Elsa Binder was near the end of her teen years when war disrupted her life. First, the military forces of the Soviet Union occupied her hometown of Stanisławów. Germany and the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact, and in a secret part of the treaty, they agreed to divide Poland between themselves. In September 1939, when Germany invaded Western Poland, Soviet troops entered from the east. Twenty-two months later, Germany attacked its former Soviet ally and occupied the remainder of Poland.
Conditions were difficult for Elsa and her family during the Soviet occupation, but would become devastating under the Nazis. The first act of the tragedy came on October 12, 1941 when the Germans massacred ten thousand Jews from the Stanisławów area. Two months later, the survivors were required to move into a ghetto. This was when Elsa began keeping her diary.
Danger was everywhere in the ghetto. People lived under the constant threat of poverty, violence, and death. The strain of the situation took its toll on family relationships. On December 27, Elsa wrote, “And mama? We’ve been fighting for a few days. About trivialities, as usual. Yet, no matter what moods we’re in, she’s the dearest person in the world for me. … But when I see how she treats my sister, my blood boils and jealousy stifles my better impulses. I don’t think that she loves Dora more than she loves me, but the fact is that she demands more from me and is more indulgent toward my sister.”
Elsa was aware of how much the atmosphere of continual crisis was distorting her normal attitudes and emotions. She felt the need to discuss her feelings, but she could only confide safely in her diary. She concluded her thoughts on December 27th this way; “I have to express myself more often…and more sincerely. I am reading what I have just written and it seems to be very naïve and silly. But this is my way of thinking. I’m sorry that I have to put it on paper before I realize that it’s like this. Regardless of this discovery I will keep writing down my thoughts, but I won’t read them right away.”
Sadly, Elsa didn’t have a chance to review her writing after the crisis of the Holocaust had passed. Throughout 1942 and early 1943, the Stanisławów Ghetto was gradually emptied in the Nazis’ efforts to make the area judenrein (cleansed of Jews.) Most of the remaining inhabitants were sent to the Belzec death camp or shot locally. Elsa’s diary was later found in a ditch beside the road to the cemetery.
You may read entries from Elsa’s dairy in the book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder. You may hear readings from the diary in the MTV documentary I’m Still Here.
Read more about the history of Stanisławów during World War II here.
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