Janine Phillips: December 16, 1939

Janine Phillips was a young Polish girl who was ten years old at the time of the German invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939. She began her diary just a few months before World War II began. Her account of the occupation of her country is invaluable in helping us to understand today what it was like for non-Jews to live under Nazi rule in Poland.

In the early days of the war, Janine wrote mostly about how the Polish army was fighting back against the German invaders and about how the war was affecting her relatives and neighbors. After mid-September, though, it became more and more clear that Poland was going to lose its defensive struggle. By the end of the month, Janine was writing about surrender and about how they were all going to adjust to living under the Germans. She wrote about the types of resistance activities she and her family might try and also questioned what would be permitted under the tenets of her Catholic faith.

It is clear from reading Janine’s diary entries from September through early December that she and her family viewed the takeover of Poland by Nazi Germany as a complete and utter disaster. She even reported that her grandfather had said that if the Germans won the war, life would no longer be worth living and that Poland would be lost forever. Her commentary on all of this was that it made her very sad. By December 14th, she wrote, “The longer we live with our enemies, the more we learn about their disregard for human lives and rights.”

The fact that Janine clearly understood the danger of her situation makes her diary entry from December 16th all the more shocking. She wrote, “When I got up this morning and looked out, I was dazed by the glistening glory. Ten centimeters of snow fell during the night and it seemed so fluffy and light as duck’s down. After a hasty breakfast I went outside to marvel at, and to touch, the snow. To me, it is the eighth wonder of the world. Only snow has the cosmetic skill to turn an ugly eyesore into an object of sheer beauty.” How can we understand the light, happy tone of this entry, compared with all that Janine had written before?

Janine’s wonder at the newly fallen snow couldn’t make her forget all that had happened, but it could renew her spirit. After all, even the Nazis were powerless in the face of the forces of nature. No matter how ugly they made the occupation, they couldn’t entirely remove beauty from lives of the oppressed nor hope from their hearts.

You may read excerpts from Janine Phillip’s diary in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday.

Click here to find a brief biography of Janine Phillips and a selection of entries from her diary.

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