Sarah Fishkin: August 20, 1941

Sarah Fishkin was seventeen years old when she began to record the terrible changes that came to her town with the German occupation. Her hometown of Rubzewitz, Poland (now Rubiezewicze, Belarus) lay in the path of the German army as it began its invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Sarah’s initial reaction to the war that raged through her area was to fear that she would be killed. She wrote of the likelihood that her life would be ended by a stray bullet or bomb. Even in the most perilous moments she observed how strong her desire was to live.

Once the danger of dying in the initial invasion had passed, Sarah realized that surviving did not mean a return to normal life. The violence of the ongoing occupation convinced Sarah that conditions for Jews were going to get much worse. She wrote near the end of July “ …that the good times are gone, that our moments of joy, the hours of studying and enjoying ourselves are past, that I must give up forever my thoughts of future goals and fantasies I hoped to see realized.”

By August 20th, Sarah saw another side of the occupation beginning to emerge – the use of Jewish forced-labor. She recorded her thoughts on the matter. “The days are now shorter, the nights longer. The grain is being harvested from the fields. Every morning we must report to the work-assignment place. Whether it is to labor on the roads, near the bridges, or elsewhere, everything has the same purpose: to torment the Jew, to oppress him more and more.” Sarah’s objection to this treatment was not so much related to the actual work as it was to the arbitrary and cruel manner in which her enslavement was carried out. She poured out her frustration in her writing in an attempt to find solace. “I took my diary in hand. I turned the previously filled pages in the hope of tempering the effect of my present hardships, for we are tortured daily as though we were slaves like those in Egypt long ago.”

Excerpts from Sarah’s diary have been included in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holiday. It has also recently been published in book form by her brother Jacob under the title, Heaven and Earth: the Diary of Sarah Fishkin.

You may read a letter from Gishka Poliez, a Holocaust survivor, describing the fate of the Jews in Rubiezewicze and the surrounding region here.

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