There’s something about New Year’s Eve that brings out the need for personal reflection. Many people choose to make resolutions for personal improvement in the coming year, but often these deal with superficial aspects of life such as outward appearance. People who lived during the Holocaust were not immune to introspection, but they were aware that the challenges and dangers they faced were much more than skin deep.
Elsa Binder gave her life a long, hard look on New Year’s Eve in 1941. She wrote, “I was endowed with a face that is basically not very impressive and rounded shoulders that charm even less. Due to the above factors I am oversensitive, weak, and acrimonious. In other words, I have a difficult and rather unpleasant personality. I must add that I am demanding and arbitrary toward other people.” She was certainly being hard on herself and probably unfair in her judgment, but she realized that she had positive traits as well. She recognized that she had friends, both boys and girls, who liked her. Furthermore, popularity and looks were not the main worries of the day. Elsa went on to write, “Right now all Jewish girls face the same odds. Death and prison pay no attention to external features. So many of my peers, better endowed by nature than I, have followed their call. All of us are facing death but I say I’m not afraid to die, although I long for life. It may seem naïve but I’m not sure whether all my dear ones who are dead might not be better off than I am today or will be tomorrow. I see them every night together, just as they perished together and together they are resting. I see them happy, smiling, and, most of all, liberated.”
Elsa’s interpretation of death as good fortune proved two things. The first showed how terrible the conditions were for Jews who were trapped under Nazi occupation and engaged in a desperate struggle to survive. The second was how easy it was, at least temporarily, to give in to depression and hopelessness. She went on to write, “Under these conditions our dreams of going out into the streets to welcome the liberators are less and less realistic. What are you bringing me, long-awaited 1942? […] So I welcome you, 1942, may you bring salvation and defeat. I welcome you my longed-for year. Maybe you will be more propitious for our ancient, miserable race whose fate lies in the hands of the unjust one. And one more thing. Whatever you are bringing me, life or death, bring it fast.”
Unfortunately for Elsa, 1942 didn’t fulfill her hopes. It brought neither liberation nor resolution. Although her exact fate is not known, the final destruction of the Jewish ghetto in Stanislawów didn’t come until 1943. Elsa is believed to have perished with her community. The diary that she left, however, revealed her to be a deeply thoughtful and sensitive person whose life would have added much value to the world, if she had only had the opportunity to live.
Elsa Binder’s diary was included in a book entitled, by Alexandra Zapruder.
You may learn more about the community of Stanislawów and about the fate of the Jewish people who lived there before and during the Holocaust here.
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Opening Reception: The Scroll of Remembrance
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