The diary of a 14-year-old Jewish girl, dubbed the Polish Anne Frank, unveiled yesterday by Israel's Holocaust museum more than 60 years after the teenager wrote it, vividly describes the world crumbling around her as she came of age in a Jewish ghetto.
"The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter," Rutka Laskier wrote in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. "I'm turning into an animal waiting to die."
Within a few months Rutka did die and, it seemed, so did her diary. But last year, a Polish friend who had safeguarded the notebook finally came forth, exposing a riveting historical document.
Rutka's Notebook is both a daily account of the horrors of the Holocaust in Bedzin, Poland, and a scrapbook detailing the life of a typical teenager in extraordinary circumstances. The 60-page memoir includes innocent adolescent banter, concerns and first loves - combined with a cold analysis of the fate of European Jewry.
"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," she wrote on Feb. 5, 1943. "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 butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death."
The following day she opened her entry with a heated description of her hatred toward her Nazi tormentors, but then, in an effortless transition, she speaks about her crush on a boy named Janek and the anticipation of a first kiss.
In addition to chronicling her life in the diary, between January-April 1943, Rutka also shared it with her friend Stanislawa Sapinska. The two met after Rutka's family moved into a home owned by Sapinska's family. Sapinska randomly came to inspect the home and the young girls - one Jewish, one Christian - formed a deep bond.
When Rutka feared that she would not survive, she told her friend about the diary. Sapinska offered to hide it in the basement under the floorboards. After the war, she returned to reclaim it.
She wanted me to save the diary, Sapinska, now in her late 80s, recalled Monday. 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."
Yet, Sapinska stashed the diary away in her home library for more than 60 years. She said it was a precious memento and thought it to be too private to share with others. Only at the behest of her young nephew did she agree to hand it over last year. "He convinced me that it was an important historical artifact," she said in Polish.
Rutka's father, Yaakov, was the family's only survivor. He died in 1986. But unlike the Anne Frank's father, he kept his painful past inside. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he started a new family. His Israeli daughter, Zahava Sherz, said her father never spoke of his other children, and the diary introduced her to the long-lost family she never knew.
"I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka," said 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." Rutka's last entry is dated April 24, 1943. In August, she and her family were shipped to Auschwitz. She is believed to have been murdered upon arrival.
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