Bizarrely enough diaries were not always used or recognized as evidence or as study material for the Holocaust. researchers tended to dismiss Jewish diaries as subjective and unreliable. Only in the last few decades the value of diaries have been acknowledged. To me there is nothing more powerful of the words of those who lived through the horrors.
Below are just some examples of diary entries.
Jacques Salamon Berenholc was a fourteen-year-old boy living in his home city of Paris when Nazi forces invaded and occupied the country in the summer of 1940. In summer 1942—both in the occupied northern part and in Vichy. French police were rounding up Jewish people and deporting them via Drancy to the killing centers
“Saturday, January 16, 1943
Things aren’t going well this morning. They made us leave the room to lead us into the corridors. There is another disinfection. It’s very unpleasant! I’m supposed to leave and I’m waiting impatiently for my release. Around 2 p.m., Joaquin comes to tell me that my release slip is at the director’s but he isn’t there yet to sign it. It would be really disagreeable to go to the disinfecting room before I leave, for my clothes would be completely ruined. Finally I arrange to go with the last persons. Just in case… Those who want to save their suits put them in my bag. I am loaded down like a donkey. […]
Toward 5 p.m., someone comes to inform me that I am free and leads me out with many shouts of “venga,” “come on.” It’s just enough time for me to say goodbye to friends. Papa and Victor are summoned to see Mama. At the prison office, I’m searched, my fingerprints are taken, I get my papers back, and I’m given my release slip.
When I saw Mama at the threshold of the door, we both burst into tears as we hugged each other.
Finally we left the place and caught the train that would take us to Caldas.
We got there around 6 p.m., and at the hotel all the women overwhelmed me with questions. Among them, I was very surprised to recognize Mlle. Henriette Weil, whom I have known since 1941. She slept in the same room as Mama, like the fiancée of Simon Gausfain’s fiancée, Mlle. Giselle Landesman.
After a good bath, I changed my clothes and ate. To eat at last with a real spoon on real plates and with a knife and fork.
After dinner, since two of the ladies were leaving the next day—one of whom, Mme. Pollock, was a friend of Mama—a young actress, a singer, gave a recital. She was wonderful and sang very well. She sang a song entitled, ‘Little Papa, when you come back.,
You can’t imagine how it depressed me.”
Dr. Aron Pik was a well-established physician living in Shavli (the Yiddish name for Šiauliai in Lithuania) with his wife and son when Nazi forces invaded the country in June 1941.
“For sixteen and a half years, I was the director of the internal and contagious diseases division of the city hospital […]
[But] despite my sympathies for [the Bolshevik regime], it suddenly created great unpleasantness for me. One of the reasons was that I had a mark on me, of which I was long unable to cleanse myself. That is: my official membership in the Zionist party and my occupying the post of Vice Chairman of the Shavli organization of general Zionists. Firstly, it was decided under the Bolshevik regime to remove me from the hospital, and the mayor had already informed me officially about the decision. After sixteen and a half years of work in the hospital, to be a “former” person, superfluous, this made a very difficult impression on me, even in this period of surprises and unexpected events. Fortunately, this decision was not immediately executed, thanks to an order from the health ministry that all doctors should for now remain at their positions. And so I remained a whole four months in the hospital, hanging between heaven and earth, and waiting each day with fear and anxiety for unpleasant news. This very matter ended in a completely unexpected fashion. One morning, I receive an official announcement from the health department that I am designated as the director of the central city policlinic—and Dr. D., who was considered a leftist because he was not a Zionist, replaced me in the hospital. And in this way, instead of being removed from public medicine and pushed into the legion of the “former people” and loafers, I received a very honorable position, with much responsibility, and I was entrusted with the supervision of the whole ambulatory-medical care of Shavli.
