary to live on, so that everyone will know what happened to the Jews.'"
Sapinska hid it in her own library for the next 60-plus years. She says that she thought it was too private to share. Finally her young nephew "… convinced me that it was an important historical artifact."
By spring the Nazis were collecting people outside her house for "deportation" to the camps.
(The photo below is from Yad Vashem's archives of people waiting – unknowingly – to die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.)
"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. If only I could say, it's over, you only die once … but I can't, because despite all these atrocities, I want to live, and wait for the following day." She is thought to have died in Auschwitz. She is believed to have arrived in the camp in August, 1943 and been killed on arrival.
Happily, our friends in the President's circle in Iran and Hugo Chavez' as well have decided it didn't happen. The Israelis have a good PR sense and sense of humor. Yad Vashem's website is accessible in Persian as well. They, too, can look at the Auschwitz Album of photographs made by two German SS officers. For a photographer looking though the archives these are monumentally bizarre in their calm matter-of-factness.
These are not amateur photos nor professional. They were not made by men looking to make a point nor by would-be artists looking to make memorable pictures. Those would be too easy to see as human tragedy or tugs at the heart-strings. It would somehow lessen the horror of it just as Hotel Rwanda captures so much genocidal intent by not dwelling on it.
The pictures still the heart with their German precision. They pointed their cameras at masses of people they were planning to murder and calmly took documentary pictures without the slightest human feelings showing in the pictures. They don't frame nor feel. They just document.
Rutka (I assume that is as close as you get to Ruth in Polish) lived, wrote descriptive word-pictures of the insanity of her world for the little while she was adolescent. Then she was killed.