'When the Dawn Breaks I Will No Longer Be Alive' |

For First Time, Rare Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Diaries Unveiled

In one diary, a 37-year-old lawyer described ghetto life and the fight against the Nazis; second diary by an anonymous woman, previously read only by researchers; ceremony attended by President Peres, 70 years after the uprising

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A rare journal written by an unknown Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto during the uprising there was unveiled Thursday morning at a ceremony at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in the presence of President Shimon Peres. In the diary, the writer, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer, describes life in the ghetto, the Jewish underground fighters who were active there and his march to deportation.

The journal is 38 pages long and written in Polish. It was also released Thursday on the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum website, 70 years after the first phase of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – “The January Revolt” – which constituted the start of the resistance to the Nazi regime. During the course of the deportation from the ghetto, armed fighters engaged German soldiers in brutal close-quarters combat. In the struggle, Jews who were being led in convoys to a gathering point succeeded in escaping.

The author of the journal, some of whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust, was later sent to the Trawniki concentration camp. His fate remains unknown.

He wrote in his journal, “A volley of shots. The bullets hit the paving stones in the street. The ghetto fighters are struggling in a battle of a few versus many. On the roof an automatic rifle is rattling. The fighter will exact a high price in return for his life. Beside him are small flags – a red and white Polish flag and a blue and white Zionist flag.

“Tomorrow at this time everything will already be over. I am calculating coldly. Now it is 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I am looking at the clear April sky. They will take us to Treblinka tonight. When the dawn breaks I will no longer be alive. The calculation is simple – for the last time I am seeing the blue sky between the clouds.”

“April 19, 1943,” he wrote at another point in the diary. “In a week’s time I will be 37. Nu, fine, what difference does that make? A new group of people has been taken to the Umschlagplatz [gathering point]. Among them are friends, acquaintances, people who managed to survive in the ghetto, who they haven’t yet managed to eliminate. They are telling me: Your mother has been shot. I am not shocked. I am beginning to realize that she suffered from July to April, nine months. She survived the death of her daughter, the death of her husband, the necessity of hiding – in stinking, suffocating lairs. In vain she suffered the torture of the constant fear. Suddenly I understand that I was not sensitive enough towards her, that the ghetto deprived me of tenderness and sensitivity, that cruelty reigned over everything and I absorbed it into myself like Roentgen rays.”

“In one of the halls lies the corpse of a woman who was shot yesterday evening by a Ukrainian,” he wrote. “He shot her when she approached the window, because it is forbidden to get close to the windows. Near the woman’s body a small child of about four years old is crawling. He touches his mother’s lifeless body, he pulls her hair. Her motionless, hard body amuses him. He pushes a finger into her half-open mouth, touches her glazed eyes that do not see. And suddenly he begins to cry, a pitiful wail.”

The diary came to the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in the 1970s as part of the Adolf Abraham Berman Collection. The collection was compiled and given to the museum by Adolf Berman – a resistance activist who together with his wife, Batya Temkin-Berman, collected letters, memoirs and diaries during the war and initiated extensive documentation activity.

He kept the collection after the war until he arrived in Israel in the 1970s and gave the documents to the museum. There they remained in the archives for many years until they were translated and deciphered more recently.

At the ceremony held at the museum on Thursday morning, extracts were also read aloud from another diary written by another fighter, an unknown woman, who was a member of the resistance group of the fighting Jewish organization Eyal or the Revisionist underground Etzi, which were active in the area where the diary was found. This diary, too, lay untouched in the Berman Collection until five years ago, when it was given attention and published in research journals and the professional literature on the ghetto revolts. It was given to President Peres as a gift at the ceremony.

In her dairy, the fighter writes of her brave colleagues’ testimony about building the bunkers, the organization of the forces and the struggle in the wake of the January Revolt: “Evening, Wednesday, April 28, 1943. For the moment the bombing and the shooting have stopped and the danger lying in wait for us has turned in another direction. People are bathing, handing out coffee, cooking. Everything is being done quietly, in silence. All the people and the guards are working efficiently, everything is done in accordance with the instructions from the head of the bunker. Ten days of fighting with our bloodthirsty enemy, who intends to destroy us altogether. He began the fighting with grenades and tanks and ended with setting houses on fire. We must survive, we hope we will survive. We are fighting for justice and for the right to live.”

Two of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters who survived the Holocaust and are still alive, Havka Foleman-Raban and Sincha Rotem (Kajik), attended the ceremony. President Peres turned to them and said: “To sit among you is like sitting between a dream and a legend. It’s difficult to grasp the courage you possess. I can’t comprehend the depth of Nazi atrocities, against the heroism of the Warsaw ghetto fighters.”

Foleman-Raban, who was in charge of communications during the uprising in the ghetto, said: “For me, to be in the land of Israel is a dream. When I was a fighter in the ghetto in Warsaw, when I was captured and detained in German prison, when I was transferred to the camps, during the death march and when facing the horrors We never stopped dreaming of the land of Israel. We prayed we will arrive to Israel, establish a kibbutz and create new life."

A street in Warsaw destroyed during the failed 1944 uprising against Nazi occupiers.Credit: Reuters
A page from the Warsaw Ghetto diary. Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters' House Museum.

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