The arrival in Shavli of a great mass of [German] soldiers immediately affected my situation as the director of the policlinic. With no formalities, the German medical-surgical division broke into the policlinic, and their chief physician immediately began to “set up house,” as if he were at home. His first act was to make the policlinic Jew-free. At that time, Dr. B-n, Dr. V. (dentist), and nurse L-n were in the policlinic, all with typical Jewish physiognomies, with brown hair, made in the true image of God—and he went up to each of them and ordered them to make off as quickly as possible: “You are Jews, go off and disappear, I should not have to see you any more.” […]
It will not be redundant to record an episode that sheds light on the German chief physician mentioned above and illustrates the relationship between the German intellectual, if we can call him such, and the Jews—almost colleagues of his. This very “bearer of culture” did not satisfy himself with driving the Jews out of the policlinic—suddenly, he remembered the dentist V., and sent a Lithuanian nurse to his home with the accompaniment of a German soldier, in order to bring him back to the policlinic. And when the dentist V. arrived, the chief physician ordered him to go clean the street around the policlinic, to carry water, and other such “honorable” work for a whole day […]
I soon met Dr. V., the dentist, and after him Dr. B., who ran to me out of breath and very upset, in order to let me know what had happened to them and what was generally happening in the policlinic. Hearing this news, I, of course, considered it a foregone conclusion that the “noble” chief physician would “honor” me, too, with this type of welcome, and I decided to remain at home and finita la comedia.1 In this fashion, my management of the policlinic, which lasted about eight months, ended.
Now I sit at home idle, without work, and have free time, over and beyond, to write out in greater or lesser detail my unhappy memories. In any case, one is afraid to go out in the street, to distract oneself a little, unless there is an important reason to go—in order not to run up against the hatred of our propaganda-filled masters, the Lithuanians […]”
Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish Jewish doctor known for his children’s books. under the name Janusz Korczak. He was the director a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw from 1912 until his death in 1942. Korczak’s diary provide a glimpse into the doctor’s state of mind in late July 1942 as Nazi authorities began a massive wave of deportations from the ghetto. The featured entries reflect his concerns over the children’s mental health I will be doing a blog on him quite soon but for now this is an excerpt from his diary.
“Night, July 18
During the first week of our last stay at the Goclawek summer home, the result of the consumption of bread of unknown composition and make was a mass poisoning which affected the children and some of the staff.
Diarrhea. The excrements boiled over in the chamber pots. Bubbles fonned upon the surface of the pitch-like matter. Bursting they exuded a sweetish-putrid odor, which not only attacked the sense of smell but invaded the throat, eyes, ears, the brain.
Just now we have something similar, but it consists of vomiting and watery stools.
During the night, the boys lost 80 kg among them — on the average a kilogram per head. The girls — 60 kg (somewhat less).
The children’s digestive tracts worked under heavy strain. Not much was needed to precipitate a disaster. Perhaps it was the inoculation against dysentery (five days ago) or the ground pepper added pursuant to a French recipe to the stale eggs used for Friday’s pate.
The next day, not so much as a single kilogram of the losses in weight was made up.
Help for those vomiting, moaning with pain, was administered in near darkness — with limewater. (Unlimited dental chalk for whoever wanted it, jug after jug. In addition, a drug for those suffering from headaches.) Finally, for the staff, sparingly — morphine. An injection of caffeine for a hysterical new inmate following a collapse.
His mother, wasting away of ulcerated intestines, was unwilling to die until the child had been placed in the Home. The boy was unwilling to go until the mother had died. He finally yielded. The mother died propitiously, now the child has pangs of conscience. In his illness, he mimics his mother: he moans (screams), complains of pain, then gasps, then feels hot, finally is dying of thirst.
I pace the dormitory to and fro. Will there be an outbreak of mass hysteria? Might be!
But the children’s confidence in the leadership prevailed. They believed that as long as the doctor was calm there was no danger.
Actually I was not so calm. But the fact that I shouted at the troublesome patient and threatened to throw him out onto the staircase was evidence that the man at the helm had everything under control. The decisive factor: he shouts, so he knows.
The next day, that was yesterday — the play. The Post Office by Tagore. Applause, handshakes, smiles, efforts at cordial conversation. (The chairwoman looked over the house after the performance and pronounced that though we are cramped, that genius Korczak had demonstrated that he could work miracles even in a rat hole.)
