VE Day Reader: A Polish Girl’s Holocaust Diary

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

A teenage Jewish girl living under the Nazis in Poland during 1943 feared she was “turning into an animal waiting to die”, according to her diary, which documents the final months before her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Rutka Laskier, 14, the same age as the Dutch teenager Anne Frank, wrote the 60-page diary over a four-month period in Bedzin, Poland. The diary, published by Israel’s Holocaust museum, documents the steady collapse of the ghetto under the weight of the Nazi occupation and deportations, as well as the first loves, friendships and jealousies of an adolescent girl growing up during the war.

News of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and the brutal killings of Jews, filtered through to her.

Writing on February 5 1943, she said:

“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 the butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”

Later she wrote: “The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter. I’m turning into an animal waiting to die.” Her final entry is brief: “I’m very bored. The entire day I’m walking around the room. I have nothing to do.”

The last entry is dated April 24 1943, at which point she hid the notebook in the basement of the house her family were living in, a building that had been confiscated by the Nazis to be part of the Bedzin ghetto. In August that year, the teenager and her family were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and it is thought she was killed immediately.

The diary was found after the war by Stanislawa Sapinska, a Christian whose family owned the house lived in by the Laskiers, and who had met Rutka several times during the war.

Ms Sapinska, now in her late 80s, took the diary and kept it secret for more than 60 years until one of her nephews last year convinced her to present it to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and archive in Jerusalem.

“She wanted me to save the diary,” Ms Sapinska told the Associated Press. “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’.”

The diary was authenticated by Yad Vashem, which has now published it as Rutka’s Notebook, in Hebrew and English. Rutka’s father, Yaakov, was the only member of the family to survive the camp. He moved to Israel and had a new family. He died in 1986.

His daughter in Israel, Zahava Sherz, who has written a foreword to the diary, knew nothing about Rutka before the journal surfaced. “I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka,” said Dr Sherz, 57. “I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled and I immediately fell in love with her.”

Diary entry from February 20 1943

“I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time. There is an Aktion [a Nazi arrest operation] 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. 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. That means waiting for Auschwitz or labour camp. I must not think about this so now I’ll start writing about private matters.”

Crash

Advertisements

Thursday Reader: 94-year-old Former Nazi SS Officer Charged with Over 3,681 Murders at Auschwitz

A man identified as Hubert Z has been charged over thousands of murders at Auschwitz. Combined images courtesy of German Nazi Hunters and the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum.

A man identified as Hubert Z has been charged over thousands of murders at Auschwitz.
Combined images courtesy of German Nazi Hunters and the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum.

A 94-YEAR-OLD man has been charged over the murders of 3,681 people at the Auschwitz extermination camp during the Second World War.

Identified only as Hubert Z., a photo of him in his Nazi S.S. uniform – emblazoned with the death’s head skull and double-lightning insignia of the feared military group – emerged today.

According to prosecutors in the city of Schwerin, north Germany, the now elderly man was a medical officer at Auschwitz. He has been charged with complicity in the murders of 3,681 people with officials confident of a successful prosecution.

He is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader) at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland where at least 1.1 million people, most of them Jewish, were systematically murdered during the Second World War.

The indictment against Hubert Z., who lives in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – the home state of Chancellor Angela Merkel – runs to 83 pages.

It is understood he was tracked down with the aid of the Simon Wiesenthal Nazi hunting agency in Israel and the Central Authority for the Prosecution of Nazi War Crimes in Germany.

“It is our contention that he underwrote the mass murder program while in Auschwitz,” said a prosecutor.

It is known that the accused was born in the state where he lives and learned agriculture at college before he joined the S.S. in 1940.

He served as a medical orderly in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme in Germany before being sent to Auschwitz where his service records show that he commanded the S.S. medical service between 15 August and 14 September 1944. After that he worked in a sub-camp of the vast complex.

The man is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader) Photo credit: German Nazi Hunters

The man is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader)
Photo credit: German Nazi Hunters

He was sentenced by a Polish court in 1948 to four years imprisonment for his activities in the neighboring camp.

His lawyer, once the interior minister for former East Germany, Peter-Michael Diestel, said: “We have seen the files and can see no concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing by our client.”

