A diary is the most personal possession someone might have. It is a journal of their wishes, fears and often their secrets. It is therefore extremely important when a diary becomes public it is treated with the utmost dignity and respect, especially those that were written during the darkest era of mankind.
Diary of Susi Hilsenrath
Susi Hilsenrath was barely ten years old when her parents decided to send her and her younger brother to France from their native Bad Kreuznach in Germany. This happened in the aftermath of the nationwide anti-Jewish violence organized by Nazi leaders in November 1938, which has often been referred to as Kristallnacht.
As the Germans invaded and defeated France in the summer of 1940, Susi’s father hired a guardian to evacuate Susi and her brother from Paris to Broût-Vernet, a small town in Vichy France. There, they were helped by the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a French Jewish organization that was helping Jewish refugee children. The organization housed them with several other Jewish children in a local château, where they awaited emigration. Susi and her brother soon received immigration visas with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an American humanitarian organization that helped European Jewish refugees to immigrate to the United States. Travelling via Spain and Portugal, they arrived in New York City in the fall of 1941. There they were reunited with their parents and their youngest brother, who had managed to escape to the United States separately.
While housed at the château from the summer of 1940 until the late summer of 1941, Susi kept a diary. She described her life as part of the larger group of children and their uncertainty about the future. The diary captures a range of her moods and emotions, from childish musings to profound anxiety and sadness. Like many other child authors of Holocaust diaries, Susi expressed her awareness of the extraordinary and perilous situation she was in even though she may not have fully understood the specific threats that she was facing.
Sunday, August 3, 1941
“Oh, how happy I was, and now how many tears I’ve shed. I am not leaving. The others left an hour ago. Weichselbaum, Feuer, and Fellman aren’t leaving either. Oh, now I can’t stand it anymore, the day seems twice as long. Strange, everything is all turned around. Edith is leaving and Adolf and Alexander are leaving. Oh yes, Helga is also staying. With whom shall I go now? With Helga, impossible. In the end, she would drive me crazy. I don’t want to go with Sabine, and with Susi W., I don’t know whether we get along. The house will be empty, but I think 40 new children are going to come. […] I don’t know how long I can stand it here. I want so much to travel after them on a bus, to eat the good things, and travel so long on the train, through a whole country. Then by ship across the big ocean and then, best of all, to see my dear parents again. My dear, dear parents. But often I get quite a strange feeling, I think that my parents have separated and don’t want to be together anymore, but I don’t know why, the thought just comes to me on its own.
Today is Tisha b’Av.1 We fasted until 2:30, and I was terribly hungry. I thought I would be in Ganal by this time, and where am I now—in this miserable house? But one thing you can say, if we had gone with this transport, then we would have to thank the Directress for almost everything. Because she is on the telephone all day, she says, Hilsenrath and Feuer have to leave; she repeats it every time. One can certainly say that since Herr Weichselbaum left, she has become much nicer and more decent. She doesn’t shout as much anymore, and when she does shout, there’s a reason for it. She is much more engaged with us, too. I am extremely angry with Herr Cogan. If he had not phoned today, and the Directress had phoned instead, she would have accomplished more. It was like this: he spoke to Frau Salomon about the children who left (Flora and Gustel almost wouldn’t have gone, if the Directress hadn’t been there). He talked about Flora and someone asked him her age, and he said she was 15, and Gustel 12. The children who were over 12 couldn’t go, for the most part. I think Frau Salomon was about to say they couldn’t go, but the Directress spoke insistently […] After a lot of mulling it over, he got the words out. Then she told him [to say] a lot of other things, but he just would not say them. She spoke about us, too, she said, ask about Hilsenrath and Feuer. Not a word came out. “About Hilsenrath and Feuer,” the Directress said. Not a word. Finally, it came out. Madame Salomon said it was impossible, he said “Fine, fine,” and once again, “fine.” He doesn’t care whether we go or not. I’m sure that if the Directress had had the telephone in her hand, she would have accomplished something. But he, the dumb fool, or even better, idiot, can’t do anything. Then the Directress took the phone in her hand for a minute and asked about Hilde and Otto, because they couldn’t go either, and she accomplished it. Oh, if you only knew how angry I am at Cogan.
I’m not at all sorry about the children who left, only Edith. How we came together, I really don’t know. How happy I would be if I had gone with her. I would have enjoyed the trip twice as much. Oh, that would have been so nice, and now everything is over, all over. Never, I think, will I feel really good here”
Susi survived the Holocaust
Eva Heyman was a Jewish girl from Oradea. She began keeping a diary in 1944 during the German occupation of Hungary. Published under the name The Diary of Eva Heyman, her diary has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank. She discusses the extreme deterioration of the circumstances the Jewish community faced in the city, offering a detailed account of the increasingly restrictive anti-Jewish laws, the psychological anguish and despair, the loss of their rights and liberties and the confiscation of property they endured. Heyman was 13 years old when she and her grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz.
She started writing in her diary on her thirteenth birthday 13 February 1944.
February 13, 1944
I’ve turned thirteen, I was born on Friday the thirteenth. From Grandpa, I received phonograph records of the kind I like. My grandfather bought them so that I should learn French lyrics, which will make [Mother] happy because she isn’t happy about my school record cards except when I get a good mark in French I do a lot of athletics, swimming, skating, bicycle riding, and exercise. I’ve written enough today. You’re probably tired, dear diary.
March 19, 1944
You’re the luckiest one in the world, because you cannot feel, you cannot know what a terrible thing has happened to us. The Germans have come!
May 10, 1944
We’re here five days, but, word of honour, it seems like five years.
The most awful thing of all is that the punishment for everything is death. There is no difference between things; no standing in the corner, no spankings, no taking away food, and no writing down the declension of irregular verbs one hundred times the way it used to be in school. Not at all: the lightest and heaviest punishment—death.