This is why others have been allotted palaces.
[This reminded me of the pompous opening ceremony of a new kindergarten in the workers’ house at Gorczewska Street with the participation of Mrs. Moscicka (Wife of the prewar President of Poland) — the other one.]
How ridiculous they are.
What would have happened if the actors of yesterday were to continue in their roles today?
Jerzyk fancied himself a fakir.
Chaimek — a real doctor.
Adek — the lord mayor.
(Perhaps illusions would be a good subject for the Wednesday dormitory talk. Illusions, their role in the life of mankind. . . .)
And so to Dzielna Street.
The same day. Midnight
If I were to say that I have never written a single line unwillingly, that would be the truth. But it would also be true to say that I have written everything under compulsion.
I was a child “able to play for hours on his own,” and with me “you wouldn’t know there was a child in the house.”
I received building blocks (bricks) when I was six. I stopped playing with them when I was fourteen.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Such a big guy. You ought to be doing something else. Reading. But blocks — what next. …”
When I was fifteen I acquired the craze, the frenzy of reading. The world vanished, only the book existed. . . .
I talked to people a lot: to peers and to much older grownups. In Saski Park I had some really aged friends. They “admired” me. A philosopher, they said.
I conversed only with myself.
For to talk and to converse are not the same. To change one’s clothes and to undress are two different things.
I undress when alone, and I converse when alone.
A quarter of an hour ago I finished my monologue in the presence of Heniek Azrylewicz. Probably for the first time in my life I told myself positively:
“I have an analytical, not an inventive, mind.”
To analyze in order to know?
To analyze in order to find, to get to the bottom of things?
Not that either.
Rather to analyze in order to ask further and further questions.
I ask questions of men (of infants, of the aged), I question facts, events, fates. I am not so pressed for answers; I go on to other questions — not necessarily on the same subject.
My mother used to say:
“That boy has no ambition. It’s all the same to him what he wears, whether he plays with children of his own kind or with the janitor’s. He is not ashamed to play with toddlers.”
I used to ask my building blocks, children, grownups, what they were. I did not break toys, it did not interest me why the doll’s eyes closed when it was put down. It was not the mechanism but the essence of a thing, the thing for itself, in itself.
Writing a diary or a life story I am obliged to talk, not to converse.
Now back to euthanasia. The family of a suicide. Euthanasia to order.
An insane man, legally incapacitated, incapable of independent decision.
A code comprising a thousand articles is needed. Life itself will dictate them. What is important is the principle: it is pennissible, desirable.
On a beautiful remote island, serene, as in a fairy tale, in a fine hotel, boarding house, a suicide casts the die. Is living worthwhile?
How many days or weeks are necessary to decide? A life following the patterns of contemporary magnates? Perhaps work?
The hotel service. Duties in shifts. The work in the garden. The length of stay?
“Where is he?”
“He has left.”
To a neighboring island or to the bottom of the sea.
Should there be a rule:
“The death sentence will be carried out in one month, even against your will. For you have signed an agreement, a contract with an organization, a deal with temporal life. So much the worse for you if you recant too late.”
Or the death — liberation comes in sleep, in a glass of wine, while dancing, to the accompaniment of music, sudden and unexpected.
“I want to die because I’m in love.”
“I long for death because I hate.”
“Take my life because I am capable of neither love nor hate.”
All this exists, but in crazy confusion, festering, filthy.
Death for profit, for a fixed payment, for convenience, to oblige.
Most intimately connected with death are sterilization, and the prevention and interruption of pregnancy.
“In Warsaw, you are free to have one child; in a small town, two; in a village, three; in a frontier village, four. In Siberia, ten. Take your choice.” “Free to live but childless.”
“Free to live but unmarried.”
“Manage by yourself; pay the taxes exclusively for yourself.”
“Here is a mate for you. Pick one out often, out of a hundred girls.”
“You may have two males. We allow three females.” Hurrah! lots of jobs, files, agencies, offices! (An iron machine does the work, provides accommodations, furniture, food, clothing. You are concerned only with organizing.)
