Elsa Binder: June 18, 1942

On June 18, 1942, Elsa Binder, a teenager from Stanislawow, Poland recorded a harrowing experience of that reflects the reality of the ghetto.

When World War II began, Elsa Binder was coming to the end of her teen years. She would not have the chance to make the transition to adulthood in peace and safety, but would be constantly confronted with threats to her life and to her family.

For Elsa, the war began with the invasion of her hometown by the forces of the Soviet Union. Germany and the USSR had secretly agreed to divide Poland between themselves. In September 1939, when Germany invaded Western Poland, Soviet troops entered from the east.

Elsa’s wartime experience took a dramatic turn for the worse in the summer of 1941 when Germany attacked its former Soviet ally and occupied the remainder of Poland. When she began keeping her diary in December 1941, she had already suffered much tragedy. She wrote about massacres that had been carried out in the fall, and of the deprivations of ghetto life. The bitterest blow was the loss of her sister Dora, who was deported to an unknown destination.

In spite of the terror she faced daily, Elsa took great risks in order to survive. According to her diary entry on June 18, 1942, they barely evaded discovery and capture while smuggling goods and money into the ghetto. Words can’t do justice to the risk she took engaging in this type of resistance. In fact, Elsa sometimes doubted the power of her words to add to the record of her times. She wrote, “Well, this whole scribbling doesn’t make any sense. It is a fact we are not going to survive. The world will know about everything without my wise notes.” Unfortunately, Elsa’s words are the only trace of her life that remains. Her ghetto was liquidated in February 1943. Most of the remaining inhabitants were sent to the Belzec death camp or shot locally. Her diary was later found in a ditch beside the road to the cemetery.

Read more about the fate of Stanisławów in Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust by Nechama Tec. You may find an excerpt from this book at the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum .

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