It is not clear whether he is thought to have been involved in the ghastly medical experiments that were conducted on defenseless and conscious people in Auschwitz led by Nazi ‘Angel of Death’, the camp doctor Josef Mengele.

Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said: “For the survivors of Auschwitz this is all about justice, not revenge.  Justice has had to wait decades.”

He added: “Those perpetrators who ensured, as members of the S.S., that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory worked smoothly, and that the Jewish families of Europe disappeared into the gas chambers, have developed no sense of awareness of wrongdoing over the years.

“Therefore these legal processes are first and foremost an inquiry to the Germans: who actually owns your compassion?”

Last week, a 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard was charged with 170,000 murders. German officials initially turned up some 30 former Auschwitz guards, three of them women, and intended to prosecute them all. However, most have been told they can die in their beds because of their illnesses.

One who will stand trial is Oskar Groening, known as The Bookkeeper, who is now 93 and who worked at Auschwitz sorting the possessions of the doomed to send back to his S.S. masters in Germany.

He is charged with complicity in the murders of 300,000 people.

On the Web: Auschwitz suspect: 94-year-old man charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder over allegations he served as death camp medic

Related on the Web: A Mini Auschwitz Display at a U.K. Kids’ Attraction Has Been Slammed as ‘Bizarre’

Crash

Saturday Reader: The Holocaust at 70 – A Retrospective Essay

A-B headerOur “worst” day is still no comparison to their “best” day

70 years ago this week, the Nazi German extermination and concentration camp Auschwitz was liberated. 1.1 million people were murdered in the camp complex including Jews, Sinti-Roma, Polish political prisoners, Soviet POW’s & 10,000 -15,000 members of other nationalities.

This essay is dedicated to remembering and honoring the victims of the Holocaust and the victims at the hands of Nazi control within the confines of the city of Oswiecim.

There are so many stories and numerous images about Nazi atrocities in general and Auschwitz in particular.

A harrowing image from 1941 shows the moment the Jewish population of a small town in southern Poland is rounded up by Nazis and sent to their deaths.

Other pictures show flags emblazoned with Swastikas flying from banks and outside churches, while those who stayed in the town recall the ‘disgusting glow’ on the horizon, and the fear which kept the residents hiding behind closed windows.

Because, while the small town of Oswiecim is now a quiet, rural place, during the Second World War it lay in the shadows of the crematorium at Auschwitz, and death will forever linger in the air of this place.

1

Harrowing: Oswiecim – called ‘Auschwitz’ by the Germans – was home to 8,000 Jewish residents before the war; in 1941 they were rounded up by the Nazis. Pictured: Lining up in the high street.

2

Quiet: By the end of the war, the town in the shadow of the death camp had not one Jewish resident. Pictured: The same high street in the sleepy town today,

Today, the buildings which once held such horror have become part of the everyday fabric of the town: annexes of the camp are apartment blocks, there is no sign of the checkpoints, and the Nazi flags are long gone.

But those who lived in the town during the Second World War still remember what it was like to live so close to the Nazi death camp.

One resident, Bogumila, who did not give her surname, and grew up in the Polish town, once told me:

“Everyone sat in their homes in silence, windows shut as tightly as possible. Of course people knew what was going on. Every now and again, my mother and I would walk toward the camp, and see the disgusting glow on the horizon. Most of them did nothing, because they were scared.”

Bozena Szczepanska, 88, who was just 12 when the Nazis invaded, said:

“It’s difficult to forget because the memory of death is all around us, on the streets, in the buildings. People were forced out, others including my parents were shot. They were brutal, evil times.”

Before the war, Oswiecim had a population of 12,000, just over 8,000 of whom were Jewish. By 1945, the entire Jewish population had gone and only 2,000 Poles remained.

Consumed as part of Nazi Germany in 1939, the town was renamed and work began on transforming the local army barracks into the biggest killing machine in history. By the time it was liberated six years later, an estimated 1.5 million people had been exterminated in its gas chambers, ranging at it height from 8,000 to 10,000 a day.

Another photo from 1941 shows two German guards on a day off pushing their bikes across the River Sola as they head into town from the death camp.

Occupation: The town was consumed as part of Nazi Germany in 1939, and work soon began transforming the local army barracks into the biggest killing machine in history.

