Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Diary of Rutka Laskier

This is an incredible, horrifying, and heartbreaking story that never happens in Hollywood, only in real life. After 60 years of secrecy, Stanislawa Sapinska, a Polish woman in her 80s, gave to the world a precious gift: a diary. The diary was written by a child she befriended decades ago; a Jewish teenager who later died in Auschwitz. "She wanted me to save the diary," Ms Sapinska remembered. "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'."

Polish girl's Holocaust diary unveiled after 60 years

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."

And then Rutka became nothing.

Neo-Nazis, members of the Aryan Brotherhood, anti-Semitic thugs, and other idiots who deny the Holocaust hate stories like this. They hate it when a dead 14-year-old Jewish girl rises from the still-smoldering ashes of the past and spits in their blind eyes.

Martyrs like Rutka Laskier make it hard to stay anonymous.

The Third Reich was a methodical killing machine that followed a simple principle: first it's murder, next it's genocide, and finally it's statistics. There's safety in numbers, after all. Rows and rows of numbers spiraling into infinity dulls the flesh and blood reality of vast, state-sanctioned slaughter. Behind the statistics and between the rows and rows of numbers is blood and the silent agony of mouths frozen in a rigor mortis scream. But curious outsiders who are wondering what the noise is all about can't get past the statistics. Trying to break the code and calculate the number of innocent victims would be as painful as trying to drink the ocean dry. So it's simpler for non-crazy people to pretend that nothing is happening.

Of course, homicidal lunatics like Nazis love turning people into statistics: it's easier to subtract.

But the diary of Rutka Laskier survived, and her tragic story tells us a simple but important truth: My friends, my family, my neighborhood, my country, my people, my history, and I died because the rest of the world stood by and did nothing.

And don't delude yourself into thinking it can't happen again. How long will it be before our grandchildren are reading the diary of a murdered 14-year-old African girl from Darfur?