For four months in 1943, Rutka Laskier kept a diary. She lived in the Polish town of Bedzin, which had fallen under German occupation at the beginning of World War II. She was 14 years old at the time and recorded mostly her feelings regarding her friends and the daily details of her personal life. Her self-image was in a constant state of flux, as is common for teens, and this colored the way she interpreted all of her relationships. The focus of her writing was so intensely introspective that it might seem at first as if she didn’t realize that she was living in the shadow of Auschwitz during the depths of the Final Solution. Although she may have appeared at times to ignore the larger context of her situation, she was probably much more aware than she let on.
On January 28, Rutka began her diary entry by recording her reaction to a perceived snub by one of her friends. She wrote, “I am stupid, terribly stupid. Yesterday evening when Nina and I walked by the old Market Square, I met Micka. She was walking with Rozka and Minda. I said ‘Micka,’ and although she clearly heard me, she didn’t respond and kept on walking. I cannot forgive myself for calling her. Now, between her and me, it’s over – finito.” Three days earlier, Rutka had recorded her close feelings for Micka and two days after this entry she talked with her as if nothing had happened. It is tempting to think of Rutka as if she was ruled by her turbulent emotions, being tossed this way and that by her strong feelings. A closer examination, however, may reveal that more was going on in her life than simple teen drama.
Rutka clearly cared about her friends opinions, especially when it came to boys. She wrote about her embarrassment when some of her friends asked her about Janek, a boy in whom she had some interest. In her diary, she went back and forth between caring about Janek and dismissing her feelings for him. She may have revealed a deeper meaning than she intended when she wrote, “People have such old-fashioned ideas about friendship between adolescent boys and girls. They are incapable of grasping the new world.” Although this may seem like an ageless teen lament, Rutka actually made a strong point. She was living in a new world, but it was the world of Nazi destruction. Her family had already been dislocated once and was threatened with imminent relocation again to an enclosed ghetto. Above that loomed the ever-present threat of Auschwitz. Occasionally, Rutka wrote directly about the occupation and of her fear of the Germans, but mostly she confined her attention to personal matters. Perhaps she was trying to make sense of her relationships at a time when they could change or disappear in a moment. Maybe she was simply focusing on things that were at least somewhat under her control. In either case, the subtext of her diary reveals that she was aware of her broader circumstances and their effects on her life.
Click here to read about how Rutka Laskier’s diary came to light after being hidden for over sixty years.
View a collection of photos of Bedzin residents taken by the Gestapo and now held in the archives of Yad Vashem here.
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