Occupation: The town was consumed as part of Nazi Germany in 1939, and work soon began transforming the local army barracks into the biggest killing machine in history.

Changes: Today, the soldiers who used to cross this bridge are long gone - but the sense of death will always linger.

Changes: Today, the soldiers who used to cross this bridge are long gone – but the sense of death will always linger.

Local man Roman Lewicki, 55, said:

“Wherever you go in this town, there are terrible reminders of the past. I was born after the war but I know what happened here. People were executed on street corners and one of those places is now said to have a school playground built on top of it. Buildings were turned into annexes of the main camp and people were worked to death. Some of those places are now apartment blocks with families living inside.”

Horrors: The old barracks home, built for Polish soldiers, was lived in Rudolf Hoess during his time at the camp and is just a stone’s throw from the crematorium and gas chambers.

'Polish': But the couple who have made it their home see it as a Polish house, and not a Nazi house

‘Polish’: But the couple who have made it their home see it as a Polish house, and not a Nazi house

Strict rule: Nazi checkpoints were, for six years, part of daily life for the remaining residents of Oswiecim.

Strict rule: Nazi checkpoints were, for six years, part of daily life for the remaining residents of Oswiecim.

No sign: But today it is hard to imagine Nazi soldiers standing here, checking passes.

No sign: But today it is hard to imagine Nazi soldiers standing here, checking passes.

Mass murder: Oswiecim train station - through which the millions of Jews destined for the death camp passed.

Mass murder: Oswiecim train station – through which the millions of Jews destined for the death camp passed.

Demolished: Today, the building so many must have seen has been replaced with this brightly colored station.

Demolished: Today, the building so many must have seen has been replaced with this brightly colored station.

Control: Nazi flags used to adorn the buildings of Oswiecim, reminding residents they were no longer under the control of the Polish government.

Control: Nazi flags used to adorn the buildings of Oswiecim, reminding residents they were no longer under the control of the Polish government.

Peaceful: Today, the church in Oswiecim has survived - but the flags are long forgotten.

Peaceful: Today, the church in Oswiecim has survived – but the flags are long forgotten.

Symbols: The town's bank during the Second World War, with Nazi flags hanging from the windows.

Symbols: The town’s bank during the Second World War, with Nazi flags hanging from the windows.

Everyday: Now the Polish flag flutters above Bank Pekao - but the building is largely unchanged.

Everyday: Now the Polish flag flutters above Bank Pekao – but the building is largely unchanged.

The Soviet advance from the east forced the Nazis to retreat from Auschwitz leaving several thousand of their prisoners behind, among them children and those closest to death.

Survivor Bozena said:

“They left behind a town which will always be haunted by the shadow of death and unspeakable horror. I don’t want to come back here.”

70 years ago a photo was taken of children prisoners at Auschwitz after the camp was liberated. After months of researching and countless hours of work by the staff of USC Shoah Foundation, not only were all the survivors identified but some reunited for one last picture in Krakow, Poland.

70 years ago a photo was taken of children prisoners at Auschwitz after the camp was liberated. After months of researching and countless hours of work by the staff of USC Shoah Foundation, not only were all the survivors identified but some reunited for one last picture in Krakow, Poland.

Over 100 Auschwitz survivors gather together for a historic photo 70 years after the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp was liberated.

Over 100 Auschwitz survivors gather together for a historic photo 70 years after the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp was liberated.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Much controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists, or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that Germans—in particular, he believed, the leaders of the Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.

Only in 1963, in a West German television interview, did Niemöller acknowledge and make a statement of regret about his own antisemitism (see Gerlach, 2000, p. 47). Nonetheless, Martin Niemöller was one of the earliest Germans to talk publicly about broader complicity in the Holocaust and guilt for what had happened to the Jews. In his book Über die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung (published in English as Of Guilt and Hope)—which appeared in January 1946—Niemöller wrote: “Thus, whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me before, then, as a Christian, I cannot but tell him: ‘Dear Friend, I stand in front of you, but we can not get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people has sinned against thy people and against thyself.'”

