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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rutka's Notebook: A Young Auschwitz Victim Speaks Her Mind - From the Grave

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
On an ordinary day in 1963, 14-year-old Zahava Laskier discovered a shocking secret about her father's past. She knew he had survived imprisonment at Auschwitz; knew that his mother, 7 of his siblings and their families were murdered there; but she hadn't known about three others whose lives also ended at the infamous concentration camp - her father's first wife, Dvorah; their son, 6-year-old Joachim-Henius; and their daughter, Rutka, age 14. Twenty-eight years later, she learned something just as astonishing: Rutka recorded her experiences during the German occupation of her town of Bedzin, Poland, in a notebook. Now, 60 years later, Zahava - and the world - would finally get the opportunity to know her half-sister.
When Rutka's diary - which had been kept hidden by a friend - came to light, it proved to be a valuable historical document. Because of similarities to her Geman counterpart, Rutka became known as "The Polish Anne Frank." Unlike Anne's writings, however, Rutka's entries cover a very short period, only a few months in 1943. Much of it concerns the normal goings-on of a teenage girl; the fact that those ordinary squabbles, flirtations and outings took place against a backdrop of violent genocide is what makes it so remarkable.
Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust is a slim volume (the notebook, itself, only contains about 60 handwritten pages), which includes entries from the diary; explanatory notes; photographs; and brief essays from Rutka's family, friends and modern scholars. The thick, glossy pages lend an authentic air to the book, making it at once haunting and effective. Rutka may not be as appealing as Anne Frank (she's saucy, often caustic and more than a little boy-crazy) and her diary not as affecting, but it's still fascinating. The juxtaposition of ordinary vs. extraordinary makes it unique. In one paragraph, Rutka writes a passage that could have been lifted out of any teenager's diary:
"I will have to settle things with Janek. I'll tell him that if he wants to be my friend, he has to be on time, or else adios! Obviously, not in these words exactly. I couldn't care less about him. But I'm curious to see the look on his face. I'm going to sleep." (January 25, 1943)
Less than a week later, she writes:
"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 ." (January 30, 1943)
Then, in early February:
"I am writing this as if nothing has happened. As if I were an army experienced in cruelty. But I'm young, I'm 14, and I haven't seen much in my life, and I'm already so indifferent. Now I am terrified when I see 'uniforms.' I'm turning into an animal waiting to die. One can lose one's mind thinking about this." (February 6, 1943)
Rutka's notebook ends on April 24, 1943. Four months later, she was gassed at Auschwitz along with her mother and younger brother. Today, her voice shouts from the grave, compelling us to listen, to witness, to prevent the kind of hate, the kind of fanaticism, that led to the brutal murders of millions of people. Rutka Laskier always spoke her mind - now, the world will finally hear what one extraordinary girl had to say.
(To watch BookTV's presentation on Rutka's Notebook, click here.)
Grade: B


  1. Wow, that looks very interesting! I've never even heard of it.

  2. Thanks for this... helped me with a school project


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