Elsa Binder had witnessed much tragedy in her young life since World War II began in September of 1939. At first, her hometown of Stanisławów was occupied by Soviet forces as a result of a secret pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany. This period was difficult, but the worst hardships began with the occupation by German troops that came in the summer of 1941. Since that time, the Jewish people of Stanisławów experienced massacres, ghettoization, and all manner of oppression and deprivation. Elsa wrote about all of these things in her diary, but she also recorded other things as well. She wrote about her own feelings in the face of an uncertain future. She pondered the meaning of the big issues of life such as friendship, love, justice, and faith. She saw that even in the deepest areas of philosophical refection, she could not escape the reality of her circumstances.
On January 7 1942, Elsa wrote about a situation that, at first glance, doesn’t seem very unusual. She wrote about the painful breakup with her first boyfriend that she had experienced a few years earlier. She described this relationship in terms that clearly revealed its importance in her memory. “In the past there was an ugly girl with a hot, naïve heart and a dreaming soul. In the past there was a pretty boy with a sleeping heart and a common soul. And it happened that the pretty boy was attracted to the ugly girl and offered her his love.” Elsa wrote that they were happy together, but then went on to describe the unexpected ending. “Sometimes he would say, ‘I love you! I was drawn to you like a fly to honey. Now I flutter my wings but I can’t get away.’ This was just a few days before the separation. The naïve girl didn’t understand the real meaning of these words. In her girlish vanity she was pleasantly flattered. And one day – without any reason – that means without any explanation, without a word – he turned around and walked away. Just like that! Everything has its end. For the sake of peace and quiet he comforted the despairing girl, said he wasn’t worthy of her. […] She was left alone. Her hands were still in one piece, but her wings were cut off. So was her trust.”
Over seventy years later, it is still painful to read Elsa’s description of her feelings at the end of this relationship. Still, it seems like a normal life experience until we realize why she chose to write about it on that day. It was because she had just heard that this young man had been arrested and possibly killed. Writing of herself she said, “Hearing about the miserable end of the once loved boy, her heart trembled again.” It seems as though even Elsa’s memories were not safe from the Nazis.
Excerpts from Elsa Binder’s diary may be found in by Alexandra Zapruder.
Click here to read more about Elsa’s city of Stanisławów and the fate of its Jewish residents during the Holocaust.
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