This Week In History

October 17, 1942

On October 17, 1942, Yitskhok witnessed an event that troubled him deeply. He recorded what he saw.

Yitskhok Rudashevski was fourteen years old when he began keeping his diary. He was a keen observer and a gifted writer. His account of life in the Vilna Ghetto helps us to understand the desperation of people struggling to preserve life and dignity under conditions of appalling brutality and deprivation. Writing helped Yitskhok to bring a sense of order and accomplishment to his life when everything around him descended into violence and terror.

On October 17 he wrote

“I go out into the street – there is a disturbance near a bakery. A woman has snatched a pot from the bakery and has run away. She was pursued and beaten. It aroused a feeling of disgust in me. How terribly sad! People are grabbing morsels from each other’s mouths. I am overcome with pity for the hungry woman, how she is being insulted with the dirtiest words, how they beat her. I think: what peculiarly ugly things occur in the ghetto! On one hand, the ugliness of stealing a pot of food, and on the other to strike a woman crudely in the face because she is probably hungry.

One of the consistent themes of Yitskhok’s diary was the shame of life wasted. He understood the debasing influence of poverty and hunger. He saw the terrible toll of fear and loss on the ability of people to maintain their highest ideals. He embraced study and writing, in part, because these activities helped to stave off the moral degradation that was a natural result of life in the ghetto.

Excerpts from Yitskhok Rudashevski’s diary have been published in a book entitled, “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust” by Alexandra Zapruder.

To learn more about Yitskhok’s life and diary, information is available at the Yad Vashem website.

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