Auschwitz, a brand new 15-minute documentary on the history of the Nazi death camp, produced by Steven Spielberg and narrated by Meryl Streep,will be permanently installed at the Auschwitz Memorial. The documentary had its premiere this week (27 January 2015), in the presence of 300+ Holocaust survivors. ‪#‎PastIsPresent‬ ‪#‎Auschwitz70‬

On the Web:

Crash

Holocaust Memorial Day: Auschwitz-Birkenau 70 Years After Liberation

24CE6A0200000578-2915658-image-m-31_1421602613865

Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.

At its height, Auschwitz had received a staggering amount of victims (the numbers say at or just under a half million) with 10% being deemed fit for work and the rest were murdered at a rate of over 10,000 per day.

The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.

More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz in Poland during World War Two. The majority were Jews and the former extermination camp is the world’s biggest Jewish cemetery.

The site was also the death place for many people who did not fit into the Nazis’ view of their world. Poles, lesbians, homosexuals and the disabled were amongst those also killed here.

Many of the concentration camps set up by the Nazis in World War Two were razed to the ground, but Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated before it was completely destroyed. Now it’s a museum.

Survivors laid wreaths and light candles at the so-called Death Wall at Block 11 on January 27th to mark 70 years since the camp’s liberation, and remember those who never left.

I could post a million of my historical photos in my massive collection from WWII, Nazi camps, the Holocaust and bring you so many stories of the most horrific of human events.

I could tell you family stories from my great aunt and uncle who spent time at Bergen-Belsen and show you all of the photos I’ve personally taken of EVERY Nazi camp in Europe.  But if you read social network and other blogs as well and watch the news and TV documentaries, you’ll see all that you will need to get an idea of the truest cut to human kind.  Maybe not a full ‘in-your-face’ kind of understanding, but definitely an idea. The only way those of us who never experienced it would be to go there and see, touch, personally.

So I will go about this a little differently.

I don’t deal in “what ifs” so let me phrase this in a different manner….

Thinking back historically (& academically, retrospectivly), if the Brit soldier had decided to kill an already wounded Hitler in WWI (as they say “finish him off”), how different the world would have been.

– There may have been no Nazi Third Reich (although granted, someone with more military experience & know-how might have been Furher, but maybe not)

– There may not have been a Holocaust. Anti-Jewish sentiment did exist, but not on the level influenced by Mein Kampf, Hitler’s incessant rambling and Goebbels propaganda machine . Some early factions of Nazism were disturbed by growing anti-semitism within the party. The Nazi party as we know it needed a scapegoat, a rallying cry and Jews fit the bill, along with Catholics, gays, the peaceful White Rose movement – practically anyone and everyone could be targeted. Jews were the largest group of them all and were considered the biggest threat and the most horribly stereotyped of any.

– USA & Russia would not have exited WWII as a dominant power, the Cold War would have not existed. More than likely, Britain and France would have remained the dominant power in Europe in the 20th century.

– Anne Frank would have developed as a writer, maybe even a Hollywood starlet, but would her writings mean as much to us now? She was smart, lively and imaginative, so she would have probably enthralled us with other things to write about.

I could go on and on – no Pearl Harbor, no 11 to 12 million murders in camps, no approximately 50 killed in WWII, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But the fact remains, all of this did happen, every bit, and these are the cards we are dealt and have to play, this is life as it is.

So we remember, hopefully learn, discuss, and never forget.

Side note: 

Robert H. Jackson was United States Attorney General from 1940 to 1941 and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1941 to 1954. He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

In his Opening Address to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on November 10, 1945, he said,

“The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

As I’ve painfully mentioned without hesitation in social media:

With almost every Nazi atrocity came justice….I’ve been to every concentration camp in Europe & photographed them all. The scale at which the Nazis developed mass murder on such an industrial level is terribly sad, utterly shameful and mind-boggling horrific.

I would like to think art and personal belongings were eventually returned to families, and in many cases every effort was made to do that. I would like to think that the many victims are now at peace and for the most part their murders were avenged. I think to some extent, we are assured of the latter than the former; but even with the number of Nazis who faced justice and were punished, that many more slipped away. I would like to think they as will we all, be judged and answer for our transgressions. These war crimes above and beyond any are the truest cut of all to humanity.

‪#‎Auschwitz70‬ ‪#‎AuschwitzBirkenau‬ ‪#‎auschwitzherdenking‬ ‪#‎Auschwitzundich‬
‪#‎NeverAgain‬ ‪#‎NeverForget‬

Crash