Sarah Fishkin lived in the northeastern part of Poland. The western part of her country had been occupied since the beginning of World War II, but her area only fell under Nazi rule after the German invasion of the Soviet Union that began on June 22, 1941. The brutality of the occupation, especially as it was directed against Jews, was apparent from the start. It was obvious to Sarah that the arrival of German forces signified the end of her life as she had known it.
Sarah wrote in a different style than many others who recorded their experiences under Nazi persecution. She did not seek to leave a detailed record of events. She did not record the struggle to endure and overcome daily hardships. Instead, she strove to capture the big picture. Sadly, in this big picture, she saw no reason for hope. On July 24, 1941, only one month into the occupation, she wrote “It is difficult to believe 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 the fantasies I hoped to see realized. I would never have believed that it would all disappear so soon, be cut down, burned out, orphaned in so short a time. Emptiness and desolation, saddened aching hearts, are our present constant companions. There seems to be no future for the Jewish population.”
As she struggled to respond to this catastrophe, Sarah framed her reaction in universal terms. “No human heart can remain untouched and unpained by all this. It is beyond human endurance to see so much trouble and so much suffering experienced. It is painful to see people tortured by people until life is ended. Where is human conscience, to demand the truth, to cry out?”
We take for granted now that civilized people deplore the crimes of the Holocaust. Still, we must guard against indifference to persecution and suffering today. The question, “Where is human conscience?” makes its demands on us as well.
Sarah’s diary has been published in book form by her brother Jacob under the title, “Heaven and Earth: the Diary of Sarah Fishkin.”
There is also a play based on Sarah’s diary written by Whitney Kraus as a thesis project for her course of studies at Ball State University. You may read the script here.
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