A new method of land cultivation or livestock breeding, or new synthetic products, or the colonization of regions today inaccessible — the equator and the North and South Pole. The total population of the earth can be increased to five billion.
Communication has been established with a new planet. There is colonization. Mars, perhaps the moon will accept new immigrants. Perhaps there will be even more efficient means of communication with a distant neighbor. The result: ten billion men like you and me. The earth has the last word as to who, where to, how many.
Today’s war is a naive, though insincere, shoot-off. What is important is the great migration of peoples.
Russia’s program is to mix and crossbreed. Germany’s is to gather together those having a similar color of skin, hair, shape of nose, dimensions of the skull or pelvis.
Today, specialists feel the stranglehold of unemployment. There is a tragic quest for a dish of work for physicians and dentists.
Not enough tonsils waiting to be cut, appendixes to be taken out, teeth for filling.
“What to do? What to do?”
There is: acetonemia, pylorospasmus. There is: angina pectoris.
What will happen if we find that tuberculosis is not only curable but cured with a single injection, intra-venal, intramuscular or subcutaneous?
Syphilis — test 606. Consumption, 2500. What will be left for doctors and nurses to do?
What will happen if alcohol is replaced by a whiff of gas? Machine No. 3. Price, ten zlotys.1 A fifty-year guarantee. The dose as prescribed on the label. Payable in installments.
If sufficient daily nourishment were contained in two .t-bion pills, what about the chefs and the restaurants?
Esperanto? One daily newspaper for all peoples and all tongues. What will the linguists do, and above all, the translators and the teachers of foreign languages?
The radio — perfected. Even the most sensitive ear will detect no difference between live music and a “canned, conserved” melody.
What’s going to happen when even today we need disasters to provide work and goals for just one generation?
We cannot go on like this, my dear friends. Because unprecedented stagnation will set in, and foul air such as no one has ever encountered, and frustration such as no one has ever experienced.
A theme for a short story.
Tomorrow begins a radio contest for the master violinist of the year, playing this or that symphony or dissonance.
The whole world is at the loudspeakers.
An unprecedented Olympic contest.
The fans of the violinist from the Isle of Parrots experience moments of terrible suspense.
Comes the final night.
Their favorite man is beaten.
They commit suicide, unable to reconcile themselves to the fall of their idol.
There is a Che kh ov story: A ten-year-old nanny is so desperate for sleep that she strangles the screaming baby.
Poor nanny — she did not know what else to do. I have found a way. I don’t hear the irritating coughing, I heartlessly ignore the aggressive and provoking behavior of the old tailor.
I don’t hear it. Two o’clock in the morning. Silence. I settle down to sleep — for five hours. The rest I shall make up in the daytime.
I would like to tidy up what I have written. A tough assignment.
July 21, 1942
Tomorrow I shall be sixty-three or sixty-four years old. For some years, my father failed to obtain my birth certificate. I suffered a few difficult moments over that. Mother called it gross negligence: being a lawyer, father should not have delayed in the matter of the birth certificate.
I was named after my grandfather, his name was Hersh (Flirsh). Father had every right to call me Henryk: he himself was given the name Jozef. And to the rest of his children grandfather had given Christian names, too: Maria, Magdalena, Ludwik, Jakub, Karol.
Yet he hesitated and procrastinated.
I ought to say a good deal about my father: I pursue in life that which he strove for and for which my grandfather tortured himself for many years.
And my mother. Later about that. I am both mother and father. That helps me to know and understand a great deal.
My great-grandfather was a glazier. I am glad: glass gives warmth and light.
It is a difficult thing to be bom and to learn to live. Ahead of me is a much easier task: to die. After death, it may be difficult again, but I am not bothering about that. The last year, month or hour.
I should like to die consciously, in possession of my faculties. I don’t know what I should say to the children by way of farewell. I should want to make clear to them only this — that the road is theirs to choose, freely.
Ten o’clock. Shots: two, several, two, one, several. Perhaps it is my own badly blacked out window.
But I do not stop writing.
On the contrary: it sharpens (a single shot) the thought.”