Usually, entries in Holocaust-era diaries make for grim reading. This is especially true for diaries written in the ghettoes imposed on Eastern European Jewish communities by the invading German forces. These writers accurately recorded a litany of terrible events. They witnessed and wrote about inhumane living conditions and the resulting widespread destruction. Naturally, diaries kept under such circumstances were somber in mood and portrayed the suffering of the writer and his people. Every once in awhile, though, a writer’s tone might be more hopeful. Such was the case with the diary entry written by Yitskhok Rudashevski on January 9, 1943. It was positive and enthusiastic as it detailed the events of the previous evening.
Yitskhok Rudashevski lived in the city of Vilna, one of the greatest centers of Jewish learning and culture in European history. He was justifiably proud to be part of such a rich tradition. He valued his schooling and his culture and held tightly to them in spite of Nazi persecution. He was not alone. Many Jewish people in the ghettoes resisted the Nazis through education and by maintaining cultural life. Yitskhok belonged to a youth club that staged a performance for the night of January 8th. He wrote about the event the next day. “Until twelve at night our dramatic circle showed what it could do. It is a pleasure to see how well our members are performing. We have every right to be proud of them. Such beautiful numbers, decorations, costumes, and everything accomplished so well, so consistently. … We remained in the club until half past two, intoxicated with youthful joy. After the program some entertainment, a living newspaper, songs, recitations. … We are young, the young hall is saturated with youthful joy and work. Our spirit, which we bear proudly within the ghetto walls, will be the most beautiful gift to the newly rising future. Long live youth! – the progress of our people.”
Yitskhok’s glowing description of this triumphant night did not change the reality of the ghetto. Deprivation and persecution continued as before, and even intensified over time. In spite of this, Yitskhok would not give up the things that he held most dear; his intelligence, his Jewish cultural life, and his faith in a better future. This was the essence of resistance.
You may read entries from Yitskhok’s dairy in the book, , edited by Alexandra Zapruder.
You may hear excerpts of survivor testimonies about cultural resistance in the Vilna Ghetto here.
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