Yitskhok Rudashevski was an intelligent young man and a very talented writer. His diary, recorded in Vilna during the German occupation, is one of the most insightful records of ghetto life to survive the Holocaust. Yitskhok wrote about the personal and communal struggle to survive. He chronicled the myriad indignities, fears and deprivations that comprised daily life. He complained about the corruption evident in the behaviors of some of the ghetto police. Still, his diary was more than a litany of complaints. He also expressed his love of learning and commitment to cultural activity as an affirmation of life. He was involved in several cultural circles, including one that was dedicated to recording the history of the ghetto for posterity. To Yitskhok, intellectual creativity was a form of resistance to Nazi brutality and was absolutely vital to maintaining hope for the future.
As the new year dawned on January 1, 1943, Yitskhok’s thoughts turned to hope. He knew that only liberation from Nazi occupation could bring about the conditions necessary for a better future. He wrote, “The first day of the year 1943. In honor of the New Year, the world adorned itself overnight in white. A white, clear winter day. Today the new year begins. The ghetto meets the New Year with one wish: to be liberated from the odious ghetto. The ghetto looks upon the New Year as the redeemer, the longed-for liberator.”
Unfortunately, liberation did not arrive in 1943 for the residents of the Vilna Ghetto. Instead, in September, the liquidation of the ghetto was begun. Yitskhok and his family went into hiding, but were discovered a few weeks later. They were sent to the killing fields at Ponar. Yitskhok’s diary was recovered after the war by a friend who had been with him near the end. Though he did not survive, Yitskhok’s diary stands as testament to his life and his unrealized hope for a better day.
You may read entries from Yitskhok’s dairy in the book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.
Read more about the history of the Vilna Ghetto here.
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